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Thursday, April 7, 2011

EDITORIAL 07.04.11

Please contact the list owner of subscription and unsubscription at: editorial@samarth.co.in 

media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya

 

Editorial

month april 07, edition 000800, 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. MISUSE OF PUBLIC FUNDS
  2. DARKNESS PREVAILS
  3. MEAN-SPIRITED SHAHID AFRIDI - SUNANDA K DATTA-RAY
  4. ASSESSING THE FIGHT AGAINST AIDS, 30 YEARS LATER
  5. HIGH DEFICIT MAY STUNT INDIA'S GROWTH STORY - SHIVAJI SARKAR

THE TIMES OF INDIA

  1. A LITMUS TEST
  2. OBAMA'S BID
  3. PROTECT THE NEXT GENERATION - INDU SHAHANI
  4. NOT SPORTING AT ALL
  5. THE LEANER, THE BETTER - JAY KUMAR
  6. DANCES WITH DOLPHINS - BACHI KARKARIA

HINDUSTAN TIMES

  1. NO MORE PUSSYFOOTING
  2. INDIA'S GETAFIX
  3. AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH - GEORGE MONBIOT
  4. A JPC ON THE PAC!
  5. FROM WORDS TO CLICHÉS - SANJAY JHA
  6. WRONG ABOUT GAZA - DAVID GOLDFARB

THE INDIAN EXPRESS

  1. THEY, THE PEOPLE
  2. THE PRODIGAL'S FAST
  3. JUDGES, REFORMERS
  4. OF THE FEW, BY THE FEW - PRATAP BHANU MEHTA
  5. THE VS QUESTION - D BABU PAUL
  6. VIOLENT WORDS IN AN UNEMPLOYED TOWN - SUBHOMOY BHATTACHARJEE
  7. LEFT-HANDED COMPLIMENT - MANOJ C G
  8. MEETING THE NEXT MATCH - SHAILAJA BAJPAI
  9. FANATICISM BREEDS NO HEROES - ROGER COHEN

THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

  1. NEW 2G WOES
  2. SHAHENSHAH
  3. AN INDO-PAK DIPLOMATIC MATCH - SHAHID JAVED BURKI
  4. REMOVING BAD PARTICIPATION - TEJESH CHITLANGI

THE HINDU

  1. TACKLING DRUG RESISTANCE
  2. CHANGING AN ESTABLISHED ORDER
  3. WHAT PRICE 'FOREIGN PROVIDERS'?  - K.N. PANIKKAR
  4. IN EGYPT, THE JOKES HAVE STALLED  - MICHAEL SLACKMAN
  5. NEW CALL IN ISRAEL FOR TWO-STATE SOLUTION  - CONAL URQUHART
  6. ARCTIC FRESHWATER "LAKE" TO IMPACT CLIMATE  - FIONA HARVEY
  7. WEST FALLS SHORT ON GLENEAGLES AID PLEDGES  - LARRY ELLIOTT

THE ASIAN AGE

  1. FII DOLLARS FLOW IN,BUT WORRIES REMAIN
  2. DIPLOMATIC GULF - SRINATH RAGHAVAN
  3. GANDHI, MODI AND JINNAH - JAVED ANAND
  4. THE PHOTO-OP PROS - SIDHARTH BHATIA

DNA

  1. LOKPAL BILL: ANNA HAZARE IS RIGHT ON GRAFT, WRONG ON REMEDY - PARSA VENKATESHWAR RAO JR
  2. SAVE US FROM OUR POLITICIANS - RANJONA BANERJI
  3. WILL MAHARASHTRA FORGIVE SHARAD PAWAR?  - ABHAY VAIDYA

DAILY EXCELSIOR

  1. JMC UNDER CAG SCANNER
  2. BEST OF HEALTH TO ALL - DR. SYED AMIN TABISH
  3. RURAL EMPLOYMENT - BY RAM RATTAN SHARMA
  4. TIME TO CHECK CORRUPTION - BY BRIJ BHARDWAJ

THE TRIBUNE

  1. THE EDUCATED KILLERS
  2. IT'S RAINING CASH IN TN
  3. SMOKELESS TOBACCO KILLS
  4. NOW WE ARE 1210 MILLION - BY B.G. VERGHESE
  5. DAUGHTERS OF A LESSER GOD - BY GEETANJALI GAYATRI
  6. HEALTH CARE FOR "AAM AADMI
  7. ANTIBIOTIC RESISTANCE IS MAIN FOCUS - JAGDISH CHANDER

 MUMBAI MIRROR

  1. SOME REMEMBERED CHILDHOODS

BUSINESS STANDARD

  1. THE RUPEE IN SLUMBER
  2. SUSTAINABLE FORESTRY
  3. LEARNING FROM FUKUSHIMA - SHYAM PONAPPA
  4. DEVELOPING A LARGER HEART - ARVIND SINGHAL
  5. A SECOND CULTURAL REVOLUTION - BARUN ROY
  6. INFANT DEATHS LACK A SOLUTION - INDICUS ANALYTICS

THE ECONOMIC TIMES

  1. HAZARE ALSO SERVES
  2. VESTIGE OF THE PAST
  3. WITH THE WINDSORS
  4. IIMS: THE OTHER 99 PER CENT
  5. JAPAN'S POISE, AFTER THE QUAKE  - RAKESH BEDI
  6. SUPPORT ANTI-GADDAFI STRIKES
  7. TOLERANCE IS A KEY VIRTUE  - VITHAL C NADKARNI
  8. CREATIVE CAPITAL  - SPENCER ANTE

DECCAN CHRONICAL

  1. FII DOLLARS FLOW IN, BUT WORRIES REMAIN
  2. DIPLOMATIC GULF
  3. GANDHI, MODI AND JINNAH
  4. FREE IS FOUL AND FOUL IS FAIR
  5. THE PASSION OF HALLAJ
  6. THE PHOTO-OP PROS

THE STATESMAN

  1. GENERAL'S CAUTION
  2. THE MAOIST SPIN
  3. GAIN OR LOSS?
  4. CRICKET & DIPLOMACY - SALMAN HAIDAR
  5. IN BLACK & WHITE  
  6. YOUR QUIXOTE OR MINE?  - KK KHULLAR

THE TELEGRAPH

  1. MEANINGLESS
  2. BETTER BORDERS
  3. IN THE AGE OF DIGILEAKS
  4. VOTE FOR ALL  - JEEJA GHOSH
  5. FEAR THAT IS FABRICATED - BIKASH SINHA
  6. NEED A LITTLE OF THAT HUMAN TOUCH

DECCAN HERALD

  1. ACID TEST FOR UPA
  2. NEED FOR URGENCY
  3. WAR BY OTHER MEANS  - BY SUNANDA K DATTA-RAY
  4. A NEW SENSE OF HOPE FOR PEACE IN ASSAM -  BY ANIRBAN BHAUMIK
  5. GRAND ANXIETY  - BY NAYTHAN CARVALHO

THE NEWYORK TIMES

  1. WAL-MART V. WOMEN
  2. BETTER PROTECTING PRISONERS
  3. GEORGE TOOKER - BY LAWRENCE DOWNES
  4. WHY PAY CONGRESS? - BY NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
  5. MEDICINE ON THE MOVE - BY GAIL COLLINS
  6. OUT OF CONTEXT - BY CAROLINE ALEXANDER

TIMES FREE PRESS

  1. FACING SCHOOL RED-INK FACTS
  2. WRANGLING OVER A SHUTDOWN
  3. COURAGEOUS, BIPARTISAN BUDGET PLAN
  4. WELCOME CHANGE ON TENURE

HARARETZ

  1. PRESIDENT ON A FUTILE MISSION
  2. 'COSI FAN TUTTE' WON'T DO  - BY SEFI RACHLEVSKY
  3. MOTHER'S BOYFRIEND  - BY AMALIA ROSENBLUM
  4. JENIN , JENIN  - BY ARI SHAVIT
  5. WHAT ARE WEREJOICING ABOUT? - BY GIDEON LEVY

HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

  1. FROM THE BOSPHORUS: STRAIGHT - EU CONFERENCE SHOULD BE IN ISTANBUL
  2. LIBYA: MISTAKEN ALL THE WAY - RICHARD REID
  3. WILL TURKEY FOLLOW THE NEW CHP? - SONER ÇAĞAPTAY - H. AKIN ÜNVER
  4. ERDOĞAN THE WINNER OF A CHALLENGING MARATHON - MEHMET ALİ BİRAND
  5. IS DIGITAL VOTING POSSIBLE IN TURKEY? - ERSU ABLAK
  6. ABSOLUTE'S DEMOCRACY - YUSUF KANLI
  7. REAL POPULATION DENSITY - GWYNNE DYER
  8. NEW YORK LESSONS FROM THE 'GROUND ZERO MOSQUE' - DAVID DYSSEGAARD KALLICK

I. THE NEWS

  1. STRANGE PRIORITIES
  2. COUNTING HOUSES
  3. PASSPORT BACKLOG
  4. FATA DOESN'T NEED WISHES  - AYAZ WAZIR
  5. A DOUBLE-EDGED WEAPON  - RAOOF HASAN
  6. OUR ERSTWHILE METTERNICH  - ZAFAR HILALY
  7. POLITICISATION OF EDUCATION AND THE HEC  - KAMILA HYAT
  8. THE LIBERTY FACADE  - RIZWAN ASGHAR

PAKISTAN OBSERVER

  1. CAMERON FOR FRESH START BUT…
  2. PAKISTAN FOR ATOM BOMB FREE WORLD
  3. KARACHI STANDS UP AGAINST EXTORTION
  4. PAKISTAN-CHINA TIES IN FOCUS - KHALID SALEEM
  5. KAMKWAMBA MOMENT - RIZWAN GHANI
  6. LIBYA WAR: DAWN OF A NEW WORLD ORDER? - HAMID WAHEED
  7. EDUCATION EMERGENCY IN PAKISTAN - ALIYA ANJUM
  8. LEADERS WHO COULD NOT LEAD - MAHBOOB A KHWAJA

THE AUSTRALIYAN

  1. FEARS RISE AS BROADBAND TAKES ANOTHER BROADSIDE
  2. ACTING IN THE NATIONAL INTEREST
  3. LOTS FOR LEFT TO LEARN ON ISRAEL

THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

  1. EXCHANGE CALL LACKS CLARITY
  2. A BAD ROAD MADE WORSE
  3. UN RIGHT TO HASTEN DICTATOR'S END
  4. MILITARY'S SLOW FORWARD MARCH FAILS WOMEN

THE GUARDIAN

  1. IN PRAISE OF … PIEROGI
  2. PORTUGAL'S CRISIS: OUT OF OPTIONS
  3. SOARING STUDENT FEES: PAIN WITHOUT GAIN

THE JAPAN TIMES

  1. OVERCOMING THE NUCLEAR CRISIS
  2. WEST IS ON A SLIPPERY SLOPE - BY BRAHMA CHELLANEY
  3. FALLOUT OF NUCLEAR AND FINANCIAL MELTDOWNS - BY GEORG ZACHMANN

THE JAKARTA POST

  1. PSSI REFORM KICK
  2. RE-DIRECTING THE ACCUSATIONS AGAINST NURDIN HALID
  3. PLANNED RUPIAH REDENOMINATION FOR NATIONAL PRIDE?
  4. MOCH. DODDY ARIEFIANTO
  5. CRUCIAL POINTS IN SPY BILL - MUHAMMAD NAJIB
  6. TWO CHALLENGES FOR ASIA'S ECONOMY IN 2011 - CHANGYONG RHEE

DAILY MIRROR

  1. RIGHTS OR RESPONSIBILITIES?
  2. 'WORLD'S GREATEST SPYING MACHINE'
  3. GOVERNMENT DIALOGUE WITH TNA – A ONE SIDED AFFAIR?
  4. VAGRANCE, BROTHELS, PROSTITUTION AND LAWS AGAINST THE POOR
  5. HACK ATTACK!

GULF DAILY NEWS

  1. BAHRAIN'S SUN RISES AGAIN   - BY HAYAT ABDULLAH 

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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

MISUSE OF PUBLIC FUNDS

STATES MUST DESIST FROM 'REWARDING' CRICKETERS


The jubilation over Team India's spectacular victory in the recently-concluded Fifty50 cricket World Cup tournament is understandable. In a country where cricket excites popular passion like no other sport, the nationwide euphoria was only to be expected. It was one big party and every Indian joined it with equally enthusiasm: What we also witnessed was unprecedented peacetime national unity. Seen against this backdrop, there's really no reason to cavil about the BCCI announcing cash rewards for the members and support staff of the triumphant team — although cricketers now make a handsome amount in match and endorsement fees and are no longer dependent on charity matches for old age pension, India's top cricket body cannot be faulted for being generous in congratulating the players. After all, the BCCI's own stock has soared on account of Team India's sterling performance. That said, a line needs to be drawn to demarcate the acceptable from that which is patently unacceptable. There's something obnoxious about State Governments tripping over each other while showering goodies on the cricketers by announcing huge cash rewards and allotting plots of land in prime areas. The senseless — some would say crass — competition to be seen as being more large-hearted than the other has resulted in various State Governments declaring both huge cash rewards and free residential plots. Needless to add, this largesse is being funded from the public coffers and is driven more by the cynical urge to score cheap political points than promote cricket as a sport. There is absolutely no reason why this should go unchallenged, not the least because it makes a mockery of the concept of the Government as the custodian of public wealth and resources to be used for the greater good in a republic as opposed to the abhorrent neo-feudalism we are witnessing with Chief Ministers mimicking the zamindar in Satyajit Ray's Jalsaghar.


This meaningless indulgence in crude populism has resulted in a strange situation where State Governments that have shown rectitude are being berated for their 'tight-fistedness' by self-appointed champions of Indian cricket. Worse, Gujarat, which has an institutionalised system — as it should be — for felicitating achievers in the world of sport by honouring them with the Eklavya Award which comes with Rs 1 lakh in cash and a citation, has been charged with being biased against the two star cricketers who hail from that State because they happen to be Muslim. For evidence, critics are citing the example of State Governments which have announced Rs 2 crore in cash reward as opposed to Gujarat's 'paltry' Rs 1 lakh. Not only is such criticism motivated but it is also downright dangerous. It seeks to manufacture divisiveness at a time of national unity, which is despicable. It tries to taint a perfectly legitimate secular gesture by a well-governed State through the bogey of communal bias. The purpose is all too evident: Sow seeds of doubt, malign individuals and institutions, spit and scoot. All right-thinking Indians must call a halt to this nefarious campaign of calumny. They must also stand up to State Governments which think nothing of wasting public resources to titillate the masses and thus hope to make political capital out of what is seemingly a benign effort to reward our star cricketers.

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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

DARKNESS PREVAILS

GIRL CHILD'S PLIGHT IS INDIA'S SHAME


Thirteen-years-ago when Gulab Kanwar married Banne Singh in a remote village in Rajasthan, her wedding made it to the front pages of national dailies. This was because then, for the first time in more than a century, a baraat had arrived in the village of Deora. The Rajput-majority village was infamous for its gruesome tradition of killing all its female newborns. But when Ms Kanwar was born, her father who at the time was mourning for his son who had died two weeks ago, defied village norms and chose to protect his daughter. Soon his uncle and brother too followed in his footsteps and let their little girls stay alive. By the time, Ms Kanwar was old enough to marry in 1998 and the village was preparing to welcome a groom for the first time in six generations, there were reportedly five girls in the village (today, the number has gone up to 13 girls but they are all below the age of 14) that was home to at least 150 Rajput families at the time. The event was considered to be a landmark in the village's shameful history of female infanticide and some even cautiously hailed the wedding as a sign of changing times and evolving values. A little more than a decade later, Gulab Kanwar has returned to the front pages of newspapers. This time to report the alleged murder of her new born daughter and mark a tragic regression of social values. The mother of two boys, Ms Kanwar delivered a healthy baby girl on March 30. The next day, mother and child were taken away from the hospital by family members without even a discharge certificate. The sequence of events since then is unclear but Banne Singh claims that his daughter fell ill and later died. Suspicious villagers reported the case and now the child's severely decomposed body has been sent for a post-mortem to ascertain if she was strangled or poisoned — the two commonly used methods, along with injury to the head, to get rid of unwanted daughters.


The murder of Ms Kanwar's daughter is a tragic reminder of our collective failure as a nation to protect our girls and serves to explain India's appalling and consistently declining child sex ratio, as revealed by the 2011 Census. From 978 girls to every 1,000 boys in 1961 to 927 in 2001, India is now down to 914. This is directly related to the Government's failure to implement a variety of laws that protect the girl child and women. Laws relating to pre-natal sex determination tests, infanticide, foeticide, dowry (the Deora 'tradition' started because the poor Rajputs could not afford the customary kilo of gold to be given in dowry) must be enforced with a vengeance if we wish to see change. Let us not forget that it was only in January that Deora celebrated the birth of Ms Kanwar's niece, who was born to her first cousin, Shagun Kanwar.

 

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THE PIONEER

COLUMN

MEAN-SPIRITED SHAHID AFRIDI

SUNANDA K DATTA-RAY


His comments may not directly affect India-Pakistan relations but the sour taste they leave cannot but prejudice Indian opinion.


One would like to think Shahid Afridi was misquoted on his bizarre attack on India, its cricketers and media, as well as on Hindus whom he equates with India. But such a comfortable conclusion is impossible since even the Pakistan Cricket Board lost no time in distancing itself from the comments. Instead of giving Afridi the benefit of the doubt, a PCB spokesperson confirmed that the board did not share the team captain's views which were his personal opinion.


That's what is most worrying for reasonable people in the sub-continent who want India and Pakistan to co-exist in harmony. For if a bold and attractive sportsman who "was able to win millions of hearts across the border" as the Daily Times (of Pakistan) rightly reported only the other day, can bring himself to utter such dangerous absurdities, it can only mean that Pakistanis continue to suffer from a deep sense of insecurity aggravated by even a relatively trifling matter like losing a cricket match.


The search for Indian scapegoats is not new. When a Singapore TV interviewer asked the Pakistani High Commissioner on the 50th anniversary of his country's (and India's) independence why there had been so many military coups in Pakistan, his answer astonished watchers. Instead of attempting a serious examination of a major socio-political situation, the envoy blandly announced that India had been so mean about dividing military assets in 1947 that the Pakistani Army continued to nurse a sense of grievance. He did not explain why that sense of grievance was worked out on domestic politicians and the democratic system.


Afridi's charge that the Indian team was less "large-hearted" than the Pakistanis and that India's media blew matters (what matters?) out of proportion, resulting in animosity between the two nations, belongs to that category of make-believe. "You can't hide the fact that no matter how much we try, they (the Indian team) can't be on the same level as us and don't have a heart as big as us," Afridi told Dawn News in response to a question about India's hospitality and treatment. He also described Pakistan's media as "100 times better" — whatever that might mean — than its Indian counterpart.


It has always been fashionable to argue that there are no differences between Indians and Pakistanis at the popular level, and only politicians and Governments create mischief to perpetuate their own control. A variant of this logic is that the subcontinent's politicians and Governments do so because they are not their own masters. Just as the British were once accused of encouraging Muslim exclusivity to frustrate the nationalist movement, the US and China are now accused of creating and exploiting sub-continental differences.

There may be some truth in both charges. Whatever India's present relations with the US, the Americans have for decades armed and financed Pakistan to ignore geopolitical reality and see itself as India's equal. It was like building up Mexico to challenge the US. But these stratagems would not have met with the degree of success they did without the lofty pretentiousness raised on a deep sense of inadequacy that Afridi's remarks expose.

An example from history illustrates the pretentiousness. In 1937 Mohammed Ali Jinnah expected the Muslim League to be given a substantial share of the Government in most provinces, as the Viceroy had instructed the Governors. But the League won less than five per cent of the Muslim vote, which made a mockery of the "sole spokesman" claim.

As for insecurity, one need only hark back to the Muslim League's Mian Mumtaz Daultana who recalled many years after partition that "a Muslim in India did not really quite know whether he was basically a Muslim or an Indian." He still doesn't and he doesn't have to live in India to suffer from a confusion of identities. I recall a senior Pakistani official at high table at one of the Oxford colleges chatting about his time in Washington, DC and how at the end of a long day he and his colleagues liked nothing better than to go for a meal at an … and here his lack of confidence betrayed itself. The man was going to say "an Indian restaurant" but quickly stopped and corrected himself to "a South Asian restaurant".


A Pakistani colleague in Singapore was too simple to be aware of slips. He was tired of noodles, he said, and yearned for wholesome Pakistani food. What's Pakistani food I asked in all innocence, never having been there except for a brief walk in Karachi Port when my boat dropped anchor. "Oh …" he said, without pausing, "dal and sabzi". So, at one level we are not so far apart after all. Or wouldn't be if Pakistanis were not so desperately anxious to prove that dal and sabzi are authentic Islamic dishes imported from West Asia.


Membership of the old Baghdad Pact, later CENTO, and the search for special ties with OIC countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran are not only militarily convenient. It's also a way of forging an identity that is distinctively not Indian. As I wrote in this paper recently, Nirad C Chaudhuri records a Muslim boy in his East Bengal village claiming dates as his favourite fruit though he had never seen any. When my mother complained in a Government office in a small East Pakistan sub-divisional town in 1965 that the lump of resin they had given her as glue didn't stick, the clerk was scandalised. "It's the best!" he exclaimed. "It's from Saudi Arabia!" That, too, was inventing an identity.


Of course, tension between the two countries cannot be reduced only to the Hindu-Muslim equation. Territory and governance create their own responsibilities and liabilities. Wracked by internal storms, Pakistan is unable to come to terms with itself and with its logical position in the sub-continent. If it's "really difficult to have a long-term relationship", as Afridi claimed during a television show on Samaa, it's not because of any Indian shortcomings but because of the attitude that underlies his childish petulance.


The Pakistani team did well in India. They played well, and lost well. The speech he made after losing the semi-final match evoked admiration all round. It's a pity he should spoil it all now. His comments may not directly affect India-Pakistan relations but the sour taste they leave cannot but prejudice Indian opinion.

sunandadr@yahoo.co.in

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

ASSESSING THE FIGHT AGAINST AIDS, 30 YEARS LATER

SIGNIFICANT GAINS HAVE BEEN MADE AGAINST HIV/AIDS BUT THE ACHIEVEMENT IS FRAGILE, SAYS THE UN. ASHIYA PARVEEN ANALYSES THE UN'S 2011 REPORT ON AIDS


It was 1981 when the world first witnessed the emergence of a strange disease, which was later christened as AIDS in a report published by the Centers for Disease Control in the US. Since then sustained efforts have been undertaken to combat the epidemic. Now, in a bid to assess the achievements and set future goals to tackle the global epidemic, the United Nations has released a report, titled 'Uniting for universal access: Towards zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths'. Based on data submitted by 182 countries and on national reviews of universal access to HIV prevention, treatment care and support, the report assesses progress and gaps in the global response.


The report provides five key recommendations to bolster the global fight against HIV: Harness the energy of young people for an HIV prevention revolution, revitalise the push towards achieving universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support by 2015; work with countries to make HIV programmes more cost effective, efficient and sustainable; promote health, human rights and dignity of women and girls and ensure mutual accountability in the AIDS response so as to translate commitments into action.


Hope lies in the fact that the world has moved from a state of "denial to action to achievement". The epidemic may have claimed more than 25 million lives and left more than 60 million people infected in the last 30 years, but we must take comfort in the fact that worldwide efforts and investments to fight AIDS are finally yielding result — already, the report has confirmed a 25 per cent drop in the number of new HIV infections globally. However against this historic progress in the global decline in AIDS incidence, the number of people acquiring infections continue to be on the rise in Eastern Europe, Central Asia, North Africa, Middle East and parts of Asia; additionally, Sub-Saharan Africa is still the most severely affected region, accounting for 68 per cent of all people living with HIV, 69 per cent of new infections and 72 per cent of all AIDS-related death.

It is also heartening to note that the global coverage for antiretroviral prophylaxis — medicines that prohibit HIV or other types of retroviruses from multiplying in the body — is now accessible to at least 50 per cent of those infected by the virus. In fact, by the end of 2010 more than six million people were on antiretroviral treatment. However it must be mentioned that more than 10 years after intervention processes were undertaken to prevent vertical transmission of the disease in areas which had little or no access to adequate resources, the world remains far from protecting newborns from becoming infected. Thus increased efforts are required to integrate HIV testing into antenatal services that monitor the physiological state of pregnant women. It is a matter of concern that only 26 per cent of pregnant women in low- and middle-income countries were tested for HIV in 2009. India too has shown little progress in preventing mother-child transmission of HIV infection.

There is need for continued vigilance, given the evolving nature of easily transmitted epidemic. Prevention strategies must be reinforced and adapted to impact young people, an increasing number of whom are becoming sexually active, to outpace the spread of the infection. Let us not forget that in spite of a 25 per cent of decline in the number of young people infected with AIDS in the top 10 countries where it is most prevalent, the epidemic continued to outpace our response. This underscores the need to revolutionise our efforts to prevent new infections. Given that young people are leading the global revolution against AIDS, the extra emphasis on injecting youth power is a step in the right direction.


At this point, it may be mentioned that too often AIDS prevention strategies at the national level consist of fragmented and disconnected programmes. For instance, in Asia an overwhelming 90 per cent of prevention resources for young people support programmes focussed on low-risk youth, who account for only five per cent of the people acquiring HIV infection. Likewise in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, where the disease is widespread among those people who use drugs, 89 per cent of prevention investment fails to focus on these people who are at high-risk.


While the constantly evolving nature of the epidemic has made the case for additional funds for the global health financial architecture that supports the fights against AIDS, several other social issues — stigma, discrimination and gender inequality, human rights — continue to undermine the efforts. Therefore, even after 30 years into the epidemic human rights violations and social taboos continue to prevent open discussion of the HIV challenge, deter individuals from seeking needed services and support, thus increasing individual vulnerability. Also, globally fewer than 60 per cent of countries report having a mechanism that records, documents and addresses cases of HIV-related discrimination.


Ultimately, it is important to realise that in spite of the recent gains in making treatment more accessible to patients and the relative success of global prevention strategies, the international response to the AIDS epidemic has failed to keep pace with the need for treatment worldwide. Of the 21 countries that have provided data on drug users who are also on antiretrovirals, only 7 countries have reported being able to reach more than five per cent of their target users. Therefore, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has urged Governments across the world to pledge more money to fight AIDS, noting that funding has remained stagnant at around $16 billion since 2007 despite rising costs of drugs and treatment.


Moreover, there is a crying need for all partners to work together, incorporate more civil society actors and plan out effective programmes and strategies that build on the latest scientific developments. This will serve as an extraordinary step towards a world of zero infection, zero discrimination and zero HIV-related deaths.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

HIGH DEFICIT MAY STUNT INDIA'S GROWTH STORY

SHIVAJI SARKAR


Since Budget 2011-12 has not taken into account factors like high deficit, high oil prices and falling investments, the present growth story may go awry. Bold policies with right perspectives are needed to avert a possible crisis


When Union Minister for Finance Pranab Mukherjee presented Budget 2011-12 in Parliament, he concealed more than he showcased for political reasons. The Budget does not reveal that the Government estimates are unrealistic. It is worrisome but true that the growth projected does not take into account factors like high deficit, high crude oil price expectation, falling investments, unaffordable though necessary largesse and the impact of high inflation and interest rates.


For the last two years, the country has a compound inflation rate of about 15 per cent. Deputy Governor of Reserve Bank of India Subir Gokarn, who is in-charge of monetary policy, has admitted that he is concerned because not only food inflation but even non-food manufacturing inflation went up from 4.8 per cent in January to 6.1 per cent in February. It reflects that producers are passing on rising input and investment costs spurred by high interest rates to consumers.


Mr Gokarn agrees that inflation figures are a big worry for achieving the growth target of 8.6 per cent. The Reserve Bank of India plans to counter it with further interest rate hike. Such a measure would lead to fall in investments and higher deposit rates would attract higher bank deposits. Lending cost would rise and so again the cycle of inflation-interest rate would continue ultimately making Government borrowings expensive.

This has also resulted in higher cost of corporate borrowings. With corporate India's appetite for funds growing, external commercial borrowings have become costlier too. As Chairman and Managing Director of National Hydro Power Corporation ABL Srivastava has said that international borrowing is "not a cheaper option for us".

In all likelihood, it will become difficult for India to achieve the deficit target set for the current year at 4.6 per cent. Last year, the Government had a deficit of 5.1 per cent. If the 3G auction revenue is excluded, it will be close to 6.5 per cent. Hence, the target of 4.6 per cent is far from realistic as the expenditure side remains a big worry.

The proposed disinvestments again look doubtful in the volatile global stock market scenario amid political tensions in the Arab world, financial crisis in Europe and meltdown in Japan. In fact, Indian market has witnessed high volatility for a long time due to rising interest rates and mounting inflation. The Bombay Stock Exchange has given one of the lowest returns in the financial year 2010-11 at 11 per cent. The market is more in a selling mood than buying.


Industrial production has turned critical as per the industrial index. Automobile sector growth may get stymied as has been indicated by Honda's move to reduce car production at its Noida unit due to supply constraints of components following the earthquake-induced tsunami in Japan.


Such trends may lead to shortfall on the revenue side. The question again is whether the Government will be able to restrict itself to the projected deficit of 4.6 per cent. In all likelihood, the targets will be exceeded.

The deficit figures are dependent on nine per cent GDP growth. This is an ambitious figure as most independent forecasts hover around eight per cent. This growth, if at all real, was driven by deficit spending. The fiscal deficit, in reality, doubled over the past few years from three per cent of the GDP to six per cent — an increase of about Rs 2.5 lakh crore.


In short, almost three per cent of the GDP growth came from higher Government spending — larger stimulus for corporate sector, backed by borrowings from the market.


The Government is almost repeating the profligacy of the US Government and its economy both before and after the sub-prime crisis. India's overall debt level has increased from 72 per cent of the GDP to 78 per cent over the last two years. Higher debt is a risk. We need to learn from Ireland, Greece, Portugal, Dubai and Japan. It reduces the economic flexibility to withstand any future economic and financial tremors — a large possibility in the present global scenario.


Though the fundamentals are projected to be strong, it is not so. The Government is faced with the challenge of meeting its political goal for affirmative programmes like MNREGS, Food Security Bill, social security commitments and education for all.


The flaw lies in basing budgetary figures on an assumed oil price of $84 per barrel. At present, it is hovering over $100 a barrel. This will have a grim impact on budgetary deficit. It is estimated that borrowing requirements would increase by Rs 36,000 crore for every $10 rise in crude prices. Thus deficit is bound to increase to new highs.


However, this time the earlier cushion of a low interest rate regime is missing. This would have a telling effect on the overall economic scenario. Add to it the unpredictable monsoon and untimely rain. It may lead to a severe price situation in future, particularly amid reports of a yellow rust fungal disease affecting the wheat crop in Himachal, UP and other northern States.


It will not be wrong to conclude that India is having an unreasonable policy looking for extreme short-time propagandist solutions. If it is not corrected, the country will slip into a Europe-like crisis. The present growth story may go awry unless bold policies with right perspectives are adopted.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

 COMMENT

A LITMUS TEST

 

With Anna Hazare undertaking a fast to push for a tougher Lokpal Bill than drafted by the law ministry, the UPA is on the mat again. This time it's confronted by sections of civil society drawn to the social activist's appeal that the anti-graft legislation be given more teeth. Admittedly, agitational methods aren't the ideal way to resolve issues. But there's no disputing that Hazare's crusade has garnered widespread support, bringing corruption at the centre of public focus. The UPA regime clearly hasn't read the popular mood well. This isn't to say it's wrong in claiming that no precedent exists for forming a "joint committee" comprising lawmakers and civil society members to produce legislation, as the activists demand. Framing and passing laws are the government's and legislature's business. Yet the UPA has only itself to blame for being challenged on this score. Its proposed Bill has enough loopholes to buttress the view that enacting it will amount to tokenism.

Hit by a series of scams, the UPA has increasingly been perceived as mishandling graft-related controversies. Coming on the back of its CVC bungle, the lokpal controversy adds to this impression. Not without reason. Under the Bill in its current form, the lokpal can't act independently nor entertain complaints directly. It can only deal with graft cases forwarded by leaders of the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, and there's no ruling out attempts to influence their decisions. Moreover, in its inquiry report, it can only make recommendations to authorities not obliged to follow them. Nor can it get FIRs registered with the aim of probing and prosecuting the accused.


The turf of this rather toothless watchdog is circumscribed as well. It can investigate cases involving MPs, ministers and prime ministers but not officials, though scams have time and again exposed the politician-bureaucrat nexus. Certain prime ministerial actions will also be beyond scrutiny, such as when related to external affairs, security or defence. This effectively puts corruption in defence deals outside the lokpal's purview. Other worries include the scope for patronage politics in relation to the body's membership, which is limited to retired judges, and the selection panel's composition.


The government must reach out to civil society, committing to revisit the Bill's problem areas. On their part, the activists shouldn't insist that the Jan Lokpal Bill they've drafted be accepted in full. Intransigence isn't helpful, not least because reservations have been expressed - including by Karnataka's Lokayukta - about some of their rather sweeping proposals. The way forward is to let the National Advisory Council mediate, placing a set of recommendations reflecting civil society's views before the government. All eyes, however, are on UPA. No anti-graft ombudsman can deliver with hands tied. So, the Bill in its final form will test just how serious the government is on fighting corruption.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

COMMENT

OBAMA'S BID

 

The US presidential elections are more than a year and a half away - November 2012 - but battle lines are already being drawn. President Barack Obama's statement on Monday that he will be running again for office is the earliest any White House incumbent has announced his re-election bid. It may well give him the initiative given the stark contrast with the Republicans who have plenty of candidates still testing the waters but refusing to dive in. But it has also laid him open to charges of being a politician rather than a leader, given that the US is currently in a budget crisis. Plus the announcement comes at a time when US intervention in Libya is domestically unpopular, though Obama has the Europeans sharing the burden there.


The main issue is likely to be the economy. Given the magnitude of the post-2008 global crisis, he has been judged by subsequent events he often had no control over. That some of his policies have been less than sound has added to the problem. Nonetheless, the Americans have seen the US economy fare better than expected in 2011 with unemployment now falling to 8.8%. Obama also managed a coup in end-2010 in getting the Republicans to agree to extend tax cuts for nearly every working American. While it's impossible to predict next year's winner with any certainty, at the moment Obama seems to be in with a good chance. His strongest allies may well be the Republicans themselves. They have lurched far to the right as well as created a perception for themselves of unconstructive negativism, with their constant attacks on Obama's policies without providing concrete alternatives. This won't endear them to the all-important independent voters.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

TOP ARTICLE

PROTECT THE NEXT GENERATION

 

My career has been spent on the campuses of schools and colleges. Over four decades, the most heart-warming change i've noticed is the increase in the population of girls in Indian classrooms. Today's young women have better opportunities, greater academic accomplishment and, at least in our big cities and urban milieu, greater social autonomy than ever before.


In the past decade, as India's economy has grown and as the media and marketing revolutions have transformed our society, urban women are living a different lifestyle. As a teacher, i see this in schools and colleges every day. It is evident in the way young people eat, meet, interact, entertain and relax.


Some tend to be judgemental about these changes and see them as necessarily bad; i'm not so sure. Evolution is inevitable. We should welcome it and adapt to it, rather than rail against it. Unfortunately, not enough effort is being made in this direction.


Take public health, particularly the health of women. Lifestyle changes, the growth of a snack food culture, tobacco use, greater sexual freedoms and career women postponing pregnancy decisions: all of these have profound health implications. Are we preparing our young women for these? As an educationist, i can never run away from that fundamental question.


Why am i focussed on health implications for women? After all, new lifestyles and modes of living and working affect men equally, and surely have health consequences for them as well. True, but two caveats need to be entered here. First, there are some diseases - i refer specifically to two cancers, that of the breast and that of the cervix - that are exclusive to women. Second, however much we may have closed the gender gap, the fact is that as a society we spend much less on the care and treatment of ill women than of men. Regrettably, this distinction is made in the mansions of Malabar Hill as much as in the slums of Dharavi.


I've worked with breast cancer victims and awareness groups and much more is known about this disease today than even a decade ago. It's time to focus on cervical cancer prevention and treatment too. This is one of the rare cancers that is preventable and curable. Yet it afflicts 1,34,000 additional women in India each year (2008 figures). Some 2,75,000 women die of cervical cancer in the world every year. One of every four does so in India. One-third of women who register for cancer diagnosis in Indian hospitals suffer from cervical cancer.

The most common cause of cervical cancer is the human papillomavirus (HPV). The scientist who made that connection won the Nobel prize for medicine a few years ago. HPV is transmitted during sexual contact, particularly when the woman's immune system has been weakened by, for instance, smoking. Nevertheless, we hardly tell our young women about it.


Puberty brings about a kaleidoscope of changes in a girl's persona - physical, physiological and psychological. Puberty is therefore crucial to cervical cancer spread or, if we get it right, prevention. Experimenting with unprotected sex at this stage can enhance the risk of contracting HPV. A woman's cervix is underdeveloped at this age and has an immature epithelium (the top layer of tissue on the skin). This makes chances of infection higher.

Routine screening of the cervix through tests such as the pap smear is advisable for sexually active women of 30 years or older. It can offer early detection of cervical cancer. This test needs to be repeated every three years, as per protocols in most developed countries.

The remarkable aspect of modern medical science is that we can arrest and combat the cancer (or more accurately, pre-cancer) at several points. More recently, the HPV test is available to detect the presence of infection with high risk HPV types. Even if the HPV test is positive, it still does not mean the woman has cervical cancer; she just has an HPV infection.


Most HPV infections are temporary and the body's immune system subdues the infection in due course. Only if the virus persists will there be higher chances of the infection causing cervical cancer cell abnormalities and, later, cervical cancer. As such, layered, multiple and regular screening is essential. It can lead to timely detection and treatment, and prevent death due to cancer of the cervix.


Cervical cancer can also be prevented by using vaccines. Medical professionals recommend vaccinating with the HPV vaccine prior to a woman's first sexual encounter. A World Health Organisation position paper on HPV vaccination says: "HPV vaccines are most efficacious in females who are naive to vaccine-related HPV types. The primary target population is likely to be girls within the age of nine or 10 years through 13 years."


HPV vaccines are in use in over 100 countries. They are endorsed by the Federation of Obstetric and Gynaecological Societies of India and the Indian Academy of Paediatrics. We should tell our daughters about them. Indeed, we should start a conversation about cervical cancer. The next generation needs to know, and


The writer is the Sheriff of Mumbai and principal of H R College of Commerce and Economics.


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THE TIMES OF INDIA

TIMES VIEW

NOT SPORTING AT ALL

 

The International Cricket Council's (ICC) decision to restrict the 2015 and 2019 editions of the World Cup to just 10 teams is disappointing. The move shuts out non-Test playing associate nations such as Ireland and the Netherlands from competing at the highest level of world cricket. It also reduces the lustre of the marquee event. Instead of taking the game to uncharted territories, the regressive step punishes even those countries that have made significant strides in improving their cricketing infrastructure in recent years.

Currently, Ireland are ranked 10th in the ICC rankings ahead of
Zimbabwe. Their performance in the recent World Cup, including a victory over England with batsman Kevin O'Brien scoring the fastest century in tournament history, was highly encouraging. Yet they find themselves short-changed. Similarly, exciting talents such as Ryan ten Doeschate of the Netherlands and Hiral Patel of Canada will have to wait for at least eight years before they can again represent their country at the World Cup. Without the coveted tournament to aim for, government support and corporate sponsorship for the game in the associate nations are bound to dry up. Compensating the latter with T20 cricket is not enough. Talented cricketers will migrate to greener pastures in Test-playing nations and deprive youth back home of role models.

The argument that including minnow teams lengthens the World Cup format and leads to fatigue cuts no ice. There was no loss of intensity in the 2011 World Cup despite it being played over 43 days. By excluding the associates, the ICC precludes the possibility of upsets that add to the game's excitement. There's no denying that the minnows bring colour to the World Cup. The ICC would do well to stop thinking about financial gains alone and focus on expanding the sport around the globe.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

COUNTERVIEW

THE LEANER, THE BETTER

JAY KUMAR

 

The ICC's decision to trim the 2015 and 2019 World Cups to just 10 countries is welcome. It will ensure that the 2015 event, co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand, will revert to the ideal system of showcasing 10 Test-playing nations. Let's not join the bandwagon of nations and players criticising cricket's top international governing body. The move is to be seen in the correct perspective. Let's start by accepting that the 14-nation format of the recently concluded World Cup was unwieldy.


Spread over six weeks, the tournament was unnecessarily lengthy. Also, long breaks between matches affected the momentum of strong teams like Australia. While cricket is a game of uncertainties, there was little doubt about the results of matches involving minnows. Barring the upset by Ireland playing England in the group stage, Canada, Kenya and the Netherlands failed to impress at the 2011 World Cup edition. Also, matches involving the associate nations hardly generated public interest. The success of the recent tournament had more to do with the subcontinent's emergence as a cricketing powerhouse than its format.



The ICC cannot ignore the commercial aspect of the game as a viable sport attracting sponsors. Also, big-ticket events like the World Cup should be more about upholding the competitive spirit of the game. The passport to participating in such events must be earned with consistent performance. The ICC has adopted the right approach by introducing a qualification process for the last two berths in the 2019 edition. Besides, the nations left out have been adequately compensated with an expanded Twenty20 World Cup, which will include 16 teams. All the more reason the ICC need not reconsider its decision.


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THE TIMES OF INDIA

ERRATICA

DANCES WITH DOLPHINS

BACHI KARKARIA

 

The US of A may be known best for its hamburgers and its ham-handed efforts at burgering faraway countries, but it's even better at 'exhibitionism'. It shows off past and present with a menage a trois of research, technology and imagination. Compared to our deathly dull museums, each display is alive, interactive and, most differently of all, 'Please Touch'.

Every visit turns me green and red. Why can't we strut our own stuff when we have so much more, and in such greater diversity? Is our failure to showcase it, and to show-cash it, despite the abundance - or because of it?

Several years ago, i visited 'Mississippi Rising' at Chicago's Field Museum. While projecting the flood in this myth-steeped river, the exhibition netted history, culture, race, sociology, wildlife - and merchandise. Sweep and detail were equally riveting. One of its greatest challenges was to recreate the squelch and even the smell. And no one was afraid of humour. Playing on the landmark abortion case of 'Roe vs Wade', a signage read 'Row vs Wade: It's Your Choice'.

This time, ocean not river made me weep at our cavalier refusal to ignite young minds with our own wealth. In tow with No. 1 Son, i went to the inaugural reception for Dolphin Tales, the
Georgia Aquarium's new, sixth gallery. Atlanta's A List tucked into Wolfgang Puck's gourmet delights as ghostly white Beluga whales and other exotic creatures floated surreally past the display windows of the Oceans Ballroom. We then trooped into the custom-built theatre with 1,800 seats facing a striking liquid stage for an hour of pure Wow. The original score was recorded in Hollywood, a live tenor 'Starspinner' chronicled a mythic story of good and evil, laser and water SFX lit up the auditorium as the star cast of dolphins enchanted the whooping crowd.

Georgia Aquarium is the world's largest, even though
Atlanta isn't within sniffing distance of the sea. It has become a must-visit on all my trips, riveting me as much by the idea of its serious marine life research and school programmes as by the hypnotic glide of shark whales and the cavorting of otters in its 10-million-gallon expanse. India has a coastline of 7,500 km, and not a single aquarium worth the name. Mumbai has been yapping for decades about cliches on a 'state-of-the art' new one, but is still stuck with the Taraporevala 'machhi ghar'; its grimy showcases are an insult even to the city's fish markets.

But, then, can you expect any better when the historic mill lands have become a grab-as-grab-can money-making racket, but none of the fat-cat beneficiaries have seen fit to set up a
museum to the textile industry which once wove Mumbai's fortunes, and whose prime real estate continues to spin their own? Can you imagine the historical, cultural, social and educational potential of such a technologically powered facility? As significant, can you imagine the global image booster this could be for its sponsors?

The founder, benefactor and CEO of Georgia Aquarium is Bernie Marcus, co-founder of Home Depot; Coca-Cola, Georgia-Pacific, AT&T, etc pour megabucks into the animals, equipment and off-site research facilities. Hundreds of ordinary Atlanta citizens contribute their time and energy. The GA is just one more testament to the twin forces of philanthropy and voluntarism which power American institutions. Indeed, America itself.

We have more history, more presentable resources, and more precedents. The most modest village mela is a case study in the marketing of tradition as spectacle; any launch even in a Tier III town proves how well we've learnt that 'There's no business that's not show business'; and we have a tradition of both trusteeship and seva. So what's our excuse?

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

OUR TAKE

NO MORE PUSSYFOOTING

Before the World Cup victory came as a happy digression last week, there was only one issue sticking to people's minds: corruption. From the 2010 Commonwealth Games to the 2G telecom scam to the 'mini' ones involving municipal bodies and lower-level babus, the scam-o-metre under the UPA government has been  abuzz. Unsurprisingly, public faith in government institutions is now at an all-time low. Responding to that, veteran social activist Anna Hazare launched his fast-unto-death campaign earlier this week and has demanded the government constitute a joint committee comprising government officials and civilians to frame a fresh Lokpal Bill to tackle corruption realistically.  When protests against the draft of the Lokpal Bill started, the UPA played the waiting game — waiting also for an opportunity to wriggle out of any promise. Then, when it became evident that public pressure was mounting and there was no way out, it quickly changed tact and played the 'victim' card ("the timing of the protests is questionable" etc). When neither of the two strategies worked, the government went into a confrontationist mode, calling Mr Hazare's indefinite fast "not appropriate, probably unnecessary".

The main reason behind this confrontation between the government and civil society is the updated but toothless draft of the Lokpal Bill prepared by the law ministry with 'inputs' from the department of personnel and training. The two key differences between the government and the public are, one, whether the Lokpal can receive complaints from the public and, two, whether it has any jurisdiction over all politicians, bureaucrats and judges. According to the government's proposal, the Lokpal can receive complaints only from Parliament. The activists are rightly demanding the Lokpal be allowed to receive complaints from the public directly and be able initiate investigations. In a country, where public officers are not known to be exactly responsive to genuine complaints, keeping them outside the ambit of law is counterproductive. The government also wants to keep bureaucrats, the original backroom boys of the political class, outside the purview of the Bill. Both these provisions show the intent of the government clearly: pass the law but make it toothless.

The government feels Mr Hazare is only indulging in 'blackmail'. It would, by the same logic, deem public demand for tangibles (food, water etc) and intangibles (good and clean governance) as diversionary tactics. For its own benefit, it will be best for the political class to engage with the public now. Would it be ready to pay the price later at the hustings? Or will the lot deem the voters' demand for the basics of clean democracy also as blackmail?

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

THE PUNDIT

INDIA'S GETAFIX

Calling Gary Kirsten the Dronacharya of the Indian cricket team doesn't do him full justice. When he was appointed by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) as the coach of the team in late 2007, India was still having trepidations about having a foreigner coaching a talented but unstable bunch.

New Zealander John Wright and Australian Greg Chappell handled the team in their distinctive ways, but debates about clash of cricketing cultures continued to crop up even as Kirsten started the second innings of his career with India's tour to South Africa. Those were still difficult times where instead of balls hitting stumps and bats hitting leather, egos knocked against each other to make raucous sounds on and off the playing field. Kirsten's entry saw the beginning of Team India play as one fighting unit. He may have provided a secret potion that unified and galvanised a team that not only started winning matches and series but also won them as a No. 1 team.

Which is why more than Dronacharya, Kirsten should be seen as Getafix, the druid in Asterix comics. Instead of reinventing the wheel, Kirsten made the likes of Sachin Tendulkar (the Obelix in the team who fell into a cauldron of magic potion as a child to gain permanent 'superhuman' powers) play seamlessly with the other talents in the team. There was only one objective: to win and win consistently.

Coaching India isn't the most relaxing of jobs going around. With a billion-plus cricketing pundits and as many people who expect instant results, the coach of the Indian team was never an enviable job. But Kirsten pulled it off — and not only by pushing India to lift the World Cup but to be there to nudge the three-year train up a tricky terrain across all forms of the game. On Tuesday, Kirsten officially bid goodbye to return to his family in South Africa. The country should fare him well and do him the honours by acknowledging his tremendous role in stirring and serving a magic potion whose effects we'll be savouring for a long time.

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH

THE ANTI-NUCLEAR BRIGADE HAS GREATLY EXAGGERATED THE DANGERS OF RADIATION TO FIRM UP ITS OWN AGENDA, WRITES GEORGE MONBIOT

 

Over the last fortnight, I've made a deeply troubling discovery. The anti-nuclear movement to which I once belonged has misled the world about the impacts of radiation on human health. The claims we have made are ungrounded in science, unsupportable when challenged and wildly wrong. We have done other people, and ourselves, a terrible disservice.

I began to see the extent of the problem after a debate last week with Helen Caldicott. Dr Caldicott is the world's foremost anti-nuclear campaigner. She has received 21 honorary degrees and scores of awards and was nominated for a Nobel peace prize. Like other greens, I was in awe of her. In the debate, she made some striking statements about the dangers of radiation.
So I did what anyone faced with questionable scientific claims should do: I asked for the sources. Caldicott's response has profoundly shaken me.

First, she sent me nine documents: newspaper articles, press releases and an advertisement. None were scientific publications; none contained sources for the claims she had made. But one of the press releases referred to a report by the US National Academy of Sciences, which she urged me to read. I have now done so -all 423 pages. It supports none of the statements I questioned; in fact it strongly contradicts her claims about the health effects of radiation. I pressed her further and she gave me answers that made my heart sink -in most cases they referred to publications which had little or no scientific standing, which did not support her claims or which contradicted them.
I have just read her book, Nuclear Power Is Not the Answer. The scarcity of references to scientific papers and the abundance of unsourced claims it contains amaze me.

For the last 25 years, anti-nuclear campaigners have been racking up the figures for deaths and diseases caused by the Chernobyl disaster and parading deformed babies like a medieval circus. They now claim 985,000 people have been killed by Chernobyl and that it will continue to slaughter people for generations to come.
These claims are false.

The UN Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (Unscear) is the equivalent of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Like the IPCC, it calls on the world's leading scientists to assess thousands of papers and produce an overview. Here is what it says about the impacts of Chernobyl.

Of the workers who tried to contain the emergency at Chernobyl, 134 suffered acute radiation syndrome; 28 died soon afterwards. Nineteen others died later but generally not from diseases associated with radiation. The remaining 87 have suffered other complications, including four cases of solid cancer and two of leukaemia.In the rest of the population, there have been 6,848 cases of thyroid cancer among young children -arising "almost entirely" from the Soviet Union's failure to prevent people from drinking milk contaminated with iodine 131.
Otherwise "there has been no persuasive evidence of any other health effect in the general population that can be attributed to radiation exposure". People living in the countries affected today "need not live in fear of serious health consequences from the Chernobyl accident". Caldicott told me that Unscear's work on Chernobyl is "a total cover-up". Though I have pressed her to explain, she has yet to produce a shred of evidence for this contention.

In a column last week, the Guardian's environment editor, John Vidal, angrily denounced my position on nuclear power.
On a visit to Ukraine in 2006, he saw "deformed and genetically mutated babies in the wards ... adolescents with stunted growth and dwarf torsos; foetuses without thighs or fingers".
What he did not see was evidence that these were linked to the Chernobyl disaster. Professor Gerry Thomas, who worked on the health effects of Chernobyl for Unscear, tells me there is "absolutely no evidence" for an increase in birth defects. The National Academy paper Dr Caldicott urged me to read came to similar conclusions. It found that radiation-induced mutation in sperm and eggs is such a small risk "that it has not been detected in humans, even in thoroughly studied irradiated populations such as those of Hiroshima and Nagasaki".

Like Vidal and many others, Caldicott pointed me to a book which claims that 985,000 people have died as a result of the disaster. Translated from Russian and published by the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, this is the only document that looks scientific and appears to support the wild claims made by greens about Chernobyl.

A devastating review in the journal Radiation Protection Dosimetry points out that the book achieves this figure by the remarkable method of assuming that all increased deaths from a wide range of diseases -including many that have no known association with radiation -were caused by the Chernobyl accident. There is no basis for this assumption, not least because screening in many countries improved dramatically after the disaster and, since 1986, there have been massive changes in the former eastern bloc. The study makes no attempt to correlate exposure to radiation with the incidence of disease.

Its publication seems to have arisen from a confusion about whether Annals was a book publisher or a scientific journal. The academy has given me this statement: "In no sense did Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences or the New York Academy of Sciences commission this work; nor by its publication do we intend to independently validate the claims made in the translation or in the original publications cited in the work. The translated volume has not been peer reviewed by the New York Academy of Sciences, or by anyone else."

Failing to provide sources, refuting data with anecdote, cherry-picking studies, scorning the scientific consensus, invoking a cover-up: all this is horribly familiar. These are the habits of climate-change deniers, against which the green movement has struggled valiantly, calling science to its aid. It is distressing to discover that when the facts don't suit them, members of this movement resort to the follies they have denounced.

We have a duty to base our judgements on the best available information. This is not only because we owe it to other people to represent the issues fairly but also because we owe it to ourselves not to squander our lives on fairytales. A great wrong has been done by this movement. We must put it right.

George Monbiot is the author of Bring On the Apocalypse: Six Arguments for Global Justice The Guardian The views expressed by the author are personal

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

A JPC ON THE PAC!

Sir, can you please tell us what was asked at the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) looking into the 2G scam?

I'm sorry, it's all sub-judice.

Can you at least tell us what you mean when you said that Ratan Tata was being 'cooperative' and Niira Radia 'elusive'?

By that I mean that Mr Tata was helpful while Ms Radia wasn't. Beyond that, I can't comment.

Our sources tell us the PAC actually didn't ask any questions. Samosas and cold drinks were served, some World Cup matches were discussed and you, sir, had told them to pretend that they were being interrogated.

And how do you know all this?

Well, sir, with everything sub-judice, we don't have any clue what the PAC is doing and whether it's really doing anything at all.

I see. Let there be a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) probe into the PAC's functioning then!

Do say: Ratan Tata confessed being lonely enough to chat for minutes with crank-callers.

Don't say: No one called Niira Radia.

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

FROM WORDS TO CLICHÉS

SANJAY JHA

In the mid-1970s, during the tense days of Jayaprakash Narayan's Total Revolution, the announcements over All India Radio were always reassuring: 'the situation is tense but under control'. As someone once said, at the beginning  was the Word, at the end just the Cliché. Adding to them is the never-ending supply of esoteric terms that make a grand appearance, like 'thought-showers'. The first time someone told me to take a 'rain check', I looked outside my window. It was an incandescent day.

In TV studios, the most famous wife is not Aishwarya or Angelina but the better half of Julius Caesar. As pundits shake their head and say, "He must be above suspicion like Caesar's wife".

These days, of course, we are in a 'deficit' trap, with even my driver complaining of a salary-deficit. 'Crony capitalism' is the new name for enriching family and friends in corporate India. Another corny term in circulation is 'jugaad'. Mostly used by frequent fliers in business class to display their understanding of Bharat, it has great sound byte value especially at frozen destinations like Davos. Frankly, why do people not 'think out of the box'?

'Due diligence' is overdue, and 'corporate governance' lend the Harvard dimension to boardroom meetings. It is our 'systemic malaise' that fails us despite tech giants like Infosys and Wipro. Consumer marketing guys go for the over-kill when suggesting 'customer intimacy' on a public platform. Of course, you must grab that 'low-hanging fruit' pronto, before competition does. If you are ill-equipped for that arduous task, it's a congenital deficiency, you just 'don't have it in your DNA'. 'It's not rocket science', says the boss, whenever he wants you to feel foolish.

Despite the 2G scam, 'bandwidth' commands a huge spectrum among managers. Who cares for over-used resources these days? Whenever someone switches seamlessly to 'having said that', you know some bad news is in the offing. 'Notwithstanding' is passé.

The IT crowd has introduced us to 'deliverables', while making their 'back of the envelope' calculation. They also don't want your contact details anymore, only your 'coordinates'.

Thanks to the flood of corruption cases, 'transparency' towers above all with Amazonian arrogance. 'Best practices' are usually best ignored. Everyone wants to leave behind a 'footprint'.It's not just the razor blade, but even the PPTs that have to be 'cutting edge'.

And after those 'brainstorming sessions', a 'paradigm shift' is the next step to get traction. Isn't it far less exquisite and boring to say, let's just think differently to create results? Again, all companies, whether or not in the energy business, need a 'leadership pipeline'.

My mind spins when Shah Rukh Khan and Priyanka Chopra spend 'quality time together' in his van. It has replaced the usual favourite 'just good friends' by far.

And when my daughters say, "Dad, stop being a loser", they are only affirming what my wife has been stating all along. Speak up, my friend, even if no one is listening.

Sanjay Jha is executive director, Dale Carnegie Training India

The views expressed by the author are personal

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

WRONG ABOUT GAZA

DAVID GOLDFARB

On December 27, 2008, after an eight-year-long barrage of 12,000 rockets directed at its towns and cities, Israel launched a military operation against Hamas' terror infrastructure in Gaza. Operation 'Cast Lead' had two objectives: to stop the bombardment of Israeli civilians by destroying Hamas' mortar and rocket launching apparatus and to reduce the ability of Hamas and other terrorist organisations in Gaza to perpetrate future attacks against the civilian population in Israel.

The fact-finding mission established by the UN Human Rights Council under a flawed and narrow mandate, chaired by Justice Richard Goldstone, submitted a report that has served as the basis for a tirade against Israel. Now, 18 months later, Goldstone has in effect retracted the entire basis of his report (Reconsidering the Goldstone Report on Israel and War Crimes by Richard Goldstone, April 1, Washington Post), thus pulling the rug from under those who exploited it for political and legal ends. Goldstone completely backtracks on the key components of his commission's findings.

First, while reaffirming that Hamas purposefully and indiscriminately aimed its rockets at civilian targets, he clarifies that Israel never acted in such manner. Goldstone also acknowledges that the majority of casualties in Gaza were indeed combatants and not civilians.

He emphasises that since the 2009 war, Israel has engaged in serious investigations of allegations of operational misconduct in Gaza and has implemented numerous policy changes for protecting civilians in urban warfare. At the same time, he stipulates that Hamas has not conducted any investigations whatsoever into the launching of rocket and mortar attacks against Israel. (In fact, he now recognises that asking a terror organisation to investigate itself may have been a mistaken enterprise.)

Goldstone further criticises Hamas, saying that not only have they not investigated their own war crimes, but they continue to commit them till today. Since the report, Hamas has directed hundreds of rockets and mortar rounds at civilian targets in Israel. Goldstone now calls on the UN Human Rights Council to condemn these heinous acts in the strongest terms.

In his admission of self-introspection, Goldstone now criticises the body that mandated his fact-finding Mission in the first place, and says that the UN Human Rights Council's history of bias against Israel cannot be doubted. This statement comes after years of obsessive and unbalanced condemnation of Israel by a UN body controlled by some of the world's leading human rights violators such as Libya and Syria.

The Goldstone report not only caused damage to Israel and its reputation but was also a drawback in the struggle of all free societies against terror organisations. Goldstone's public retraction is perhaps too little too late. Yet, it serves a lesson to those who automatically accuse Israel for all wrongs in the region while conveniently ignoring the reality it is facing.

Israel has made clear its commitment to the two-State solution of Israel living in peace with a Palestinian State. If the international community wishes to advance this settlement, it must strongly denounce all terror attacks and support defensive actions designed to protect civilians.

Among those who insist on seeing Israel as the epitome of all evil, Goldstone will now be transformed from hero to villain. Yet, for those who seek objectivity and justice, the undermining of the report by its very author must cause serious grounds for thought on the rights and wrongs in West Asia.

David Goldfarb is spokesperson, Embassy of Israel, New Delhi

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

THEY, THE PEOPLE

 

Anna Hazare, the 72-year- old social activist from Maharashtra, has earned enormous respect for his work on village development, on transparency in government, and as an anti-corruption campaigner. The indefinite fast that he has started to call for his preferred draft of a Lokpal bill, constituting an ombudsman at the Central level, thus is believed to have formidable moral weight behind it. Yet the Jan Lokpal Bill, as this "civil society" draft is known, is a mishmash of unworkable and dangerous ideas which no government could seriously consider allowing in as legislation.

The Lokpal movement has considerable history to it, being suggested for the first time in the 1960s by the first Administrative Reforms Commission. Several states — 18 as of now — have state-level ombudsmen, known as Lokayuktas. They have not noticeably curbed corruption in those states. The new Jan Lokpal Bill, however, addresses few of the real problems that dog those investigations. Instead it tries to completely sideline existing administrative machinery, which it treats as irredeemably tainted. Even the Central and state vigilance commissions are to be merged into the new Lokpal, and it will have "its own investigative and prosecutorial machinery" and promises to deliver justice, summarily, within one year of a complaint being registered — or, if necessary, recognised suo motu, on its own initiative. This will, it is believed, insulate investigation from political pressure. It will, more obviously and directly, create what the lawyer Atul Nanda has called "a supercop-superprosecutor-judge, all rolled into one." That is a fundamentally undemocratic and illiberal result, ignoring centuries of precedents suggesting such combinations do not crusade against any established centre of power, but instead become a particularly uncontrollable part of the establishment themselves.

The only tiny hope that Hazare and other supporters of the Jan Lokpal draft hold out against this overwhelmingly likely possibility is that the individual at the head will be selected by a committee that will be partly non-governmental in organisation. For example, it will include all Indian Nobel Laureates, and the two most recent winners

of the Ramon Magsaysay Awards — hardly a substitute for real electoral accountability. This sort of thinking among the privileged members of civil society, a belief that they alone can speak for "the people" and elected representatives cannot, is dangerous. Civil society is meant to engage with institutions, not supplant them. The government cannot buckle to this demand, and the Congress party, which has enabled the NGO sector's vaulting ambition, has to stand firm behind it.

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

THE PRODIGAL'S FAST

 

There are quirks of fate that provide opportunities to the devil to read the gospel back to us. Right now, the devil reading the gospel is none other than Rajesh Ranjan, alias Pappu Yadav, serving a life sentence in Patna's Beur jail for the 1998 murder of CPM legislator Ajit Sarkar. He has found a cause in social activist Anna Hazare's much-publicised fast-unto-death over which version of the Jan Lokpal Bill should become law. Yadav is inflicting upon himself his own"fast-unto-death", refusing to quit till Hazare's vision of a body politic rid of corruption becomes reality.

Well, the law took its time to catch up with the former four-time MP. The Ajit Sarkar case is the only one that got Yadav convicted — in 2008. But it's only one among several cases pending against him. The life term resulted in Yadav being barred from contesting the 2009 Lok Sabha polls and eventually in his expulsion from the RJD, whose membership he had held off and on, flirting in between with the Samajwadi Party and the LJP. His story is not unique. But it's the individual who changes the contours and trajectory of crime to become the thing-in-itself. From allegedly a petty cycle thief, Yadav grew into a mafia don along each step up the political ladder.

It's the system that allowed him to thrive before finally putting him away that Yadav now wants cleansed. Should we be moved? Should we rebuke ourselves for even noticing? At least, nobody is screaming his name in parks and town squares. To read the Bible like the devil means reading what and how one wants to. But everything the devil does is tailored to serve his self-same purpose of old, because, to begin with, it is insincere.

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

JUDGES, REFORMERS

 

Laws can upend well-entrenched social discrimination. Sometimes, even a new interpretation of an old law can set right age-old prejudices and regressive attitudes. That is what the recent Supreme Court judgment on an "illegitimate child's" entitlement to property has attempted to do. The bench went against the apex court's own earlier verdicts — which had stated that illegitimate children were entitled only to the "self-acquired" property of parents — and said that children born out of wedlock are equally entitled to the ancestral property their parents might have inherited.

An illegitimate child could have a fraught relationship with the society around — from minor taunts to greater discrimination to a sense of displacement in a rigidly structured, deeply patriarchal community that has its own idea of what a family should be. This was furthered by a rather restricted reading of Section 16 (3) of the Hindu Marriage Act 1953, which doesn't confer on children born in what's called in legal parlance "null or voidable marriage" any rights in or to the property of anyone but their parents. This was, until now, explained away as having no right whatsoever to ancestral property. In a progressive and large-hearted verdict now, the court has foregrounded the individual dignity of the child, no matter what the relationship between the parents. It has pointed out that an illegitimate child "is entitled to all the rights which are given to other children born in valid marriages" and said a legal interpretation should further rather than frustrate the social purpose of removing stigma from such children. By expanding the scope of the law, by interpreting the parents' property which a child can acquire to include ancestral as well as self-acquired property, the court has ensured that whatever societal stigma an illegitimate child carries doesn't get compounded by an unnecessarily regressive reading of the law.

The judgment has in a sense placed the individual at the very heart of a family, given it a sense of lineage even — something our society has been extremely reluctant to do. Once again, our courts have served to open out and democratise our social practices.

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

OF THE FEW, BY THE FEW

PRATAP BHANU MEHTA

 

Sometimes a sense of unbridled virtue can also subvert democracy. The agitation by civil society activists over the Jan Lokpal Bill is a reminder of this uncomfortable truth. There is a great deal of justified consternation over corruption. The obduracy of the political leadership is testing the patience of citizens. But the movement behind the Jan Lokpal Bill is crossing the lines of reasonableness. It is premised on an institutional imagination that is at best naïve; at worst subversive of representative democracy.

The morality of fasting unto death for a political cause in a constitutional democracy has always been a tricky issue. There is something deeply coercive about fasting unto death. When it is tied to an unparalleled moral eminence, as it is in the case of Anna Hazare, it amounts to blackmail. There may be circumstances, where the tyranny of government is so oppressive, or the moral cause at stake so vital that some such method of protest is called for. But in a functioning constitutional democracy, not having one's preferred institutional solution to a problem accepted, does not constitute a sufficient reason for the exercise of such coercive moral power. This is not the place to debate when a fast-unto-death is appropriate. But B.R. Ambedkar was surely right, in one of his greatest speeches, to warn that recourse to such methods was opening up a democracy to the "grammar of anarchy".

Corruption is a challenge. And public agitation is required to shame government. But it is possible to maintain, in reasonable good faith, that the Jan Lokpal Bill is not necessarily the best, or the only solution to the corruption challenge. We should not turn a complex institutional question into a simplistic moral imperative. Many of the people in the movement for the Jan Lokpal Bill have set examples of sacrifice and integrity that lesser mortals can scarcely hope to emulate. But it is the high vantage point of virtue that has occluded from view certain uncomfortable truths about institutions.

The various drafts of the Jan Lokpal Bill are, very frankly, an institutional nightmare. To be fair, the bill is a work in progress. But the general premises that underlie the various drafts border on being daft. They amount to an unparalleled concentration of power in one institution that will literally be able to summon any institution and command any kind of police, judicial and investigative power. Power, divided in a democracy, can often be alibi for evading responsibility. But it is also a guarantee that the system is not at the mercy of a few good men. Having concentrated immense power, it then displays extraordinary faith in the virtue of those who will wield this power. Why do we think this institution will be incorruptible? The answer seems to be that the selection mechanism will somehow ensure a superior quality of guardians. Why? Because the selection committee, in addition to the usual virtuous judges, will have, as one draft very reassuringly put it, two of the "most recent Magsaysay Award Winners". Then there is no sense of jurisdiction and limits. It is not going to look at corruption only. It can even look into "wasteful" expenditure. They can, potentially usurp all policy prerogatives of democratic governments. So many accountability institutions, in the name of accountability, are not distinguishing between policy issues and corruption. They are perpetuating the myth that government can function without any discretionary judgment.

But the demand is premised on an idea that non-elected institutions that do not involve politicians are somehow the only ones that can be trusted. This assumption is false. Institutions of all kinds have succeeded and failed. But the premise of so much accountability discourse is not just contempt of politicians, but contempt of representative democracy. This contempt is reflected in two ways. There are several mechanisms of accountability in place. They have not worked as well as they should; vested interests have subverted them. But interestingly, despite those interests, governments are being called to account. Most of us are as aghast as any of the agitators about the evasions of government. But it does not follow that creating a draconian new institution that diminishes everything from the Prime Minister's Office to the Supreme Court is a solution. The net result of a "Lokpal" will be to weaken the authority of even other well-functioning institutions. No agitation focuses on sensible, manageable reform of representative institutions; all agitative energies are premised on bypassing them. Perhaps some version of a Lokpal is desirable. But reasonable people can disagree over this matter. To many of us, this proposal seems like the way we approached educational reform: if BA is not good quality, introduce MA; since MA does not work, have MPhil; since we can't trust our PhDs, have a further NET exam, endlessly deferring to new institutions at the top of the food chain without attending to basics. We should, as citizens, not be subject to the moral coercion of a fast-unto-death on this issue.

But the claim that the "people" are not represented by elected representatives, but are represented by their self-appointed guardians is disturbing. In a democracy, one ought to freely express views. But anyone who claims to be the "authentic" voice of the people is treading on very thin ice indeed. It is a form of Jacobinism that is intoxicated with its own certainties about the people. It is not willing to subject itself to an accountability, least of all to the only mechanism we know of designating representatives: elections. The demand that a Jan Lokpal Bill be drafted jointly by the government and a self-appointed committee of public virtue is absurd. Most of us sharply disagree with elected government on matters even more important than corruption. But no matter how cogent our arguments, it does not give us the right to say that our virtue entitles us to dictate policy to a representative process.

In an age of cynicism, Anna Hazare is a colossus of idealism. His sacrifices should cause all of us to introspect. It should be in the service of self-transformation, not a vilification of political processes. Virtue has an impatience with processes and institutions that needs to be checked. It is a dangerous illusion to pedal that badly designed new institutions will be a magic wand to remove corruption. All they will do is promote wishful thinking and distract from the myriads of prosaic decisions that will be required to get a better politics.

The writer is president, Centre for Policy Research, Delhi, express@expressindia.com

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

THE VS QUESTION

D BABU PAUL

 

It is said that the only lesson history teaches is that it does not teach anything. Or, is it that no one learns anything from history? Like the Bourbon kings who neither learnt nor forgot. Elections in Kerala have always brought the opposition to power, except once. And that "once" holds the lesson as to what the Keralite is looking for.

It happened in 1977. When the nation voted against the Congress in the aftermath of the Emergency, Kerala brought back the government that governed during the Emergency — and with a convincing majority. Emergency in Kerala was different from elsewhere in the country, mainly because the government was led by the CPI and headed by the best chief minister Kerala has ever had, C. Achyuta Menon. True, there were Naxalite atrocities and Naxalite martyrs, but Kerala never chose violence in society as the first option and Naxalism was always recognised as an unacceptable aberration. (In any case, stories of excesses came to light much later since they were isolated.) Unlike elsewhere, the perceptible impact of the Emergency for the Keralite was that life showed some discipline. Buses ran on time. Clerks attended office promptly. There were no agitations. It was known that the government was a dictatorship of sorts, but in practice a benign dictatorship. Something like what you see in Dubai!

A government that worked was what the Keralites brought back to power. In short, the lesson to be learnt from the 1977 results is that good governance is what the people look for.

Do I mean to say that every government that followed was a failure? Certainly not. Democracy is not a pre-designed phenomenon. The period from 1969, when E.M.S. Namboodiripad resigned as chief minister, until 1982, saw the evolution of Kerala's democracy into a two-front system comparable to the two-party system of democracy, Westminster-style. By 1982, the Left consolidated itself on one side, and the Congress and like-minded parties joined up on the other. Thus we can explain all elections till 1982, but it still does not explain the pattern of alternating between the fronts every five years that emerged thereafter. That to my mind has to be explained by the fact that the Keralite is still searching for a replication of the Achyuta Menon government. Every government fails to satisfy, and every time they experiment all over again.

With this broad backdrop and with just a week to go for the elections, let us look at the scenario this time. We have had a government that worked. Like in the government of Achyuta Menon, imaginative and innovative programmes were initiated in most realms of governance. However, Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan acted as the leader of opposition throughout. Therefore, unlike the Achyuta Menon government that functioned as a team, the Achuthanandan government was like a busy railway station in Mumbai where the efficiency of the system and the dedication of a few ensure that huge crowds are transported smoothly. Among the ministers, most did well. Individually. Like Thomas Isaac, who is rated as the best finance minister Kerala ever had.

Of course, there were failures, but that did not really offset the advantage. The damage was done by the chief minister for whom nothing seemed to matter except his own image. If the CPM Politburo had replaced the CM when they concluded that he was not fit enough to lead the party at the PB-level, the good work done by the government would have reached the radar which every intelligent Keralite carries in his head, like the inevitable mobile in his hand. However, the party had its own equations to be settled. And they missed the bus.

The net result is that despite good governance the CPM-led government looks likely to be voted out. If there is one individual who will have to answer for that, it is without doubt VS, the CM. The Congress appeared its usual divisive self in the beginning of the campaign. And therefore it did appear that the LDF had the upper hand. But as the campaign advanced, they lost the edge, as the people found the CM was doing nothing except replay five-year-old tapes, declaring that he would do in the next five years what he has failed to do in the last five.

The writer is a former additional chief secretary of Kerala, express@expressindia.com

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

VIOLENT WORDS IN AN UNEMPLOYED TOWN

SUBHOMOY BHATTACHARJEE

 

Just 20 km away from the seat of the West Bengal government in central Kolkata, two economists with doctorates from Ivy League universities have just finished walking in a sweltering afternoon, canvassing votes to become the next finance minister of India's basket case state. But nowhere do they mention economics; nor does the colourful graffiti of their names across every visible wall of the small town of Khardah have something to say about that topic, either.

West Bengal may be in the middle of its most intense poll battle for 33 years, and industrial employment may have slumped to 7 per cent of the organised workforce, but those are not the overt topics of discourse. The walls of the state instead carry the most violent poll slogans seen anywhere in India. The themes are badla (revenge), rokto (blood) and, of course, shanti (peace). Both Trinamool and CPM swear they are the ones who will finish this round of violence — even as Mithun Chakraborty stands in for an elder statesman, peering down grimly from above, on billboards in South Kolkata to remind all this is a battle of the ballot, not the bullet.

So, even though, just north of the city, Amit Mitra — formerly secretary-general of Ficci, now the local candidate for the Trinamool Congress — is locked in battle with CPM finance minister Asim Dasgupta, business issues just do not come up in this high-profile campaign. This even though it has become the election's iconic battle — since Mamata Banerjee is not contesting from anywhere.

Khardah represents all that besets Bengal. The bustling markets are dominated by jewellery shops, coaching centres and all sorts of kirana shops. But unlike Mumbai, despite being a suburb of Kolkata, the local trains leaving Sealdah in Kolkata in the evening do not overflow with office-goers returning. The city provides employment opportunities to only some in Khardah. Instead, they travel to the myriad jute mills that line both sides of the town, while the rest find employment in a huge profusion of small trades. Self-employment in the state is one of the highest in the country, and Dasgupta is happy to include them in his statistics on the industrial workforce, to claim employment is improving.

When we catch up with Mitra, he is drenched in sweat despite the cool dhoti and kurta that sit oddly with the sneakers he also is wearing. The afternoon has been typical for South Bengal, hot and intensely humid, and Mitra has already been walking for a long time. As he waves to all the members of the houses that he walks past in the serpentine lanes, Trinamool cadre cocoon him protectively. One of them informs me this was deep left territory till recently. Mitra is sure he can change that.

As he walks the lanes that can allow just four people to walk abreast, he is scathing about his opponent. "You call this a road?", he sneers, as I step up beside him. "See where these people have left the state after 33 years." Despite being as far from South Kolkata as Nehru Place is from South Block, Khardah has just one road buses can use; the main polling booth is at a semi-pucca building, which, once a primary school, was converted into a club by the ruling party, due to a lack of "space".

But later in the evening, Dasgupta points to the same road, to say how these have sharply improved. Unlike Mitra, the state finance minister refuses to discuss his opponent. "You will notice", he says, "I don't ask for votes." Instead he walks into each house to shake hands with all the adults, restricting himself to generalities, offering a pat to the kids of the house.

He is almost apologetic for the long line of his followers that frequently bring traffic to a halt on these lanes. Sorry, he tells a rickshaw-puller, for the disturbance. The man is glad to shake the minister's hand.

The CPM councillor accompanying Dasgupta is, however, more methodical. He checks up with a family about a guest, making a reassuring sound, once informed the guest will leave before the elections.

In the last elections, in one of the constituencies, the rise in population — including infants — matched the increase in the electoral rolls. The election commission had to do a recount to get the right tally. The Trinamool's cheerleaders, with those thoughts in mind, tell the people repeatedly to come early in the day to vote.

In the semi-dark roads, once the procession of his supporters are a safe distance away, Dasgupta is willing to discuss with me, in detail, the reasons for the huge rise in the state's debt burden. He points out Maharashtra has a larger debt overhang, and West Bengal is basically paying the price of carrying a massive teacher population on the state exchequer. Mitra classifies that as "cadre payments".

But will this mean taking unpopular decisions, like raising local taxes and cutting grants, once a new government comes to power? Mitra, too, is not keen to discuss these in front of his supporters. Snatching a few moments, he says that revenue is not a problem. The state may not need to raise more.

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

LEFT-HANDED COMPLIMENT

MANOJ C G

 

Left-handed compliment

Can the Left survive the wrath of Bengal and Kerala? The RSS journal, Organiser, in its new-year special edition discusses the distinct possibility of the CPM defeat in these two states and its larger consequences.

While editor R. Balashankar points out in the preface that he is not writing an obituary for the Left, and that he strongly believes in the need for a pro-poor, anti-elitist, egalitarian political philosophy, he and other writers argue that Communism, as an ideology, has become obsolete and that the CPM is just another bourgeois party today. "Will the CPM defeat, if it happens, usher in the bipolarity in polity? Will it accelerate the disintegration of the so-called third front?...These are issues that will come to dominate political discourse post-poll," he says. The article says the party has lost its identity with the onslaught of globalisation, adopted all the vices of other opportunistic parties, accepted the role of big money in manipulating electoral outcomes and ceased to have an alternative vision of governance.

While its earlier leadership viewed minority and majority communalism as equally dangerous, the party's latter-day pragmatists courted minorityism while hurting Hindu sentiments. It did not seize the 2008 financial turmoil in the capitalist world to provide an alternative economic paradigm because of its own ideological bankruptcy, says the article. "In a society with such vast economic disparities, with many even in the capitalist bloc getting disillusioned with the unsustainable consumerist splurge, there is relevance for a people-oriented left political platform. To fill that space the Communists themselves have to change," it says.

Can't-do spirit

Another article notes that the idea of the formation of a third front is likely to die a natural death after the possible defeat of the Left, which has provided the ideological anchor to these efforts. Comparing the Indian communists with their comrades in China and the erstwhile USSR, the article says that these nations inculcated a strong sense of patriotism along with Marxian theory. Indian Marxists, on the other hand, stuck to the original Marxian assessment of India as a civilisation that needed to be smashed before anything good could emerge from it, it says.

Another article notes that the people of China, who are now twice as rich as Indians, were twice as poor as India in 1947. "In contrast to the CPM and its smaller cousin, the CPI, the Chinese Communist Party is unafraid of globalisation. Had the CPM and the CPI not sought to throw the baby out with the bathwater, by opposing every effort at economic liberalisation, they would have been a powerful force in both urban as well as rural India," it says.

The article also claims that Indian communists lack the ability to theorise. "It is somewhat remarkable that India only ever produced one communist thinker, M.N. Roy, whose writings even today repay study and whom Nehru helped financially in his impoverished declining years. Instead we had the likes of Jyoti Basu and E. M. S. Namboodiripad, with absolutely nothing of significance to say and unable to deliver anything memorable," it says. The Left commands a disproportionate influence given its sympathisers in academia and the media, however, "there is no recognisable Indian school of communism comparable to say, Gramsci-influenced Italian communism or Mao's Chinese communism," the article argues.

Value education

The RSS journal in Hindi, Panchjanya, has also brought out a special issue, focused on the question of corruption. The mood is set by the editorial, which says corruption cannot be eliminated by merely staging public protests or enacting more stringent laws. A permanent solution lies only in imparting the right cultural and moral value systems, for which men of exceptional character and behaviour would need to lead by example. "We need to cultivate the right social consciousness, the right thinking wherein (the)corrupt are looked down upon and people are encouraged not to tolerate corruption of any kind," he writes.

One article argues that corruption can be attributed directly to the declining moral standards of a society that places more value on money and material achievements than on religiosity. Another piece says that the political system is the problem, and therefore, it cannot find a solution to corruption. The writer mentions the campaign against corruption spearheaded by noted social activist Anna Hazare, and says that this movement has widespread public support. But, he laments media devotes disproportionate time and space to trivial issues. It was preoccupied with cricket and marginally interested in the forthcoming elections in five states, but not in the fight against corruption.

Compiled by Manoj C.G.

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

MEETING THE NEXT MATCH

SHAILAJA BAJPAI

 

Is there life after the cricket World Cup, and is it the IPL? This is the question that will be worrying IPL team owners and Sony Max, the broadcaster of the tournament beginning Friday. They're probably doing the same mumbo-jumbo Indian fans did before the semifinals and final to ensure that the viewers who came to the World Cup party will have had their appetites sufficiently whetted by what they saw to stay on for the leftovers (should that be the overs left over?)

The World Cup is going to be a very, very difficult act to follow. Most of us have had our fill of cricket; those who haven't might find it downright confusing to see Sachin Tendulkar embrace Lasith Malinga as a teammate when only days earlier the Sri Lankan fast bowler had celebrated taking the Indian Idol's wicket. Sure, there will be a degree of comfort in reuniting with old foes and friends although it's difficult to think of Zaheer Khan as a foe, even if you support the Deccan Chargers. Can you, the loyal viewer, go from being an ultra-nationalist, a hysterical Indian fan — one who may even have left the gods facing the TV for good luck to India — to being a Kolkata Knight Rider or Delhi Daredevil? This demands a tremendous leap of faith and who knows how many of us can bridge the distance?

If you are a sublime long jump creature, you may still find it difficult to work up a passion for the game many purists do not even consider to be cricket but rather, a pyjama-party between teams whose names suggest the Masters of the Universe — remember those toy warriors? Can you hear yourself shouting "Go, Chennai, go" when you see the new god of cricket, M.S. Dhoni lead out the Super Kings? Somehow, it just doesn't sound right.

Ideally, the IPL tournament should have been held later so that the players and the viewers had enough time to catch their breath after the marathon of the World Cup that lasted all of 43 days. Unfortunately, the IPL cannot be played at any other time because the cricketers from different regions of the cricketing world, especially the Indian players, are already scheduled to play during the rest of the year. So IPL is April fool or phool, depending on your point of view.

In all probability, it will take time for the IPL to sink into our consciousness. We are still exhausted by the victory and the unstoppable celebrations that followed for the next two days and still linger on. Television news, in particular, has been partying ever since the Cup was handed over to India, because once the final was over, they could cover as much of the action as they wanted, wherever they wanted, without the ICC telling them to buzz off. It was an unseemly stand-off between the two over how much cricket TV news channels are permitted to show. The more the better for the ICC, you'd have thought, since it made us hunger for more. For instance, cricket junkies watched highlights of India's final three matches in one marathon three-hour sitting, Sunday evening, courtesy Star Cricket.

The celebrations and the coverage went to town, literally. From Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai, Ranchi we were shown the most extraordinary scenes of joy, live, till the early hours of Sunday morning. And then some. We had never seen such a famous victory in 28 years (as TV news never ceased to remind us) nor such an exhibition of uninhibited rapture as India went to the top of the world and then over the top.

We'd also never seen so much of film stars, business magnates, politicians waving the Indian Tricolour like it was the chequered flag at the finishing line or, what Yuvraj Singh looks like at 3 am (the same) and Kapil Dev in tears (Headlines Today). It was moving and we were moved. Now it's time to move on. IPL here we come?

shailaja.bajpai@expressindia.com

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

FANATICISM BREEDS NO HEROES

ROGER COHEN

So Terry Jones, the Florida pastor who organised a Koran burning on March 20, wanted "to stir the pot." Mission accomplished. Perhaps he'd care to explain himself to the family of Joakim Dungel, a 33-year-old Swede slaughtered at the UN mission in Mazar-i-Sharif by Afghans whipped into frenzy through Jones's folly.

On reflection, no, there's nothing Jones can explain to Dungel's family, or the other UN staffers murdered. Jones is not in the explanation business. He's a zealot. How else to describe a Christian who interprets his faith not as grounded in love and compassion but as a mission to incite hatred toward Islam?

There's no discussion with a bigot like this: You can't be argued out of something you haven't been argued into in the first place.

Jones is not alone in this Islamophobic campaign in the United States, which is what is most disturbing. But before I get to that, let's talk about the murderous Afghan mob and its enablers, such as Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president. He was a fool to allude to Jones's stunt, performed before a few dozen acolytes. Why elevate this vile little deed and so foster mayhem?

Karzai is a man who will stop at nothing to disguise his weakness. His benefactors and underwriters — the West — are those he must scorn to survive.

The foolishness did not stop with Karzai: The imams of Mazar chose to use Friday prayers to stir up the crowd. As for the killing itself — whether by infiltrated Taliban insurgents or not — it was a heinous crime against innocent people and should be denounced throughout the Islamic world, in mosques and beyond.

I'm still waiting.

Staffan de Mistura, the top UN envoy in Afghanistan, did not honour the dead by failing to denounce the perpetrators of the crime in a statement. He was right to call Jones's Koran burning "insane and totally despicable;" he should have used the same words about the slaughter of his men. Not to do so was craven, a glaring omission.

All this madness began at the Dove World Outreach Center in Florida, home to Jones's mini-church. An unrepentant Jones believes Islam and the Koran only serve "violence, death and terrorism." That's as dumb as equating Christianity with Psalm 137 that says the "little ones" of the enemy should be dashed against stones.

But such incendiary views about a world religion now find wide expression in the United States where "stealth jihad" has become a recurrent Republican theme.

Several Republicans, including former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Representative Peter King, have found it politically opportune to target "creeping Sharia in the United States" at a time when the middle name of the president is Hussein. (A Newsweek poll last year found that 52 per cent of Republicans agreed with the statement that "Barack Obama sympathises with the goals of Islamic fundamentalists who want to impose Islamic law around the world.")

I spent time last year with Paul Blair, a pastor in small-town Oklahoma, a state where Islamophobia is rampant. He told me Muslims were "not here to coexist but to take over." That sort of message is going out in a lot of US churches. It's dangerous. Already, Muslims are victims in 14 per cent of religious discrimination cases when they make up 1 per cent of the population.

In Europe, too, rightist politicians peddle divisive anti-Muslim bigotry, with some success.

Muslims have work to do. They should have the courage to denounce unequivocally the Mazar murder. Jihadists have too often deformed a great religion with insufficient rebuke. From Egypt to Pakistan, it must be understood that Islam cannot at once be a political force and above criticism. Once you enter the democratic political arena on a religious platform, your beliefs are no longer a private matter but up for legitimate attack. Pakistan's violence-inducing blasphemy laws are an affront to this principle.

Jones, by contrast, lives in a nation where the law defends even his folly. I'm a free-speech absolutist and so I support that. But he must examine his conscience: How is it consistent with religious faith to stir hatred and killing? And how can the Islamophobes, spreading poison, justify their grotesque caricature of Islam in the thinly veiled pursuit of political gain?

This column is full of anger, I know. It has no heroes. I'm full of disgust, writing after a weekend when religious violence returned to Northern Ireland with the murder of a 25-year-old Catholic policeman, Ronan Kerr, by dissident republican terrorists. Religion has much to answer for, in Gainesville and Mazar and Omagh.

I see why lots of people turn to religion — fear of death, ordering principle in a mysterious universe, refuge from pain, even revelation. But surely it's meaningless without mercy and forgiveness, and surely its very antithesis must be hatred and murder. At least that's how it appears to a nonbeliever.

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

NEW 2G WOES

If it wasn't bad enough that it took the Supreme Court to get the CBI to start seriously investigating the A Raja case after a year of doing nothing, the CBI filed a very weak chargesheet. And if that wasn't bad enough, you now have a case where there is a fight between the CBI and law ministry on who should fight the case in the trial court. Mind you, this is after the CBI let it be known that all top lawyers had been snapped up by either the accused and various telecom firms that were implicated, or thought they would be implicated, in the case. Nor is UU Lalit, the man the CBI counsel told the Court it had finally zeroed in on, a run-of-the-mill lawyer. Under the court system, if a court thinks a lawyer is good, it designates him/her as 'senior advocate', and Lalit has been designated 'senior advocate' by the Supreme Court itself. Indeed, after Attorney General GE Vahanvati objected to Lalit's appointment under Section 46(2) of the Money Laundering Act—Vahanvati said the accused could challenge Lalit's appointment because he had not worked for seven years under the Union of India!—the Court told Vahanvati that his objection seemed very technical; the judges also remarked that the "public prosecutor should not be under the thumb of the Union of India".

It is curious the government should behave in the manner it has, since it has already got so much flak in the matter, including the long delay in the investigations. First, senior politicians, including the telecom minister, repeatedly ran down the CAG report and said its calculations on the revenue losses were vastly exaggerated—the telecom minister even argued the losses were zero. The fact that the CBI's chargesheet did not show evidence of the money trail linking Swan's Shahid Balwa to the DMK's Kalaignar TV also seemed to suggest the CBI was under pressure to go slow until the elections in the state were over. Equally curious was the decision to continue with Vahanvati on the 2G case when there was enough evidence to show that, as Solicitor General, Vahanvati had cleared the controversial change in the First Come First Served norms that is at the centre of the scam that A Raja pulled off. Hopefully, by the time the government gets back to the Court on this, within a week's time, it will realise its folly and withdraw its objection to Lalit.

Caesar's wife, the PM is fond of saying, has to be seen to be above suspicion—in a similar vein, the government has to be seen to be giving the CBI a free hand.

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

SHAHENSHAH

When someone of social activist Anna Hazare's stature goes on a fast-unto-death asking for a truly empowered Lok Pal instead of a watered-down one, the initial reaction is to support him—the alternative is to support a government that continues to reel under all manner of corruption charges. This resolve gets strengthened when you see the who's who of civil society lined up behind him—Kiran Bedi, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Swami Agnivesh, Baba Ramdev, Mallika Sarabhai; news reports suggest bodies of teachers and students are rallying to his cause; anxious not to be found wanting, some Bollywood actors are coming on board and even former MP Pappu Yadav who is in jail for murder has been moved enough to announce his own fast-unto-death in support of Anna Hazare. Needless to say, political parties like the BJP and the Shiv Sena have announced their support for Hazare.

Before rushing headlong into supporting Hazare, it's a good idea to see what the current versions of the Lok Pal Bill are offering and what Hazare wants. The original idea of the Lok Pal is that the Lok Pal be something of an ombudsman, inquiring into charges made into even the Prime Minister and then referring them for investigation to bodies like the CBI, even monitoring the investigation—in other words, the Lok Pal was to be an addition, a valuable addition, to the current lot of investigative/judicial bodies. Hazare's Jan Lok Pal, on the other hand, sees itself as a one-man dispenser of justice. The Lok Pal would file FIRs, investigate, arrest and prosecute. In the name of speedy, cheap and egalitarian justice, this office would subsume the CBI's anti-corruption wing and the CVC. It will have the power to issue search warrants, it will be a deemed police officer, it will have its own benches to try cases, it can cancel licences and blacklist companies/contractors … Of course there is a problem with the functioning of the CBI and the CVC, but the solution lies in fixing them. Setting up another overarching institution to replace them is no solution—never mind if the head and members of the Lok Pal are to be chosen by a committee that comprises, among others, all nobel laureates of Indian origin, the last two Magasaysay award winners of Indian origin and those who have won Bharat Ratnas. Institutions, no matter how great, cannot be built by finishing off other institutions.

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

AN INDO-PAK DIPLOMATIC MATCH
SHAHID JAVED BURKI

In 2005, during a visit to Islamabad, I met Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and told him of a conversation I had had with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The Indian leader, whom I have known for years, had said that he wanted better relations with Pakistan as one his legacies.

Musharraf's response was interesting. He said he had the same aspiration, but that it would need effort from both sides to move things along. "I have invited Manmohan half-a-dozen times to visit Pakistan. I have also offered to take him to his village near Chakwal, a few miles south of Islamabad, where he was born. But he continues to demur," he told me.

I repeated the conversation to Singh, who explained that in a democracy such as India, a great deal of work needs to be done with the members of the coalition and the senior bureaucracy before the Prime Minister can travel to Pakistan. "Musharraf is a military leader; he needs only to pack his bags and head this way."

Musharraf did head that way a few months later, when he forced an invitation out of Singh to watch a cricket match between the two sides in New Delhi in 2005. It took the Indian government some time to formulate an answer to Musharraf's request for a visit. When it came, it carried Singh's characteristic warmth.

At the end of a speech in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of India's Parliament, Singh issued his formal invitation. "How nice it would be to conduct our affairs in this august House with the same spirit of sportsmanship that our cricketers exhibit on the playing fields of the sub-continent," he said. "I am happy to inform the honourable members of this House that I have decided to invite President Musharraf to come to India to watch the cricket match between our two teams. It is my earnest desire that the people in our neighbourly countries and their leaders should feel free to visit each other whenever they wish to do so. Be it to watch a cricket match; be it do some shopping; be it to meet friends and families—India is proud to be an open society, an open economy. I do hope that President Musharraf and his family will enjoy their visit to our country."

The Prime Minister's statement was received with cheers, not the jeers that some of his aides had feared. Musharraf went to Feroz Shah Kotla cricket ground in Delhi and saw his team win the match. Singh and Musharraf also found time during the game to talk about bilateral relations, and agreed to launch what came to be called the "composite dialogue", covering eight contentious issues that had soured ties for so long. Three years later, a Pakistan-based terrorist group killed more than 160 people in Mumbai, India's financial capital—and, with them, the diplomatic opening initiated by cricket.

Once again, however, cricket has revived dialogue between the sub-continent's two nuclear-armed rivals. This time, the initiative came from Singh, who invited his Pakistani counterpart, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, to visit Mohali, near Chandigarh, to watch the two countries play the semi-final of the Cricket World Cup 2011. The match was played on March 30, with Pakistan losing narrowly.

On the political side, however, the two countries were not evenly matched. Of the troika that currently governs Pakistan—the President, the Prime Minister and the Chief of Staff of the Army—it is the Prime Minister who carries the least amount of authority. It was Gilani who sat next to Singh to watch the game; but, ultimately, process, rather than protocol, will determine how bilateral relations move forward.

After the match, Singh said: "India and Pakistan should be working together to find cooperative solutions and need permanent reconciliation to live together in dignity and honour. We should put our ancient animosities behind us to attend to the problems our two nations face." Gilani expressed the same sentiment: "We need to focus on dealing with our common enemies—inflation, poverty, hunger, disease and unemployment—for the prosperity of the two countries."

There have been indications of a gradual thaw. Senior officials from the ministries of commerce, defence and foreign affairs will meet in the next two months followed by a meeting of the foreign ministers. Gilani invited Singh to visit Pakistan, an invitation that "will be considered carefully," according to Indian foreign secretary Nirupama Rao. And she spoke of a new environment: "Today, it is the Mohali spirit that pervades our relationship. This was an extremely positive and encouraging spirit that has been generated as a result of today's meetings."

We have been here before, of course, only to see prospects for improved India-Pakistan relations snuffed out. There are no guarantees that this time will be different. But, for both countries, hope dies last.

The author, former finance minister of Pakistan and vice-president of the World Bank, is currently chairman of the Institute of Public Policy, Lahore Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2011.

www.project-syndicate.org

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

REMOVING BAD PARTICIPATION
TEJESH CHITLANGI

 

You can love them or hate them but can't ignore them. Offshore Derivative Instruments (ODIs), in particular, securities known as participatory notes (p-notes), are the economic equivalents of listed Indian securities and are issued to those overseas investors that either cannot or do not want to directly invest in India as a foreign institutional investor (FII) or sub-account. The FII purchases the listed equity/debt/derivative in India and issues its equivalent to offshore investors in the form of a p-note or similar instrument allowing the purchaser the economic equivalent of such securities. FIIs can issue such instruments to persons who are regulated entities, in accordance with the FII Regulations, post compliance with the know your client (KYC) norms. For instance, 'regulated entities' would mean an entity registered and regulated by a foreign securities/futures regulator or a person regulated and licensed by a foreign central bank. The security continues to remain registered in the name of the issuer FII and is later sold when the p-note holder sells the off-shore equivalent.

Despite the concerns of terrorist and black money alleged to be invested through p-notes as a result of the anonymity surrounding this route, steps have not been taken to ban it. A Sebi proposal on October 16, 2007, to substantially restrict such investments resulted in 'Black Wednesday'. Interestingly, RBI has been an opponent of this route, but its views do not find support from the finance ministry.

The major thrust of the p-notes regulatory regime is to ensure that p-notes are issued by FIIs (sub-accounts are not permitted to issue the instruments) only to regulated persons/entities after compliance with KYC norms. Sometimes, the p-note purchaser re-issues the p-note to another entity and there may be subsequent re-issuances down the line (downward issuance). Sebi requires FIIs to do KYC on such subsequent purchasers who are also required to be regulated entities. In some instances, Sebi has found FIIs unable to conduct such KYC on subsequent purchasers (which turn out to be unregulated entities) and consequently unable to disclose the final purchaser's name to Sebi, as required per the monthly ODI reporting norms. Sebi's earlier actions against UBS Securities, Société Générale and Barclays were based on such non-compliances. As a result, Sebi, in its recent circular of January 2011, has required FIIs to give an undertaking that the beneficial owner and purchaser of ODIs are regulated entities and KYC norms have been followed for the ultimate owner (in legal jargon, beneficial owner).

Sebi's actions have mostly been reactive and tend to overregulate rather than practically address the issues. There are three key issues surrounding the regulations on p-notes, which cause unpredictable non-compliances. First, Sebi KYC requirements are ambiguous, as noted by the Securities Appellate Tribunal (SAT) in the case concerning UBS Securities. UBS was unable to provide information on top five shareholders of the p-notes purchaser last in the chain of downward issuances. SAT commented that KYC requirements are vague and if the intent was to make it unambiguous, Sebi could have easily added the words 'ultimate beneficiaries'.

Interestingly, the observation in the September 2005 SAT order has been implemented more than five years later in January 2011 by the recent Sebi circular notifying the undertaking. This was a result of such issues raised in matters concerning Société Générale and Barclays that were banned from issuing p-notes, the restriction being removed recently. Both the FIIs failed to disclose the name of the last purchaser in a series of downward issuances and were accused of not conducting KYC on ultimate beneficiaries.

Second, Sebi should provide clarity regarding KYC of the 'beneficial owner'. It appears that the Sebi circular would require FIIs to conduct diligence not only on the p-note purchaser (including purchaser in downward issuances) but also on their beneficiaries, for example, individuals/entities in a fund and shareholders of a company. It would be impractical for FIIs to conduct such diligence because this changes on a frequent basis. In any event, recent issues concerning Société Générale and Barclays suggest that FIIs cannot, other than by contract, ensure that KYC is done for purchasers under downward issuances. FIIs, by obtaining undertakings from the first p-note purchaser, ensure that any downward issuance would be subject to similar compliances that were applicable on the original issuance, but have no tool to ensure compliance on a continuing basis.

Third, Sebi, in view of its past experiences, should understand that FIIs may not be able to track downward issuances that are in control of the first and subsequent p-note purchasers. Sebi should either disallow downward issuances under FII regulations or otherwise not hold FIIs responsible for somebody else's wrong. This would avoid what happened with UBS, Société Générale and Barclays.

Although Sebi has curbed downward investments through p-notes, much is to be done to streamline this route. The KYC norms should be prescribed with both clarity and practicality. Punishing a gun seller for his inability to stop murders done by his licensed client may not be the best of ideas.

The authors are with Finsec Law Advisors

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

TACKLING DRUG RESISTANCE

There was a time around the middle of the last century when it seemed that humans could decisively vanquish the microbes that caused so many dreadful, often deadly, diseases. But that sense of victory over an enemy has given way to alarm. Drug-resistant pathogens have sprung up and 'superbugs' that can shrug off most drugs that are thrown at them have surfaced and spread across the world. With few new antimicrobials under development, there is a real sense among medical experts of humanity having its back to the wall and of the frightening possibility of a return to the bad old days when what started as a simple infection could get completely out of control. This year's World Health Day (April 7) focusses on antimicrobial resistance and its global spread. In a highly interconnected world, drug-resistant microbes can leap from one country to another. Last year, there was a furore over the spread of highly drug-resistant bacteria, which had the New Delhi metallo-beta-lactamase (NDM-1) gene, from South Asia to several countries. But 'superbugs' have made their way to India from elsewhere in the world too. For instance, studies of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) bacteria isolated in India have indicated a movement of such organisms from the United States, Europe, and Australia to this country.

In India, as in other countries, such dangerous microbes are circulating not only in hospitals but also in the larger community; poor sanitation and faecal contamination of water supplies have allowed some highly antibiotic-resistant bacteria to spread. Drug-resistance is a major issue in tuberculosis. India accounts for one-fifth of the global burden of the disease and two people die of it every three minutes. The rise of resistance as a natural consequence of the process of evolution is perhaps inevitable. But the misuse of antibiotics greatly hastens this process. There is a great deal that can and must be done to conserve the drugs that are available and still effective. Over-the-counter sales of antibiotics must be stopped. Physicians need to be educated on when it is appropriate to use antibiotics. Even when an antibiotic is needed, it is essential that the right drug is given at an adequate dosage and for a suitable duration. A proper system of surveillance for antimicrobial resistance as well as regularly updated guidelines for treatment would help doctors make the right choices. Further, the use of antibiotics as growth-promoters in livestock needs to be curtailed. In all of this, the government, the medical fraternity, and the public must play their part.

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

CHANGING AN ESTABLISHED ORDER

The international monetary system has been in need of fundamental reform. It is dominated by dollar holdings, with the American currency remaining the world's principal reserve currency as well as the most widely used in private transactions. The dollar, which faced many challenges, has remained supreme mainly for want of an alternative. A recent G20 seminar held in Nanjing, China, ended without any consensus on international monetary reform. The stasis is unfortunate. The system may not have caused the recent global imbalances or current instability in the global economy, but it has certainly been ineffective in addressing them. First, it has created a global recessionary bias both during and after financial crises. Secondly, there is a certain amount of tension in using a national currency as a reserve. The U.S. has been running huge budgetary and current account deficits. Should it succeed in reining in the deficits, global liquidity would shrink. Thirdly, the system has encouraged large dollar accumulations by several countries by way of "self-insurance" against future crisis. The very large dollar holdings by China and some other countries have added to global imbalances.

Various attempts at identifying alternative reserve currencies have floundered. The euro seemed promising at one time but the current debt problems in some euro zone countries have raised doubts over its long term suitability. Given the strength of China, the yuan is bound to become an important reserve currency in course of time, freely convertible and with an exchange rate mirroring its growing clout. Some out-of-the-box solutions are required. Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz has, in a recent article in the Financial Times, suggested that the SDRs issued by the International Monetary Fund should play a greater role in the international monetary system. SDRs, which are strictly the IMF's unit of account, represent a potential claim on other countries' freely usable currency reserves, for which they can be exchanged voluntarily. The specific proposal is to issue a significant amount (up to $390 billion) of new SDRs every year for the next three years. Central banks can exchange the SDRs for hard currency and use it to finance imports. The inherent recessionary bias in the existing system is thus avoided. Being relatively small, the new issues will not accentuate global imbalances. The effectiveness of the SDRs ought to be enhanced through a variety of measures, which are inextricably linked to IMF reform. The medium-term goal is to make SDRs the main, or even the only, means of IMF financing. The dollar's pre-eminence in private trade and remittances will remain unaffected.

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THE HINDU

LEADER PAGE ARTICLES

WHAT PRICE 'FOREIGN PROVIDERS'?

THE PROPOSAL TO PERMIT FOREIGN EDUCATIONAL PROVIDERS TO FUNCTION IN INDIA WILL DO CONSIDERABLE HARM TO THE INDEPENDENT DEVELOPMENT OF INDIAN EDUCATION.

K.N. PANIKKAR

The steps to regulate the operation of foreign educational institutions in India, as contained in a Bill under Parliament's consideration, are welcome initiatives. As the Minister for Human Resource Development pointed out while introducing the Foreign Educational Institution (Regulation of Entry and Operation) Bill, "a large number of foreign educational institutions have been operating in the country and some of them may be resorting to various malpractices to allure and attract students." The absence of a "regulatory regime," he said, has "given rise to chances of adoption of various unfair practices, besides commercialisation." These institutions function under several disguises, exploiting the obsession of the Indian middle class for certification from foreign institutions. The proposed legislation is intended to restrain such institutions and their malpractices, through administrative, academic and financial regulation.

These steps will have universal approval, except from those who are the beneficiaries of such practices. The implications of the Bill, however, go beyond the stated objectives. It will give official approval to what is currently being done surreptitiously, by enabling foreign 'educational providers' to set up campuses in India. It is possible that this may not attract a large number of quality institutions to invest money and set up campuses. Yet, in the event of even a limited entry of foreign institutions, India's educational system will face certain challenges.

The general assumption is that it would improve in quality through competition, and increase access due to the availability of a larger number of institutions. Both these possibilities are attractive to the members of the upper crust of the middle class who have reached positions of power from the colonial times through education in good foreign universities. Even a cursory survey of India's power elite during the last century will indicate that their dominance is primarily rooted in such educational opportunities. The 'open doors' policy of the government will make foreign education available at the doorsteps, which accounts for the popular support from the intelligentsia and the English- educated middle class.

An apprehension among the intelligentsia is about the possibility of the misuse of liberalisation by 'fly-by-night operators' by using the investment opportunity for quick returns. The Bill seeks to allay this genuine fear by providing for administrative control, financial safeguards and academic vigil. To qualify for registration as an educational provider, an institution should have been in the field of educational services for 20 years and have a corpus fund of not less than Rs. 50 crore.

Secondly, any surplus revenue can be invested only for the growth and development of educational institutions established in India. The Bill stipulates that the quality of education should be comparable to that imparted on the institution's main campus. It is assumed that these stipulations, along with the administrative formalities to ensure the fitness of the institution to provide quality education, will make the participation of 'foreign providers' a positive asset to the nation.

On the contrary, the Bill, if it is passed by Parliament, is likely to have a long-lasting adverse impact on the national character of education, which has not yet fully emancipated itself from the intellectual influences of colonialism. Nobody expects the foreign education providers to swamp the scene. It is also true that they will not provide mass education. Their operations will by and large be confined to specialised areas. Yet, the open policy will introduce a new stream in Indian educational system. Philip Altbach has brought to our notice that in a couple of countries where branch campuses exist, they "are fairly small and almost always specialized in fields that are inexpensive and have a ready clientele." It will be unrealistic to expect these campuses to train undergraduate students in the social sciences or the humanities. Understandably, they are not going to make any substantial improvement in the matter of access to higher education.

There is greater expectation in the matter of improvement in the quality of education, as the main rationale for 'importing' these institutions could only be their superior academic credentials. Therefore, it is reasonable to expect them to help improve the standard of instruction. With this in view, the Bill lays down the following: "A foreign education provider shall ensure that a course or programme of study offered and imparted by it in India is in conformity with the standards laid down by the statutory authority and is of quality comparable, as to the curriculum, methods of imparting education, to those offered by it to students enrolled in its main campus in the country in which such institution is established or incorporated." The conditions and quality of education of the 'mother' institution being replicated on the new campuses is a doubtful proposition. Yet, their presence itself, in however clipped a manner, will have serious cultural and academic implications.

The idea of transplanting the curriculum and pedagogy of foreign institutions, as envisioned in the Bill, attributes a universal character and purpose to education. Even when fundamental principles of education are commonly shared, the fact remains that the development of education is integrally linked with the demands of specific societies, and it plays a crucial role in development and nation-building. More important, education is a defining factor in moulding a nation's identity. No country can, therefore, entrust the responsibility of educating its citizens, even a part of it, to external agencies that have no stake in the nation except their own self-interest.

That foreign educational providers will be required to follow the same curriculum and pedagogy is claimed as a positive factor. In fact, that is the most undesirable part of the scheme, as the cultural assumptions of curriculum and pedagogy differ from nation to nation. The borrowed contents and practice of education may not lead to a 'cultural invasion', as feared by some critics and dismissed by its defenders. But they will certainly be affected by cultural incompatibility, which in turn will defeat the creative and innovative possibilities inherent in education. Education is an organic process that cannot be borrowed or super-imposed on a society. The main weakness of the new scheme is its externality; this is suggested even in the term 'education provider.'

This is not to suggest that Indian academia need no exposure to the global community or relationships with institutions abroad. On the other hand, there is a case for greater professional exposure and institutional collaboration. Before the Bill is passed, the different possibilities for achieving them deserve to be debated.

Among the many ways in which international academic linkages can be established, two deserve attention. The first is, as provided in the Bill, to permit foreign universities to start campuses. The second is to establish collaborative arrangements with specialised institutions for the exchange of teachers and students. The first is an easier option and is in consonance with overall state policy. Even if it is successfully implemented, it will only create a few more islands of excellence. It will also deplete the already weak academic resources of the existing institutions.

An alternative paradigm is being pursued by Kerala and it has been successfully implemented during the last five years. It is based on a principle of sharing knowledge generated by scholars all over the world. In pursuance of this, a large number of outstanding scholars, including Nobel laureates, have been brought to the State for interaction with teachers and research scholars. Combined with collaborative arrangements with reputed universities and substantial increase in the allocation of funds to universities, higher education in the State is poised for a leap. The perspective is long-term growth from within by invigorating the State's academic resources.

In this respect, the manner in which U.S. and European universities have organised their Indian studies programmes is worth emulating. They did not persuade Indian universities to organise their mini-campuses, however competent and reputed they are in Indian studies. Instead, they invited scholars from India to work in these centres to help organise academic programmes. Some of these centres have become reputed institutions of research in Indian studies. So much so that the Government of India has found it necessary to institute endowments in them for the study of Indian civilisation.

The proposal to permit foreign educational providers to function in India will do considerable harm to the independent development of Indian education. Instead of contributing to the making of the national identity, it is likely to create a social stratum that is intellectually far removed from the nations' concerns.

The immediate response to the Bill generally would have been to scrap it — but for the provision to regulate the operation of foreign educational providers.

In the circumstances, the best solution will be to refashion the Bill with provision to prevent the operation of foreign educational providers and introduce sufficient space to promote independent interaction and collaboration with global academia.

(Dr. Panikkar is Vice-Chairman of the Kerala State Higher Education Council: knpanikkar@gmail.com)

 

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THE HINDU

OPED

IN EGYPT, THE JOKES HAVE STALLED

THE MOMENT HAS PASSED, DAMPED BY THE RECOGNITION THAT FOR MANY PEOPLE LIFE TODAY IS EVEN HARDER THAN BEFORE, ESPECIALLY FOR THE POOR.

MICHAEL SLACKMAN

The jokes have stalled, another sign that Egypt's revolution has too.

For centuries, Egyptians have turned to humour, often dressed up in dark sarcasm, as a tonic for a battered soul. But even that seemingly genetic predisposition to mock what ails them started to wear thin after nearly three decades of stagnation under Hosni Mubarak.

And then came the Tahrir Square revolution, a virtual force of nature that unleashed the ambitions and anger of millions, ousted an entrenched autocrat and inspired a resurgence of that famously biting Egyptian wit. It was in the placards, the slogans, the banners and the antics; it was passed along through the Internet, text messaging and even local newspapers.

"A lot of people think the humour went down three or four years ago, when people got depressed, and that it resurfaced in Tahrir Square," said Isandr Amrani, a popular blogger and independent journalist in Egypt.

There were placards: "Go, because I need to study," and "I'm a dentist here to uproot Mubarak." And historical observations: "Nasser was killed by poison, Sadat by a bullet and Mubarak by Facebook."

But now that moment has passed, damped by the recognition that for many people life today is even harder than before, especially for the poor and for those who survive on tourism like the army of taxi drivers who are forced to battle ever worsening traffic for ever fewer passengers.

"No one is joking," said Mohamed Saleh Mohamed, as he navigated a taxi through downtown Cairo's congested streets recently. "There is no happiness, no work. The country is a mess."

The sudden turn from humour points to a sense of revolution fatigue that has swept over a nation where people had hoped for overnight change only to awaken to the myriad challenges facing them.

Many people here say that no one has given up, not yet anyway, they are just catching their breath and recalibrating to the changing realities of post-revolutionary Egypt.

"This victory has not achieved its goals," said Hassan Naffa, a political science professor at Cairo University. "There is some depression, and in these gray stages there is no clear idea about what should be done. There is division, there are expectations, there is waiting."

The glow of people power that toppled the President has not vanished, but it has dimmed. After 30 years of predictable discomfort, the public is not accustomed to so much uncertainty.

There are signs of increased sectarian tensions. The economy is in deep trouble. The crime rate is rising. The military is suddenly not looking like such a good guy any longer, accused of using beatings, torture and military tribunals to silence critics. And there are far too many reminders of the past, like the state security apparatus that, though renamed, is effectively functioning as before with mostly the same personnel.

"We're still not heading in the right direction," said Karim el-Borollossy, 52, a businessman who joined the demonstrations in Tahrir Square. "The head of the regime is gone, but the old regime was so entrenched in every aspect of life, it did not disappear."

There was a renewed sense of national purpose in the heady days of revolution, a unity regardless of religion or class among those massing in the square. In those 18 days, humour and sarcasm played a crucial role in coping and conquering.

"Mubarak's people threw rocks," said Fahmy Howeidy, a well-known columnist and social commentator referring to thugs who threw stones at demonstrators. "The people charged Mubarak with jokes and comedy."

At least some of that was planned.

"There was a lot of spontaneous humour it is the Egyptian character but there also was a desire to show that the demonstrators weren't just angry young men, that they weren't just seen as Islamists," said Mr Amrani, the blogger.

The organizers used humour as part of their communications strategy, to motivate people and bring out the crowds, he said.

"We had the kids writing slogans, caricatures, stuff like that," said Laila Soueif, a prominent rights advocate and a math professor at Cairo University. "It was really one of the main tools, it was one of our main weapons."

She said that when military jets swooped overhead, terrifying the crowd, the young people "started jumping up and down chanting, 'Hosni has gone mad, Hosni has gone mad,' so they made it a joke, and everyone stopped being scared."

Making fun was easy, the organisers said, with bizarre events like a charge into the square by men on horseback and camels, which was flashed around the world. Minutes after the dust cleared, the protesters assembled a sort of shrine decorated with items ripped away from the men as they rode by.

"I went to the square every day looking for a new joke," said Ibrahim El Houdaiby, a former youth leader in the Muslim Brotherhood who quit the organisation two years ago. "Egyptians are quite used to expressing themselves through jokes and humour because that was often the only way to express ourselves."

The surge of revolutionary humour was already beginning to slow, many people said, when Egyptians voted on a referendum to the Constitution that would speed up the election of a Parliament and President.

The vote served as a wake-up call to many secular, liberal activists involved in the revolution, who had campaigned against the referendum because they thought they needed time to build organisations to compete with established groups like the Muslim Brotherhood.

When the referendum passed, there was an uptick of humour sarcasm, really that was not unifying, indicative of re-emerging divisions.

"Businesses should turn to importing ankle-length galabiyas, beards and head scarves from China," went one quip, a reference to religious garb.

"Women will not be allowed to vote, as their voices are considered obscene," went another.

And then the humour seemed to stall altogether.

On a recent afternoon, Ibrahim Senussi sat with two friends in a bustling outdoor cafe squeezed into a dusty alley between two rundown buildings. All three insisted they did not have any new jokes and did not feel up to telling any old ones.

"We're just looking forward now," said Mr. Senussi, 33, who nevertheless could not resist one last shot at Mubarak.

"Mubarak was a man who united all religions," he said, "because he degraded the Muslims, he degraded the Christians and he degraded the Jews."

He grinned, quite satisfied with himself.

New York Times News Service

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THE HINDU

NEW CALL IN ISRAEL FOR TWO-STATE SOLUTION

MANY MILITARY AND SECURITY PERSONNEL JOIN GROUP PUSHING FOR PEACE TREATIES WITH SYRIA, LEBANON AND THE PALESTINIANS.

CONAL URQUHART

A group of prominent Israelis, including heads of the Army and security services, hope to revive the peace initiative by announcing details of possible treaties with the Palestinians, Syria and Lebanon.

The Israeli Peace Initiative, a two-page document, states that Israel will withdraw from the land it occupied in 1967 in both the West Bank and the Golan Heights, and pay compensation to refugees. The document has been given to Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister, who has said he will read it with interest.

The authors of the document say it is partly inspired by the revolutions that have taken place in West Asia. It presents an opportunity for Israelis to participate in the "winds of change" blowing through West Asia, they say.

"We looked around at what was happening in neighbouring countries and we said to ourselves, 'It is about time that the Israeli public raised its voice as well.' We feel this initiative can bring along many members of the public," Danny Yatom, the former head of the Israeli external security agency, Mossad, told the New York Times.

The group aims to generate public support for a peace agreement that will force the Israeli government to re-engage with the Palestinians, who have suspended meetings in protest at continued settlement building in the West Bank. Palestinians see such building as an attempt to create "facts on the ground" that obstruct negotiations.

Yaakov Perry, a former head of Shin Bet, the internal security agency, said he hoped that the plan would galvanise the Israeli government in this time of change around West Asia.

"We are isolated internationally and seen to be against peace," he told the New York Times. "I hope this will make a small contribution to pushing our Prime Minister forward. It is about time that Israel initiates something on peace." The Israeli Peace Initiative recognises the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002, which was sponsored by the government of Saudi Arabia, as "a historic effort made by the Arab states to reach a breakthrough and achieve peace on a regional basis". The Israeli initiative endorses the Arab statement that "a military solution to the conflict will not achieve peace or provide security for the parties".

The initiative lays out the framework for peace agreements between Israel, Syria and the Palestinians. It calls for a sovereign and independent Palestinian state based on the borders between Israel and Jordan in 1967 but modified to ensure territorial contiguity for the Palestinian state. Some settlements would be placed under Israeli control.

Compensation would be paid to refugees and their host countries by Israel and the international community, according to the initiative, but the refugees would be able to return only to the Palestinian state, with a few exceptions who would be allowed to return to what is now Israel. The plan also calls for a road link between the West Bank and Gaza, which would cut across Israeli territory but would be under Palestinian control.

It also calls for Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights over five years in order to achieve peace with Syria and a peace agreement with Lebanon.

Dan Meridor, the Deputy Prime Minister, speaking at an event in Jerusalem, said he had not yet studied the document. "The paradigm is clear, that is a two-state solution, but the other elements should be negotiated, not dictated," he said.

Referring to the uprisings elsewhere in West Asia, he said: "Some people say that we should wait for the aftershocks to happen, for everything to settle down, but I don't believe we can wait."

© Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011

 

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THE HINDU

ARCTIC FRESHWATER "LAKE" TO IMPACT CLIMATE

ICE CAP MELTWATER AND RIVER RUN-OFF COULD HAVE SIGNIFICANT IMPACT ON THE CLIMATES OF EUROPE AND NORTH AMERICA, SAY SCIENTISTS.

FIONA HARVEY

A vast expanse of freshwater in the midst of the Arctic Ocean is set to wreak unpredictable changes on the climate in Europe and North America, new scientific analysis has shown.

The water — comprising meltwater from the ice cap and run off from rivers — is at least twice the volume of Lake Victoria in Africa, and is continuing to grow. At some point huge quantities of this water are likely to flush out of the Arctic Ocean and into the Atlantic, which could have significant impacts on the climate. Scientists say they cannot predict when this will happen though.

"This could have an influence on ocean circulation," said Benjamin Rabe of the Alfred Wengener Institute. "It could have an influence on the Gulf Stream." At present, the freshwater acts as a "lid", preventing the warmer salty water below from meeting the ice, which would melt if the two mixed, according to Rabe. But while it is currently stable, this situation is likely to change as atmospheric circulation patterns shift, and as greater quantities of meltwater spill into the "lake". There were signs of an atmospheric change in 2009 that could have precipitated such an outflow, but that episode did not last.

Laura de Steur, an oceanographer at the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research, said: "The volume of water discharged into the Arctic Ocean, largely from Canadian and Siberian rivers, is higher than usual due to warmer temperatures in the north causing ice to melt. Sea ice is also melting quickly — another new record low for ocean area covered was recently documented by the National Snow and Ice Data Centre, adding even more freshwater to the relatively calm Arctic Ocean." She added: "Sea ice that is thinner is more mobile and could exit the Arctic faster. In the worst case, these Arctic outflow surges can significantly change the densities of marine surface waters in the extreme North Atlantic. What happens then is hard to predict." Such an outflow would probably have a measurable impact on the "conveyor belt" or thermohaline circulation, a system of deep ocean and wind-driven currents, including the Gulf Stream, which carries heat from the tropics, said Mr. Rabe. An influx of dense, cold freshwater could slow the conveyor belt. If the effect were marked, it would be felt in the form of a change of weather in Europe and America, he said. Europe could find itself cooling, particularly around the western edges, as the circulations tend to bring warmer air to the continent.

But, he said, it was impossible yet to say whether any such effect would be dramatic or slight. Some climate models predict a 20 per cent weakening of the current by the century's end.

Detlef Quadfasel, of Hamburg University's climate centre, warned that there was a chance changes in the system could be abrupt, occurring over a decade or two, but that more gradual change would be expected.

The findings are part of Project Clamer, a collaboration of 17 institutes in 10 European countries that is synthesising research from nearly 300 EU-funded projects over the past 13 years that concern climate change and Europe's waters, and the Baltic and Black Seas.

Freshwater inflow from rivers could also affect the Baltic Sea, one of the biggest brackish-water ecosystems in the world, according to Thomas Neumann, of Germany's Leibnitz-Institute for Baltic Sea Research. Its salinity is controlled by the amount of freshwater flowing off the surrounding land, as well as how much water is exchanged with the North Sea. If the salinity lowers further, this could have a harmful effect on the species that live there.

© Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011

 

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THE HINDU

WEST FALLS SHORT ON GLENEAGLES AID PLEDGES

LARRY ELLIOTT

Rich western countries have failed to meet aid pledges to the world's poorest countries made at the G8 summit in Gleneagles in Scotland six years ago, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development said on Wednesday.

In its annual review of development assistance, the Paris-based OECD said donors had increased aid by $30 billion since 2005 but had fallen $19 billion short of the promises made in 2005.

Under pressure from Tony Blair when he was British Prime Minister, the G8 also agreed at the Gleneagles conference in Scotland, to increase aid to Africa by $25 billion by 2010, but the OECD said only $11 billion had been delivered.

The OECD, a club of rich developed countries, said the financial constraints imposed by the global recession were only marginally to blame for the broken pledges.

"Only a little over $1 billion of the shortfall can be attributed to lower than expected gross national income levels due to the economic crisis. The remaining gap of $18 billion was due to donors that did not meet their Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) commitments," the review says.

The OECD warned that a comprehensive survey of donors' future spending plans pointed to slower aid growth ahead. Development assistance is planned to grow by an inflation-adjusted two per cent per year between 2011 and 2013 compared with eight per cent on average over the last three years.

© Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

FII DOLLARS FLOW IN,BUT WORRIES REMAIN

The Indian markets are once again the flavour of the season with foreign institutional investors, judging by the money they have pumped in since last month. Between March 22 and 31 they pumped in around $1 billion, after taking $2 billion out of India in the first two months of the year. Whenever FIIs pump in money in a major way, the Sensex and Nifty rise to the occasion. The indices have shot up by over 10 per cent from March 21 till now. Indian market valuations are now attractive, with a 15 per cent-plus correction since December. Medium and small cap stocks had fallen even more, by around 30-40 per cent, and some frontline stocks were down 25-30 per cent. So there is a good harvest for long-term investors. There are two other pluses — the appreciating rupee and the perennial long-term-growth-story-is-good factor. Even in a worst-case scenario, India's GDP growth is around 7.5-8 per cent, which is higher than that of any developed country.

Does this mean that scams, inflation, high fiscal deficit and high crude prices, which are negatives for the markets, are a thing of the past? It's difficult to answer that with a straight "yes" or "no". The scams were indeed a disincentive for FIIs, particularly as they coincided with the growing turnaround of the American economy in the later months of 2010, and it appeared more attractive for the FIIs to invest in North America than in India. Besides, the markets here had run up at a sorching pace in 2010, making stocks expensive. Inflation and high fiscal deficit are still around, though finance minister Pranab Mukherjee has made a strong commitment in the Budget to lower the fiscal deficit. High inflation is still the most worrying factor, now aggravated by rising crude prices. Brent crude has inched up to $122.39 per barrel. The fact that India needs to import almost 75 per cent of its fuel requirement is a major worry. This has increased due to private sector giant Reliance Industries' inability to meet 2012 oil production target due to technical reasons. If the Cairn plc-Vedanta deal goes through, perhaps Vedanta might be able to increase output from the Cairn oilfields, which have seen good production.

The petroleum ministry has already said it will discuss with the finance minister next week the question of increased support from the government to cushion the gap between what oil companies pay for crude and the price at which they sell it to consumers. This could put pressure on the fiscal deficit. If inflation remains high, interest rates will also continue to be high and this works to the disadvantage of India Inc. It also means less investment, leading to a vicious circle of high inflation, high interest rates, low investment and slower growth. Reserve Bank deputy governor Subir Gokarn has pointed out that high inflation poses a risk to faster growth in the future. That is why the RBI is concentrating on taming inflation. High interest rates, he noted, is that sacrifice that India Inc and other borrowers must make to ensure faster growth in future. These challenges are also expected as part of any growth process, and nothing that the government can't handle if it decides to get its act together. It is now battling on several fronts — from corruption to elections in four states and a Union territory. One hopes that as soon as these elections are out of the way, the government will get down to the serious business of governance. Thankfully India, for now, is an attractive investment destination and FIIs will continue to pump in their dollars.

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THE ASIAN AGE

OPINION

DIPLOMATIC GULF

SRINATH RAGHAVAN

As the crisis in Libya rages on, tensions in other parts of West Asia threaten to boil over. Bahrain, Yemen and Syria are in the throes of upheaval influenced by the peoples' uprisings in North Africa and the Western intervention in Libya. The latter, in particular, has vigorously stirred the pot. Ironically, it has emboldened both the allies and the adversaries of the United States. But for the ongoing military intervention in Libya, we would neither have seen Saudi Arabian troops in Bahrain nor increasing Iranian involvement in support of the Syrian government. These developments, especially those in the Arabian Gulf, will be viewed with concern by New Delhi. Not only does India have major interests in the Gulf, but its presence in the United Nations Security Council places it at the centre ground of international diplomacy surrounding these crises.
These facts are sharply underlined by two recent high-level visits. In the past week, India has hosted influential Prince Bandar bin Sultan, secretary-general of the Saudi Arabian National Security Council, and Bahrain foreign minister Shaikh Khalid bin Ahmed. The visits, at once, reinforced the urgency of these crises and the need for India to tread carefully in the political minefields of West Asia.

The current crisis in Bahrain goes back to the 1990s. That decade witnessed considerable political turmoil, including a low-level insurgency against the ruling Al Khalifa family. The anti-government protests stemmed from a combustible combination of political deadlock, economic decline and sectarian tensions. After a brief interlude between 1973 and 1975, Bahrain's experiment with constitutional democracy was effectively suspended. The early 1990s saw plummeting oil prices, which imposed additional strains on an economy that did not have much oil to begin with. In consequence, the gilded benefit programmes that were used by other Gulf states to buy the loyalties of their peoples were increasingly unavailable in Bahrain. All of these accentuated the fault lines between the Shia majority (nearly three quarters of the population) and the dominant Sunni minority of Bahrain. The Shia in Bahrain — unlike in Kuwait, for instance — had been systematically relegated to the economic and political margins of the state.

Although the ruling family managed to curb the 1990s uprising by a combination of repression and minimal political reform, the underlying problems continued to simmer. The most recent wave of protests was triggered by events in North Africa, but the protesters' demands hark back to those of the 1990s. The intervention by troops from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates has undoubtedly complicated matters. Not least because it has the potential to draw in Iran, and so pull a local political problem into the vortex of the larger strategic rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The latter has so far restricted itself to rhetorical warnings, but some Shia leaders in Bahrain are already worried that their agenda will be hijacked by Tehran. Unless a political settlement is quickly facilitated, Bahrain will be subject to prolonged strife. And the spiralling crisis could have knock-on effects in Saudi Arabia.

India has multiple interests at stake in the Gulf. The six countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) constitute India's largest trading partner. The two-way trade currently stands at over $110 billion a year. The region is the main source for India's rising and seemingly unquenchable energy requirements. Over 5.5 million Indians are employed in the Gulf, and their annual remittances to India add up to nearly $32 billion. Large numbers of Indians travel to the region not only for the Haj but for business and social visits. Reference to "historical ties" is an over-used cliché in international politics, but in this case it sits well with the facts of history. The Arabian Gulf was part of the British empire. The Gulf political residency (based in Bushehr, Iran) and its appendages in Bahrain, Muscat, Sharjah among other places, was an integral part of the commercial and political network of British India. This resulted in the presence of Indian traders and workers in these parts well before the oil boom of the 1970s.

To preserve these interests, New Delhi has in the past few years sought to build close ties with the Gulf countries. The crisis in Bahrain could cast a shadow on these efforts. For one thing, the United States is unlikely to apply any serious pressure either on the Al Khalifa family or on the GCC to roll-back their intervention. Bahrain is home to the US Navy's Central Command and the Fifth Fleet. American naval presence dates back to 1948, though it was only after British withdrawal in 1971 that the US came to acquire its present position. It is also worth recalling that during the "Tanker War" between Iraq and Iran in the mid-1980s, American forces relied on their base in Bahrain to strike Iranian assets. In the present context of US-Iran relations, Bahrain's strategic utility to the US remains high.

To be sure, India would not want to embroil itself in the political crisis in the region. But it cannot afford to ignore the potential consequences of a major flare-up. The crises in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya forced the Indian government to safeguard its nationals in these countries by undertaking major exercises in evacuation. Given the number of Indians in the Gulf — they constitute the largest group of expatriates — a comparable effort would be almost impossible. Even if we did manage to extricate them, what would be our long-term plan for these people? Whether or not they are able to go back to the Gulf would depend on how the crisis plays out and which groups are in power. In any event, it would signal the unreliability of the Indian workforce.
New Delhi has struck the right stance in dissuading Indian expatriates from hastily leaving the Gulf and from involving themselves in local politics. But neither of these steps might suffice. India may well need to engage in quiet, behind-the-scenes diplomacy to help create conditions for a political settlement in Bahrain.

Srinath Raghavan is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi

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THE ASIAN AGE

OPINION

GANDHI, MODI AND JINNAH

JAVED ANAND

Sceptics and critics yet to be convinced that Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi is the tallest Gandhian of our day at last have to contend with compelling proof of the man's love and devotion for the apostle of ahimsa. Mr Modi may well boast in the days to come that he was the first politician to rise to the defence of nation's honour by ordering a ban on Joseph Lelyveld's book on Mahatma Gandhi, Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle with India.

According to him, "The writing is perverse in nature. It has hurt the sentiments of those with capacity for sane and logical thinking".

Mr Modi's logic or his wounded sentiments may not mute the numerous voices against the outrageous ban, but why should he care. Enough for him to have sent out a message to his doting "paanch karod Gujarat ni junta" (five crores people of Gujarat) that when it comes to protecting Gujarati asmita they can always count on their man with the "chappan ni chati" (one with a lion's chest).

Look how promptly he came to Bapu's rescue while Mahatma's own progeny let him down. "Don't ban the book", said the Mahatma's grandson, Rajmohan Gandhi, "To think of banning the book would be wrong from every point of view, and doubly so in the light of Gandhi's commitment to freedom of speech. In fact, extreme scepticism too should be welcomed, especially in the case of Gandhi, who wanted to live and die for the truth and wanted his life to be an open book".

"Gandhi, least interested in self-protection, is best protected by the strength of his own words and the wordlessness of his own strength", says his other grandson, Gopalkrishna Gandhi. "Banning the book would be the most un-Gandhi thing to do", said Gandhi's great grandson, Tushar.

What kind of a parivar is this?

Even as critics of book bans await the fate of Lelyveld's book, Bihar's Muslims are up in arms demanding a ban on a book in Hindi, Adhunik Bharat Mein Samajik Parivartan (Social Change in Modern India), authored by J.P. Singh, a lecturer at Patna University. Muslims are agitated because the book allegedly damns two of their icons, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, founder of the Aligarh Muslim University, and poet-philosopher Mohammed Iqbal as being communal and separatist. The Bihar Assembly has been rocked by uproarious scenes, memoranda submitted to the governor, dharnas staged.

Why should Singh's book be banned? Just because it describes Sir Syed and Iqbal as communal and separatist? Surely, Singh is by no means the first person to say so about either or both of them.
I'm not sure where Iqbal stood on the book ban business, but one thing is certain: the demand for such bans is as un-Syed as it is un-Gandhi. One can do no better here than quote Maulana Altaf Husain "Hali" on the subject in his highly-regarded biography of Sir Syed, Hayat-e-Javed: "Some Muslims consider it a matter of great piety not to cast even a passing glance at the objections that Christians raise against Islam or the kind of things they say about Prophet Mohammed in their books. Others feel so angry and outraged that they burn these books. Yet others appeal to the government that since insulting things have been written about Islam or the Prophet in a certain book, the government should order the seizure of all copies and ban any further publication of the same... Such an attitude suggests that we have no answer to the arguments of our opponents except that of closing our eyes and ears, or appealing to the government to confiscate such books and prohibit future publication. Contrary to this, Sir Syed was of the view that it will no longer do for Muslims to ignore books that they consider to be obscene or abusive, or to prove by appealing for government's intervention that Muslims are incapable of responding to such writings. Concern for upholding the dignity of Islam demands that we reflect on the objections raised with calmness, patience and a clear mind. Having done so, we should respond to those writings that are worthy of a reply. As for those books which contain nothing apart from malice and bad taste, we should leave it to the public to judge for themselves instead of asking the government to sit in judgment and seek the protection of governments in religious debates". (Pgs 790-791, Hayat-e-Javed).

If Sir Syed had no problem with problematic texts concerning Islam or its Prophet, it's unlikely he would have supported a book ban for self-protection. Had they been alive in the 1920s, even though the highly-incendiary book Rangeela Rasool was apparently intended to inflame Muslim sentiments, Sir Syed and Maulana Hali would not have supported any ban demand, much less approved the murder of its author. But Muhammad Ali Jinnah did: for reasons of politics.

On the subject of book bans then it should not be difficult for us to draw a line: Mahatma Gandhi, Maulana Hali, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, Gandhi ki aulad on one side; Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Mr Modi on the other.

Javed Anand is general secretary, Muslims for Secular Democracy

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THE ASIAN AGE

OPINION

THE PHOTO-OP PROS

SIDHARTH BHATIA

Good politicians are nothing if not opportunists. They are quick to ride with the prevailing public mood as long as it gets them some brownie points and photo-ops. No sooner had Indian skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni hit the final six to claim the World Cup for India that politicians of all hues began looking for possibilities of exploiting it for themselves.

International Cricket Council (ICC) president Sharad Pawar, of course, did not have to do much. Being the president of the ICC, the former chief of the Board for Control of Cricket in India (BCCI), the karta dharta of the Wankhede Stadium and much else, he automatically basked in reflected glory. The dazzling light blinded everyone, making them forget that barely a few days ago his name had popped-up in connection with DB Realty whose chief Shahid Balwa is in jail facing investigations in a scam. Since media (and public) memory has only very tiny windows to process issues, those allegations are long forgotten. Mr Pawar did not have to do much to ensure that, though he did very kindly hand out huge cash bonuses to the hard-working cricketers from the ICC's tax-free coffers.

On the other hand, Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit had to pull out money from public funds. There she was, smiling from one end to the other and declaring that she would be giving `1 crore to all the players from Delhi and, of course, `2 crores to the captain for being such a good leader and a sober man. No one would grudge a few rewards to those who brought glory to the country, but is this her money to give? Who is going to ask that? Meanwhile, does anyone recall that a week or so ago the Shunglu Committee had named Ms Dikshit as one of those responsible for huge cost overruns in the Commonwealth Games run up?

Gauging the janata's frame of mind is a skill and exploiting it is an art. Even if no immediate gains — like inducing memory loss — are forthcoming, quick and decisive action can generate publicity and goodwill. It does not always pan out that way though, as Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi has found out.
Normally an astute politician who can spot an opportunity a mile away, Mr Modi seems to have reacted a bit too hastily in banning Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle with India. Going by reports in the Indian media, which in turn were based on reviews in a tiny section of the Western press (the Wall Street Journal and the Daily Mail), Mr Modi thought he was being clever and smart by being the first to ban the book. And this when no one was even demanding anything of the kind.

You would expect that someone from the Gujarat government would have waited till he had read the book before taking any such step. But when did that last happen? It is a fair bet that none of the books banned in India — James Laine's book on Shivaji or Rushdie's The Satanic Verses or Stanley Wolpert's Nine Hours to Rama — were actually read before they were banned. Someone demanded that they not be allowed to sell and the government, always looking for cheap popularity, obliged. Forget standing up for freedom of expression, no one even took a cursory look at what exactly was so offensive.

In the case of Great Soul, the book has not even landed on Indian shores. And the author, a respected journalist, quickly clarified that he had written nothing of the kind that was being reported in his book (Gandhi was gay! Shock, horror!). Minister for law and justice Veerappa Moily, who too had made some noises about proscribing the book, fortunately saved the country some embarrassment by declaring that the Indian government would not stop the book from being sold. Some due diligence would have saved Mr Modi's face. But again, the politician's instinct for self-promotion had got the better of him and now he has ended up looking like an intolerant man who does not allow different shades of opinion to be aired.

Liberal or ultra-conservative, Right or Left, the Congress or the Bharatiya Janata Party, the fundamental instinct is the same — spot a chance and clamber on to any bandwagon that gets them publicity. But there is an inherent phoniness to the whole thing that immediately becomes apparent.

If those who love our cricketers so much did something noble for sport at large or brought the game to the under-privileged, one would not mind so much when they make these grand gestures. Or, if Mr Modi was a liberal (forget being a Gandhian) and genuinely felt a book like this could cause damage, one could perhaps understand, though, of course, no book should be banned except in extreme circumstances. Indeed, had Mr Modi's own babus and advisers been sharper, they would have known that Mahatma Gandhi had himself printed his banned books and distributed them to defy the British government.

As it stands, it is the sheer cynicism and short-termism of the political class that makes their actions suspect and fake. The pity is that public opinion does not militate against it. In any right-thinking society, by now thousands of people would have bought the book. As for Ms Dikshit and other politicians, hopefully the questions raised will continue to be asked.

The writer is a senior journalist and commentator on current affairs based in Mumbai

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DNA

OPINION

LOKPAL BILL: ANNA HAZARE IS RIGHT ON GRAFT, WRONG ON REMEDY

PARSA VENKATESHWAR RAO JR

 

Anna Hazare is right in his anger against corruption, but he is wrong in the remedy he seeks for it — the Lokpal Bill.

 

Corruption thrives in the country because there is little or no implementation of the existing laws. And for that you need honest people in the right places. It is naive and even stupid to believe that laws can make men honest. Laws are meant to act as deterrents. But you need honest and good people to make them effective.

 

Hazare and his group of self-righteous middle-class moralists are, of course, justified in fighting corrupt politicians and bureaucrats. It would perhaps make people aware of the issue and throw out corrupt politicians. They, however, cannot do much about career bureaucrats. Also, their efforts are hampered because all political parties have corrupt people. It is like throwing a crook and bringing in another.

 

Honest people who say they cannot fight elections and win them because they do not have the muscle or the money to withstand the bloody electoral arena are speaking the truth. But they are unwilling to go among the masses and win them over. When they do not get elected in the first attempt or even in the second attempt they often turn into cynics. You can hear them saying, "people do not deserve honest people like us", and launching a tirade against corrupt politicians.

 

The problem with Anna Hazare is more serious — he wants to bypass all democratic channels. If Parliament is bypassed and NGOs — they may be honest with learned people — want to draft the country's laws, it raises serious questions about the legitimacy of democratic practices.

 

It is a legitimate moral weapon to keep politicians under pressure, but moral blackmail is not. And Hazare is doing just that. But he is not the first. Jayaprakash Narayan used the same tactic in the 1970s and took the country to the brink of anarchy while giving Indira Gandhi a reason to impose Emergency.

 

India needs a political protest movement channelised through democratic institutions that have been built over the past 60 years. Yes, principles have been debilitated and almost every institution is clogged with corruption. But the democratic system cannot be decimated by using the so called peoples' force. A thorough clean-up will do the job.

 

Leaders are obliged to channelise the energies and aspirations of people with great understanding and tact — a quality that Mahatma Gandhi shrewdly showed at the most crucial times. Gandhi's admirers overlook the shrewdness part of the story and get carried away by what they see as his moral idealism and fervour. Which is why JP was an inept follower of Gandhi and Anna Hazare is proving to be a blind follower of JP.

 

Every poll verdict since Independence shows that the people of India have tackled corruption to the best of their ability and within the ambit of choices they have. If Anna Hazare and his band are willing to pick up the gauntlet and challenge corrupt politicians in elections, people will vote with their feet.

 

Does Hazare have any faith in the people of India? Or is he a prophet who believes that his job is to raise the moral alarm and it is for the people to either do something or just ignore it. In that case he must not try to arm-twist the government.

Many will argue that Hazare is trying to raise an alarm about the moral decay, but he is not doing it. He is just trying to dictate policies from outside the democratic set-up and that is not right.

 

 

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DNA

OPINION

SAVE US FROM OUR POLITICIANS

RANJONA BANERJI

 

Growing up in the 1970s, our idea of politicians was rather skewed and dictated by Hindi films — except for the larger-than-life Indira Gandhi of course. The rest were sleazy, oily characters who socialised with smugglers in their very garish homes, which, apart from the requisite "Mona Darling" and "Raabert", usually also housed a bar with colourful glass everywhere.

 

These were days of prohibition or its hangover, so alcohol was denied to the common folk (hence the smugglers). But we all knew that the sleazes had access to it. Luckily, the day was saved by a superhero usually called Vijay and often played by Amitabh Bachchan.

 

From then on, the picture of the corrupt politician was ingrained in us. And of course, in spite of all their best efforts (I'm joking), the people of India are convinced that politicians don't understand the meaning of honesty, accountability and strange words like that.

 

It is hardly surprising therefore that hundreds of people across India have gathered themselves around Anna Hazare's fast to shame the government to pass the Lokpal bill. Anna Hazare may be in Delhi's Jantar Mantar but even cynical, busy Mumbai stopped running around to support him. The issue of corruption has now become so large that it is no longer possible to ignore it or tolerate it.

 

And those silly politicians, they give us reason to point fingers at them every day. The last decade has been spent trying to take Mumbai from the 21st century to Victorian times — the sanctimonious posturing and fake moralising. No dance bars, heavy taxes on alcohol consumption, even more taxation on entertainment, forcing eateries to close and so on. But the night India wins the World Cup and Mumbai consumes lakhs of litres of alcohol and dances all night on the streets, please note than there were no objections from the usual hypocrites. People had fun, which is their right, without any restrictions. Interesting!

 

Or take Sachin Tendulkar's request for permission to build a gym in his new house being built in Bandra. Just a few weeks ago, the authorities were adamant he didn't deserve permission and the cricketer withdrew the request. But, alakazam, India wins the World Cup and our politicians immediately want to grant him the permission. Sachin Tendulkar is India's greatest batsman and one of the greatest cricketers ever — and it did not take the World Cup to convince us of this. No, here come our sleazy friends ready to jump on to the latest bandwagon.

 

No political system can run without politicians; we accept that. But in the 42 years since the anti-corruption Lokpal bill was first introduced, we've allowed them to get away with murder and everything else as well.

 

This is India's chance to prove the Hindi movies wrong. No superhero called 'Vijay' is going to come and save us. We have to do it ourselves.

 

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DNA

OPINION

WILL MAHARASHTRA FORGIVE SHARAD PAWAR?

ABHAY VAIDYA

 

How come it is Union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar's family once again which is accused of a nexus with controversial builder and current jail inmate Shahid Balwa, the former managing director of DB Realty?

 

A prominent suspect in the 2G spectrum scam, Balwa's arrest in February led to a prompt clarification from Pawar that he did not know this man, although he knew the family of Balwa's business partner and DB Realty chairman Vinod Goenka well. Pawar and his acolytes explained that the Dynamix Dairy (now the Schreiber Dynamix Dairy Industries) at Baramati had started as a Goenka enterprise and had nothing to do with Balwa.

 

Then Maharashtra's leader of the opposition Eknath Khadse revealed that Pawar was one of eight passengers

along with Balwa and Goenka in a plane owned by Balwa's Eon Aviation during a flight to Dubai in February 2010. Maybe so, said Pawar's spokesman Jitendra Avhad, but that does not prove Pawar's links with Balwa.

 

Yet another revelation followed about DB Realty's controversial project at Yerawada in Pune being constructed on the same survey number (191A) where Pawar's family friend, Atul Chordia, had constructed the Panchshil Tech Park. Khadse said it was Balwa who had applied for environmental clearance for the two projects. Chordia's Panchshil Pvt Ltd lists Pawar's daughter Supriya Sule and her husband Sadanand as investors.

 

Balwa's Yerawada construction caught attention also because the NCP-led state home department had entered into an agreement with DB Realty to hand over a three-acre plot of the Yerawada police station for "re-development" despite protests from the Pune police. Only after Balwa's arrest did the staet government agree to review the decision.

 

The Pawar family, it seems, is obsessed with lucrative real estate projects. The Lavasa story is familiar. As revealed by Pawar to DNA, it was he who selected the site. A company called Pearly Blue Lake Resorts Pvt Ltd was floated by his associate and builder, Aniruddha Deshpande.Pawar's family has shares in Deshpande's City Corporation Ltd, while his daughter and son-in-law were prominent shareholders in Ajit Gulabchand's Lavasa Corporation, which took over the project from Deshpande.

 

Chordia's Panchshil Realty, Deshpande's City Corporation and Gulabchand's Lavasa Corporation are three firms engaged in mega real estate projects where the Pawar family's links have been exposed. Will more surprises tumble out in the future?

 

It is sad that Pawar is no longer the darling of the masses in Maharashtra that he once was. His controversial connections have taken a toll on his image and reputation.

 

Almost forgotten are his achievements as a progressive leader and as the youngest chief minister of Maharashtra, who went on to serve four terms. His massive victory margins in elections over the last four decades are no longer awe-inspiring because he no longer inspires. Maharashtra's human development index is down in the dumps, bringing no credit to him and his leadership.

 

Is this the same Sharad Pawar that we once knew?

 

How come it is Union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar's family once again which is accused of a nexus with controversial builder and current jail inmate Shahid Balwa, the former managing director of DB Realty?

 

A prominent suspect in the 2G spectrum scam, Balwa's arrest in February led to a prompt clarification from Pawar that he did not know this man, although he knew the family of Balwa's business partner and DB Realty chairman Vinod Goenka well. Pawar and his acolytes explained that the Dynamix Dairy (now the Schreiber Dynamix Dairy Industries) at Baramati had started as a Goenka enterprise and had nothing to do with Balwa.

 

Then Maharashtra's leader of the opposition Eknath Khadse revealed that Pawar was one of eight passengers along with Balwa and Goenka in a plane owned by Balwa's Eon Aviation during a flight to Dubai in February 2010. Maybe so, said Pawar's spokesman Jitendra Avhad, but that does not prove Pawar's links with Balwa.

 

Yet another revelation followed about DB Realty's controversial project at Yerawada in Pune being constructed on the same survey number (191A) where Pawar's family friend, Atul Chordia, had constructed the Panchshil Tech Park. Khadse said it was Balwa who had applied for environmental clearance for the two projects. Chordia's Panchshil Pvt Ltd lists Pawar's daughter Supriya Sule and her husband Sadanand as investors.

 

Balwa's Yerawada construction caught attention also because the NCP-led state home department had entered into an agreement with DB Realty to hand over a three-acre plot of the Yerawada police station for "re-development" despite protests from the Pune police. Only after Balwa's arrest did the staet government agree to review the decision.

 

The Pawar family, it seems, is obsessed with lucrative real estate projects. The Lavasa story is familiar. As revealed by Pawar to DNA, it was he who selected the site. A company called Pearly Blue Lake Resorts Pvt Ltd was floated by his associate and builder, Aniruddha Deshpande.Pawar's family has shares in Deshpande's City Corporation Ltd, while his daughter and son-in-law were prominent shareholders in Ajit Gulabchand's Lavasa Corporation, which took over the project from Deshpande.

 

Chordia's Panchshil Realty, Deshpande's City Corporation and Gulabchand's Lavasa Corporation are three firms engaged in mega real estate projects where the Pawar family's links have been exposed. Will more surprises tumble out in the future?

 

It is sad that Pawar is no longer the darling of the masses in Maharashtra that he once was. His controversial connections have taken a toll on his image and reputation.

 

Almost forgotten are his achievements as a progressive leader and as the youngest chief minister of Maharashtra, who went on to serve four terms. His massive victory margins in elections over the last four decades are no longer awe-inspiring because he no longer inspires. Maharashtra's human development index is down in the dumps, bringing no credit to him and his leadership.

 

Is this the same Sharad Pawar that we once knew?

 

v_abhya@dnaindia.net

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

JMC UNDER CAG SCANNER

 

On three counts CAG has raised its finger towards Jammu Municipal Corporation (JMC). These are; parking sites within municipal limits, unlisted footpath lengths and illegal encroachments. But the CAG has been generous by not touching on many other aspects that miserably contribute to the depletion of sanitary condition of urban Jammu. One could make a long list of discrepancies directly attributable to the JMC like inadequate and outdated garbage collection and disposal units, dysfunctional drainage system, lack of playgrounds and parks, choking traffic on narrow streets, open and unhygienic eateries, adulterated foodstuff especially milk, sweets and milk products, absence of effective price control management, and many other things. Though some of these areas do not directly fall under the jurisdiction of the municipality, nevertheless since these are closely connected to the administrative reach of what is called civic amenities, the municipality has a big role to play in getting them streamlined. The fact of the matter is that JMC is functional and vibrant in any case and does try to keep Jammu city livable. It is tackling a number of problems that are thrown up in day to today life of the city. There is nothing like collapse of JMC. But what the CAG has laid its finger on is the precise malady that it has not "made any study" on some of the existing discrepancies. In other words, it means to say that there is no initiative and originality at any level in the municipal corporation structure. Absence of policy planning and deep thinking on how the standard of living and environment can be improved in the city is what is lacking. There are a number of areas that should come under focus of the experts at the Corporation. Besides that, the JMC has to involve the civil society from conceptual stage to implementation and execution stage. Unfortunately we do not find result oriented liaison between the elders of the civil society and the JMC components. There should be a permanent joint consultative body as part of the JMC, which would not only brief it on what are the short term and long term requirements of the city but also look into accountability aspect. The target should be to raise the status of the city to class A. As long as there is dedication for achieving this target and serious work culture supporting it, the raising of Jammu's status to A class city will not be an unattainable dream. It has the potential of a beautiful city attracting tourists and pilgrims provided proper infrastructure and management are in place. It is a privilege to live in the capital city in any state of the country. But the capital city must offer all amenities that make life decent and respectable. In that sense the JMC has a lot more to do. The biggest and most urgent problem in Jammu city is of crowded traffic jam over narrow streets and absence of parking sites. Some of the more congested areas of Jammu city have become nightmare for commuters and vehicular traffic.


Of course, the existing network of flyovers put in place along the main highway some time ago has eased traffic congestion to some extent, but the job of municipal and urban planners does not end with that. There is population influx in Jammu. It is a city of migrants, refugees and labourers, the last category coming from neighbouring states to work at construction sites. In winter hundreds of thousands of people migrate to Jammu from the valley to escape harsh winter, and many of them have built houses in and around the city. This huge human influx and movement has brought pressures on almost all facets of life in Jammu city. Therefore in the context of streamlining civic amenities in the city not only the JMC but many more departments, too, come into picture. There has to be good deal of coordination among various departments especially the JMC, traffic, food supplies, communication, urban housing, power development and health. The CAG report has to be taken into account in its totality. Urban development and traffic departments must focus on how to ease traffic congestion on specific crowded streets. Why should the noisy and dusty bus stand be there in the heart of the city when it causes so much of traffic jam and congestion? Modern plants of garbage disposal have to be provided within shortest possible time. Demands of safai karamcharis, who have been holding sit down demonstrations recently, need to be addressed. Mohalla committees have to be invigorated and made to collaborate with the JMC in keeping the localities clean. JMC must organza regular meets with civil society at different venues for on spot appraisal of sanitary and other situation of the localities. In a city with a population of about a million people, there should be at least ten reading rooms and public libraries to meet the needs of people in various localities. As against this there is not a single pigeon hole reading room adjoining the old library at Kachi Chawni --- a library though rich in collection but tardy in management and logistics. Jammu youth need playgrounds where they can demonstrate their physical fitness, athletic talent and develop taste for sports. There are o parks in Jammu worth the name and if there are a couple of them, the maintenance part is appalling.
As population pressure grew and the old city of Jammu, perched as it is on the heights of a hillock, could not provide space for expansion, the plains below the Gumat were available for raising new habitats. Except for Gandhi Nagar and Janipora-Roop Nagar complexes, which are properly planned the rest of the habitats spanning the entire plains and river banks areas came up totally unplanned and in haphazard manner. This was in violation of basic norms of raising new localities and habitats. Today these areas are gradually becoming congested and crowded slums. There is constant influx of people from outside into the city which is likely to increase with the passage of time. Keeping all these factors in view, it would be highly desirable that a mega plan of raising twin city in Jammu, the winter capital of the state, is given serious thought. A city laid out on modern lines with broad avenues, parks, playgrounds, swimming pools, libraries, parking lots, central markets or malls, educational and professional institutions, efficient civil transportation system and polyclinics should come up. It has to be congestion free and pollution free. Jammu deserves it and it has the capacity to develop the proposed twin city. It is the political leadership of Jammu and the civil society chapter that must joint heads and formulate the plan for Jammu twin-city and pursue it vigorously with the government. There are international lending agencies that support town planning and laying of new townships. All possible funding sources need to be approached for the visionary Jammu twin-city plan.

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

BEST OF HEALTH TO ALL

DR. SYED AMIN TABISH

 

Human populations have undergone shifts in their relationship with disease - shifts that are always linked to major changes in the way people interact with the environment. Societal, technological and environmental factors continue to have a dramatic effect on infectious diseases worldwide, facilitating the emergence of new diseases and the reemergence of old ones, sometimes in drug-resistant forms. Modern Demographic and Ecological conditions that favour the spread of infectious diseases include: rapid population growth, increasing poverty and urbanization, more frequent movement across international boundaries by tourists, workers, immigrants and refugees, alterations in the habits of animals and arthropods that transmit disease, increasing number of persons with impaired host defenses, changes in the way that food is processed and distributed.
We live in an era in which we depend on antibiotics, and other antimicrobial medicines to treat conditions those decades ago, or even a few years ago in the case of HIV/AIDS, would have proved fatal. When antimicrobial resistance - also known as drug resistance - occurs, it renders these medicines ineffective. For World Health Day 2011, WHO calls for intensified global commitment to safeguard these medicines for future generations? Antimicrobial resistance and its global spread, threatens the continued effectiveness of many medicines used today to treat infectious diseases. WHO also calls on governments and stakeholders to implement the policies and practices needed to prevent and counter the emergence of highly resistant microorganisms. Antimicrobial agents are medicines used to treat infections caused by micro organisms, including bacteria, fungi, parasites and viruses.


Antimicrobial resistance occurs when microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites change in ways that render the medications used to cure the infections they cause ineffective. When the microorganisms become resistant to most antimicrobials they are often referred to as "superbugs". This is a major concern because a resistant infection may kill, can spread to others, and imposes huge costs to individuals and society. Antimicrobial resistance is facilitated by the inappropriate use of medicines, for example, when taking substandard doses or not finishing a prescribed course of treatment. Low-quality medicines, wrong prescriptions and poor infection control also encourage the development and spread of drug resistance. Lack of government commitment to address these issues, poor surveillance and a diminishing arsenal of tools to diagnose, treat and prevent also hinder the control of drug resistance.


Often, antibiotics are administered to patients with bacterial infections. But antibiotics kill a large proportion of various bacteria instead of killing only the bacteria that are responsible for the disease. Misuse of antibiotics promotes emergence of resistant bacteria known as Antimicrobial resistance which is the ability of certain micro-organisms to withstand attack by antimicrobials. And, its uncontrolled rise threatens lives and wastes limited healthcare resources.


Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is resistance of a microorganism to an antimicrobial medicine to which it was previously sensitive. Resistant organisms are able to withstand attack by antimicrobial medicines, such as antibiotics, antivirals, and antimalarials, so that standard treatments become ineffective and infections persist and may spread to others. AMR is a consequence of the use, particularly the misuse, of antimicrobial medicines and develops when a microorganism mutates or acquires a resistance gene. Infections caused by resistant microorganisms often fail to respond to the standard treatment, resulting in prolonged illness and greater risk of death. AMR reduces the effectiveness of treatment because patients remain infectious for longer, thus potentially spreading resistant microorganisms to others.


In many regions, the low cost, first choice antibiotics have lost their power to clear infections of Eschercichia coli, Neisseria gonohorrea, Pneumococcus, Shigella, Staphylococcus aureus - increasing the cost and length of treatment of many common diseases including epidemic diarrhoeal diseases, gonorrhea, pneumonia, and otitis. Further problems stem from the use of antimicrobial substances in food animal production.
In an age of expanding air travel and international trade, infectious microbes are transported across borders every day, carried by infected people, animals, and insects, and contained within commercial shipments of contaminated food. Moreover, unforeseen disease problems continue to appear. Left unchecked, today's emerging diseases can become the endemic diseases of tomorrow. Infectious diseases do not recognize borders. Infectious diseases like malaria and AIDS act as a massive societal brake, slowing both economic and human development. Each year, malaria slows economic growth in several sub-Saharan African countries by as much as 1.3 percent per person per year.


Infections caused by resistant microorganisms often fail to respond to conventional treatment, resulting in prolonged illness and greater risk of death. About 440 000 new cases of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) emerge annually, causing at least 150 000 deaths.


Many infectious diseases risk becoming uncontrollable and could derail the progress made towards reaching the targets of the health-related United Nations Millennium Development Goals set for 2015.
When infections become resistant to first-line medicines, more expensive therapies must be used. The longer duration of illness and treatment, often in hospitals, increases health-care costs and the financial burden to families and societies. The achievements of modern medicine are put at risk by AMR. Without effective antimicrobials for care and prevention of infections, the success of treatments such as organ transplantation, cancer chemotherapy and major surgery would be compromised.
Inappropriate and irrational use of medicines provides favourable conditions for resistant microorganisms to emerge and spread. For example, when patients do not take the full course of a prescribed antimicrobial or when poor quality antimicrobials are used, resistant microorganisms can emerge and spread.
Underlying factors that drive AMR include: inadequate national commitment to a comprehensive and coordinated response, ill-defined accountability and insufficient engagement of communities; weak or absent surveillance and monitoring systems; inadequate systems to ensure quality and uninterrupted supply of medicines, inappropriate and irrational use of medicines, including in animal husbandry: poor infection prevention and control practices; depleted arsenals of diagnostics, medicines and vaccines as well as insufficient research and development on new products. We are now on the brink of losing this precious arsenal of medicines. The use and misuse of antimicrobials in human medicine and animal husbandry over the past 70 years have increased the number and types of micro organisms resistant to these medicines, causing deaths, greater suffering and disability, and higher health-care costs.
If this phenomenon continues unchecked, many infectious diseases risk becoming uncontrollable and could derail progress made towards reaching the health related United Nations Millennium Development Goals for 2015. The emergence of AMR is a complex problem driven by many interconnected factors. It is imperative on all key stakeholders, including policy-makers and planners, the public and patients, practitioners and prescribers, pharmacists and dispensers, and the pharmaceutical industry, to act and take responsibility for combating antimicrobial resistance.
(The author is Chiarman Accident & Emergency Department, Head, Hospital administration & Medical Superintendent, Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical sciences, Srinagar.)

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

RURAL EMPLOYMENT

BY RAM RATTAN SHARMA

 

Ways to improve existing rural jobs and to create additional jobs for the more than 100 million new workers expected in the decade leading upto 2015, need to be found. Employment generation in rural India has emerged not only as one the most crucial socio-economic issue in India in recent years, but also the most pressing political concern. The issue of employment has always assumed critical significance as employment generation in rural India has been a recuring theme in India's development plans and a constant preoccupation with policy makers. Addressing social exclusion, especially providing employment opportunities to disadvantaged groups living in the interior rural parts of the country, has been the major motivating factor for the large scale employment generation programs and Govt. sponsored vocational training schemes. Removal of unemployment and poverty alleviation was recognized as one of the principal objectives of economic planning in the country. The seventies, eighties and the nineties saw emergence of special schemes in the rural development sector. To tackle the problem of rural unemployment and poverty through expanding livelihood opportunities and creation of durable assets in rural areas. As a result, the seventies and eighties witnessed steady increase in employment generation, though the rate of growth of rural employment continued to somewhat lag behind that of the growth of the labour force all along. Efforts were needed to promote vocational training schemes entrepreneurial activity, occupational safety and health and social security of workers. The employment generation strategy followed by the eleventh five year plan has also envisaged reduction in rural underemployment and a movement of surplus low wage labour in agriculture sector to higher wage and more gainful employment in the non agriculture sector. The growth in various sectors of the economy can be achieved only if supported by appropriate skill development programs at various levels. Different initiatives and approaches for generating rural employment over the last half a century has brought out the varied modes of intervention and methodologies from time to time, to address the growing need of generating sustainable livelihood opportunities and poverty eradication in rural India. At different point of time different approaches were adopted. The Indian approaches have been visionary, recognizing mistakes of earlier programs and seeking to modify the approaches with feed back from ground level dynamics.
Recent figures in the sphere of rural employment suggest a decline in employment in agriculture and the limited capacity of rural industry and services to absorb the labour releases from agriculture, initiatives towards rural industrialization. It should also be taken care of that the existing urban industrial structure should remain unperturbed. The state should encourage industrialization in rural areas on a massive scale. A comprehensive policy should be so evolved that industrialists are encouraged to invest in rural areas. Govt. should create full fledged infrastructure facilities in rural areas before moving towards rural industrialization. Appropriate strategies need to be framed in this direction. The focus of rural industrialization should be removal of rural poverty by extending employment opportunities in rural sphere. Simultaneously cottage and small scale industries should be boosted up with greater resource allocation. Policy makers must recognize that promoting industrial form of farming and growth in the non farm economy will be critical to the creation of new employment opportunities for poverty stricken rural India. However, the main contribution to rural employment will have to come from higher productivity and better returns to self employed farmers and those operating small rural businesses. Agriculture and other rural vocations should be developed rapidly so as to eradicate rural poverty and to ensure a better job prospects for the rural poor. The present strategy of rural development mainly focuses on poverty alleviation, better livelihood opportunities, provision of basic amenities and infrastructure facilities through innovate programs of wage and self employment. Rural employment generations programs in rural areas, if properly planned and implemented at the ground as part of the current strategy, adopted for rural development can play the role of a catalyst to create economically productive and socially useful assets for the entire population.

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

TIME TO CHECK CORRUPTION

BY BRIJ BHARDWAJ

 

With four States going to polls the issue of bribing the voters and huge amounts spent on wooing them are again making headlines. Seizure of Rs 43 crores by officials under instructions from the Election Commission of India clearly indicates how much money is floating around at the disposal of the politicians engaged in electoral fights. As a thumb rule seizures are expected to be around ten per cent of the actual sums being provided for poll managers. This is further supplemented by funds raised locally by party and provided by candidates.
The expenditure related to polls has been hitting the roof as all items like transport, printing of posters, handbills, looking after poll agents have risen. In some cases direct bribing of voters has started by giving them liquor, food and in some cases, cash on the eve of the poll. Granted, Election Commission of India is taking active steps to check the misuse of money power in the polls, but it can only succeed in a limited way as the electoral law has many loopholes and officials expected to implement them in majority of cases turn a blind to the violations taking place.


More so lot of money used for campaign is covered under the heading of expenses borne by the political parties engaged in electoral battle. The hiring of helicopters, planes to carry leaders and other forms of transport to bring crowds for public meetings all add up to a tidy sum. As compared to sources raised by direct donations to political parties and funds raised through donations form only a fraction of the amount actually spent.
It is no secret that most of these funds come from people who are flushed with black money and give donations to seek favours after the party they have backed comes to power in States and Center, The favours come in forms of land allotments for setting up industries, changes in land use law and other sanctions which are required to promote their business. Many suggestions have been made in this connection like State funding of elections, but nothing concrete has emerged because there is no agreement between the political parties and lack of political will.

 

It is believed that the expense on polls is a key factor which encourages corruption in public life. The ranks of the Parliament are increasingly being deprived of services of Members with limited means and number of candidates with support of money bags and in many cases money bags on their own are now adorning the seats in Parliament particularly where elections are held with electoral colleges electing them instead of popular vote. Many of these have also become members of important committees of the Parliament dealing with Ministries with which they have business dealings.

 

One of the proposals under consideration has been allowing the political parties to contest and get the seats in proportion to the votes polled by them in National poll leaving them free to name the candidates who get membership. The issue of corruption has been recently highlighted with the exposure of several scams relating to allocation of spectrum in two G scam, organisation of Commonwealth Games and other issues relating to governance.


Issue of corruption has also been highlighted by Anna Hazare a Gandhiite undertaking a fast–unto death in Delhi with some of his supporters. He has a legitimate grievance that during last forty years, country has not been able to enact the LOK Pal bill which could go a long way in checking corruption. The bill under consideration at present suffers from many shortcomings and is considered by many as a bill lacking teeth to be effective.


Mr. Hazare would like a committee to be formed with representatives of Government and public in equal numbers to frame the bill. The Government is prepared for a dialogue with Hazare on drafting of the Lok Pal bill, but not prepared to surrender its right to draft the bill and getting approval of the Parliament which alone can enact such legislation. Hazare is also peeved as he feels that the Government as well as political leaders had not even bothered to reply to his letters in this context not to talk of taking any action,


One hopes that this confrontation will end soon as the demand for fighting corruption has public support and Mr. Hazare has popular backing. One hopes that large public support for effective steps against corruption will result in some action. Demand by Hazare that Lok Pal act as a prosecutor, judge and investigator may not be practical or legally feasible but it should be possible to have effective mechanism to check corruption. A time has come when best minds sit together and put effective legislation in place to check corruption by giving teeth to Lok Pal bill. [NPA]

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

THE EDUCATED KILLERS

DAUGHTERS STILL UNWANTED IN HARYANA

 

Haryana and Punjab have shown a dismal record of child sex ratio. Now Jammu and Kashmir too has gained notoriety. The spread of education or prosperity has nothing to do with ethical living or respect for the rule of law. In fact, both literacy and prosperity contribute to acquiring influence over official machinery and means to get rid of unborn daughters. The conviction rate for female foeticide and infanticide is abysmally low and the better-off often get away with murder. Greed knows no limits. It is a fact of life that a daughter is still seen as an economic burden. What can be more shocking than a judge of the Supreme Court listing her daughter as a liability.

 

Haryana's poor child sex ratio record, therefore, comes as no surprise. Despite achieving a commendable economic growth rate, the state is weighed down by its social backwardness. Khap panchayats feel no moral compunction or fear of the law in ordering the killing of young lovers whose marriage they do not approve of. In such a state no one can argue that education will improve things. The latest census figures have presented an uncomfortable trend: daughters are particularly unwanted in areas with a high literacy rate. The district of Mewat, which is among the most backward – economically and educationally – has earned the highest sex ratio of 903 in the 0-6 age group in the state.

 

The dismal social scenario apart, Haryana's population, like its prosperity, is growing unevenly. There are pockets of high growth like areas close to Delhi and along the G.T.Road. Gurgaon is choking with population growth. Unless the trend is reversed, population pressure on limited amenities would keep rising. Those from less developed villages and towns will migrate to fast-growing cities. This will further widen economic disparities, resulting in greater social unrest and more agitations and road/rail blockades. The state's sleepy political leadership is yet to wake up to such realities. Over the years it has failed to manage social tensions and correct economic growth imbalance.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

IT'S RAINING CASH IN TN

SORDID SPECTACLE IN ASSEMBLY ELECTIONS

 

Reports of large-scale bribing of voters in the Tamil Nadu Assembly elections are cause for serious concern. Elections will cease to be a level-playing field for all candidates if political parties indulge in such unabashed use of money power. The seizure of currency notes to the tune of a whopping Rs 5.11 crore kept in five travel bags from the roof of a private bus in Tiruchirapalli by a bold lady revenue officer speaks volumes about the extent of electoral corruption in the state. Cash is being ferried through various modes of transport — bicycles, two wheelers, police jeeps and even ambulances. Though the police is yet to catch the people behind the seizure in Tiruchirapalli, these bundles were apparently being ferried for distribution among voters. Last month, officials had seized Rs 3.5 crore in Madurai.

 

Unfortunately, the role of money power has been increasing after every election in Tamil Nadu which is ranked among the highest in election irregularities. But then, this menace is not confined to Tamil Nadu. Reports of cash seizure have come from West Bengal and Assam too. The Election Commission had transferred the entire Air Intelligence Unit staff of the Income Tax Department at Delhi's Indira Gandhi International Airport for letting off Trinamool Congress MP from Rajya Sabha K.D. Singh carrying cash of Rs 57 lakh on March 24. Chief Election Commissioner S.Y. Quraishi has said that cash seizures were not enough and that tackling the role of money power has become "a big challenge". The latest seizure enjoins a special responsibility on the officials to step up vigilance. The Commission's flying squads should intensify searches on vehicles to prevent the use of money power in the elections.

 

Poor gullible voters, who fall an easy prey to the lure of money, need to be educated on the evil of taking bribes for votes. As violating electoral rules to influence voters is punishable under the law, there is a need to spread awareness among the masses. The money to pay bribes comes from the proceeds of fund-raising by political parties. Thus, we need to have tighter laws to regulate campaign finance. If Germany, Japan, the UK and France have laws to govern campaign spending, why cannot we have them? Money-based elections inevitably lead to a political system up for sale, and it is the moneyed who can buy governments. One has to understand its consequences on the system and the quality of governance. It is in national interest that this menace be tackled headlong.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

COLUMN

SMOKELESS TOBACCO KILLS

NEED TO DISCOURAGE USE OF ALL FORMS

 

THE adverse effects of tobacco on people's health, including the link between tobacco use and cancer, have always been known. Now, it has been found that smokeless tobacco contains no less than 28 carcinogens. The latest study also reveals that 30 per cent of the smokeless tobacco available in the market contains heavy metals, far in excess of the permissible limit. With the number of tobacco users in India a staggering 274.9 million, a majority of whom are daily users, the health hazards of tobacco use are to an alarming degree.

 

Tobacco continues to be the leading preventable cause of death and tobacco use kills one in 10 adults worldwide. India alone accounts for 86 per cent of oral cancer cases across the world. Chewing tobacco and gutka contributes to 90 per cent of oral cancer cases in the country. Besides, tobacco addiction involves other health risks like cardiovascular diseases too. Realising the perils of the fatal addiction, India banned smoking in public places and introduced pictorial warnings on cigarette packets and tobacco products. However, these measures have failed to yield the desired results. Even the Union Health Ministry admitted that pictorial warnings have been ineffective. There is now an increasing clamour for banning smokeless tobacco.

 

Undeniably, there is an urgent need to come down heavily upon the unregulated smokeless tobacco industry. But whether a ban is the answer or other measures can help check the harmful contents in tobacco products needs to be debated. The erroneous presumption that smokeless tobacco is less harmful than smoking needs to be dispelled through massive awareness campaigns. Sustained advocacy did lead to fall in tobacco consumption, in the West. The government must keep tabs on tobacco majors too, who continue to flout rules and indulge in surrogate advertising. Pan masala manufacturers whose so-called tobacco free pan masala have been found to contain high levels of nicotine also need to be taken to task. If India needs to avert an impending health catastrophe caused by excessive tobacco use, it must follow a holistic approach.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

ARTICLE

NOW WE ARE 1210 MILLION

NEED FOR REFORMS IN URBAN GOVERNANCE

BY B.G. VERGHESE

 

THE major outcome of the preliminary results of the 2011 Census of India is not that we are now 1210 million, or more than the US, Indonesia, Brazil, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Japan combined, but that the decadal growth rate is down by 3.9 per cent despite the overall numbers rising by a huge 181 million. Most laggard northern states have shown a welcome decline in fertility and an improvement in female literacy. These are heartening trends but the female child sex ratio has gone down, signifying the continuing tragedy of the unwanted girl child earlier reported even in some of the more progressive northwestern states.

 

Literacy, including female literacy, has markedly improved and we should be able to attain universalisation of primary education by or before 2021, over 60 years after the constitutional promise. The goals must now be universalise secondary education by the same time as emerging India will not emerge if a large swathe of society remains semi-illiterate and unable to imbibe the vocational and professional skills required to move requisite numbers off the land to industry and services with higher farm productivity to boot.

 

The country must add 10 million jobs net annually gainfully to absorb the net incremental growth in the labour force. Steady 9 per cent growth per annum through the decade should enable us to eliminate stark poverty and significantly improve HDI and guarantee the basic services listed under the millennium development goals. But this will require a vast expansion in trained manpower. The demographic gain we foresee from a younger age profile will remain a burden unless quantity translates into quality.

 

Uttar Pradesh has a population just short of 200 million while Maharashtra ranks next with 112 million. Other big states sport numbers in the 75-100 million range. This clearly underlines the case for smaller and more compact states and also the need for another states reorganisation commission to recommend the contours of new units on economic and administrative grounds. Identity and ethnicity can be accommodated through regional autonomy and further empowerment of panchayati raj institutions, which would also make for more participative government and accountability.

 

The census figures for urban growth are not yet available, but urbanisation has clearly seen a marked rise and the country should have a majority living in towns and cities by 2031. This calls for major reforms in urban governance which is today untidily fragmented – with Delhi being a particularly bad case – and some interlocking arrangements to bring metro/ nagar palikas and panchayati raj bodies together for a number of common purposes such as water and sanitation, connectivity and market access, and superior educational and health services. Cities must organically function as hubs and dynamos for the surrounding countryside which they serve even as they are serviced by it.

 

Further action points will emerge as the census numbers are crunched in the months ahead and the first Unique Identification Number of residents is distributed.

 

Meanwhile, the pundits got it totally wrong. The India-Pakistan semi-final for the World Cup in Mohali was no "war" but an enjoyable sporting contest. Neither side played up to its potential, but in the result India registered a fairly comfortable win though there were moments when the match seemed to be going away. The atmosphere was charged with excitement, with a number of Pakistani fans in the stands. But there was an air of bonhomie and the "aam admi" on both sides thought that it was a good idea for Dr Manmohan Singh to have invited his counterpart, Mr Yousuf Raza Gilani, to join him in witnessing the event.

 

The usual critics went overboard, characterising the initiative as a diplomatic blunder that let Pakistan "off the hook", comparing it to the Sharm El-Sheikh "fiasco". The communiqué then issued did not altogether delink talks from terror. Nor did it allow Pakistan to score a point by permitting reference to Balochistan. Indeed, the addition of Balochistan to the agenda has embarrassed Pakistan as it has been unable to lead any credible evidence about India's alleged intervention there while giving Indians an opening to question the continuing suppression of the democratic rights of the Balochi people.

 

The Manmohan Singh-Gilani meeting was largely symbolic but it generated the right atmospherics, reinforcing the happy outcome of the Home Secretaries' meeting which suggests the possibility of some forward movement in the 26/11 case if an Indian commission can meet the other Pakistani accused now on trial in Rawalpindi. Nothing has been lost and something has been gained.

 

As for the match itself, Shahid Afridi had no reason to "apologise" to the people of Pakistan for his team's defeat. An expression of disappointment was certainly in order but an apology sounds as though the match was indeed a "war" that had been lost, bringing dishonour and disgrace not just to the team but to the country. This was an unintended note that jarred and could have been avoided as it is reminiscent of an earlier Pakistani captain apologising to all Muslims for Pakistan's defeat, presumably at the hands of of "Hindu India". It is time to bury the hollow and vicious two-nation theory that has brought grief to the subcontinent and robbed Pakistan of its soul. India too must curb obscurantist and chauvinistic tendencies by indulging in silly acts such as threatening a ban on Joesph Lelyveld's new book on Gandhi.

 

Finally, one must question the vesting of leadership of the war in Libya to NATO, a Western military alliance outside and beyond the rubric of the United Nations. The world body is being insidiously dragged in as in Afghanistan without accountability to it. This is a worrying trend, More so when Mr Obama is reported saying that US agents are being tasked to undermine Colonel Gaddafi. Regime change is not part of the UN mandate.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

DAUGHTERS OF A LESSER GOD

BY GEETANJALI GAYATRI

 

IT'S nice and cosy where I am. Six months old in my mother's womb, I can't wait to be born. There's, however, one big problem — I'm going to be born a girl. And, the world, as I see it today, from my mother's eyes, hardly seems a nice place to come to and open your eyes in.

 

"Hostile" maybe a harsh word for somebody who has barely learnt to change sides in the womb but that's exactly the kind of place I am headed for. And, that's probably what my mother is preparing me for as she whispers some bitter truths to me whenever we are alone. Watching her pain of years gone by flows out as tears and drench her soul, me thinks, can the world really be so hostile?

 

I know my mother doesn't lie. When she talks to me, she bares her scared and scarred soul to let me in on her vulnerability. Yet, once her tears have dried, she emerges the strong-willed woman and the caring mother whose heart hasn't learnt to differentiate between a boy and a girl, ready to take on the world with renewed vigour.

 

Careful not to scare me off, she chooses her words with caution, warning me that shouldn't step out expecting a celebration, the kind that only seems the prerogative of a boy. No sweets, no party, no frills and no laces. Only a mournful silence and lots of long faces.

 

That at least I am alive and kicking the air that surrounds me should be compensation enough as I lie cradled in her arms when visitors pour in as they most often do. But they'll come to offer consolation to my family. Before they leave, they may even suggest a "there's-a-next-time" tagline.  

 

She will be happy but "they" want a boy. Desperately and madly. But, she also knows, I'm growing into a girl inside her, like mothers sometimes know. Without reason. And, that's why my lessons in life have begun earlier than real life itself. 

 

From the safety zone of my womb, I've heard my grandmother's expletives. My father, very much a part of me, seems an alien as I see him. And, my mother's family — ah, finally, a breath of fresh air. I think I can breathe easy here.  But, wait, what do I see? Her marriage has made her the "outsider".

 

Even through my closed eyes I see people blinded by bias. So, while men get to carry their demi-god status on their sleeves and are worthy of being looked up to, women are destined to be looked down upon.

 

That's why every woman has a story she hides from the world. Because there are no real empathisers. Only self-styled gods out to take advantage. So, she's a fighters — battling her own kind of circumstances at home and at the workplace, in buses and in markets, somewhere and almost everywhere around. 

 

Still, in spite of men being men, and despite all this animosity towards me, the girl child, I want to be born — not because I, too, have inherited my mother's fighter instinct but because we alone make this world a better place!

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

APRIL 7

WORLD HEALTH DAY

HEALTH CARE FOR "AAM AADMI

 

While cities and towns have witnessed the introduction of huge medical speciality and super-speciality complexes, both in public and private sectors, primary rural health care centres have remained a pipedream
M.L. Kataria

 

WHO is an "aam aadmi" in India? He is a remote rural rustic. When he grows up, he is forced to migrate to sprawling cities and towns, mainly for food, clothing and shelter. He lives in humble, inhospitable and, at times, inhuman urban periphery. He and his family are seen constructing roads, bridges, buildings and as domestic aids and engaged in various so-called class IV and III pursuits.

 

The rural and the displaced migrants of rural India constitute 70-75 per cent of India's "aam aadmi", spread over nearly six lakh villages. Thirty to 40 per cent of them patiently and quietly suffer the scarcity and frugality that is the destiny of everyone below the poverty line.

 

And yet, 70 to 80 per cent of our meagre budget for health care, both at the Centre and in States, is utilised by 25-30 per cent preferred urban sons and daughters at the cost of 70-75 per cent rural underprivileged step-children of Mother India.

 

Towards the fag end of British rule in India, the Bhore Commission gave a skeleton health plan for India in 1946. Sixtyfive years have since passed and we have had a series of Five Year Plans. We need political will and bureaucratic accountability to give a comprehensive health care to the common man of India.

 

Inspired by UNO in 1977 WHO resolved at Alma Ata to provide primary healthcare to all by the turn of the century. India was a signatory to this resolution and resolved to establish rural primary health centres, including basic investigative facilities for every group of 2-3 villages, within 1-2 km from each health care centre by 2000 AD.

 

Decades have since gone by. Governments have come and gone. While cities and towns have witnessed the introduction of huge medical speciality and super-speciality complexes, both in public and commercial private sectors, primary rural health care centres have remained a pipedream.

 

The Central Government announced yet another scheme in 2005 with a humane face and called it the National Rural Health Mission for BPL masses.

 

In essence it is a promise for free primary health care and health insurance for hospital services for Rs 30, 000 against a premium of Rs 30 for a family of five members. To make it a peoples movement the scheme lays emphasis on maximum encouragement to NGOs at all levels for a public/private participation for primary and hospital health care for the common man.'

 

Only an apology

 

Hospitalisation for any major surgery costs Rs 50,000 to Rs 1 lakh, Health insurance for Rs 30,000 for a family of five members is only an apology. Documentation for BPL registration is not only cumbersome but also a journey into wilderness. It is almost impossible for an illiterate person to go to several government departments to get registered. There has to be a single-window service.

 

More than five years have gone by, but the National Rural Health Mission launched with a lot of fanfare, is still to find its feet.

 

India needs more than two lakh primary health care centres for six lakh villages. Each PHC needs to cater for 2-3 villages, not more than 1-2 km from each health centre. Each PHC should operate a daily general OPD, supported by a free dispensary, X-ray, lab, ECG and dental services. Each block should have one 100-bed hospital with a medical, surgical, gynae and obstetrics and paediatrics specialist, who should also attend each PHC once a week or twice a month. Each district should have one or two multi-specialty hospitals and one or two super-specialty hospital in each state. Those below the poverty line should have free health care at all levels.

 

Ninety per cent of ailments are within the curative scope of the rural primary health centre and the block hospitals. Hardly 5-7 per cent patients need reference to multi-specialty district hospitals, and 2-3 per cent to super -specialty state hospitals. Obviously we need to revise our expenditure and development priorities for health care accordingly for each level.

 

Four-tier care

 

This four-tier health care system will channelise the patient inflow with a regulated referral system and considerably reduce primary health care workload on district and state hospitals.

 

Private health care entrepreneurs who have only commercial interest and goals and are escalating cost of medicare need to be controlled both the by the Centre and states, to make them fit with the overall national and state healthcare plan and layout of facilities.

 

Health care is essentially state subject, and also its budget planning, which is an exercise by itself. Nevertheless, a revolutionary outlook to raise the priority for health care is imperative, both at Centre and state levels.

 

Dr (Brig) M.L. Kataria (retd), Chairman cum Managing Director of Chandigarh Rural Health Care Mission that has established 20 rural health care centres in UT Chandigarh and adjoining districts of Punjab & Haryana during the last 25 years.

A "fiasco"

On March 24, the Public Accounts Committee came down heavily on the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM), describing it as a fiasco.

The commitee also asked the health ministry to carry out a complete re-appraisal and restructuring of the project.

The Head of PAC Murli Manohar Joshi explained to reporters that the government's expenditure on public health was merely 1.1% of the GDP, which was really shocking. The per capita expenditure in India on public health stood at $7, even less than that of neighbouring Sri Lanka at $30.

The PAC, in its report, said it was dismayed to note that health centres at various levels were being used as foodgrain godowns, community halls, local offices or cowsheds in many of the 18 states where the NRHM is being implemented. The Health centre lacked qualified doctors, necessary infrastructures, medical supplies etc.

The PAC also noted that the health centres were being supplied substandard and expired lifespan medicines and there was a lack of trained health workers and absence of common drugs in many states.

Chandigarh model

The Union Territory of Chandigarh has 18 villages on its periphery. The city state has developed a unique health care system for a population of over 15 lakh residents completely conforming to the four-tier model. Five rural polyclinics in villages Attawa, Maloya, Sarahgpur, Ram Darbar and Mauli Jagran have been established in close collaboration with the NGO. While the accommodation, electricity and water are being provided by the government, the entire bio-medical equipment and the daily operating cost and management is being met by an NGO.

Each rural polyclinic has 3-4 villages/colonies within 1-2 km from each polyclinic. Free consultation, medicines, X-ray, lab tests, ECG and dental services are being provided at each polyclinic. Thus 100 per cent primary health care with basic investigate services has been ensured as a door delivery service to the common man in the entire rural periphery of the Union Territory.

The 2nd tier specialist services are available at the two well equipped mini hospitals in Sector 22 and 45, while the 3rd & 4th tier multi-specialty and super-specialty services are being provided by the Govt. Multi-Specialty Hospital, Sector 16, and Govt. Medical College and Hospital Sector 32, respectively.

 

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

ANTIBIOTIC RESISTANCE IS MAIN FOCUS

JAGDISH CHANDER

 

THE Theme of World Health Day 2011 is "Antibiotic resistance: No action today, no cure tomorrow". The health of people today is threatened by a growing phenomenon: bacteria that cause common and life-threatening infections are becoming increasingly more and more resistant to antibiotics -- the very drugs used to treat them. This is due to the widespread use and misuse of antibiotics in both humans and animals.

 

WHO has called on the public, prescribers, policy-makers, the pharmaceutical industry and the food animal production sector to prescribe and use antibiotics responsibly, monitor and track antibiotic usage and resistance and promote the development of new antibiotics.

 

We live in an era in which we depend on antibiotics and other antimicrobials to treat conditions that decades ago, or even a few years ago in the case of HIV/AIDS, would have proved fatal. When antimicrobial resistance -- also known as drug resistance -- occurs, it renders these drugs ineffective. WHO has called for intensified global commitment to safeguard these drugs for future generations.

 

Antimicrobial resistance is not a new problem but one that is becoming more dangerous. There was much hue and cry when one of the leading medical journals, Lancet Infectious Diseases Journal, published a story about the resistant strains of bacteria and named these variants after New Delhi i.e. New Delhi Metalo-beta-lactamases. This feature in medical science is not new but when it was linked with medical tourism, it became a very hot issue for our country.

 

Recently in February, a formal proposal to create India's first-ever antibiotic policy has been submitted to the Union Health Ministry. A high-level panel of experts, including the Drug Controller-General of India, Dr Surinder Singh, Additional Director General of Health Services, Dr H. Jani and Health Ministry Joint Secretary Mr Arun Panda, for the first time made a formal presentation of the draft antibiotic policy to Union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad. Utmost importance will be given to the antibiotic policy and how to stop third and fourth generation antibiotics from being misused or used in bulk.

 

This is a very significant milestone in our country. Under the draft policy, several drugs will now be sold only against prescription while several others would be available only for hospital use and not in pharmacies. The policy calls for the creation of a new schedule under the Drugs and Cosmetics Act called Schedule HX, which will be mentioned on the label of the drug itself as a direction to consumers and physicians. Schedule H will denote those drugs which would be given only on prescription while Schedule X denotes those drugs which will have to be kept under lock and key in hospitals. A Schedule HX drug would come with a label warning, "Dangerous to take this preparation except in accordance with medical advice and not to be sold on retail without prescription of a registered medical practitioner."

 

As the antibiotics are the most important drugs to fight various infections of bacterial, fungal, parasitic and viral origin, it is of paramount importance that they are prescribed judiciously or else Indians would become resistant to them. The time has now come to curb irrational use of antibiotics. The draft policy will now ensure both rational and restricted use of antibiotics.

 

The writer is Professor & Head, Department of Microbiology, Govt. Medical College Hospital, Sector 32, Chandigarh

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MUMBAI MIRROR

VIEW

SOME REMEMBERED CHILDHOODS

REMEMBERED CHILDHOODS , AN ANTHOLOGY, IS A 75TH BIRTHDAY GIFT IN HONOUR OF NOTED SOCIOLOGIST ANDRÉ BÉTEILLE

 

The anthology, Remembered Childhood (OUP 2010) is a collection of essays in honour of the distinguished sociologist André Béteille. All twelve contributions are by his students, friends, colleagues. "A collection of childhood memories may seem like a bizarre seventy-fifth birthday present for the doyen of Indian social anthropology who has spent a lifetime studying forms of inequality, social organisations, and institutions… André Béteille's own writings suggested the theme… Since 1994, he has been writing about his family, childhood, and adolescence and indeed the years before he came to Delhi in April 1959."

 

I was puzzled by the blurb which claims the volume "opens up a new genre of writing in India". Writing on childhood a new genre in a country which produces endless family sagas? But the Introduction says it's "a new genre of writing for most of our authors". Fair enough. Most of them are professors of sociology.

Gopalkrishna Gandhi's essay is both amusing and candid. He discovered as a child that he was Gandhiji's grandson. This "made me behave in a certain way… A book of photographs my father had produced in 1949, titled Memories of Bapu, was thumbed through repeatedly. 'Gandhiana' entered my soul before it was absorbed by the mind. It also entered, alas, my ego. I scoured Gandhi literature for references and photographs with myself in them… Photo plate captions like 'Three-year-old Gopu kneeling before the asthi urn' inflated my self-importance in a way that would have been laughable if it was not also insufferable. It gave me an idiotic sense of a 'higher calling' and 'family tradition', disfiguring what should have been the standard growing-up patterns of a nondescript boy."

 

Malavika Karlekar's essay features the young Aung San Suu Kyi as a classmate when "Suu's" mother was the Burmese ambassador to India. "I've often been asked," Karlekar writes, "if Suu displayed any of the qualities that were to make her the courageous and principled woman of 1988 and after… In fact, her interests were highly literary."

 

Some details of Jan Breman's working class background may come as a surprise. In the 1920s, when his parents were first married, they had no flush toilet, so each morning they had to carry a bucket downstairs to the street for… the cart that the municipality sent around to collect night soil. "Steady work but steady poverty." Is how Breman's father summed up the difficult years.

 

Breman's essay is interesting also because he is perhaps the only essayist to talk about André Béteille's working methods and approaches to sociology. There is some reference to Béteille in the Introduction by Malavika Karlekar and Rudrangshu Mukherjee who edited the volume, but it is mainly in the form of who met Béteille when and how. There's too much of an in-group flavour to this writing.

 

Béteille himself, in our parochial society, was always dogged by the question of his name. He says, in an interview, that he always "squirmed" when he was asked this question which highlighted his "difference". It's simple, really. Béteille was born in the French enclave of Chandannagore near Calcutta to a French father and a Bengali mother. He joined St Xavier's College in Calcutta because it was more cosmopolitan than Presidency, and he hoped to leave the eternal question behind. What was interesting in the same interview was the time he spent moving from physics and maths to other disciplines till he found what he really wanted to do. And his definition of an intellectual? "My model of an intellectual," Béteille says, "is not the person who knows the answers to all the questions.

 

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

EDITORIAL

THE RUPEE IN SLUMBER

CURRENCY STABILITY POINTS TO STRONG FUNDAMENTALS

The curious thing about the dog in the night-time", Sherlock Holmes explained to the bewildered Scotland Yard detective in Conan Doyle's celebrated short story "Silver Blaze" "is that it did nothing". A similar thing can be said about the rupee's recent behaviour. Despite the sharp run-up in oil prices on the back of the crisis in West Asia and North Africa and predictions of a sharp fall, the rupee remained remarkably stable through most of February and early March. In fact, while it remained static up to the first fortnight of March, it defied all logic and intuition and actually gained against the dollar over the last couple of weeks even as the upward pressure on fuel prices continued unabated. This, to put it mildly, is unusual.

Basic economic theory suggests that for an economy that is a large net buyer of oil (India's oil bill for 2010-11 is likely to be in the ball-park of $100 billion), a rise in prices should lead to a depreciation in the currency. Recent history shows that this response can actually be quite quick. As oil prices began to rise in February 2008, the rupee started to depreciate immediately. Between April and July 2008, it lost nine per cent. Why is this time different? Part of the explanation lies in the fact that there have been strong inflows in this period. In March itself, foreign institutional investor (FII) portfolio flows were a hefty $1.5 billion. Market sources claim that flows related to external commercial borrowings by companies were even larger in this period. There were some other lumpy inflows, too, related to foreign direct investments. Exports have been strong over the last few months and they, too, should have provided support. The other reason for the rupee's current insensitivity to oil prices perhaps lies in the way oil imports are being funded. Unlike the previous episode, oil importing companies seem to have fairly solid dollar credit lines in place that they are using to fund their rising bill. Besides, a part of currency exposures in their imports is hedged.

 

Both these factors have meant that there hasn't quite been a mad scramble to buy dollars in the spot market in the wake of high oil prices. This does not, however, mean that the local currency, and by extension the economy, has become entirely immune to oil price variations. If oil prices remain high, the sheer heft of a rising trade deficit could take its toll on the currency. Oil imports might find it difficult to roll over their credit lines and interest rates could be reset at much higher rates. All this could mean that the rupee will reverse course and start to depreciate. However, the extent of depreciation could be far more muted than in previous episodes of overheated oil markets. The bottom line is that while the currency might not be able to buck the "fundamentals" altogether, its current trend suggests that the oil sector in particular and the Indian economy in general are in a much better position to handle even an oil shock. This is perhaps one of the reasons why despite the obvious macroeconomic risks associated with oil, investors have loosened their purse strings and have started investing in Indian stocks.

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

SUSTAINABLE FORESTRY

JOINT FOREST MANAGEMENT BETTER THAN NEW MONOLITHS

The Union government is considering the introduction of a minimum support price (MSP) for non-timber forest produce, which is a source of livelihood for forest-dependent people. This will involve creating a central pricing body on the lines of the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP) for fixing the prices of forest produce and state-level corporations or cooperatives for procuring the stuff at the MSPs, which, in turn, will be sold to user industries. These proposals would be welcomed by those concerned about the welfare of tribals who subsist on secondary forest produce – such as bamboo, tendu leaves, tamarind, mahua, sal seeds and so on – and are exploited by contractors who pay very low rates for the produce. That tribals should get a "fair price" for forest produce is unquestionable. Maoist groups active in the Dandakaranya forest belt, stretching across eastern Maharashtra and southern Chhattisgarh, have earned the goodwill of forest dwellers by forcing contractors to pay higher prices for forest produce. If the influence of such groups has to be countered, the government must step in and ensure that the good work being done by Maoists is, in fact, done by government agencies. Denying adequate returns on forest produce can even encourage forest dwellers to abandon tapping forest produce and instead make themselves available for work under programmes such as the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act. This will not only make forest dwellers a burden on government resources, but it would also leave valuable forest produce untapped. Hence, ensuring that forest dwellers are paid an economic price for non-timber forest produce is a good idea.

However, the creation of a CACP-like body at the Centre is not necessarily a good idea. Given the diversity of this vast country, it is best if state governments are asked to fix state-level minimum prices and create the administrative wherewithal to implement the programme at the state level. Related suggestions that a Food Corporation of India-like body be created to store the produce and cooperatives be formed to market them are, at best, premature and, at worst, unimaginative ideas. Apart from milk and sugar, the only producers' cooperatives that have worked in India are those operated by the government. Instead of adopting such experiments and creating new bureaucracies, state governments must adopt joint forest management (JFM) models to deal with the needs of forest dwellers and protect their livelihoods. JFM entails partnerships between forest dwellers and the government on the basis of mutual trust and jointly defined roles and responsibilities with regard to forest protection and development. Models of successful JFM exist in which forest dwellers and forest department officials have been able to manage forest produce and resources and also share the cost of doing so. Given the social, economic and geographic diversity of Indian forests, it is best that JFM is left to state-level bodies rather than a central body that imposes national solutions to deal with local problems.

 

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 BUSINESS STANDARD

LEARNING FROM FUKUSHIMA

TAKE REMEDIAL STEPS AND DEMYSTIFY THE UNREASONING DREAD OF NUCLEAR POWER

SHYAM PONAPPA

 

Official statistics report over 22,000 deaths related to fires, 27,000 by drowning and 144,000 in traffic accidents annually in India1. By contrast, the number of deaths resulting from the Chernobyl nuclear accident is about 10,000 in total, estimates Frank von Hippel, a nuclear physicist at Princeton, who is co-chairman of the International Panel on Fissile Materials (other estimates: World Health Organisation 4,000; International Agency for Research on Cancer 16,000; Belarus 93,000 plus 270,000 cancer patients; and Ukraine 500,000). Against this, he estimates the number of deaths owing to pollution from coal plants in the US alone at 10,000 each year 2.

 

In this context, what are we to make of a top Indian scientist's demand for stopping nuclear power production in India pending a transparent safety audit of all nuclear plants? Why not stop all traffic because of traffic accidents, to paraphrase another leading scientist? Should we shut down all our cities and towns until the sewerage systems work? A conscious effort should be made to demystify nuclear power.

To consider this rationally, let's begin with some reported facts. The Fukushima accident happened after the earthquake, after the plant shut down. The plant was designed to withstand waves of six metres, but was struck by an eight-metre high tsunami, according to the US' National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (other estimates range between 6.71 and 14 metres).

The reactor core takes several days to cool after being shut down and requires external cooling. The cooling system lost power from the grid because of the earthquake. The backup diesel generators worked for an hour, then stopped (there are conflicting reports on the reasons). The backup batteries then powered the pumps until they ran out. There are also conflicting reports of alternate diesel generators that were either of insufficient capacity or could not be connected for reasons that are unclear (flooded connectors, incompatible plugs and so on). The tsunami devastated the surroundings even as it hampered assistance from elsewhere. The failure appears to have been in the supply of power and water, that is , ancillary services.

Japan has 55 nuclear power reactors and it experiences frequent earthquakes. Though there have been instances of plants being shut down after earthquakes (2007: electrical transformer fire at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa, and some leaks of slightly radioactive water reported; 2004: one unit at the same plant was shut down), there has been no failure of nuclear plants because of earthquakes. So, no new facts relating to earthquakes or tsunamis seem to have surfaced to cause India to shut down its nuclear plants arbitrarily.

An increase in energy use in India is inescapable, given the correlation between growth and energy consumption. On balance, we need all the energy we can get staying within reasonable risks and costs. Objectively, what can we expect from our government and related agencies such as the Department of Atomic Energy and the Atomic Energy Agency?

REMEDIAL ACTION

One could be to expect action to reduce risks based on experience.

  • After the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004, a 3.2-km wall was constructed at Kalpakkam, which was in the path of the tsunami, fortified with sandbags, rocks and embankments. (The plant is situated at over 9 metres above the sea, with the reactor floors at a height of nearly 10.7 metres.)
  • The backup generators are located some distance away from the plant, out of the reach of tsunamis.
  • Mangroves and casuarinas along the coast helped diffuse the impact of the waves in 2004. News reports indicate the Department of Atomic Energy plans to augment these after its recent review of coastal nuclear plants.
  • News reports also mention that portable generators will be acquired for backup and tsunami alarms will be installed at coastal sites.

Other remedial measures based on experience may have been incorporated at Indian plants, or if not, could be incorporated now. For instance, referring to Fukushima, Dr von Hippel describes a filtered vent system designed to reduce radioactivity before releasing pressure from the containment building in the event of a meltdown (see diagram). Though it was ignored in the US, Sweden adopted it and so did France and Germany. Presumably, a benefit of Areva's partnership with the Nuclear Power Corporation of India for constructing India's new reactors will be the inclusion of filtered vents, if appropriate and not already in our design.

COSTS, BENEFITS AND RISKS

Another issue is educating people on the risks, costs and benefits of different fuels. Life-cycle emissions capture one aspect of these costs (see figure for Europe).

A similar study is available for the US: "Life-Cycle Assessment of Electricity Generation Systems and Applications for Climate Change Policy Analysis" by Paul J Meier, University of Wisconsin-Madison, August 2002 (http://fti.neep.wisc.edu/pdf/fdm1181.pdf) Besides, there are costs such as population displacement and environmental effects associated with hydroelectric plants, land requirements and the environmental impact of manufacturing for solar generation, noise levels for wind farms, or pollution and the higher risk of accidents associated with coal 3.

OPEN INFORMATION AND COMMUNICATION

A third issue is easy access to accurate and relevant information. After the tsunami in 2004, the information sharing with the public was exemplary, with open and transparent briefings at Kalpakkam. This approach needs to be instituted as a standard operating procedure for governance by all departments and agencies, displaying integrity in systems, thereby instilling confidence in the public.

Prompt and accurate information about safety features including design and remedial measures could be compiled for ready access on websites, with pointers during press briefings. Regular and effective communication of systems and procedures, and measures to mitigate risks, could reduce our unreasoning dread of nuclear energy. Such steps would help assess risks reasonably and provide a good framework for governance and crisis management.

 

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BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

DEVELOPING A LARGER HEART

ARVIND SINGHAL

Amid the euphoria over India's triumph in the cricket World Cup, a jarring note was created by the purported comments of Pakistan team's captain on the relative magnanimity of people in the two countries. Indians can either take umbrage at these remarks or let them pass as just an emotional outburst arising out of Pakistan team's deep disappointment at the loss at India's hands. Nevertheless, it is worth reflecting upon if India has matured enough to assume the role of an elder, more enlightened and more responsible brother as it joins the ranks of the top-10 economies in the world and aspires to be among the top three or top five within the next 20 to 25 years. Sadly, there are many instances that give the impression that though the common Indian at large has already moved on or is moving ahead with the changes in the country, some of our institutions – and the people heading them – and our policy makers have yet to assume this increased responsibility and heightened expectations from those within India, from neighbouring countries or from anywhere else in the world.

Amid all the excitement over India's win in Mumbai, a few jarring notes did pose some questions on the magnanimity of the the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) including its leadership. The end of the final match also marked the end of the career of one of the finest cricketers ever: Muttiah Muralitharan. Yet, the BCCI – or the International Cricket Council (ICC) – did not care to felicitate him. The Indian media and the public went bonkers after the victory. There was hardly a "send-off" interview with Muralitharan after the match. Indeed, at Wankhede, more attention was lavished by the cricket administrators and the media on the few film stars, assorted billionaires and the eye-candy in corporate enclosures than on the heroes of 1983 and later years, who strengthened the belief that India could win the World Cup again. It's even worse that attempts were made to compare the caliber, abilities and achievements of the current set of players with those of the yesteryear icons. Kapil and Srikant gave as much joy, pride and hope to Indians as Yuvraj and Sehwag do today. So, why indirectly denigrate them by making insensitive comparisons?

 

Going a step ahead, if the BCCI (the most powerful and the richest cricket board in the world) and India (the biggest and more promising economy in Asia apart from China and Japan) have to act like one, then they must now assume some responsibility (rather than leaving it to the ICC) for nurturing cricket and cricketers at least in the neighbouring countries. It will benefit India and Indian cricket if the game prospers in other countries.

Apart from cricket, as the big brother the Indian government and Indian business can also do with larger hearts when it comes to our neighbours. The economies of Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh are highly dependent on a few sectors. These include textiles, agriculture and food. Encouraging free or freer trade agreements with them through South Asian Free Trade Area agreements will improve goodwill in our immediate neighbourhood, even if such agreements lead to a negative balance of trade with some of those countries. In the same context, allowing multiple-entry non-restricted business visas to genuine businessmen, artists and sportspersons from neighbouring countries (read Pakistan), even if there is no reciprocity, can be a positive first move by a more confident and big-hearted India.

Finally, it may be worthwhile for our political and bureaucratic leadership to reflect a bit on what role India wishes to play in the region. A tit-for-tat policy may be more appropriate when dealing with countries of similar economic and geo-political stature. Perhaps a foreign policy that is more influenced by our own very rich heritage in the context of India being the bigger, stronger, more successful and more mature nation in the region could actually get us more admiration, respect, support and success.

arvind.singhal@technopak.com  

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BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

A SECOND CULTURAL REVOLUTION

CHINA'S NEW-FOUND INTEREST IN ART HAS MADE IT A MAJOR FORCE IN THE INTERNATIONAL MARKET

BARUN ROY

As you read this column, part of what's regarded as the world's largest private collection of imperial Chinese porcelain in the West will be on sale in Hong Kong. The international auction house Sotheby's is flagging off its 2011 spring auction today with 77 lots from the famous 2,000-piece Meiyintang collection of Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasty potteries. Owned by the family of Swiss businessman Stephen Zuellig, the artefacts are likely to attract buyers, mainly Chinese, whose hunger for rare Chinese art objects is growing exponentially.

But this sale is important for another reason. It's the most significant confirmation yet of a trend that has been evident for some time: Old Chinese masterpieces, taken away by Western collectors in the last century, when art had little market value and was available cheap, are coming back. The art drain is at last reversing.

 

The new generation of Chinese now has the money as well as the interest. To them, buying art is not only good investment but a sublimating spiritual activity. So, while they don't mind spending huge sums of money to buy back their own country's art that may still be outside, they're equally keen to acquire, say, Impressionist masterpieces from Europe or contemporary art from elsewhere in Asia. It's this new-found interest that has made the Chinese a major force in the international art market today and turned Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong into global art hubs, as important as New York and London.

According to Artprice, regarded as a world leader in art market information, China topped all other markets in terms of fine art auctions last year, accounting for 33 per cent all global sales, ahead of US' 30 per cent, UK's 19 per cent and France's five per cent. This included paintings, installations, sculptures, drawings, photography and prints. Even if other items, like art objects and furniture, are included, China's 2010 standing was second in the global ranking, after the US, with a market share of 23 per cent, as London's Financial Times recently reported.

With such a frenzy of buying, it isn't surprising that, of the world's top 10 artists by auction revenue last year, four were Chinese. One of them, Qi Baishi, even outranked Andy Warhol. Owning a Qi Baishi (1863-1957), whom Picasso once described as "the greatest oriental painter," is every Chinese art collector's dream, more so because his often playful style makes him a modernist path-breaker in the traditional Chinese milieu.

The growing Chinese demand for art was equally evident at last month's Maastricht Art Fair in the Netherlands, where one dealer reportedly sold four pieces of imperial jade on the opening night. Also last month, at the Asia Week in New York, Hong Kong and mainland Chinese collectors grabbed six pieces of Ming and Qing dynasty ware on the first day itself. At Sotheby's worldwide auctions last year, Chinese buyers bought 23 per cent of all the lots sold. When remembered that the share was 14 per cent in 2009 and seven per cent in 2008, the growth must appear phenomenal.

It's true that transaction charges in Europe are one reason why the auction market is moving out to places like Hong Kong, where no such charges are levied. Also, internationally, money is flowing Asia-ward in search of newer avenues of investments. But it's the blossoming of wealth within China itself, arising mainly from stock dividends and real estate profits, that acts as the driving force. This is abetted by a dramatic change in the cultural outlook of the people. The government doesn't frown at modern art any more and corporate houses consider collecting a form of "patriotic" duty.

As a result, the growth of China's domestic auction market has been equally exponential. According to People's Daily, domestic auction sales of what's described as "cultural relic artwork" amounted to the equivalent of $4.78 billion last year, up nearly 38 per cent from 2009. Most of these sales took place in Beijing. By comparison, Christie's and Sotheby's logged $722 million and $685 million, respectively, from their Hong Kong sales last year.

Popular awareness of art is growing, too. Art biennales are now a regular activity in many Chinese cities, exposing the people to modern international art and lowering the barriers for China's own contemporary artists. There are at least a dozen major art museums in the country, besides numerous minor ones. It's now the government's intention to make all public museums and galleries free. When Shanghai Art Museum went free last month, thousands stood in entry lines, including flocks of school children. By the end of this year, all national and provincial galleries are expected to follow suit.

China is now more open to modernism and internationalism, including "alternative art," than even five years ago. And when awareness grows and the outlook broadens, markets will follow. Art markets can't flourish in a vacuum, as we in India are painfully finding out.

rbarun@gmail.com

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BUSINESS STANDARD

INFANT DEATHS LACK A SOLUTION

DESPITE HEALTH SCHEMES, MANAGEMENT OF DIARRHOEA REMAINS A CAUSE FOR CONCERN

INDICUS ANALYTICS

Diarrhoea is one of the leading causes of morbidity and mortality in children below five years of age worldwide. According to data from the Registrar General of India, diarrhoeal disease accounts for 23 per cent of deaths in children in India. Since deaths from acute diarrhoea are mostly caused by dehydration, they can be prevented through oral rehydration therapy.

The government has been promoting the use of oral rehydration salts (ORS) by way of increasing awareness and distributing free packets. However, its use is not as widespread as it should be. According to the DLHS-3 estimates of 2007-08, 12 per cent of the children surveyed had diarrhoea in the two weeks preceding the survey and while about 71 per cent of them had been given some form of treatment, only about half had been given ORS.

 

Instances of treating diarrhoea with ORS are very low in rural areas; while 68.9 per cent of the children in rural India were given treatment during diarrhoea, merely 30.7 per cent of them were given ORS. Figures are slightly higher in urban India with 43.8 per cent of children being treated with ORS for diarrhoea. Apart from the urban bias, children whose mothers had ten or more years of education and who were in the highest two wealth quintiles were more likely to get ORS treatment. (Click here for chart)

LEARNING DISABILITY
Education increases use of ORS by mothers

Mother's
education
level

Percentage of 
children with
diarrhoea who
were given

Non-literate

23.6

Less than 5 years schooling

34.7

5-9 years schooling

39.3

10 or more years

52.3

Source: DLHS-3 2007-08

NO FIRST USE
The use of oral rehydrating solution (ORS) to treat diarrhoea remains low

 

DLHS-3 (2007-08)

Total

Rural

Urban

Children with diarrhoea in the last 2 weeks who received ORS (%)

34.2

30.7

43.8

Children with diarrhoea in the last 2 weeks who were given treatment (%)

70.6

68.9

75.4

Source: DLHS-3

Diarrhoea management is found to be poor in most states. ORS treatment was given to more than 60 per cent of the diarrhoea-affected children in just three states and one Union Territory — Himachal Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Goa and Andaman & Nicobar Islands. In 2001, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare created Empowered Action Group (EAG) states to give special attention to states like Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. These EAG states with high under-five mortality and infant mortality rates also have poor diarrhoea management practices. According to 2007-08 DLHS-3 estimates, in Uttar Pradesh just 17.3 per cent of the children suffering from diarrhoea were given ORS. The situation in Bihar and Jharkhand is also bad with less than a quarter of the diarrhoea-affected children given ORS. Similarly, diarrhoea management is low in the other EAG states with figures ranging from 30 per cent to 49 per cent. Among these states, Orissa is the best performer where about 49 per cent of the diarrhoea-affected children were given ORS solution. In addition, the EAG states, despite their poor health indicators and high prevalence of diarrhoeal disease have not really improved since the previous DLHS survey in 1998-99. Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan marginally improved coverage by one to two percentage points, while the cover of ORS in Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh worsened. Within this group, Uttarakhand and Bihar stand out as states with the highest improvement, though Bihar continues to trail in overall ORS coverage.

Despite health schemes, management of diarrhoea continues to be a cause for concern across the country. ORS, of course, is the prescribed treatment that works towards preventing deaths from diarrhoea, but there are many other measures that need to be accelerated as well like improving hygiene practices and sanitation facilities that will go a long way in reducing the incidence of diarrhoea itself.

Indian States Development Scorecard is a weekly feature by Indicus Analytics that focuses on the progress in India and the states across various socio-economic parameters

sumita@indicus.net

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

HAZARE ALSO SERVES

POLITICS IS NOT THE PRESERVE OF THE ELECTED; ACTIVISTS, TOO, CONTRIBUTE IMMENSELY

 

The most immediately pertinent aspect of Anna Hazare's dramatic fast-unto-death campaign over the Lok Pal Bill is that it has tapped into, and represents, a wider social concern on corruption. True, any government can rightly assert that it cannot be coerced into accepting wholesale the demands of activists of any hue, whether it be, as in this case, about defining and enshrining the structure and purview of a national anticorruption ombudsman or anything else for that matter. But it is equally true that the very idea of a social contract includes a government's authority stemming from the consent of those it governs. Representative democracy, in other words, doesn't mean that solely those elected to office can claim representative status. And, in the Indian context, there are umpteen examples of individuals and movements asserting a progressive, representative and reformatory status in spheres ranging from the social, religious, ecological to the political. The point is that a peaceful movement or drive for sorely-needed measures against pervasive and corrosive corruption can hardly be called a regressive agenda. Neither should political parties try to make this instance a part of the ongoing wider battle over managing public perceptions over corruption. The point, rather, is to engage parties to the social contract on the technicalities of what the Lok Pal Bill should be.


But it should be clear that corruption in India is deeprooted, systemic. And reforming the way political parties are funded is a major component of the fight to eradicate it. The whole process by which parties mobilise and utilise funds is mired in sleaze, leading to a system of state patronage, and of the delivery of governance and justice, having a price. It isn't surprising that opposition from MPs across parties has repeatedly led to the Lok Pal Bill being deferred. Which, in turn, as PM Manmohan Singh has said in the past, has led to a situation where the absence of such an institution at the Centre adversely affects the efficacy of Lok Ayuktas at the state level. The government should build on Hazare's momentum, not see it as a threat.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

VESTIGE OF THE PAST

LONG-TERM, WE MUST DE-REGULATE INTEREST RATES ON SAVINGS BANK DEPOSITS

 

In a move reminiscent of the Bombay Club of industrialists who opposed the opening up of the economy in the early 1990s, bankers have almost unanimously opposed de-regulation of interest rates on savings bank deposits. They are, doubtless, wary of introducing yet an added element of uncertainty. However,administered interest rates are an anachronism when interest rates are essentially market-determined. There can be no justification for continuing with regulated interest rates whether on saving bank deposits or small savings like provident funds and national savings certificates. Despite this, successive governments and governors of the Reserve Bank of India have hesitated to pull the plug. More than eight years ago, the RBI had raised the issue in its April 2002 monetary policy statement. Only to defer the move! In its April 2006 policy, the central bank returned to the subject but once again opted to maintain the status quo; though it accepted that 'in principle, deregulation of interest rates is essential for product innovation and price discovery in the long run'.


The need to reward savers (high household savings have been the prime driver of investment) and provide them with some stability in an environment where they have no social security is only part of the reason for the desire to maintain status quo. The main reason is the higher cost of funds that de-regulation is bound to bring in its wake. Savings bank deposits provide banks with a stable deposit base. Hence the mad scramble among banks for CASA or current and savings accounts. Once rates are de-regulated, it is quite possible competition will drive interest rates up; especially in a situation where there is a huge unsatiated demand for funds. Public sector banks, that have traditionally had a larger share of savings bank accounts thanks to their wider branch network, would be particularly hard hit. But to the extent deregulation will give individual banks flexibility to decide on savings bank interest rates even as greater competition could result in newer customised products being introduced, it is a goal we must work towards.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

WITH THE WINDSORS

AFTER THE ROYAL CAKE MAKES THE CUT, INDIA PRESENTS A SWEET OPPORTUNITY


Fiona Cairns bagging the order for Prince William and Kate Middleton's wedding cake should not surprise anyone. Especially in light of the fact that it was Kishore Patel, the Gujarati husband of this British baker, who sniffed business potential in her miniature confections. His interest in expanding the business to India may also be as epiphanic as his initial encouragement to his wife to make a business out of her hobby of creating sweet delights for family and friends. Increasingly, traditional confections exchanged during Indian festivities — and that, today, would cover anything from religious occasions to cricket victories — are being crowded out by newcomers. Chocolates have supplanted nuts and dry fruits as surely as exotic imported fruits have nudged out d e s iones, and traditional sweetmeats are being given a run for their sugar from brownies and jujubes to macaroons and cookies. And Mr Patel would know that big Indian weddings, by their very nature, are very susceptible to anything over the top. A multi-tiered 'royal' cake could be just what our wildly extravagant weddings have been missing all this while. Best of all, the average Indian parent, unlike the housewifely head of the House of Windsor, would never think about skimping on the butter and raisins for the big day simply due to budgetary constraints.


Indeed, the current atmosphere of East-West cultural give-andtake could prove doubly beneficial for this Gujarati-British duo. While their wedding and Christmas cakes could find new custom in a globalising India, a range of India-inspired Diwali, Dussehra, Holi and Eid cakes from Fiona Cairns could find their way into politically-correct festivities on Downing Street after their more traditional confection for the royals makes the cut on April 29!

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

FACE-OFF

IIMS: THE OTHER 99 PER CENT

ONGOING REFORM SEEKS TO ENERGISE THE IIMS TO COMPETE GLOBALLY, NOT TO PRIVATISE THEM AS SOME FEAR


Arecent article in this space ('Privatising the IIMs', Mar 25) on the threat of privatising IIMs created more sensation than sense. The IIM brand has flourished in the last 50 years as a successful experiment in management education. IIMs were established by the government with public funds and are perceived as public institutions of national importance. It is inconceivable how IIMs can become private schools fully independent of the government and lose its public character just because the three panels that highlighted the following broad needs:


    The need for overhauling its governance structure;

    The need for greater accountability and long-term sustainability of IIMs;

    The need for faculty performance and appraisal; and

    The need for gaining financial autonomy through aggressive fund raising

The committees were set up to explore ways through which IIMs would evolve into selfgoverning institutions, where the self-governing nature would permeate the entire system. One wonders why the author of the article conjures up a scenario of selling out the IIMs to private donors and thereby causing the demise of brand IIM. In fact, the demise of the IIM brand can only happen if IIMs continued to be governed by an archaic and obscure vision stuck in the past — however glorious that past may have been. Set to compete in the global education space, IIMs would fare pretty much like Indian hockey did on modern Astro Turf fields unless they acquire new ability and agility in their functioning and governance structure. To the best of my knowledge, in constituting the committees, the HRD minister was simply making room for IIMs to be able to re-invent their own future inspired by the leadership of management academics and management practitioners of considerable reputation and integrity who run these institutions.


In the past, the IIM success story has been scripted largely through exclusive elitism and selection excellence. The top 1% of the nation's talent, CAT-scanned for admission in the ratio of 1:100, guaranteed that eager companies could bet on analytical and verbal skills of those admitted and hire them for salaries that are best left unmentioned. I would leave out that 1% of the IIM dream and focus instead on the other 99% of the ground reality that needs considerable tweaking if IIMs really aspire to lead in the future.


First, great institutions are led not by demand but by knowledge. IIMs have to emerge as schools for new ideas rather than high-profile employment exchanges. In order to remain relevant our faculty will have to create cutting-edge knowledge and communicate their ideas in simple language to the world of practitioners so that they can be applied to solve management problems in corporate and civic life. Currently, IIMs are more driven by market demand for MBAs than they are by the urge to create original knowledge. The existing performance and reward structure within IIMs are not geared toward knowledge creation either. The Ajit Balakrishnan committee set up by the ministry of HRD (MHRD) justifiably recommended various ways and means to step up knowledge creation in the IIMs.


Second, the primary role of an institution such an IIM is the conceptualisation and creation of managers of the future. The core value of IIM graduates will be in their broader social capital rather than just analytical ability. In this, the very character of the MBA curriculum, the composition of the IIM classroom and the admissions process will have to undergo systemic change. This is not possible unless there is a convergence of ideas from the government, business and society about what IIMs ought to shape up as going forward. The Bhargava Committee set by the MHRD recommended a new governance structure of IIMs, making it accountable to a society that would represent its inclusive long-term interest.


    Third, as public institutions, IIMs have to remember that not-forprofit does not imply 'for-loss' institutions. Looking toward the future, IIMs have to build professional fund-raising capabilities that may not be a core competence of its faculty or even its directors who are largely academics. Hari S Bhartia presented the recommendations of his committee on fund-raising by IIMs as a specialised activity within IIMs. It suggested setting up a development office and campaign committee in each IIM. The committee enumerated possible ways of fund-raising like solicitation of mass alumni, campaign committees, academic seminars, etc. There was nothing in these recommendations to suggest that the control of the IIMs would go to private donors.
Finally, does the IIM mission need an overhaul? Our current missions do not represent the urgency to establish global footprints in research, learning and teaching. Do we have the kind of institutional and instructional leadership that would help us negotiate the paradox of IIMs being globally competitive schools yet serving local geopolitical interests and sensitivities? It seems that the missing link between the IIMs of the past and those of the future is leadership. These great icons of independent India cannot long remain leaders by just declaring themselves as leaders. They have to create exceptional value for new generations. At IIM Kozhikode, the new mission is captured in three simple words: globalising Indian thought. Indian thought is about celebrating the power of pluralism, inclusion and wholeness. It is about creating value for money even as we create value for many. The debate is not about public versus private character of IIMs — it is about crafting a performing system that embraces the best of both and remains relevant to the world that we are privileged to serve.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

NEURAL NET

JAPAN'S POISE, AFTER THE QUAKE

RAKESH BEDI


Tamiki Hara, a Japanese master of limpid prose, was in his hometown of Hiroshima to inter the ashes of his dead wife when the bomb completely decimated the city, destroyed thousands of lives and dashed permanently the hopes of those who survived. Hara, a heroic witness to the wretchedness and ruin that befell the city, kept producing courageous and outstanding works until 1951 when he, as the spectre of Nbombing loomed again during the Korean War, committed suicide. Years of bold stoicism and painful wrestling with the twin questions of how to live and how to express in times of utter tragedy and hellish devastation could not stand a rumoured threat. Hara's mind, already anguished by the sorrow and suffocation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, just could not think of suffering another onslaught.


Japan, known for its calm, is also known for its suicides. The country that prides itself on the absolute composure of its people in the face of adversity also faces a huge spike in mental illnesses. Mails talking of the endurance and patience and composure of the Japanese after the ruinous earthquake and tsunami have been doing the rounds. All of them capture in detail the even-tempered Japanese who didn't indulge in loot and plunder that a natural catastrophe normally occasions in many countries. In many areas the ravages of nature's fury were clearly evident, but were counterpoised by the almost serene calm of its tsunami-pummeled inhabitants. Surreal and ethereal scenes of a lone cyclist riding his bike on a road surrounded by heaps of debris and a young couple with their kid walking valiantly on a small road in a small town denuded by destruction splashed the pages of global newspapers. The world again realised the remarkable equanimity of the Japanese.

 

Grace under pressure. The earth shook and so did the sea, but not the human spirit.


Yet this is the grace that has put immense pressure on Japanese writers. To display a calm mien in their Zen-like prose they undergo internal turmoil. Calm without, fire within is the credo by which Oriental art has prospered. Yukio Mishima, the gutsiest of them all, ended up ripping apart his guts in seppuku, a ritual suicide, after making a speech attended by many. Akutagawa, the father of the Japanese short story, ended his life at 35 after writing such luminous stories such as Rashomon on which Akira Kurosawa, another suicide-attempter, made his famous film.


Yasunari Kawabata, the Nobel-winning writer, succinctly told the whole world where this poise came from in his award acceptance speech. Drawing on Zen practices, he said ''the heart of the ink painting is in space, abbreviation, what is left undrawn''. But what was left ''undrawn'' in most of his supremely lyrical works took a heavy toll on his mental health, pushing him into the dark pit of depression and ultimately forcing him to commit suicide. Post-war writers have escaped the suicidal blight by writing more personal and closed stories. As Japan picked itself up by its bootstraps and its society became more open and cohered with the world, Kenzaburo Oe and Shusaku Endo wrote more about individual tragedies and private deprivations, much in the same way as Haruki Murakami, now Japan's most famous writer. Murakami's stories have the numinousness that comes from a mix of tradition, torment and tablets. They have an i-paddish innovation but carry in their sinews conventions that are not markedly different from their forebears.


Is it right to stay bottled up? Is it right to suppress emotions? Is it right to be emotionless in commotion? Is it right to be absolutely calm in calamitous times? The Japanese don't have answers to these questions; they are just hardwired to stay calm in hazardous times. Psychiatrists may question this intense effort to not let what is bubbling inside come out, to keep primal emotions in check in extremis, but Hara's beautiful words in one of his last works explain the Japanese quest for keeping things benign and Buddhist: All farewells made without fuss/ All grief wiped away without fuss/As though a blessing still loomed faint in the distance/I will walk away/Now is the time for me to disappear into the invisible/To the eternity beyond. And then the book that will be written after outgrowing all the madness, as Kenzaburo Oe says in a recent issue of The New Yorker, will open with the last line of Dante's Inferno: "And then we came out to see once more the stars."

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

CURSOR

SUPPORT ANTI-GADDAFI STRIKES

 

When the UN Security Council voted on external intervention in Libya to stop the massacre of rebels by the Gaddafi regime, India abstained. In domestic debates on the subject, too, the government has kept mum. An old Malayalam description of things that induce indecision leading to inaction explains why: too bitter to swallow and too sweet to spit out. The consequence, of course, is a lump stuck in the mouth that precludes speech more articulate than grunts and groans. A country that aspires to great power status and permanent UN Security Council seat needs a slightly more lucid diplomatic response.


Admittedly, the issue is complex. The government cannot assume the facile expedience that guides those who have been vocal on the subject. The Left makes up its mind on international affairs looking at the US — the Left must, of course, champion whatever the US opposes. For parties like the Samajwadi Party, a decision on the Libya action is guided by its reflexive slotting as continuation of the West vs Islam narrative. The SP will side with Islam, meaning any government in a Muslim country under western attack, regardless how illegitimate or authoritarian it is. Some attribute New Delhi's taciturnity to the material benefits of stability in Arabia, of which oil and gas arrangements with the existing regimes are a key part. This view is both uncharitable and simplistic. Valuable as these arrangements are, New Delhi cannot but be aware of the larger issues at stake in the ongoing churn in the Arab lands, including for India.


Modernity confronted the Muslim world as colonial rule, cultural domination and religious challenge. A tiny elite colluded with the West and eventually stayed on as rulers and the West's stooges. More often than not, Sovietbacked Left, if not radical, movements sought to give voice to democratic urges in the Muslim world, inviting repression backed by western powers. Democracy in the Muslim world, in other words, died in the crossfire between superpowers, whose self-referential description of their rivalry as the Cold War ignored the fiery heat that consumed nations, lives and democracy in swathes of the so-called third world.
Absence of democracy and authoritarianism were made somewhat palatable, after the sharp oil price hikes of the 1970s, by improved living standards. But then, the collusion of the authoritarian Arab regimes in the institutional injustice suffered by Palestinians at the hands of Israel accentuated popular resentment. The West used Israel as the visible symbol of its hegemony in the region, converting the tiny state into a lightning rod for Arab anger, bearing the brunt of generalised anti-West sentiments. And since democratic forms of popular expression were banned, collective anger found a religious idiom, feeding all sorts of Islamist movements. Al Qaeda's founder Osama bin Laden's original grouse, let us not forget, was US military presence in Saudi Arabia, the land of the holiest two mosques of Islam.


The current wave of popular protests was home-grown and led by neither the army nor the clergy. It should be welcomed as the long-delayed rebirth of aborted democracy in core Muslim countries. Its success will spell the beginning of the end of jihadi movements, even if stray ideologues continue to spout hatred. This would be a huge input to stabilising Pakistan as a nation, something in which India has a huge stake.


New Delhi obviously knows all this. But still it hesitates to unabashedly throw its weight behind democracy in Arabia. This is because of confusion on the trade-off between sovereignty and democracy implicit in external support of democratic movements against entrenched states.


If it is okay to breach Libya's sovereignty to defend the rebels, why shouldn't Pakistan demand, possibly with China's backing, US-led intervention to halt the murder of democracy in Kashmir? A Geelani in Kashmir or pro-Maoist activists in Dantewada could oblige with the local request for help that Libyan rebels have made, to justify western intervention. Should India lay itself open to such risks? After all, the West carved East Timor out of Indonesia as a separate nation not so long ago.


Such a perception of risk is unwarranted. There are no flawless states anywhere in the world. It is the overall character of a state that determines its character as democratic or authoritarian. Democratic states will be free to sort out their internal flaws internally, while undemocratic ones could invite external intervention. This is the unrelenting logic of subsidiarity, the principle of organising functions in a hierarchy of responsibility that devolves power to lower level structures to tackle problems best handled by them, leaving only subsidiary functions to higher levels.


By abstaining on Libya, New Delhi only reveals a diffidence over own democratic credentials that befits selfconsciously authoritarian states like China and Russia.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

COSMIC UPLINK

TOLERANCE IS A KEY VIRTUE

VITHAL C NADKARNI


A silhouette of that French Gadfly of Reason, Voltaire, serves as an emblem for the new art of the enlightenment exhibition in the recently refurbished National Museum in Beijing. The work, which is attributed to Johann Heinrich Lips, shows the philosopher-polemist holding a lantern that shines a light outward beyond the picture frame. The curators regard the image as a metaphor for enlightenment, a goal eagerly sought across millennia by different cultures. While the silhouette rightly serves to highlight the message, the life of the messenger holds equally vital lessons for mankind now passing through particularly turbulent times. "Voltaire promoted tolerance as the most valuable tenet of civilisation and mocked fanatics of all stripes. For this, of course, he was hated and reviled by the powers of his time, and even some of our own," writes Ian Davidson in a new biography of the 18thcentury philosopher. "He had a greater career as a champion of human rights for the last 30 years of his life than he had already had — great as it was — to the age of 50!" The Chinese Expo can also captalise on Voltaire's admiration for Confucius (he looked upon Confucianism as a weapon against religious intolerance and hung a picture of the Chinese moralist on his wall). He also recognised that his principle of not doing to others what one didn't want them to do to one came as a result of supreme self-enlightenment. Seeing equanimity all around, the illuminated seer treats everybody alike, as Sant Kabir says, praying for all without discriminating. .

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

CITINGS

CREATIVE CAPITAL

SPENCER ANTE


A legendary professor at Harvard Business School for 40 years, Georges Doriot was a pivotal player in the founding of the modern venture capital industry. In the wake of World War II, Doriot helped found the world's first public venture capital firm, American Research and Development... In hindsight, it makes perfect sense that Boston would serve as a springboard for the venture capital movement. Since its founding in the seventeenth century, Boston has always been fuelled by an Enlightenment belief in scientific progress and human perfectibility. It is home to America's first public school, Boston Latin School (1635), and college, Harvard College (1636). After the American Revolution, Boston became a major shipping port and leader in manufacturing new mechanical or scientific instruments. And the city has always had a revolutionary streak, with movements for women's suffrage, antislavery, and the American Revolution itself all being launched from its streets.


Georges Doriot embodied these same traits — innovation, risk-taking, and an unwavering belief in human potential. After the war, the stage was set for an explosion of innovation, and Doriot was in a perfect position to light the fuse. As a professor of a leading business school and a director of dozens of companies, Doriot had become an expert in finance and technology manufacturing.

 

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                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

FII DOLLARS FLOW IN, BUT WORRIES REMAIN

 

The Indian markets are once again the flavour of the season with foreign institutional investors, judging by the money they have pumped in since last month. Between March 22 and 31 they pumped in around $1 billion, after taking $2 billion out of India in the first two months of the year. Whenever FIIs pump in money in a major way, the Sensex and Nifty rise to the occasion. The indices have shot up by over 10 per cent from March 21 till now. Indian market valuations are now attractive, with a 15 per cent-plus correction since December. Medium and small cap stocks had fallen even more, by around 30-40 per cent, and some frontline stocks were down 25-30 per cent. So there is a good harvest for long-term investors. There are two other pluses — the appreciating rupee and the perennial long-term-growth-story-is-good factor. Even in a worst-case scenario, India's GDP growth is around 7.5-8 per cent, which is higher than that of any developed country. Does this mean that scams, inflation, high fiscal deficit, which are negatives for the markets, are a thing of the past? It's difficult to answer that with a straight "yes" or "no". The scams were indeed a disincentive for FIIs, particularly as they coincided with the growing turnaround of the American economy in 2010, and it appeared more attractive for the FIIs to invest in North America than in India. Besides, the markets here had run up at a scorching pace in 2010, making stocks expensive. Inflation and high fiscal deficit are still around, though the finance minister, Mr Pranab Mukherjee, has made a strong commitment in the Budget to lower the fiscal deficit. High inflation is still the most worrying factor, now aggravated by rising crude prices. Brent crude has inched up to $122.39 per barrel. The fact that India needs to import almost 75 per cent of its fuel requirement is a major worry. This has increased due to private sector giant Reliance Industries' inability to meet 2012 oil production target due to technical reasons. If the Cairn plc-Vedanta deal goes through, perhaps Vedanta might be able to increase output from the Cairn oilfields, which have seen good production. The petroleum ministry has already said it will discuss next week the question of increased support from the government to cushion the gap between what oil companies pay for crude and the price at which they sell it to consumers. This could put pressure on the fiscal deficit. If inflation remains high, interest rates will continue to be high and this works to the disadvantage of India Inc. It also means less investment, leading to a vicious circle of high inflation, high interest rates, low investment and slower growth. Reserve Bank deputy governor Mr Subir Gokarn has pointed out that high inflation poses a risk to faster growth in the future. That is why the RBI is concentrating on taming inflation. High interest rates, he noted, is that sacrifice that India Inc and other borrowers must make to ensure faster growth in future. These challenges are expected as part of any growth process, and nothing that the government can't handle if it decides to get its act together. It is now battling on several fronts — from corruption to elections in four states and a Union territory. One hopes that as soon as these elections are over, the government will get down to the serious business of governance. Thankfully India, for now, is an attractive investment destination and FIIs will continue to pump in their dollars.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

DIPLOMATIC GULF

 

As the crisis in Libya rages on, tensions in other parts of West Asia threaten to boil over. Bahrain, Yemen and Syria are in the throes of upheaval influenced by the peoples' uprisings in North Africa and the Western intervention in Libya. The latter, in particular, has vigorously stirred the pot. Ironically, it has emboldened both the allies and the adversaries of the United States. But for the ongoing military intervention in Libya, we would neither have seen Saudi Arabian troops in Bahrain nor increasing Iranian involvement in support of the Syrian government. These developments, especially those in the Arabian Gulf, will be viewed with concern by New Delhi. Not only does India have major interests in the Gulf, but its presence in the United Nations Security Council places it at the centre ground of international diplomacy surrounding these crises. These facts are sharply underlined by two recent high-level visits. In the past week, India has hosted influential Prince Bandar bin Sultan, secretary-general of the Saudi Arabian National Security Council, and Bahrain foreign minister Shaikh Khalid bin Ahmed. The visits, at once, reinforced the urgency of these crises and the need for India to tread carefully in the political minefields of West Asia. The current crisis in Bahrain goes back to the 1990s. That decade witnessed considerable political turmoil, including a low-level insurgency against the ruling Al Khalifa family. The anti-government protests stemmed from a combustible combination of political deadlock, economic decline and sectarian tensions. After a brief interlude between 1973 and 1975, Bahrain's experiment with constitutional democracy was effectively suspended. The early 1990s saw plummeting oil prices, which imposed additional strains on an economy that did not have much oil to begin with. In consequence, the gilded benefit programmes that were used by other Gulf states to buy the loyalties of their peoples were increasingly unavailable in Bahrain. All of these accentuated the fault lines between the Shia majority (nearly three quarters of the population) and the dominant Sunni minority of Bahrain. The Shia in Bahrain — unlike in Kuwait, for instance — had been systematically relegated to the economic and political margins of the state. Although the ruling family managed to curb the 1990s uprising by a combination of repression and minimal political reform, the underlying problems continued to simmer. The most recent wave of protests was triggered by events in North Africa, but the protesters' demands hark back to those of the 1990s. The intervention by troops from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates has undoubtedly complicated matters. Not least because it has the potential to draw in Iran, and so pull a local political problem into the vortex of the larger strategic rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The latter has so far restricted itself to rhetorical warnings, but some Shia leaders in Bahrain are already worried that their agenda will be hijacked by Tehran. Unless a political settlement is quickly facilitated, Bahrain will be subject to prolonged strife. And the spiralling crisis could have knock-on effects in Saudi Arabia. India has multiple interests at stake in the Gulf. The six countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) constitute India's largest trading partner. The two-way trade currently stands at over $110 billion a year. The region is the main source for India's rising and seemingly unquenchable energy requirements. Over 5.5 million Indians are employed in the Gulf, and their annual remittances to India add up to nearly $32 billion. Large numbers of Indians travel to the region not only for the Haj but for business and social visits. Reference to "historical ties" is an over-used cliché in international politics, but in this case it sits well with the facts of history. The Arabian Gulf was part of the British empire. The Gulf political residency (based in Bushehr, Iran) and its appendages in Bahrain, Muscat, Sharjah among other places, was an integral part of the commercial and political network of British India. This resulted in the presence of Indian traders and workers in these parts well before the oil boom of the 1970s. To preserve these interests, New Delhi has in the past few years sought to build close ties with the Gulf countries. The crisis in Bahrain could cast a shadow on these efforts. For one thing, the United States is unlikely to apply any serious pressure either on the Al Khalifa family or on the GCC to roll-back their intervention. Bahrain is home to the US Navy's Central Command and the Fifth Fleet. American naval presence dates back to 1948, though it was only after British withdrawal in 1971 that the US came to acquire its present position. It is also worth recalling that during the "Tanker War" between Iraq and Iran in the mid-1980s, American forces relied on their base in Bahrain to strike Iranian assets. In the present context of US-Iran relations, Bahrain's strategic utility to the US remains high. To be sure, India would not want to embroil itself in the political crisis in the region. But it cannot afford to ignore the potential consequences of a major flare-up. The crises in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya forced the Indian government to safeguard its nationals in these countries by undertaking major exercises in evacuation. Given the number of Indians in the Gulf — they constitute the largest group of expatriates — a comparable effort would be almost impossible. Even if we did manage to extricate them, what would be our long-term plan for these people? Whether or not they are able to go back to the Gulf would depend on how the crisis plays out and which groups are in power. In any event, it would signal the unreliability of the Indian workforce. New Delhi has struck the right stance in dissuading Indian expatriates from hastily leaving the Gulf and from involving themselves in local politics. But neither of these steps might suffice. India may well need to engage in quiet, behind-the-scenes diplomacy to help create conditions for a political settlement in Bahrain. * Srinath Raghavan is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

GANDHI, MODI AND JINNAH

 

Sceptics and critics yet to be convinced that the Gujarat Chief Minister, Mr Narendra Modi, is the tallest Gandhian of our day at last have to contend with compelling proof of the man's love and devotion for the apostle of ahimsa. Mr Modi may well boast in the days to come that he was the first politician to rise to the defence of nation's honour by ordering a ban on Joseph Lelyveld's book on Mahatma Gandhi, Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle with India. According to him, "The writing is perverse in nature. It has hurt the sentiments of those with capacity for sane and logical thinking". Mr Modi's logic or his wounded sentiments may not mute the numerous voices against the outrageous ban, but why should he care. Enough for him to have sent out a message to his doting "paanch karod Gujarat ni junta" (five crores people of Gujarat) that when it comes to protecting Gujarati asmita they can always count on their man with the "chappan ni chati" (one with a lion's chest). Look how promptly he came to Bapu's rescue while Mahatma's own progeny let him down. "Don't ban the book", said the Mahatma's grandson, Mr Rajmohan Gandhi, "To think of banning the book would be wrong, doubly so in the light of Gandhi's commitment to freedom of speech. In fact, extreme scepticism too should be welcomed, especially in the case of Gandhi, who wanted to live and die for the truth and wanted his life to be an open book". "Gandhi, least interested in self-protection, is best protected by the strength of his own words and the wordlessness of his own strength", says his other grandson, Mr Gopal-krishna Gandhi. "Banning the book would be the most un-Gandhi thing to do", said Gandhi's great grandson, Mr Tushar. What kind of a parivar is this? Even as critics of book bans await the fate of Lelyveld's book, Bihar's Muslims are up in arms demanding a ban on a book in Hindi, Adhunik Bharat Mein Samajik Parivartan (Social Change in Modern India), authored by J.P. Singh, a lecturer at Patna University. Muslims are agitated because the book allegedly damns two of their icons, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, founder of the Aligarh Muslim University, and poet-philosopher Mohammed Iqbal as being communal and separatist. The Bihar Assembly has been rocked by uproarious scenes, memoranda submitted to the Governor, dharnas staged. Why should Singh's book be banned? Surely, Singh is by no means the first person to say so about either or both of them. I'm not sure where Iqbal stood on the book ban business, but one thing is certain: the demand for such bans is as un-Syed as it is un-Gandhi. One can do no better here than quote Maulana Altaf Husain "Hali" on the subject in his highly-regarded biography of Sir Syed, Hayat-e-Javed: "Some Muslims consider it a matter of great piety not to cast even a passing glance at the objections that Christians raise against Islam or the kind of things they say about Prophet Mohammed in their books. Others feel so angry and outraged that they burn these books. Yet others appeal to the government that since insulting things have been written about Islam or the Prophet in a certain book, the government should order the seizure of all copies and ban any further publication of the same... Such an attitude suggests that we have no answer to the arguments of our opponents except that of closing our eyes and ears, or appealing to the government to confiscate such books and prohibit future publication. Contrary to this, Sir Syed was of the view that it will no longer do for Muslims to ignore books that they consider to be obscene or abusive, or to prove by appealing for government's intervention that Muslims are incapable of responding to such writings. Concern for upholding the dignity of Islam demands that we reflect on the objections raised with calmness, patience and a clear mind. Having done so, we should respond to those writings that are worthy of a reply. As for those books which contain nothing apart from malice and bad taste, we should leave it to the public to judge for themselves instead of asking the government to sit in judgment and seek the protection of governments in religious debates". (Pgs 790-791, Hayat-e-Javed). Had they been alive in the 1920s, even though the highly-incendiary book Rangeela Rasool was apparently intended to inflame Muslim sentiments, Sir Syed and Maulana Hali would not have supported any ban demand, much less approved the murder of its author. But Muhammad Ali Jinnah did: for reasons of politics. On the subject of book bans then it should not be difficult for us to draw a line: Mahatma Gandhi, Maulana Hali, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, Gandhi ki aulad on one side; Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Mr Modi on the other.

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

FREE IS FOUL AND FOUL IS FAIR

 

Gifting TV sets is a public service By B.K. Hari Prasad To promise or not to promise goodies to people during elections is a predicament every political party is confronted with. Politics has become very competitive. If one party makes extravagant promises, others have to follow, as people begin to expect things to be given to them. However, it is to be noted that it is not national parties that have set the trend of offering goods free of cost to people. The move came from regional parties. Later, pragmatism forced national parties to follow suit. Since the trend set in, the Congress too promised rice at `2 per kg in the last Assembly polls in Pudducherry. It all started with free rice, then went to mid-day meal in schools (these are welfare measures), and then the time came when political parties began to promise free colour TVs to people. Now, expectations of voters have also increased. So, now we get to see political parties promising laptops and mangal sutras. Ethically, morally or even politically speaking, there is nothing wrong in political parties promising freebies in their manifestos, as they will be given after the party comes to power. If a party promises bicycles to children in its manifesto and then honours its promise upon coming to power, I don't see anything wrong in this. When promises are made at the personal level, people are encouraged to participate in the electoral process. In my view, promising mangal sutras relates to social security for women. Giving free TV sets has a different dimension, but the wider public good is definitely served. The move increases production of TV sets resulting in pushing employment opportunity. Business too has an opportunity to expand in a given state. For common people, especially those who live below the poverty line, a television set provides a window to the world. Information can then come to their doorstep. It is noteworthy that the trend of making such promises to voters is seen only at the state level. Such announcements are not made in elections for Parliament. At the national level, the issues are larger and popular expectations different. People don't expect even regional parties to offer freebies. Regional parties certainly win seats in Parliament and share power at the Centre. But they never acquire such a position that they might be able to deliver on their own. National parties, with a larger world view, bring a sobering effect to the country's polity. * B.K. Hari Prasad, AICC general secretary * * * Freebies to voters mock democracy By Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi Promises of freebies by political parties at election time is a very dangerous trend and can hardly be said to be connected with the question of general welfare. No doubt, a section of voters is swayed by such promises. It might be best if parties agree not to approach the electorate through such means, for if one party in a poll-bound state is offering free gifts in return for the elector's vote, there are chances that others will do it too out of a sense of compulsion or competition. This is neither good for voters nor for the political outfits in question. For voters, casting their ballot is an exercise which gives them the opportunity to choose their representative who they think can put forward their problems before the agencies concerned and help them in getting what is their right, whether we speak of civic amenities, electricity, or even a ration shop. But by promising free gifts — which will go out of taxes needed to create amenities and infrastructure — you are influencing voters in a way that does not take into account social good. This is why political parties indulging in such gimmicks is a bad practice. It is mostly during Assembly elections that political parties indulge in such practices. Also, by offering freebies like TV sets, laptops, or washing machines, you are negatively influencing a key aspect of the process of democratic elections — they then cease to be free and fair. This is a key requirement in a democracy, whether we are thinking of state elections or panchayat elections. When parties mention consumer goods for households in their election manifesto, or other services for which people have to spend money, then they are short-changing democracy. Besides, what will a household do with a washing machine or a TV set when there is no power supply? Indeed, if voters were to be vigilant, they will look for parties that promise good governance, better roads, round-the-clock supply of electricity, good public transport, better health facilities and so on. For political parties too, these ought to be the priority area. Our party has raised this issue before the Election Commission (EC) and demanded that there needs to be an overall reform of the election process. Offering freebies is a very dangerous trend and should be avoided at any cost. It amounts to influencing voters unfairly. We will continue to raise this issue before the EC until necessary steps are taken. * Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, national vice-president of the BJP and an MP

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

THE PASSION OF HALLAJ

 

The most controversial figure in the history of Islamic mysticism is Hussain ibn Mansur al-Hallaj of the 9th century. Hallaj was beheaded for proclaiming "Ana al Haqq" ("I am the Truth" or "I am God"). One of the 99 names of Allah is "Al Haqq", The Truth. The words, amongst the most famous utterances in Sufi history, mark Hallaj's spiritual vocation, the cause of his condemnation and the glory of his martyrdom. Born in south Iran, the quest for philosophy led Hallaj to travel to Tostar, Baghdad, Mecca, Khuzestan, Khorasan, Transoxiana, Sistan, India and Turkestan. He took a boat to India, reaching Sindh through Gujarat. Eventually, he returned to Baghdad where his bold preaching about union with God led to his arrest on charges of heresy. After years of imprisonment and a political trial, Hallaj was sentenced to death by the orthodox establishment. In a state of mystic drunkenness, Hallaj revealed the divine mystery, and he lived and died for it. In prison, Hallaj was questioned, "What is love?" He answered: "You will see it today and tomorrow and the day after tomorrow". That day Hallaj's hands were cut off. The next day he was beheaded and on the third day his ashes were consigned to the wind. Hallaj often urged people to kill him so he could unite with God. "Kill me, O trustworthy friends, for in my being killed is my life". On the way to the gallows, 13 heavy chains were tied around Hallaj's body. When asked why he strutted in such a proud manner, he replied, "Because I am going to the slaughterhouse". The martyrdom of Hallaj gave rise to many legends and he remains a powerful image in Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Punjabi, Sindhi and Urdu prose and poetry as one who danced to the gallows. In a loincloth and with a mantle thrown around his shoulders, Hallaj kissed the wood, climbed the gibbet and turned towards Makkah to offer his final prayer, ending with the words: "...And these Thy servants gathered to slay me, in zeal for Thy religion and in desire to win Thy favour, forgive them, O Lord and have mercy on them; for verily if Thou has revealed to them that which Thou has revealed to me, they would not have done what they have done; and if Thou had hidden from me that which Thou had hidden from them, I should not have suffered this tribulation. Glory unto Thee in whatsoever Thou does, and glory unto Thee in whatsoever Thou wills". Following the execution, Hallaj's body resounded with cries of "Ana al Haqq". To calm the body, the authorities cut Hallaj's limbs off, but the amputated parts continued to resound, "Ana al Haqq". On the third day his body parts were burnt, but they continued to echo the same phrase. When his ashes were thrown into the Dajla river, they formed the words "Ana al Haqq" and the water began to swell to dangerous heights till a disciple threw the martyr's garment in the river. He had been instructed by Hallaj to do so in order to appease the wrath of the river. The level of the waters subsided and some ashes collected from its banks were entombed. Mystics believe that on Judgement Day, Hallaj will be brought in fetters lest his ecstasy turns the world upside down. Hallaj left a considerable number of books of prose and poetry describing his mystic passions. He gave Persian and Urdu poetry the everlasting imagery of the candle and the self-destructing moth, conveying the fate of true lovers. Other recurring images to convey mystic love are the wine cup, crescent, goblet of intoxication and birds. Hallaj's heroic story stands for one madly in love with the Divine, an idea that dominated both his writing and life: "I am He who I love, and He who I love is I We are two spirits dwelling in one body If thou see me, thou see us both And if thou see Him, thou see us both In that glory is no 'I' or 'We' or 'Thou' 'I', 'We', 'Thou' and 'He' are all one thing." — Sadia Dehlvi is a Delhi-based writer and the author of Sufism: The Heart of Islam. She can be contacted at sadiafeedback@gmail.com

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

THE PHOTO-OP PROS

 

Good politicians are nothing if not opportunists. They are quick to ride with the prevailing public mood as long as it gets them some brownie points and photo-ops. No sooner had Indian skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni hit the final six to claim the World Cup for India that politicians of all hues began looking for possibilities of exploiting it for themselves. International Cricket Council (ICC) president Sharad Pawar, of course, did not have to do much. Being the president of the ICC, the former chief of the Board for Control of Cricket in India (BCCI), the karta dharta of the Wankhede Stadium and much else, he automatically basked in reflected glory. The dazzling light blinded everyone, making them forget that barely a few days ago his name had popped-up in connection with DB Realty whose chief Shahid Balwa is in jail facing investigations in a scam. Since media (and public) memory has only very tiny windows to process issues, those allegations are long forgotten. Mr Pawar did not have to do much to ensure that, though he did very kindly hand out huge cash bonuses to the hard-working cricketers from the ICC's tax-free coffers. On the other hand, Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit had to pull out money from public funds. There she was, smiling from one end to the other and declaring that she would be giving Rs 1 crore to all the players from Delhi and, of course, Rs 2 crores to the captain for being such a good leader and a sober man. No one would grudge a few rewards to those who brought glory to the country, but is this her money to give? Who is going to ask that? Meanwhile, does anyone recall that a week or so ago the Shunglu Committee had named Ms Dikshit as one of those responsible for huge cost overruns in the Commonwealth Games run up? Gauging the janata's frame of mind is a skill and exploiting it is an art. Even if no immediate gains — like inducing memory loss — are forthcoming, quick and decisive action can generate publicity and goodwill. It does not always pan out that way though, as Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi has found out. Normally an astute politician who can spot an opportunity a mile away, Mr Modi seems to have reacted a bit too hastily in banning Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle with India. Going by reports in the Indian media, which in turn were based on reviews in a tiny section of the Western press (the Wall Street Journal and the Daily Mail), Mr Modi thought he was being clever and smart by being the first to ban the book. And this when no one was even demanding anything of the kind. You would expect that someone from the Gujarat government would have waited till he had read the book before taking any such step. But when did that last happen? It is a fair bet that none of the books banned in India — James Laine's book on Shivaji or Rushdie's The Satanic Verses or Stanley Wolpert's Nine Hours to Rama — were actually read before they were banned. Someone demanded that they not be allowed to sell and the government, always looking for cheap popularity, obliged. Forget standing up for freedom of expression, no one even took a cursory look at what exactly was so offensive. In the case of Great Soul, the book has not even landed on Indian shores. And the author, a respected journalist, quickly clarified that he had written nothing of the kind that was being reported in his book (Gandhi was gay! Shock, horror!). Minister for law and justice Veerappa Moily, who too had made some noises about proscribing the book, fortunately saved the country some embarrassment by declaring that the Indian government would not stop the book from being sold. Some due diligence would have saved Mr Modi's face. But again, the politician's instinct for self-promotion had got the better of him and now he has ended up looking like an intolerant man who does not allow different shades of opinion to be aired. Liberal or ultra-conservative, Right or Left, the Congress or the Bharatiya Janata Party, the fundamental instinct is the same — spot a chance and clamber on to any bandwagon that gets them publicity. But there is an inherent phoniness to the whole thing that immediately becomes apparent. If those who love our cricketers so much did something noble for sport at large or brought the game to the under-privileged, one would not mind so much when they make these grand gestures. Or, if Mr Modi was a liberal (forget being a Gandhian) and genuinely felt a book like this could cause damage, one could perhaps understand, though, of course, no book should be banned except in extreme circumstances. Indeed, had Mr Modi's own babus and advisers been sharper, they would have known that Mahatma Gandhi had himself printed his banned books and distributed them to defy the British government. As it stands, it is the sheer cynicism and short-termism of the political class that makes their actions suspect and fake. The pity is that public opinion does not militate against it. In any right-thinking society, by now thousands of people would have bought the book. As for Ms Dikshit and other politicians, hopefully the questions raised will continue to be asked. * The writer is a senior journalist and commentator on current affairs based in Mumbai

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

GENERAL'S CAUTION

WILL IT IMPACT WITHIN?

 

WITHOUT reaching for the panic button, due note must be taken of the alert sounded by the Northern Army Commander about the increasing presence of Chinese military personnel in close proximity to the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir. For this "new" development is further confirmation of the China-Pak nexus that gives a land dimension to Beijing's encirclement policy that is so palpable in the maritime sphere. Since Lt-.Gen. KT Parnaik was speaking at a seminar it was obviously a calculated statement, not any stray comment or response to a query. It would also be reasonable to assume that his superiors in New Delhi would have been alive to the situation and in agreement with the point he was making. That there has been a steady build-up of infrastructure on the Chinese side of its disputed boundary with India and the land ceded to it by Pakistan is "old hat", the extension of such activity to the LOC indicates that linkage is being cemented.
Apprehensions of the Chinese and Pakistan armies functioning in tandem against India are not new, indeed they influenced the strategy-formulation for the Eastern Theatre in 1971. The Indian response has been limited, though of late some air assets on the frontier have been re-activated and upgraded, more mountain divisions are being raised. Infrastructure development lags far behind. As in 1962, the situation is asymmetric. Must India live with that situation?

 

What the security establishment would await anxiously is the reaction from the external affairs ministry to the recent "revelation". It has long been deemed "politically correct" for the foreign office to underplay anything potentially tricky on the China front ~ the frequent incursions are either denied, or explained away as "varying perceptions" of where the Line of Actual Control runs. All concerns over relationships have a military origin. It is accepted that attempting a military response is not easy, fraught with risk, yet does that justify the supine posture on the diplomatic front? For even a series of meetings to resolve the boundary issues have not moved an inch forward. The observations of Gen Parnaik are actually part of a now sustained effort of the military leadership to try and shake the babus and netas out of a convenient slumber.

 

THE MAOIST SPIN

EQUIDISTANCE FROM CPI-M AND TRINAMUL

IN THE midst of the perceptible lull in Maoist violence ~ as also the establishment's counter-offensive ~ the call for a boycott of elections in West Bengal is a faint echo of similar rhetoric 40 summers ago. The similarity, however, need not be stretched. Whereas the Naxalite in 1971 was furiously driven by the ideological aversion to elections ~ 'Parliament is a pig's sty' ~ the Maoist in 2011 has his feet on the ground. It marks a critical generational shift; today's election boycott, in his reckoning, will be an emphatic expression against the joint forces in Junglemahal.  The second underpinning exposes the enlightened self-interest that is integral to any election ~ whether in social clubs or legislatures.

 

A week before the first phase of the polls, both the CPI-M and the Trinamul may find the Maoist spin a mite difficult to digest. Notably, the contention that the polls are intended to serve the "interests of both parties". The Left radical had long ago seen through the "revisionism'' of the CPI-M's reluctant revolutionaries; he has now sized up the Trinamul no less. True, the party has all too often pitched for the withdrawal of the joint forces. However, the latest stand of the Maoists is a virtual rejection of a perceived ally, and indirectly assists the incumbent. Mr Buddhadeb Bhattachajee, whose steady refrain has been a Trinamul-Maoist nexus, may be enjoying a quiet chuckle.  Trinamul's political expediency is at a discount and the police are said to be in a tizzy over the ubiquitous posters. As a group that doesn't believe in elections, the Maoists couldn't care less for the Election Commission's rules of engagement. The Maoist has reconciled himself to ploughing a lonely furrow, acutely aware that the privation of the subaltern can only deepen, irrespective of the political dispensation. Junglemahal defies a quick-fix solution; it shall remain restive and volatile for some time yet.
It devolves on the next government to clear the air over the other demand ~ the death of Sasadhar Mahato. Not least to dispel the Maoist impression that he was done to death in what they call a "fake encounter with the police". Strains of 1971? From the Assembly election in 1967 ~ which brought the Left to power ~ to 2011 when the Left may exit the stage, the cause of the Maoists has ranked lower and lower in the priorities of the legislative class and democratic governance. Small wonder he spots no difference between the CPI-M and the Trinamul Congress. Attitudes and compulsions have changed over time; but as in 1971 the message is starkly familiar ~ the futility of the electoral renewal of democracy.

 

GAIN OR LOSS?

YET ANOTHER REGIONAL PARTY IN NORTH-EAST

ASSAM recently saw the emergence of yet another political party. Calling itself the Rashtriya Secular Congress, a report quotes its chief, Sikander Ali Laskar, as having said that his outfit's objective was to fight corruption and "earn (the) people's trust" and that "its actions will be louder than words". He also said the party would work for gender equality and women's empowerment in Meghalaya and claimed it had bases in all North-east states.

By flaunting "secular" credentials, the party hopes to attract supporters from different religious groups. Whether or not this will yield dividend remains to be seen. In February, former Lok Sabha Speaker and Nationalist Congress Party leader PA Sangma, Sikkim and Nagaland chief ministers Pawan Chamling and Neiphiu Rio, respectively, the Asom Gana Parishad's Prafulla Mahanta, the Mizo National Front's Zoramthanga, the Manipur People's Party's NC Luwang and Assam Trinamul Congress's Toko Sheatal, at a meeting in Delhi, decided to float a new party ~ North East Democratic Forum ~ on 18 March, but it turned out to be a non-starter. However, Rio says the idea has not been given up. Its objective is to canvass for the overall interest of the region and work closely with the Centre. If the region has to have balanced development, there is need for collaboration and, hopefully, the Forum will remain true to its ideals.


Some years ago, Mahanta unsuccessfully tried to revive the defunct North-east Regional Political Forum. Before the 2004 parliamentary elections, Sangma floated the North-East People's Forum, the idea being to oust the Congress, but since the largest regional party, the AGP, was least interested, not much was heard of it. So much for regional unity.

 

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THE STATESMAN

ARTICLE

CRICKET & DIPLOMACY

INDIA AND PAKISTAN CAN 'CHANGE THE GAME'

SALMAN HAIDAR


THE overwhelming conclusion, India's win, and the long-running subsequent euphoria are there to be savoured. Nearly all else associated with the World Cup has been overshadowed and more or less driven out of mind, which, in the circumstances, is perfectly understandable. But if MS Dhoni and Co. made their point so emphatically at the end, so also in the long unfolding of the tournament did Dr. Manmohan Singh make the point he wished to make. Let not the warm afterglow of victory wholly obscure other meaningful developments on and around the cricket pitch.


At the point that India and Pakistan emerged in a semi-final face off, Dr Singh, in an imaginative diplomatic move, sent out an invitation to Pakistan's leaders to come as his guests to witness the match. This was not the first time that the leaders of the two countries have sought to harness their shared passion for cricket to advance the cause of better relations. This time it was smartly done: the opportunity arose only when the two teams had advanced sufficiently, a fortuitous circumstance that India's Prime Minister seized. The invitation looked very much like his personal initiative  ~ there were none of the usual tortuous preliminaries to be seen when India and Pakistan get together, predictable and tedious background briefings, unending preliminary discussions to define the issues and set the scene. There was no time for all that: the occasion arose and it was seized.
And if it was Dr Manmohan Singh who made the running, Pakistan's leaders did not lag behind: after some consideration in Islamabad, it was decided that the Pakistani President would not attend, but Prime Minister Gilani agreed to rearrange his programme so as to be there in Mohali. With this, the stage was set for a significant summit meeting, in a conducive atmosphere.


Though the timing of the initiative owed something to chance, it was of a piece with what Dr. Manmohan Singh has actively promoted ever since he became Prime Minister. He has never made any secret of his conviction that India must establish good relations with its neighbours as an important step towards achieving its real potential as a global player: India should not be held up indefinitely by the thorny problems nearby that have dogged it for so long. Hence there have been several initiatives by Dr Singh for an improved neighbourhood, especially in respect of Pakistan. These initiatives aim to promote the good of both sides, not to procure one-sided benefit for India alone.


Not all the efforts have gone well, for there are pitfalls ~ consider, for instance, the uproar that put paid to hopes of resumed dialogue on the basis of the agreement signed at Sharm el Sheikh. There have been other, more serious setbacks caused by terrorist attacks, most prominently that on Mumbai, whose baleful effect lingers. But yet, over the years, the cumulative benefit of active engagement between India under Dr Manmohan Singh and Pakistan, for the most part under former President Musharraf, has made a real difference. Not that the problems have disappeared ~ far from it. Yet sustained talk involving the leaders, albeit at one remove through the back-channel, has made the old problems seem less insoluble than they were. 'Out-of-box' thinking has thrown up new ideas that are helpful to both sides, so much so that the dialogue which is now being resumed does not appear foredoomed to failure.


The meeting of the two Prime Ministers in Mohali showed their will to take things forward and try to achieve results through dialogue. As it happened, the two Home Secretaries were having a pre-scheduled meeting even as the leaders jumped in and stole the limelight. It is to be hoped that the unexpected summit at the cricket pitch will give real impetus to the resumed 'composite dialogue' that has now been put back on track.
As the two sides re-engage, it is evident that there has been some backsliding. At one stage, to judge from what has been revealed by some of those who had been involved, the back-channel talks were close to wide-ranging agreement on the most problematic of the issues, that of Kashmir. It was even said that a paper to this effect had been all but drafted. If it failed to be put into final shape, it was not for intrinsic reasons but because outside events supervened ~ President Musharraf's fall from grace brought a halt to the peace-making efforts he had made, and the successor authorities were reluctant ~ and remain so ~ to be identified with what he had initiated. And the devastating Mumbai attack brought a halt to the entire exercise.


Yet a dispassionate look at what has been made known of the back-channel suggests that the outline of a solution had indeed been shaped. This included features like a soft border between the sundered parts of J&K, no territorial transfers, reduction or elimination of military presence, enhanced autonomy, joint development activity, and improved trade facilities, among others. All these have been widely discussed in the past and would no doubt feature in some form or other in any future agreement between the two sides. Now that bilateral dialogue is set to resume, it is obviously desirable that matters should be consolidated at the point they had reached when they were halted, and then taken further forward.


There are also several lesser issues ripe for solution, like the Sir Creek boundary and the Tulbul Navigation Project, which should be settled in the coming round of talks. The matter of Siachen, too, should not be held up any longer: it is more substantial than some of the others because it involves soldiers on the ground, but an agreement was first shaped more than two decades ago and should now be pushed through.


Maybe events around the cricket field can help provide a little more inspiration. A purveyor of soft drinks to World Cup viewers came up with the slogan 'Change the Game' ~ this could be a useful exhortation to Indian and Pakistani diplomats. They now need to move on from their usual ultra-cautious exchanges to a more active search for mutual benefit. Today, the fear of existential threat that has always coloured past negotiations is misplaced. War is not any longer a credible instrument of policy, given the reality of nuclearisation in South Asia, and the need today is to seek ways of lowering risk, especially in nuclear matters. Enlightened observers, including some who have held high military positions in the past, have called for balanced reduction of forces, to lower the economic burden and reduce the military establishment on both sides without any compromise of security. The time is ripe for initiatives in that direction.

The writer is India's former Foreign Secretary

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THE STATESMAN

 

IN BLACK & WHITE

 

Politics and big money have always enjoyed a close relationship and in our country, this relationship is almost incestuous. Hush money, slush money, speed money, laundered money, money that begets more money ~ has been the bane of the Indian economy. Decades ago, Chakravarti Rajagopalachari spoke about the need to rescue Indian democracy from money power and ever since, every government has talked about it, doing very little to do away with the scourge.


Black money is not the preserve of the rich and the powerful. It is also generated every time a bribe is paid and income is not disclosed. The noted British public finance exponent Professor Nicholas Kaldor's first estimate of black money in India during 1953-54 put it at Rs 600 crore (i.e. 6 per cent of the national income at that time). The Wanchoo Committee of 1971 pegged it at Rs 7,000 crore and by 1983-84, black money accounted for as much as 18 per cent of India's gross domestic product (GDP). Dr Raja Chelliah revised the figure upwards to 21 per cent of the GDP shortly afterwards. The Wanchoo Committee put down the causes of the creation of black money and its proliferation to high rates of direct taxation, economy of shortages and consequent controls and licenses, donations to political parties, corrupt business practices, high rates of sales tax and other levies, ineffective enforcement of tax laws and deterioration of moral standards. Though the government accepted a number of recommendations made by the committee, especially those relating to seizure and searches, it was not very sympathetic to those seeking lower tax rates.


In 1975, the government initiated the Voluntary Disclosure Scheme which helped the evaders disgorge unaccounted money to the tune of Rs 689.41 crore (on which the income tax charged was Rs 232.66 crore or about 34 per cent). On 16 January, 1978 the government demonetised currency notes with Rs 10,000, Rs 5,000 and Rs 1,000 denomination which accounted for only 2.1 per cent of the total currency in circulation at that time. But this measure, as expected, served only a limited purpose of stalling illegal transactions. Next followed gold sales by the Reserve Bank of India with a view to lower the price of gold ~ incidentally, the commodity most preferred for laundering black money. The government later rescinded this measure because the low price of gold was generating more black money to facilitate its purchase. Then came the special bearer scheme which came into force on 2 February, 1981 and was based on the chartered accountant MP Chitale's minute of dissent to the Wanchoo Committee report. In 1983, the government commissioned several studies on black money and a report was published in 1985. It cited "pervasive tax evasion on legal economic activities and widespread corruption and abuse of all forms of public discretionary authority". It also noted: "The use of discretionary authority to extract or levy illegal tolls has spread far beyond the area of economic controls. Particularly, at the lower levels of the state apparatus, it has become quite common for illegal payments to be demanded in return for regular public services such as the registration of a document, the repair of a telephone, the issue of tax assessment order..."


The Wanchoo committee had listed the ways used to expend/route black money. These include business transactions in benami accounts, smuggling of gold, diamond and luxury articles, unauthorised foreign currency dealings, speculation, purchase of industrial spaces, donations to political parties and financing elections, to name a few. The government itself is largely responsible for the creation of black money. The exorbitant rates of taxation have inevitably led to tax evasion.


Our political system breeds black money. When political parties accept black money as donations, they not only help generate such money but also protect the hoarders of ill-gotten wealth. The parallel economy will be hit hard if audits of the books of political parties are made mandatory. A harder look at campaign expenses could also be considered. The crackdown on the parallel economy will never be effective unless the politicians-hoarder nexus is broken.


In the Indian economy at the moment, legitimate income has as much currency as black money. In fact, black income is created because of the notion that its acceptable net rate of return to an individual is far in excess of the permissible rate of return under the law of the land after taxation. Consequently, by methods of tax evasion, tax concealment, smuggling in imports and exports, production of illicit commodities and through myriad clandestine devices of overinvoicing and underinvoicing while importing and exporting items, income earned is converted into black money.


A large part of black money is transferred from India to foreign countries or vice versa through clandestine channels. The situation becomes more ominous when in spite of the claim on the part of the government that it is trying to recover black money stashed abroad, its action belies its words. Recently, finance minister Mr Pranab Mukherjee declined to share the names of those suspected to have black money stashed in foreign banks "as it (such a disclosure) violates international law". By one estimate, these clandestine foreign bank accounts hold anything between $450 billion and $1.5 trillion among themselves.


The Supreme Court too lashed out at the government saying it was hiding behind "niceties" on a matter that amounted to "plunder of the national economy". The finance minister knows that the Pune-based stud farm owner, Mr Hasan Ali Khan, has 10 illegal bank accounts in Switzerland and probably many more in other tax havens. The government says that he owes Rs 50,345 crore to the income tax department as on 31 March, 2009. The German and Swiss governments have promised to help India in unearthing black money stashed in their countries but the government doesn't seem too interested. It told the Supreme Court that it would share the names of the tax evaders with black money in foreign banks with the Supreme Court only after registering a formal case against them.


In November 1991, the Swiss magazine Scheeitzer Illustrate reported that a number of accounts in Swiss banks holding nearly US$ 2 billion had the holder's name as Rajiv Gandhi. The report was never denied. We have deterrents such as the Prevention of Corruption Act; judicial and investigative expertise and a free media. What we do not have is a formal undertaking from the government ~ over and above its defined public interest charter ~ that no one, indeed, is above law in this country and that investigations into wrongdoing will be conducted without fear or favour. It's time the government stopped merely parroting Rajgopalachari's assertions and asserted itself more.


The writer is Associate Professor in the department of English at Gurudas College, Kolkata

 

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THE STATESMAN

YOUR QUIXOTE OR MINE?

NOW & AGAIN

KK KHULLAR


On his approach to the Union Budget 2011-12, Mr Pranab Mukherjee, our honourable finance minister had declared: "I cannot be Don Quixote." In non-literary terms, he meant that he was not a financial adventurer and that his Budget was realistic. That is reminiscent of Jawaharlal Nehru's only Budget which he presented after the sudden resignation of TT Krishnamachari. While presenting his annual financial statement, Nehru bravely skipped the dots and the decimal points. When a member pointed this out, he remained unruffled. Adjusting his red rose on his button-hole Nehru stated: "In matters of high finance, I am a bird of passage." In the circumstances, dragging poor Don Quixote into our budgetary discussion is no more than a quip. Therefore, those who say that both Mamata Banerjee's railway budget and Pranab babu's Union Budget are vote-bank budgets perhaps do not know that the Spanish adventurer had neither any voting rights nor any bank account.
The question which now arises is as to who is this guy called Don Quixote? He is a poor gentleman of a Spanish village La Mancha who roams the world in search of adventures on his old horse named Rosanante immortalised by Cerventes (1547-1616) in a satiral romance bordering on burlesque of the same name Don Quixote, published in 1605 and 1615. Passing from one adventure to another, his death was his last adventure. This has given rise to the expression Quixotic. According to the Concise Oxford Dictionary, it means enthusiastic, visionary, pioneer of lofty but impractical ideals, a person utterly regardless of his material interests in comparison with honour and devotion. Finance minister to Don Quixote, is, therefore, not in line with its lexical meaning.


The problem with our successive finance ministers is that they want to put humour in their Budgets and their humour consists of some stale Urdu verses, a new Budget head and some economy measures. Financial wit is not their cup of tea.


Now, take for example, Yashwant Sinha known for his rolling Budget. "Mr Sinha, you are the second worst finance minister I have ever known," shouted an irate Member of Parliament. "And, pray who is the first?"

posed Sinha. "You during your first tenure," pat came the reply. Chidambaram tried to use some Tamil verses which he alone understood. This time, Mamata Banerjee too took shelter in an Urdu couplet:


Hum ah bhi bharte hain to ho jatey hain badnam/Vo qatal bhi kartey hain to charcha nahinhoti". (I get a bad name even when I sigh, my critics get away with murder).


Humour, said Carlyle, is a sympathy with the seamy side of things. Judged from that standpoint, our Budgets are humourless. According to an old proverb, two visitations are absolute certainties: one of Yamraj (the God of Death), the other of Karraj (the taxman). The former comes only once in life, the latter every year. And, Don Quixote smiles and smiles and becomes a villain!

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

MEANINGLESS

 

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi is always in the news for the wrong reasons. The hunger strike unto death by the social activist, Anna Hazare, will inevitably bring to mind a form of protest that was used with great effect by Gandhi. But circumstances have changed and any comparison between Gandhi's fast and that of Mr Hazare is entirely misplaced and unwarranted. It is undeniable that Mr Hazare's cause is noble: he wants the eradication of corruption and he thinks this will be possible by appointing a lok pal who will act as an anti-corruption ombudsman. There are, however, two points to consider. First, it is by no means certain that the establishment of the post of lok pal will lead to a substantial reduction in the level of corruption. The creation of an ombudsman at the state level — the lokayukta — has not resulted in the reduction of corruption. The mere introduction of a new institution by itself means or achieves nothing. Second, the proposals of Mr Hazare and his supporters do not differ in a fundamental manner from those that the government has put forward. Mr Hazare differs from the government only in some of the details. In other words, Mr Hazare is telling the government only his proposals, and no others, are acceptable to him. There is a kind of intolerance embedded in this attitude.

 

Gandhi's fasts — those that were undertaken as a protest and not for self-purification — were all under conditions of authoritarianism which denied Indians the right to protest and even those of citizenship. Conditions in independent India are radically different. India is a democracy and is thereby ruled by representatives of the people. There exist democratic modes of voicing demands. In fact, the very idea of the lok pal emerged through a democratic process and is envisioned as a means to strengthen democracy in India. The idea was mooted and has the approval of the representatives of the people. Mr Hazare's fast is an infamous attempt to deny and defy this entire process. He wants to bypass the democratic institutions in the name of cleansing the democratic system. His fast is tantamount to an act of blackmail, especially as his demands are not fundamentally different from those of the government. Mr Hazare has no moral right to protest through a hunger strike. He and those who sail with him are undermining democracy in India.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

BETTER BORDERS

Barbed wire puts travellers off. That is the loudest message to come out of those districts of West Bengal that share a border with Bangladesh. Ranging from 10.99 per cent in South Dinajpur down to 0.33 in Cooch Behar, figures derived from the census survey show a distinct fall in population growth in the nine border districts. All show a decline, and the reductions tend to be closer to the South Dinajpur figure rather than the Cooch Behar one. The administration is eagerly claiming credit for this reduction, putting it down to the fact that far more of the long border has been fenced now than ever before. Barbed wire and alertness at the border have had the salutary effect of reducing illegal migration. That is, fences are making better neighbours.

But the authorities took their time. The decision to fence the border dates back to 1986, but 60 per cent of the work done so far was completed in the last 14 years. To show this off as proof of the Left Front's spotless innocence in encouraging illegal migration, settlements and false papers in the greed for votes is particularly stupid. If the claim of innocence is really spotless, what was the Front waiting for? Even now, the fencing is not complete. The situation around illegal crossings is never simple. How is the citizen in Bengal to believe, for example, that there is no need to fence river banks when the border is riverine? South 24 Parganas, unfenced because riverine, has seen a drop of only 2.8 per cent. Can river guards really stop desperate people from slipping past? Those not willing to join in the Bengal administration's self-praise have suggested that there are actually fewer desperate people. Bangladesh is doing better than Bengal economically, and is producing fewer offspring. Besides, the population growth rate has dropped in Bengal too; why should the border districts, at least partially, not follow that trend? Fences have been undoubtedly helpful, but they may not be the single main cause. Ironically, the authorities in Bengal, in the excitement of the moment, are actually admitting that fences make a difference, although they had kept evading the problem of illegal migration for a long time. But different conditions attend different stretches of the border. That would imply different causes for the equations between fencing and population decline. A closer examination of these would provide the basis for targeted measures to reduce illegal migration. If anyone has the will, of course.

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THE TELEGRAPH

IN THE AGE OF DIGILEAKS

THERE SHOULD BE FEWER SECRETS, BUT THOSE BETTER KEPT TIMOTHY GARTON ASH

Suppose you know a secret that you think should be made public. How do you go about it? Suppose your organization has secrets you believe must be guarded. What should you do? Suppose you are an editor, blogger or activist, with the whistleblower huffing in your left ear and a government or company puffing in your right. Where do you draw the line?

One answer to the first question comes from Daniel Domscheit-Berg, a former member of the WikiLeaks team. His OpenLeaks initiative (www.openleaks.org) aims to provide an untraceable 'digital dropbox' in which would-be whistleblowers can deposit their digital troves. However, OpenLeaks would not itself select and publish material, as WikiLeaks did when it edited — and titled Collateral Murder — the video taken from an American helicopter gunship in Iraq as it killed twelve people, including two Reuters journalists, and wounded two children.

As Domscheit-Berg explained it to me when we met earlier this year, the leaker would decide which among a select list of media and NGO partners he or she would like the material to go to. So, for example, an environmentalist whistleblower might say, "I like Greenpeace, and I trust them to use my documents in the right spirit." Someone in the German defence ministry might say, "I trust Der Spiegel to publish this responsibly." And so on. All the editorial judgments would lie with the participating news organization or NGO. OpenLeaks would be a neutral, technical transmission mechanism — the guardian of secrecy in the cause of openness.

Domscheit-Berg is a tall, thin, intense, almost painfully idealistic young German. Passionate about the value of freedom of information, he wishes everyone to have the chance for their 'five minutes of courage'. This, as he points out, can be all it takes to press the button and transfer mountains of dirt. If he wants to be really scrupulous about this, maybe he should also give them five hours of reflection afterwards, in case they think better of it.

I shall be interested to see how OpenLeaks fares. In a phone conversation this week, Domscheit-Berg told me that they hope to launch in the late spring or early summer, probably with a modest initial slate of three media and three NGO partners. The technical difficulties of ensuring cast-iron anonymity for the source, especially against a powerful opponent such as the American or Chinese government, remain considerable. Even though OpenLeaks will argue that it does not have any legal responsibility for publication, it will surely face legal challenges. Meanwhile, leading newspapers such as The New York Times and the Guardian are also considering setting up their own 'leak here' facilities.

In whatever way this process unfolds, every government, company, university and other organization must assume that there will be more anonymized digital leaking — or digileaks, for short. The next question is, therefore, to the potentially leaked-against, rather than the would-be leaker. How do you strike the balance between transparency and secrecy? Even secret services and Swiss banks now make a nod in the direction of openness. Yet I know of no organization in the world which is 100 per cent transparent. Everyone has something they want to hide — and some things they can reasonably argue that they are justified in hiding. Often the two do not exactly coincide. Witness, for example, the hilarious spectacle of Julian Assange protesting furiously at leaks from inside WikiLeaks.

Newspapers, dedicated to openness, fight to keep secret the identity of their sources. So do human rights organizations, arguing that otherwise their informants might be in danger from repressive and corrupt regimes. The anti-corruption movement Transparency International cannot itself be wholly transparent. There is, if you will, a dialectic here. But there can also be hypocrisy: demanding of others what you are not prepared to do or have done to yourself. (The private lives of tabloid editors spring to mind.) There is a fine line between ethical dialectics and rank hypocrisy.

So what should an organization do? I suggest two guiding principles. First, be open about your grounds for secrecy, transparent about your non-transparency. Have clear criteria and be ready to defend them. They should be able to withstand the following, somewhat paradoxical test: if this piece of information became public, could you credibly explain why it should not have become public?

Thus, for example, there is absolutely no good defence for keeping secret the American helicopter gunship video. What it showed was at best a terrible blunder in the fog of war, at worst a war crime. It should have been investigated and published. On the other hand, when it comes to the details of secret peace negotiations between Palestinian and Israeli representatives, leaked to al-Jazeera and published in the Guardian, you could argue that there was a genuine public interest in keeping those secret. How else can negotiators have the confidence to explore the publicly unsayable, in the pursuit of peace? By the time you get to foreign correspondents being taken hostage, you find newspapers themselves being active practitioners of concealment.

My second guiding principle is: protect less, but protect it better. There is a vast amount of stuff which governments and organizations keep secret for no good reason. That was the premiss behind the campaigns for more freedom of information, now conceded by many democratic governments — and it has been proved right. Daylight was let in to dusty rooms, and the business of government did not collapse. Reading the United States of America state department cables in the database that the Guardian made from the WikiLeaks trove, I found reports classified as secret which could easily have appeared as news analysis pieces in a newspaper.

So: decide what you really do need to keep secret, on consistent, defensible criteria, and then do your damnedest to keep it secret. Don't, for example, upload it to a database accessible to hundreds of thousands of people. If following this second commandment results in a reduction in the amount of printed paper and emails in circulation, that will itself be a service to the rain forests and everyday sanity.

But what if something radioactive still leaks out from the smaller secret core, whether via the OpenLeaks mechanism or in other ways? Should Ms Ethical Journalist blushingly avert her eyes and hand it back unread, exclaiming "deary me, I really shouldn't be seeing this"? The hell she should. It is the business of government to keep its secrets. It is the business of the press to find them out.

The press — here used in the broadest sense, to include citizen bloggers and activist NGOs — then makes its own judgment calls about what is in the public interest and what will be unacceptably damaging. The law sets the outer boundaries for this age-old game of hide-and-seek. The calls made by the journalist will not be the same as those made by the minister — or the company director, or the hospital boss, or the university vice-chancellor. Each plays his part, and the result is one of democracy's most important sets of checks-and-balances.

Digileaks change democracy as graphite rackets changed tennis. Whether they make it better or worse will depend on the rules, the umpire and the players.

The author is Professor of European Studies at Oxford University, and Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. His most recent work is Facts are Subversive: Political Writing from a Decade Without a Name

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

VOTE FOR ALL

JEEJA GHOSH

Do people with disabilities have the right to exercise their franchise and contest as electoral candidates? This vital aspect has remained unexplored for decades as far as the rights of people with disabilities are concerned. In 2004, a public interest litigation was filed by the Disabled Rights Group regarding the absence of facilities for persons with disabilities to exercise their franchise. In response to the petition, the Supreme Court issued the following order (W.P. (C) No.1872004): construction of wooden ramps in absence of permanent ramps in polling stations for voters with mobility impairments; Braille stickers on electronic voting machines to enable voters with visual impairments to cast their vote independently; separate queues and special arrangements for persons with disabilities; the polling station personnel to be courteous and to render necessary assistance to enable persons with disabilities to exercise their franchise with least inconvenience.

Prior to the Lok Sabha elections of 2009, the Indian Institute of Cerebral Palsy along with some disabled rights organizations in Calcutta had placed a demand with the election commissioner for the implementation of the order passed by the Supreme Court. The appeal was heard by Ardhendu Sen, former home-secretary and the then joint chief election officer, N.K. Sahana, both of whom assured the group that most polling booths would be located on the ground floor and arrangements for temporary ramps would be made. It was also promised that EVMs would have Braille facilities.

Sadly, on the day of the election, many persons with disabilities, along with senior citizens, did not have a positive experience. Although the polling booths were on the ground floor, disabled people, especially wheelchair-users, had to negotiate three or four steps before they could reach the polling booths. In places where the booths were not on the ground floor, they had to be carried up on stretchers. Hardly any of the EVM machines had Braille stickers on them. Some voters with disabilities were told that friends or relatives could cast their votes on their behalf.

Wise steps

A team of disabled rights advocates from the IICP's advocacy group, Ankur, is already active in ensuring that the experience of 2009 is not repeated in the forthcoming assembly elections. The team met S.K. Gupta, the chief electoral officer, West Bengal, who agreed that facilities for persons with disabilities in the polling stations are still not up to the mark, especially in Calcutta. The situation is comparatively better in rural areas where the majority of the polling booths are housed in schools and have permanent ramps constructed under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan. Braille sticks are already being put on the EVM machines. The IICP team suggested that one polling booth in each area be made accessible to the disabled and senior citizens. It also suggested that for polling booths which are not on the ground floor, a separate arrangement be made on the ground floor for people with disabilities.

The right to vote is a fundamental right. Further, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities 2007 ensures the participation of persons with disabilities in political and public life (Article 29). The UNCRPD mandates that people with disabilities have the right to participate in public life; vote by secret ballot directly or through a freely chosen representative; to be elected, hold office, and perform functions at all levels of government.

Being a signatory and having ratified the UNCRPD, India is both morally and legally obliged to adhere to the mandates of the UNCRPD. The Persons with Disabilities Act also stipulates non-discrimination in the built environment (Article 46a). Hopefully, the disabled will be able to cast their votes without facing structural and attitudinal barriers.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

FEAR THAT IS FABRICATED

THERE IS NO REASON TO SPREAD PANIC OVER THE NUCLEAR DISASTER IN JAPAN, WRITES BIKASH SINHA

The psychological impact of the very concept of radiation is devastating. Radiation is shrouded in mystery, inevitably leading to a monstrous myth: we just don't comprehend it. So it is natural that a fear psychosis grips us abruptly, with wild rumours running amok. By far, we tend to overlook that no radiation means death, and too much radiation also means death. We do not even consider the fact that radiation is one of the major sources for invasive therapy of cancer, while we all recognize that it is radiation that also causes cancer. The confusion is to do with "What is too much?" and "What is too little?" The first question is evidently predominant in every mind the world over at the moment.

Japan is a singularly unfortunate country. It was the victim of two manmade atomic explosions in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, on August 6 and 9, 1945 respectively. The havoc created by Little Boy and Fat Man is unimaginable, with more than 2,50,000 dead: 60 per cent died of flame burns, 30 per cent from falling debris, and 15-20 per cent from radiation sickness over time. The radiation level from the "mushrooms" was huge, although no reliable number exists today. However, it is reasonable to suggest that it must have been pretty close to the end of the scale 7/7. No radiation hazard, so far, is known to have occurred either in India or other parts of Asia as a result of the explosion, although the transmission of radiation from the mushroom is more effective because of the plume's altitude.

The northeast coast of Japan experienced a severe earthquake on March 11, 2011, at 14.46 JST of a magnitude of about 9.1 Richter, followed by an extremely intense tsunami. Japan has experienced many such natural disasters, but the intensity of this quake is the highest so far, compared to the terrible devastation caused by the tsunami.

The Fukushima Daiichi site has six boiling water reactors. The units 1, 2 and 6 were supplied by General Electronics, unit 4 by Hitachi, and units 3 and 5 by Toshiba. (Please note that these are all part of a private enterprise). At the time of the fateful event on March 11, units 1, 2 and 3 were in operation, whereas units 4, 5 and 6 were shut down for routine maintenance. Immediately after the earthquake and the 10-metre-high tsunami, units 1, 2 and 3 were automatically shut down, thus putting an immediate stop to the fission process of nuclear chain reaction that generates intense heat, eventually leading to electric power. The phenomenon of fission was discovered in the 1930s, consequent of which a nucleus such as Uranium fissions into two separate nuclei, the missing mass in this process provides the energy a là E=mc². The automatic shutdown is the standard safety measure for such an incident, followed the world over. During the Sumatra tsunami, the Madras Atomic Power Station was immediately shut down. So what went wrong?

The decay heat in the fuel, which is about 2 per cent of the full power, needs to be removed within 90 seconds after shutdown. The decay heat is removed by supplying cooling water to ensure "integrity" of the fuel. To accomplish this, normal cooling water systems (back-up systems) are usually provided at the site of power reactors. At the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant unit 1, the electrical power supply from the grid was lost, consequent of the tsunami. The diesel generators, as back-up, packed up after one hour of operation due to the tsunami and the earthquake. The reactor vessel pressure, due to a lack of adequate cooling, was increasing.

There is a provision to automatically relieve high pressure steam to a large pool of water connected to the containment. Around 14:40, on March 12, the pressure in the containment had risen significantly, compelling the release of steam from the containment. The radiation field values remained within limits. But, at 13:30 on March 12, the presence of low level Cesium-137 and Iodine-131 was detected near unit 1, indicating the possible overheating of the elements of Zircaloy cladding of the vessel. It seems hydrogen, generated in this process, found its way around the building and settled down near the 'dome' or ceiling. The explosion at 15:30 was quite likely caused by the lethal hydrogen-oxygen mix.

All hell broke loose. Huge quantities of sea water was used to cool the core mixed with Boron, as is the normal practice in such emergency circumstances. Soon, unit 3 was going through the same cycle. By now, the steel containment was, however, intact and the radiation level had come down well within limits. The Japan Atomic Energy Agency rated the event at 4, which went up to 5 on the 0-7 International Nuclear Event Scale. The Three Mile Island rating was 5 and Chernobyl, entirely man-made, was 7 out of 7. India's track record has been consistently 0/7.

What happened to the radiation that leaked out or floated out? The intensity of radiation when it travels drops very rapidly with distance — somewhat like the headlights of a car in a slightly foggy condition diffusing out rapidly. The core of the radiation widens up very rapidly. Tokyo is only 100 miles away, but the radiation level there remains well within control. Further, in this case, the vapour droplets evaporating from Japan Sea and other large water bodies absorb radiation very rapidly. So, India being affected directly by radiation is a fabricated, bogus story. Travelling through the Pacific to California is a terrific science-fiction story. It should be mentioned that the radiation of the Kerala beach is, in some areas, almost 2 to 5 times the normal level, but I notice that the ladies of Kerala are rather beautiful. We tend to exaggerate, and it is necessary to give the correct picture. Yes, fish and vegetable from such areas one should definitely avoid, but to my knowledge, we do not import any such items from Fukushima Daiichi.

Where do we stand in India? First, of all the 20 power reactors in the country, only two are boiled water reactors at Tarapur, and all others are pressurized heavy water reactors, India's nuclear power workhorse. The efficiency of PHWR in absorbing heat is excellent — remember, heavy water is heavier than ordinary water? The BWRs have recently undergone large-scale renovation and more safety features have been incorporated. Indian plants have demonstrated their safety from severe earthquake, such as the one in Bhuj in 2001. The Kakrapar Atomic Power Station did a heroic job at that time by supplying much needed electricity. During the tsunami in 2004, the Madras Atomic Power Station was safely shut down without any radiological consequences. So fear, either psychologically-driven or driven by political compulsions about Haripur in Bengal, is unfounded. But most, not all, fears are unfounded.

Scientists, as a community, have a lot to do to ease the tension, and the saddest irony is that the unmitigated disaster at Japan will ensure even more vigilance for safety in our nuclear power scenario. The final epitaph is that you don't close down highways because thousands die in accidents and you certainly do not close down, or even slow down, nuclear programmes when nobody actually even died of radiation.

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THE TELEGRAPH

NEED A LITTLE OF THAT HUMAN TOUCH

LOST SOULS TEACHERS AND PARENTS HAVE TO ACT TOGETHER TO HELP CHILDREN TAKE ON LIFE

A popular 'forward' that's doing the rounds of the internet talks about a CEO asking at a gathering what does a teacher make. The teacher responds to this with a list of small, daily, almost unnoticeable, contributions and ends by saying that she makes a difference! As teachers, we identify with her words and realize that the small contributions that we make to a child's life aren't that small. In some cases, they are the only contributions that are made.

Keeping in mind the recent tragedy faced by a bright, teenaged boy, people often wonder about the Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde role that teachers play. While we do not condone assaults on children, physical or verbal, we often wonder how our parents and their predecessors had survived these and much worse. Was it because the teacher did not have a choice or because the teacher was always supposed to be right? It could be a blend of both these possibilities, but there was also a very important third factor — the family.

Whether it was a slap or a verbal lashing, once we were home we knew that there was someone we could talk to, someone who would, at times , wipe away those tears. At other times, the same person would support the teacher's actions. It was this someone who told us that such things happen and that we ought to take them in our stride. After this, the world would turn into a happy place, once again.

But where are these people now — with their comforting arms, their knowing looks, their words of advice? Children often go back to empty homes with the television taking over as the nanny. Busy parents assuage their guilt by sending their kids to classes that leave them so exhausted that dinner is consumed in a jiffy. Facebook is now the key to a world of friendship while a hug or a caress has been replaced by the smiley. Who do these kids turn to if they've had a bad day, have got a secret to share or a story to tell? The iPod, the iPad, the latest mobile are gadgets that do not fulfil any emotional need. Where is the human touch? Where are the moms and dads? So why do we blame outsiders when our children react harshly to stern words or cruel gestures? It's because we cannot accept that we haven't taught them how to tackle such situations.

In my 30 years as an educator and administrator, I have seen children's scholar badges and prefect ties been taken away as disciplinary measures. Two students were asked to repeat a class for a serious misdemeanor. Another had to miss an entire semester at the National Law School. Today, all these children are doing well in life. Why? Their parents were supportive of the school's decision because they knew that the school cared and wanted their wards to learn for life. The school and the parents took a stand to make kids aware that wrong actions have consequences. If we don't teach the right values, we will have a generation of people who have no respect for themselves, their parents, teachers and elders. It is our responsibility to equip children with the ability to handle such situations and to be emotionally strong.

Yes teachers make a difference, but that difference is noticeable and effective only when it is a collaboration between them and parents. It is never too late to reach out, to teach your child that life — with its ups and downs, highs and lows — is worth living. And that, at the end of the day, every thing is going to turn out just fine.

MEENAKSHI ATA

 

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DECCAN HERALD

FIRST EDIT

ACID TEST FOR UPA

'THE LOKPAL SHOULD NOT BECOME A TOOTHLESS OFFICE.'


The fast unto death being undertaken by social activist Anna Hazare in New Delhi has drawn attention to the inadequacy of the existing institutions in dealing with corruption and the refusal of the ruling class to empower them. The fact that Hazare's campaign has caught the imagination of the people is a sign of popular indignation over corruption. It is timely that he has raised the need for an effective Lokpal when the nation has been rocked by a series of scandals which showed politicians and officials in an unholy alliance to loot the exchequer. Sensing the public mood the government had offered the setting up of a Lokpal but its idea of the office is so weak and compromised that it will hardly make any difference to the present system.


The idea of an independent ombudsman against corruption is almost five decades old but successive governments and parliaments have only scuttled it, while paying lip service to it. The Lokpal bill has failed as many as eight times in the Lok Sabha. At the state level only a few have the office of the Lokayukta and they do not have any real powers. The latest bill promised by the government is no better. It includes the prime minister in its purview but leaves out his decisions in some areas out of it. The Lokpal will not have any suo moto power to take up complaints but can only act on the basis of the Speaker's recommendations. Its findings have again to go to the Speaker and can be rejected. With such limited powers the Lokpal will be a toothless office. Hazare and the section of the civil society that backs him want public consultations on the provisions of the Lokpal bill. A  separate Jan Lokpal bill has been drafted by Karnataka Lokayukta Santosh Hegde and others which envisages an independent office with a larger jurisdiction and greater powers. The demand for formation of a joint committee with participation from the government and the public to examine the provisions of the proposed bill is not wrong. Why should the government object to it when the aim is to strengthen the bill and make it effective?


The National Advisory Council has shown interest in the bill and has also sought wider consultations on it. It is because the system has failed to address the problem of corruption that the people are demanding action. The government should heed their views.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

SECOND EDIT

NEED FOR URGENCY

'SUCCESS OF THE SCHEME DEPENDS A LOT ON COMMITMENT.'


On the completion of one year of the implementation of the Right to Education Act there are many challenges in making universal education real for the country's children. A number of states have not yet notified the Act. Many people are unaware that their children are entitled to free and compulsory education up to the age of 14. Most states have not yet constituted a commission for child protection. The target for achieving education for all is 2015 and the government has to provide for all children a neighbourhood school. Union HRD minister Kapil Sibal is hopeful of achieving the target but much more work has to be done for this.


There are thousands of villages which do not have an accessible school and tens of thousands of schools are without buildings, drinking water facilities, toilets and other essential infrastructure. Teachers are not available in a large number of them. Though enrolment rates have improved in most states, they give a false picture of attendance because dropout rates are also high. Unless there is hundred per cent enrolment and the dropout rates fall drastically the aim of universal schooling will remain elusive. It has also been pointed that the budgetary allocation has not kept pace with the need for infrastructure and facilities. Most states have accepted  some mandates of the act like the ban on detention and corporal punishment. But some controversial issues like the need for admission of 25 per cent students from economically weaker sections in private unaided schools in the neighbourhood have not been sorted out. This is important in view of the inability of the state to provide schools for every aspiring child in every neighbourhood. The setting up of more schools, appointment of qualified teachers, improving the skills of those who are already in service and establishing committees to oversee implementation are vitally needed.


Creating better awareness of the need for schooling of children in backward areas and among the backward sections is equally important. The success of the scheme depends a lot on social attitudes, economic factors, logistics, investment and above all a commitment to make it a reality. Admittedly one year is not enough for this but there is need for greater application.

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DECCAN HERALD

MAIN ARTICLE

WAR BY OTHER MEANS

BY SUNANDA K DATTA-RAY


A big gain of Mohali was that it engaged two countries without any of the bogus sentimentality that is an obstacle to understanding.


Sonia Gandhi's excitement at Mohali confirmed she had no difficulty passing with flying colours the test set by Norman Tebbit, one of Lady Thatcher's ministers, who regarded the team an immigrant cheers as the ultimate test of loyalty.


But did Queen Elizabeth acquit herself equally well? It's said she couldn't contain her delight during a Test match in Australia when the England team did something spectacular. She clapped and exclaimed "Oh, well done! Well done!" until her spouse muttered, "Your Majesty forgets you are also Queen of Australia!"

Prince Philip understands the challenge of multiple identities. He was Greek and Danish before becoming British. His uncle, Lord Mountbatten, outraged the xenophobic 'Daily Express' by signing himself "Prinz Louis von Battenberg" (whence Mountbatten) at a German hotel. Since cheering betokens identification, and the Commonwealth symbolises inclusiveness, Her Majesty must root for all 52 member-countries, though more enthusiastically for the 16 she reigns over. She must clap warmly for the 5 other monarchies, feeling their hearts are in the right place even if they have the wrong monarchs. Suspended Fiji merits a cold stare until it recants but the Queen is entitled to hiss at Zimbabwe which stormed out sulkily instead of taking suspension sportingly.

Indians appreciated Tebbit's logic long before he voiced it. I recall angry murmurs when a well-known Anglo-Indian sports commentator held his head in his hands and wailed "Noooo!" because an English player missed a catch. I also remember cosmopolitan Muslim friends grumbling about a conspiracy against Mohammedan Sporting fans — poorer, they said, than Mohun Bagan or East Bengal supporters — by increasing the gate money for football matches. Apparently, the stands groaned when Mohammedan Sporting scored and rejoiced when it lost.

 

One incident confirmed that a visible and articulate minority preferred its British ancestry to its Indian side. The other suggested that India's largest minority felt it was being squeezed in insidious ways. The exuberance of cricket pitch and football ground reflects deeper passions. Sport is war by other means, witness lurid phrases like 'scalped,' 'mother of all battles' and 'fight to the finish' beloved of sports writers. Anglo-Scots fixtures resonate to the strains of Flower of Scotland, celebrating victory over England in "the decisive battle of the First War of Scottish Independence" — Bannockburn in 1314. Seven centuries of smouldering patriotism led to devolution in 1999. The football song, 'Two World Wars and One World Cup,' more brutally expressed British xenophobia against Germany.


The notable absence of xenophobia at Mohali suggests that the society is changing. Zaheer Khan was as unnecessary politically as it is for today's Bollywood Khans to masquerade as Dilip Kumar. Muhammad Ali Jinnah's dog-in-the-manger abuse of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad is heard only among British-Pakistanis who booed Lancashire-born Sajid Mahmood as a 'traitor' for playing for England against Pakistan.


Religious fanaticism

Despite Yorkshire accents, the 2007 London bombers were probably too driven by religious fanaticism and social alienation to root for England or Pakistan. Tebbit would have been prouder of Anwar Choudhury, Britain's ethnic Bangladeshi high commissioner in Dhaka, who wouldn't speak Bengali because — so the locals whispered — broad Sylheti would come tumbling out.


But who would the 1.13 lakh inhabitants of 55 Bangladeshi enclaves in West Bengal or the more than two lakh people in 111 Indian enclaves in Bangladesh support? Indians who complain of discrimination would back India. But Bangladeshis with Indian ration cards, thanks to Left Front opportunists, have the best of both worlds. Residents of Nawaz Sharif's ancestral village near Amritsar are also in a quandary since they benefit economically from the connection.


Kautilya's enemy's enemy theory explains some bizarre alliances. But Rehan Butt, Pakistan's veteran hockey player, says Pakistanis supported India against Australia because they didn't want to be done out of the Mohali drama. They were also determined in the best spirit of the game to see Sachin Tendulkar, their favourite, in action.

The 1952 Test must have held poignant memories for the two captains, Lala Amarnath and Abdul Kardar, who earlier played in the same team. "All said and done, I am a Lahori", Amarnath told a friend. But nostalgia doesn't help political rapprochement with Pakistan or Bangladesh. I would say that a big gain of Mohali was that it engaged two countries without any of the bogus sentimentality that is an obstacle to understanding. Neither Shahid Afridi nor Yousaf Raza Gilani could complain of being treated like errant Indians who must be coaxed back. India couldn't fault their generous response to defeat either.


Unlike Lord Swraj Paul's boast of being 100 per cent Indian and 100 per cent British, Britain's modest royal family was content with half a heritage. Also unlike the ambiguous Paul, its name — Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, derived from Queen Victoria's husband — was aggressively non-English. Since people seek instant recognition, Queen Elizabeth's grandfather changed it to Windsor to the amusement of  his cousin and rival, Kaiser Wilhelm, who demanded a stage performance of 'The Merry Wives of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha.'

He lost his throne but relations normalised with the umbilical chord's severance. It would be a small beginning here if the Pakistanis didn't have to fly back via Dubai.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

IN PERSPECTIVE

A NEW SENSE OF HOPE FOR PEACE IN ASSAM

 BY ANIRBAN BHAUMIK


Rajkhowa will raise the rebel outfit's flag in the heart of Assam for the first time.
April is a month of festivity in Assam. It's the month of Rongali Bihu — the state's biggest festival, Assamese new year and onset of spring. The mood was festive across the Brahmaputra Valley in the April of 1979 too, as the historic Assam agitation led by All Assam Students' Union was still in its early days and yet to turn tumultuous. About a week before the Bihu, some youths met at the Rang-Ghar, the 17th century amphitheatre at Sivasagar and founded what was later known as United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA).

Buddheshwar Gogoi, a schoolteacher, took over as chairman of ULFA, which set as its ultimate goal 'a sovereign Assam.' The day was April 7. Another youth Rajib Rajkonwar — just 23 years then — joined the organisation a few months later and soon reached its helm, replacing Gogoi. Then came Paresh Barua, a 22-year-old soccer freak, who would later lead the ULFA's armed wing as its 'commander-in-chief'.

Rajkonwar — better known by his nom de guerre Arabinda Rajkhowa — and Barua would then lead one of the longest running insurgencies of South Asia, surviving two major campaigns by the Indian Army — Operation Bajrang and Operation Rhino — in early and mid 1990s, in addition to sustained offensive by police and paramilitary forces. Together Rajkhowa and Barua scripted a violent history of Assam for the next three decades.

32nd anniversary

When ULFA celebrates its 32nd anniversary of struggle on Thursday, Rajkhowa, for the first time, would openly raise the rebel organisation's flag in the heart of Assam, in a camp in Sivasagar. He will be joined by several other top leaders of the ULFA. Barua will not be with him though. For, the ULFA has suffered a vertical split over the past couple of years. The faction led by Rajkhowa and others have started a peace-process with the Centre and state government. Barua, however, leads the hard-line faction and is opposed to talks.

Rajkhowa, Barua and several other top ULFA leaders had shifted to Bangladesh long ago. The outfit also had a number of guerrilla camps in the neighbouring country. Though the ULFA and other rebel organisations of the northeastern region had to abandon the camps in Bhutan after a crackdown by Royal Bhutan Army in 2003, they had continued to find refuge in Bangladesh and Myanmar.


But with Sheikh Hasina's Awami League returning to power in Dhaka in January 2009, the situation changed in Bangladesh. A tacit cooperation between Indian and Bangladeshi security agencies resulted in the detention of Rajkhowa and other top ULFA leaders within a year. And they all eventually landed in jails in Assam, well before Hasina came to Delhi on a landmark visit in January 2010. Barua, however, escaped the crackdown, fled Bangladesh and, according to intelligence agencies, took refuge in Myanmar.


By the end of the year, Rajkhowa and other incarcerated ULFA leaders agreed to start the dialogue with the Centre and were released on bail. They went to New Delhi and met prime minister Manmohan Singh on Feb 14 to formally mark the beginning of the peace-process. With just a few weeks left before the Assembly polls, the Congress immediately went to town claiming credit for bringing the militant organisation to the negotiating table.

The opposition Asom Gana Parishad is trying to prick the peace balloon of the Congress. "The peace process will lead to a meaningful solution to the problem of insurgency in Assam, only if Barua is brought into it," says former chief minister Prafulla Mahanta. Gogoi says that the door would remain open for Barua too.

Prof Nani Gopal Mahanta of the Gauhati University feels that the success of the peace process would depend on the issues that would be on the table. "Sovereignty of Assam may be just an initial bargaining chip for the ULFA. But some of the other core issues which it raised in the past and would expectedly raise during the peace talks too are intrinsically linked with aspirations of Assamese for the past 60 years or so — like the Centre-state relations or the constitutional safeguard for the Assamese," he says.


While people of Assam never supported ULFA's secessionist agenda or the violent path chosen by it, the rebel organisation continued to enjoy support from the masses because it was also championing the causes of the historic students' agitation against influx of migrants in late 1970s and early '80s.


The peace-process is likely to gain momentum after the polls. And, irrespective of the results, the Centre and the state government will have to make sure that it moves ahead steadily and with reasonable speed, unlike the one with the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah), which failed to make any breakthrough even after many rounds talks over the past 14 years.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

IN RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE

 

GRAND ANXIETY

BY NAYTHAN CARVALHO


To ask my grandmother to curb her movements in the crowded city was unfair.


Grandmothers can be fun. They can also create panic, if they wander around unfamiliar places. And my grandmother loves to do just that. She is used to wide open spaces at her house in Mangalore. She is planting saplings, watering the gardens, chopping firewood, collecting coconuts, fruits and vegetables or finding something useful to do in her huge compound. With much space around, she is free to sway any which way she pleases. But to ask her to curb her movements in our crowded Bangalore is very unfair. Nevertheless my mother cautions her not to stray far away from home.


I once accompanied her to church. All the time my mind was on the cricket match and rushed out before the concluding hymn. Luckily, my father was waiting to collect grandma. I cooked up an excuse about completing my studies and coaxed him to drop me off first. Just then the power went off and there was a slight drizzle. He returned to collect grandma but couldn't find her. Mom was anxious and so was everybody else in our building. A few volunteered and set out in different directions.


I was upset at myself for leaving her behind and only prayed she was safe somewhere. I was afraid to look mother in the eye. She was visibly upset and her teary eyes conveyed the fear and anxiety. A lot of unpleasant thoughts crossed my mind: I hope she hasn't fallen somewhere on the slippery road. She doesn't like walking on the footpath. There is hardly any space and the uneven pavements are like death traps.


She loves flower plants and doesn't hesitate to pluck a stalk to grow in her compound from creepers falling of walls or fences. But it was dark and she couldn't see too well, so there was no chance of her stealing someone else's greenery. I went along with my father to lodge a complaint at the police station. It seemed like ever and dad didn't want to waste precious time in finding grandma. We drove around neighbourhoods looking for her and anybody who remotely resembled her I viewed from head to toe. One old lady was offended and raised her umbrella at me. Another gave my father a grumpy look. Thirteen year olds have their own tensions and I didn't need any more stress but prayed fervently to save me one last time as we came to the church a third time.

And there she was chatting with the priest with plants and a flower pot in her hands. She didn't speak English and he didn't speak Kannada. Probably, the plants did all the talking!

 

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THE NEWYORK TIMES

OPINION

WAL-MART V. WOMEN

The employment discrimination lawsuit against Wal-Mart, which the Supreme Court heard last week, is the largest in American history. If the court rejects this suit, it will send a chilling message that some companies are too big to be held accountable.

It began in 1999 after Stephanie Odle was fired when she complained of sex discrimination. As Ms. Odle recounted in sworn testimony, as an assistant manager she discovered that a male employee with the same title and less experience was making $10,000 a year more than her.

She complained to her boss, who defended the disparity by saying the male had a family to support. When she replied that she was having a baby that she needed to support, the supervisor made her provide a personal budget and then gave her a raise closing just one-fifth the gap.

The plaintiffs who have brought a class action on behalf of 1.5 million current and former female Wal-Mart employees allege that they, too, faced discrimination in pay and promotion. If Wal-Mart loses, it could owe more than $1 billion in back pay.

Wal-Mart has tried to end the litigation by arguing that 1.5 million women do not have enough in common to sue for discrimination as a single class under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. A federal trial judge said they do. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld that ruling, twice.

But during oral argument last week, conservative justices and liberals to some degree expressed skepticism: Is there enough "cohesion" among the women to justify treating them as a single class? If so, how could a solo trial judge manage such an enormous class action?

A brief by 31 professors of civil procedure explains why the women are a suitable class. Their claims meet the core test: They have in common the question of whether Wal-Mart discriminated against them. Meanwhile, the high cost of litigation compared to the low likely individual recoveries would make it hard for the women to proceed any other way.

The average wage gap each year for every member of the class is around $1,100, too little to give lawyers an incentive to represent them. The best way to judge their rights efficiently and fairly is by recognizing them as a group. That is the purpose of the class-action rule.

The case record contains 120 sworn statements made recounting sex discrimination in pay and promotion but also in the work environment: required company fishing trips where women weren't included on their male peers' boat; a supposedly retaliation-free system for complaints that led to women being fired. The lower courts ruled that this and other evidence provide compelling reasons for the case to move forward. The justices should move it along by having the trial judge allow further fact-finding.

If the court has doubts about whether the class is cohesive or manageable enough, it should ask the trial judge to explore whether there is a single class or more than one — say, salaried female employees and hourly employees or female store managers and other kinds of employees. That would be much fairer than dismissing the case and insisting that 1.5 million women fend for themselves.

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THE NEWYORK TIMES

OPINION

BETTER PROTECTING PRISONERS

The Justice Department is finalizing new rape-prevention policies that will become mandatory for federal prisons and state correctional institutions that receive federal money. The rules, based on recommendations from a Congressionally mandated commission, would be a major improvement. But the department needs to remedy several weaknesses before it issues final regulations.

Rape and other forms of sexual abuse by fellow inmates or correctional officers are a chronic hazard in prisons, jails and juvenile facilities across the country. According to federal estimates, 200,000 adult prisoners and jail inmates suffered some form of sexual abuse during 2008.

That works out to about 4.4 percent of the prison population and 3.1 percent of the jail population. The numbers are even higher in juvenile institutions, with 12 percent of the total population suffering some form of sexual abuse. Statistics showing that some institutions have higher rates of assault than others are consistent with the finding of the rape commission, which reported that some prisons had successfully created an atmosphere of safety while others tacitly tolerated assaults.

The commission came up with a long and compelling list of rape prevention recommendations, most of which have been adopted by the Justice Department. It is demanding a zero-tolerance approach to rape behind bars and will require better training of staff members, more effective ways to report assaults, more thorough investigations and better medical and psychiatric services for victims. In perhaps the most revolutionary development, prisons would be required to make sexual assault data public so policy makers could get a clear view of how well or how poorly vulnerable inmates were being protected.

Still, there are problems with the Justice Department's approach. The decision to exclude immigration detention centers holding noncitizens goes against the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003, which defined a prison as any confinement facility administered by federal, state or local government.

Victims of sexual assault are often too traumatized to immediately speak out. So the provision permitting prisons systems to invalidate most complaints not lodged within 20 days seems arbitrary. Complaints should be taken seriously whenever they are reported. The department has obviously done the right thing by limiting cross-gender strip searches to emergency situations. But it should also set a goal of ending cross-gender pat-down searches.

Finally, the Justice Department needs to adopt the commission's call for regularly scheduled, independent audits of prison rape prevention programs. That is the only sure way to know whether they are obeying the law.

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THE NEWYORK TIMES

OPINION

GEORGE TOOKER

BY LAWRENCE DOWNES

"Government Bureau," a 1956 painting by George Tooker, was inspired by his maddening encounter with the New York City Building Department. Most people who waste hours in line just end up with sore feet and headaches. Mr. Tooker, who died on March 27, emerged with one of the best-known depictions of modern alienation and despair.

The painting, in luminous egg tempera, shows people waiting in a vaulted office that seems to stretch to infinity. Clerks stare emptily through glass partitions. No one talks or moves. It's a waiting room; everybody just waits.

Mr. Tooker, a New Yorker who settled in Vermont, did a lot with angst — his paintings of subways, waiting rooms and office cubicles are similarly haunting — but he also made lovely images of rapture and compassion. He said in 2002 that his pictures had gotten happier as he got older.

I wonder what he thought of institutional limbo today. The government bureau is now in our heads. It's the infinite space we inhabit when we languish on hold. The chill light is computer glow. Our isolation may be deeper now than anyone imagined in the '50s.

My father, a New Yorker who left newspapering to work in a government bureau, had "Government Bureau" on his office wall. I saw it as a boy and was scarred. Those pale hands and slumped shoulders. The desolate eyes. The unnerving thought that this was my father's idea of decorating. I learned later that his motivation was of the mordant-droll variety. He said the picture was there to remind him how not to do his   job. LAWRENCE DOWNES

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THE NEWYORK TIMES

OPINION

WHY PAY CONGRESS?

BY NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF

If we careen over a cliff on Friday and the American government shuts down, hard-working federal workers will stop getting paychecks, but the members of Congress responsible for the shutdown are expected to be paid as usual.

That's partly because Congressional pay is not subject to the regular appropriations process, and partly because of Constitutional concerns. The Senate passed a bill proposed by Barbara Boxer of California that would suspend Congressional paychecks in any government shutdown, but the Republican-controlled House has blocked it. House Republicans approved a similar pay suspension, but it was embedded in legislation that has zero chance of becoming law.

The upshot is that federal workers who do important work for the public — cleaning up toxic waste, enrolling sick people into lifesaving medical trials, answering medical hot lines, running national parks, processing passport applications — risk being sent home and going unpaid. But members of Congress would continue to receive $174,000 a year. As the humorist Andy Borowitz wrote in a Twitter message:  "That's like eliminating the fire dept & sending checks to the arsonists."

In my travels lately, I've been trying to explain to Libyans, Egyptians, Bahrainis, Chinese and others the benefits of a democratic system. But if Congressional Republicans actually shut down the government this weekend, they will be making a powerful argument for autocracy. Chinese television will be all over the story.

If a high school student council refused to approve a budget so that student activities had to be canceled — even as student leaders continued to pay themselves stipends — a school board would probably cancel the entire experiment in student democracy. But I can't imagine high school students acting so immature.

Some Republicans seem motivated to accept a government shutdown not only by a terror of the Tea Party wing of their party but also by a profound misunderstanding of fiscal policy.

"Our generation's greatest challenge," Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, a Republican, declared in an op-ed article in The Wall Street Journal the other day, "is an economy that isn't growing, alongside a national debt that is."

A fair number of Republicans share that sentiment, so let's take a closer look. To nitpick, it's factually wrong. The economy has been growing since the third quarter of 2009. The larger point is true. The economy is still sputtering, unemployment is too high and debt is growing.

But one of the most basic principles of economics is that when an economy is anemic, governments should use deficit spending as a fiscal stimulus, even though that means an increase in debt. If Senator Rubio believes that the response to a weak economy is to slash spending, he is embracing the approach that Herbert Hoover discredited 80 years ago.

Republicans are correct that debt matters and that we need to address America's long-term deficits. That means trimming entitlement programs and reducing the rise in health care spending that is eroding their viability; we also probably need some tax increases. But while our long-term need is to rein in deficit spending, our short-term need is to boost it. That's why sensible budget plans involve a short-term stimulus combined with long-term trims that take effect when the economy is healthy again.

The Republican plan to address debt right now, in an economic trough, echoes the horrendous mistake Japan made in the mid-1990s just as it was emerging from its own deep recession. Japan collapsed right back into what became its "lost decade" and now realizes that it should have nurtured a recovery before addressing its debt problem.

I was living in Japan then and referred to the prime minister on the front page of The New York Times as "Herbert Hoover" Hashimoto. So it only seems fair to refer now, if the shutdown occurs, to the current speaker of the House as "Herbert Hoover" Boehner.

Imagine how disastrous it would be if the Republicans shut down government for any length of time. Unpaid federal employees would cut back on shopping. Some would miss house payments. Family members might drop out of college. The I.R.S. might not be able to deliver some tax refunds. Small businesses would stop getting government loans. In sum, after the Democratic stimulus, we would have the Republican drag.

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THE NEWYORK TIMES

OPINION

MEDICINE ON THE MOVE

BY GAIL COLLINS

Sometimes you really do want to tell the medical profession to just make up its mind.

We got word this week that estrogen therapy, which was bad, is good again. Possibly. In some cases.

This was not quite as confusing as the news last year that calcium supplements, which used to be very good, are now possibly bad. Although maybe not. And the jury's still out.

Or the recent federal study that suggested women be told to stop checking their breasts for lumps. Or the recommendations on when to get a mammogram, which seem to fluctuate between every five years and every five minutes.

We certainly want everyone to keep doing studies. But it's very difficult to be a civilian in the world of science.

"It's very difficult to be a woman," said Dr. Leslie Ford of the National Cancer Institute wryly.

Back in the day, estrogen was prescribed only for women who were experiencing serious problems with menopause. Then a 1966 book called "Feminine Forever" argued that estrogen therapy was good for almost every middle-aged female on the planet who wanted to avoid morphing into a crone. The idea grew in popularity even after evidence mounted that the author had been paid by an estrogen manufacturer.

"The mantra among gynecologists was: as soon as you got to be 49, almost automatically put women on estrogen. It was supposed to be a fountain of youth," said Dr. Ford.

To reduce the danger of uterine cancer, estrogen was mixed with progestin and the result was, among many other wonderful things, supposed to lower the risk of heart disease. Then a report from the Women's Health Initiative, a long-running study by the National Institutes of Health, found that it did no such thing. Also, it raised the risk of breast cancer.

"It's been a real culture shift for gynecologists," said Dr. Ford.

Now comes a new study — from the very same Women's Health Initiative — that appears to show that for some women, estrogen alone may actually reduce the risk of breast cancer and heart attack. As long as you take it when you're in your 50s.

"It's 'Back to the Future,' " said Dr. Emily Jungheim of Washington University School of Medicine, who co-authored an editorial raising a red flag about the new report.

The new findings, which come with many qualifications, apply only to women who've had a hysterectomy. But that's quite a population; about one-third of all American women have their uterus removed at some point in their lives.

You cannot contemplate this information for too long without asking whether the medical profession has a tendency to get carried away.

"There's a pill for every ill," said Dr. Sidney Wolfe, director of the Public Citizen Health Research Group and the co-author of "Worst Pills, Best Pills: A Consumer's Guide to Avoiding Drug-Induced Death or Illness."

He worries a lot about overmedication. "There's just a massive overprescribing in this country," he said. "Also elsewhere. France comes to mind."

Finally, we have found some part of medicine in which our system is as efficient as France's.

Americans should know by now that you can't put a pill in your mouth without risk. Television is full of commercials for wonder drugs that will perk up your spirits, soothe your allergies or lower your cholesterol, improving life altogether except in the cases where they lead to vivid dreams, suicidal thoughts, hair loss, stabbing pains or sudden death.

But it still feels as if we need to be on guard against medical overoptimism. "Doctors are far more knowledgeable about the benefits of drugs than the risks," said Dr. Wolfe. There isn't always much talk about the possible downside of drugs on which all the evidence is yet to come in, like many fertility treatments.

Dr. Wolfe believes that most doctors prefer writing prescriptions to having lengthy discussions with their patients about things like long-term behavior modification therapy. My own theory is that they just tend to want to satisfy their patients. Let's face it, few of us go to the doctor with hopes of getting advice on behavior modification. They're medical practitioners, and their instinct is to solve your problems with medicine.

I once had a gynecologist who put me on estrogen therapy at age 49 when I had no medical complaints whatsoever, and I still remember how pleased he was to be giving me this wonderful drug that would stave off so many undesirable effects of aging.

I did get breast cancer, although it was not a major-league case. Obviously, I should have asked more questions. But I don't blame the doctor, who seemed to have the best of intentions. Actually, I don't blame anyone. Except maybe the guy who wrote that "Feminine Forever"  book.

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THE NEWYORK TIMES

OPINION

OUT OF CONTEXT

BY CAROLINE ALEXANDER

THE 9/11 memorial in New York, still being planned, is to be dedicated on the 10th anniversary of the attack. Intended as a place for commemoration, reflection, education and solace, the memorial and museum will serve as a repository for the remains of the victims.

Some families of the victims have criticized the planned memorial because they are offended by the prospect of sharing the resting place of their loved ones with museum-going strangers. Because the structure will be built seven stories below the spot where the twin towers once stood, visitors will have to venture underground to pay their respects, a prospect that also is not comforting.

But one feature of the National September 11 Memorial and Museum seems above reproach: a quotation from Virgil's "Aeneid" that will be inscribed on a wall in front of the victims' remains.

The memorial inscription, "No day shall erase you from the memory of time" is an eloquent translation of the original Latin of "The Aeneid" — "Nulla dies umquam memori vos eximet aevo."

The impulse to turn to time-hallowed texts, like the classics or the Bible, is itself time-hallowed. In the face of powerful emotions, our own words may seem hollow and inadequate, while the confirmation that people in the past felt as we now feel holds solace. And the language of poets and great thinkers can be in itself ennobling.

But not in this case. Anyone troubling to take even a cursory glance at the quotation's context will find the choice offers neither instruction nor solace.

Virgil's epic relates the trials of the unhappy Trojan hero Aeneas, who, as Troy burns, flees with the remnants of his family and people to his ships and the sea, eventually winding up in Italy, where it is his destiny to lay the foundation of what will become Rome.

The immediate context of the quotation is a night ambush of the Rutulian enemy camp by two Trojan warriors, Nisus and Euryalus, whose mutual love is described in terms of classical homoerotic convention and whose deaths represent one of the epic's famously sentimental set pieces. Falling on the sleeping enemy, the two hack away with their swords, until the ground reeks with "warm black gore." Stripping the murdered soldiers of their armor, the two are in turn ambushed by a returning Rutulian cavalry troop. As each Trojan tries to save his companion, both are killed, brutally and graphically. At this point the poet steps in to address them directly:

"Fortunati ambo! si quid mea carmina possunt, nulla dies umquam memori vos eximet aevo."

"Happy pair! If aught my verse avail, no day shall ever blot you from the memory of time." (The translation here is from the famously literal Loeb edition.) At dawn's light, the severed heads of the two Trojans are paraded by the enemy on spears.

The central sentiment that the young men were fortunate to die together could, perhaps, at one time have been defended as a suitable commemoration of military dead who fell with their companions. To apply the same sentiment to civilians killed indiscriminately in an act of terrorism, however, is grotesque.

It is no easy duty to commemorate the dead. Possibly others have performed it worse, and at least some, worth studying, have done better. In Britain, the dreadful task of fixing an inscription for the million military dead in the wake of World War I fell to Rudyard Kipling — a task made especially delicate given the loss of his own son in the war. The simple quotation he selected, "Their name liveth for evermore," reflects the same pledge of determined remembrance as the 9/11 memorial effort. But whereas the Virgilian quote dissolves on inspection, Kipling's choice, from the 44th chapter of Ecclesiasticus, becomes more profound as its context becomes clearer.

"Let us now praise famous men," begins that chapter of Ecclesiasticus, but it in fact goes on to evoke those who died obscurely, as well as those who died having performed great deeds; both will be remembered by their descendants. A long work, Ecclesiasticus is sure to hold something jarring for everyone; but overall, in context, the selected verse remains sound:

"Their seed shall remain for ever, and their glory shall not be blotted out. Their bodies are buried in peace; but their name liveth for evermore."

The disastrous 9/11 memorial quotation was, evidently, never intended to be more than a high-sounding, stand-alone phrase, never intended to lead visitors to any more profound thoughts or emotions.

Finding words that do justice to a momentous event is always difficult — especially so, perhaps, in the age of Internet trawling, when a wary eye needs to be kept for the bothersome baggage that may be attached to the perfect-sounding expression. There is an easy mechanism, also time-hallowed, for winnowing out what may be right from what is clearly wrong: it's called reading.

Caroline Alexander is the author, most recently, of "The War That Killed Achilles: The True Story of Homer's 'Iliad' and the Trojan War."

 

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TIMES FREE PRESS

OPINION

FACING SCHOOL RED-INK FACTS

If there were always plenty of tax collections to cover all the things our government must provide, our people and our officials surely would applaud, and it would be a pleasure to serve in public office.

But when there are huge, real needs — schools, for example — and money is short, we may wonder why anyone would run for public office.

Consider, for example, the plight of the Hamilton County school board — and thus the rest of us.

School officials initially faced $10.7 million less in available money than they believed was actually needed for our schools. That was shocking!

But now, because of declines in anticipated property tax revenue — plus the cost of some things that have been added to the budget — school officials fear a $14 million shortfall, rather than "just" $10.7 million!

Among the big problems is the fact that some major properties have been sold for a lot lower prices than what had been hoped, thus establishing lower property values and, ultimately, lower property tax income.

For example:

n The Tennessee Valley Authority repurchased its office complex downtown for $22 million — but the complex had been appraised at the vastly greater figure of $96.3 million. Naturally, that is going to mean reduced property tax revenue.

n The former Pine Street headquarters of BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee had been appraised at nearly $20 million. But it was sold for only $6.15 million. That, too, is likely to reduce property tax revenue.

There are other examples as well, all of which add up to less money going into the coffers of local government to fund local services, including education.

So, with less tax income, school officials have to consider painful cuts in spending. Yet at the same time, they're going to have to pay $850,000 more for special education because more students have qualified for it.

Nobody wants to make multimillion-dollar spending cuts in schools, student transportation, athletics or anything else. We want good schools, good teachers and excellent educational results. But like it or not, we are going to have to pursue those worthy goals while cutting millions of dollars from the budget.

This is a simple explanation of a big financial problem, with no easy answers.

We should be understanding — and sympathetic — as our school board members and other local officials wrestle with tax rates and spending facts. They must provide essential services and balance budgets. As we are seeing now, that is not always a pleasant task.

 

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TIMES FREE PRESS

OPINION

WRANGLING OVER A SHUTDOWN

By the time you read this, President Barack Obama and Democrats and Republicans in Congress may have reached an agreement to prevent a partial shutdown of the federal government on Friday. Or they may still be battling over whether to implement Democrats' slight cuts in spending or Republicans' bigger cuts.

Whatever the case, it is important to remember that even if no deal is struck, vital government services will continue. Social Security checks will go out, for instance, and our military will still function. Less vital facilities, such as national parks and passport offices, would close.

It is sad that we have reached this point. Our $14 trillion national debt makes it clear our country is headed toward catastrophe if we do not control spending. We are already paying hundreds of billions of dollars each year just in interest on the debt. That is money taken from the economy at the very time we need job creation.

Some demand higher taxes to close the budget gap. But it is irrational, when tax revenues already exceed $2 trillion, to claim the American people are not taxed enough. And history proves Congress will spend any new money it gets.

The Democrats' current call for $33 billion in cuts may seem substantial, but it is woefully inadequate in the face of a deficit that this year alone is over $1.5 trillion. The GOP-run House passed an also inadequate $61 billion in cuts, but the Democrat Senate rejected even that plan.

The president and his allies in Congress hope blame will fall on Republicans if there is a shutdown. But with the president's proposed budget for next year calling for tens of billions of dollars in spending on things such as impractical high-speed rail, it is clear that he and the Democrats are behaving irresponsibly. The American people should hold them accountable for that.

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TIMES FREE PRESS

OPINION

COURAGEOUS, BIPARTISAN BUDGET PLAN

U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., has proposed a long-term budget plan that would put the United States on a path to fiscal responsibility. The plan would cut deficits nearly $5 trillion over 10 years, compared with only $1 trillion that President Barack Obama's budget framework would cut. Also unlike the Obama plan, Ryan's plan "is on par with recommendations from Obama's own bipartisan deficit commission in December," The Associated Press noted.

The key to Ryan's bipartisan proposal is a plan he crafted with Alice Rivlin, who was a White House budget director in the Clinton administration, to reform Medicare, which is headed for bankruptcy. Americans 55 or older could stay in Medicare or switch to a new plan that would apply to anyone 54 or younger. Those 54 or younger would get vouchers from the government to buy medical insurance from one of many private plans. Lower-income or sicker beneficiaries would get more money.

Medicaid would be reformed, too, with the federal government turning it over to states and providing them lump sums to run the program. They could fashion it to suit their needs, without heavy federal dictation.

Ryan's blueprint would give the federal tax code a needed overhaul as well, by getting rid of many of its lobbyist-backed tax breaks. The plan would promote economic growth by reducing the top income tax rate on individuals and corporations from 35 percent to 25 percent.

Even with the much bigger spending cuts that this plan envisions compared with the president's plan, it would take years before deficits get somewhat under control. But isn't it wiser to begin that effort now rather than wait until disaster is upon us?

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TIMES FREE PRESS

OPINION

WELCOME CHANGE ON TENURE

It is never pleasant when someone is fired, and we should want all dismissals to be reasonable and fair.

But it is equally undesirable to go too far in the other direction by protecting employees from dismissal even when they do a poor job.

So it is appropriate that the Tennessee General Assembly approved Gov. Bill Haslam's proposal to put tighter restrictions on teacher tenure.

In theory, tenure protects teachers from unjust dismissal. But in practice it can make it unduly difficult to remove badly performing teachers. That is wrong — especially when taxpayers are footing the bill for teachers' salaries. They have every right to insist that their tax dollars be spent effectively.

Under the newly approved tenure rules, it will take five years — rather than the current three — for a teacher to gain tenure in the first place. And even after tenure is granted, it can be revoked for a teacher who consistently performs badly in the classroom.

Ideally, we do not think tenure should exist at all, but the limits that the General Assembly has now placed on tenure are a positive step toward safeguarding taxpayer dollars and promoting high standards among those who educate Tennessee's children.

 

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HARARETZ

OPINION

PRESIDENT ON A FUTILE MISSION

 

NETANYAHU SEES THE CONFLICT WITH THE PALESTINIANS AS A PUBLIC RELATIONS PROBLEM AND REFUSES TO PURSUE ANY ISRAELI POLITICAL INITIATIVES. HE BELIEVES THAT IF HE CAN JUST MANAGE TO CONVINCE "THE WORLD" THAT THE PALESTINIANS ARE TO BLAME FOR THE STALLED PEACE TALKS, HE WILL HAVE DONE HIS JOB.

In recent days, President Shimon Peres has been busy defending the domestic and international stature of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. At home, Peres helped Netanyahu stave off criticism over his indulgent flights abroad; and on Tuesday, Peres traveled to Washington to present Netanyahu's positions to U.S. President Barack Obama.

The reports from the White House were not surprising: Obama praised Peres, while offering recycled cliches about the opportunity for peace. The reports that came out of Israel at the same time, about the construction of hundreds of apartments in Jerusalem beyond the Green Line, were not surprising either, and neither was the U.S. State Department's routine criticism of the settlements.

There's nothing new here; everything is operating as usual. Netanyahu is buying time, the settlements are expanding, and Peres is talking about peace and backing up the government. After sending Peres to D.C., Netanyahu went to Berlin and Prague himself yesterday, in an effort to secure international support for his struggle against Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. The prime minister wants to depict Abbas as a non-partner and to keep the Palestinians from declaring independence in September, with the United Nations behind them.

Netanyahu sees the conflict with the Palestinians as a public relations problem, one that can be resolved by conveying better messages than the other guy. He refuses to pursue any Israeli political initiatives; at most, the prime minister hints at some vague steps he intends to take. He believes that if he can just manage to convince "the world" that the Palestinians are to blame for the stalled peace talks, he will have done his job. Netanyahu is hoping and betting that Obama, who recently announced that he will be seeking reelection, will not intercede.

This is a dangerous and harmful approach. Rather than paving the way to a deal with the Palestinians, it leads solely to an intensification of the occupation and the conflict. Under Netanyahu's leadership, Israel is moving inexorably closer to a political disaster and an international boycott. The peace initiative put forth this week by former senior security officials and leaders in the business and academic sectors expresses public opposition to the prime minister's policy of digging in rather than moving forward. Such opposition, and not Peres' pointless talks in Washington, is how we can restart the negotiations and rescue Israel from its political crisis.

 

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HARARETZ

OPINION

'COSI FAN TUTTE' WON'T DO

IN A COUNTRY THAT HAS THE PRIVILEGE OF HAVING A PRESIDENT WHO RAPED AND A FINANCE MINISTER WHO STOLE, ACCEPTANCE OF THE NORM OF CRIMINAL LEADERSHIP IS A THREAT TO ITS EXISTENCE.

BY SEFI RACHLEVSKY

The campaign by members of the cabinet and by President Shimon Peres to rescue Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from the consequences of his own actions, with the argument "cosi fan tutte" (that's what everyone does ), must be thwarted. In a country that has the privilege of having a president who raped and a finance minister who stole - the stars of a whole line of leaders who have broken the law - acceptance of the norm of criminal leadership is a threat to its existence.

Among this group of convicted leaders, Aryeh Deri has special prominence. That a public figure who was convicted of criminal offenses and sent to jail could then be capable of returning to high public office is actually not exceptional.

Deri was preceded by South African President Nelson Mandela, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, former Israeli Supreme Court President Meir Shamgar and many others. All of those cases, however, were based on a common fundamental. They all involved citizens fighting a regime that was perceived as foreign and oppressive.

The fact that hundreds of thousands of people wish to be led by Deri since his release from prison reveals what the state is trying to hide from its people. Israel has been subject for many years to a civil war of sorts.

Law breaking vis-a-vis what is perceived as the "other side" is not seen as a stain on one's record but rather a major asset.

The term civil war gives rise to images of the three years of bloodshed in Guernica, Spain or the American Civil War. The forms that civil wars take, however, don't always require tanks and bayonets. If one side in a conflict is sufficiently weak, three gunshots in a public square can be enough to secure victory.

Benjamin Netanyahu is a sign of the times. Under "normal" circumstances, someone who organizes demonstrations featuring slogans such as "We will drive Rabin out through blood and fire," after which Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin is assassinated, would be interrogated and at the very least banished from politics forever.

In the case of civil war, what is normal is turned on its head. So being accused of criminality actually enabled the inciter to assume Rabin's position seven months later as the representative of the victors.

The refrain claiming political persecution is back. "They" are the people who have "forgotten what it means to be a Jew: journalists, jurists and those other foes. "They" are persecuting "us" as part of a civil war.

Blatant criminality becomes not personal avarice that should be punished, but rather vengeance on the enemies within that should be rewarded.

Netanyahu therefore joins not only Deri but also Rabbis Dov Lior and Shmuel Eliyahu and the people in the Jewish underground and the hilltop youth. Since they only transgressed in the eyes of "them," these people are anointed as the leaders of "us."

Racist legislation, too, takes shape as an act of rebellion intentionally aimed at turning the bad to good and the good to bad.

Protecting the principles of democracy and morality has become a battle for our very existence.

In the Israeli system the attorney general occupies an august position, one that has been betrayed by Yehuda Weinstein, who decided to evade responsibility when the coalition and the government voted in favor of racist legislation that tramples upon democratic principles.

He also failed to deal with the defiant criminality of rabbis Lior and Eliyahu. A blind eye is also being turned to his own domestic matters. There are no migrant workers employed legally as cleaners. The person responsible for the rule of law, the attorney general, cannot be above the law either in this regard.

Until Attorney General Weinstein is good enough to do what he must and resign, he is faced with an even more urgent obligation.

The prime minister is mocking the public with his contention that the law isn't clear. It was precisely on this subject that Netanyahu was questioned in the past in connection with the Amadi affair regarding gifts and moving costs.

A professional recommendation that he be tried in connection with the case was deflected, though with difficulty and in a roundabout way. The lawyer that came to his rescue at the time was none other than Yehuda Weinstein.

The documented evidence that Netanyahu received favors from private individuals while he was finance minister are purported evidence of a violation of the law regarding the receipt of gifts and are suspected of constituting a bribe. The body that investigates criminal activity is not the State Comptroller but the police, and the attorney general.

Because of his past, Weinstein must disqualify himself and allow someone else to pursue the investigation. If the attorney general decides otherwise, he will finally prove that he has become a consiliere in service of the wrong side in the civil war against democracy.

 

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HARARETZ

OPINION

MOTHER'S BOYFRIEND

WHY HAVE WE NOT YET FORMULATED A SUITABLE TERM FOR MOTHER'S BOYFRIEND, OR FATHER'S GIRLFRIEND – ONE THAT WOULD DO JUSTICE TO THE UNIQUE CONNECTION BETWEEN THE CHILD AND HIS OR HER PARENT'S NEW PARTNER?

BY AMALIA ROSENBLUM

Who are the members of your family? In addition to the list in the children's song - "Mother and father and brother" - extended families can add to the list, such people as "father's girlfriend" or "mother's boyfriend." Their number is growing, but there's a lack of proper linguistic representation for them.

Historically, the concept pf "father's girlfriend" developed from "stepmother." But "stepmother/stepfather" is an outdated label for two reasons. One is the negative connotation of the Hebrew root, which means "exception," and suits stepmothers in fairy-tales and in the past, but not at present. It's also an anachronistic label because nowadays the biological parents maintain unquestioned priority, even in the case of divorce. That priority appropriates to itself almost exclusively the concepts "mother" and "father." You have only one father, even if you sleep at his place only every other weekend.

But the existing concepts are insufficient. Psychologically speaking, the concepts "father's girlfriend / wife/ partner" and their ilk do not reflect the unique connection between the child and his or her parent's new partner. The fact that there are different relationships among various players in the family lineup is recognized in the language in other cases. The husband's sister, for example, is a "sister" from the point of view of her brother, and a "sister-in-law" from the point of view of her brother's wife. In other words, there is no need to change the concept "mother's partner," but to find a complementary concept that will describe this role from the child's point of view.

Why has such a term not yet been found? (Also, not in English, by the way. ) It's not for lack of need. There is here a huge number of people in one of the following situations: One of their parents has a partner who is not their biological parent; they themselves have a partner who is not the person with whom they brought children into the world; or they themselves are partners of someone with children from a previous relationship.

What is preventing us from formulating a suitable term? The desire to keep the parent's new partner at a distance, if only linguistically, is certainly part of the story. Another term would mark the dissolution of the previous partner relationship. In that sense the complete significance of the term "mother's boyfriend" for the child is "this is mother's boyfriend, and nothing more. There's no significance to the connection between him and me."

It may be that reservations about the new partner are also connected to the way in which he forces the surroundings to confront the fact that a parent is a sexual being. After all, from the moment of becoming "a parent," many feel a need to put their sexuality into storage, as though sex and parenthood were contradictory urges. As long as he is married to the mother, the father, almost paradoxically, contributes to the repression of her sexuality. A boyfriend, however, brings this aspect of her identity into the picture.

Whatever the reasons for the resistance, coining a new term is only a matter of time. The weakening of the stigma on divorce led to an increase of the optimistic term "Chapter Two," and in the same way moderating the fear of "father's girlfriend" or "mother's boyfriend" will lead to the rise of terms reflecting the multidimensional relationships among those bearing the new roles and other family members. Suggestions are welcomed.

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HARARETZ

OPINION

JENIN , JENIN

HOW WOULD THE LEFT HAVE REACTED HAD JULIANO MER-KHAMIS BEEN MURDERED BY JEWS?

BY ARI SHAVIT

It is not hard to imagine what would have happened had Juliano Mer-Khamis been murdered by Jews. The murder would receive a huge headline in Haaretz. Under the headline, five furious analyses would appear - one of them mine.

The writers would harshly denounce the Jewish murderousness and urge a culture war against Jewish fanaticism. Others would demand not to repeat the mistake made after Baruch Goldstein's murderous rampage and to evacuate the settlements immediately. Others would demand to look into the goings on in the Hesder yeshivas, which offer Torah studies alongside military service, and the state-run religious education system.

Selected racist quotes would be pulled out of primitive rabbis' writings, historic comparisons would be made to Emil Gruenzweig's murder and Yitzhak Rabin's murder and Martin Luther King's murder.

Within a day Mer-Khamis would become an icon. On Saturday night thousands would gather holding torches to mourn the peace hero and rise up against the powers of darkness. Mer-Khamis' murder at the hands of Jews would rebuild the left, reunite it and send it to a new battle against murderous Jewish fascism.

But Juliano Mer-Khamis was not murdered by Jews. So instead of a huge headline he got a story below the fold. Instead of five angry essays, he received only one (beautiful ) eulogy.

Nobody talked about racism, fanaticism and fascism. Nobody spoke of education systems spreading hatred and about primitive clergy. Mer-Khamis did not become an icon and thousands of people did not demonstrate.

Mer's murder raised neither protest nor outrage nor holy rage. The Israeli left, which knows exactly what to do with a murder by Jews, does not know what to do with murder by Palestinians.

The murder of a peace hero by Palestinians has no place on the left's emotional and ideological map. The murder of a freedom hero by Palestinians is a dogma-undermining, paradigm-subverting event for the left. Mer-Khamis' murder by Palestinians is a murder doomed for repression.

This is a deep, broad issue that goes beyond just the Israeli left. One of the outstanding characteristics of Western enlightenment in the 21st century is its inability to denounce forces of evil in the Arab-Muslim world. Western enlightenment likes to criticize the West. It especially likes to criticize the West's allies in the East. But when it runs into evil originating in the East, it falls silent.

It does not know how to deal with it. It is easy to come out against pro-Western Hosni Mubarak, but hard to come out against the Muslim Brotherhood. It is easy to come out against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but hard to come out against Bashar Assad. The enlightened West is incapable of fighting Iran's Ahmadinejad as it fought against America's Bushes, South Africa's Botha or Serbia's Milosevic.

The result is a long line of distortions. The blood of the Marmara flotilla fatalities is thicker than the blood of those who were murdered and hung in Iran. The blood of the people killed in Gaza is thicker than the blood of those killed in Damascus and Dara'a.

A post-colonial complex makes Western enlightenment systematically ignore injustices caused by anti-Western forces. Thus it loses the ability to see historic reality as a whole, in all its complexity. It also makes it act unfairly and unjustly.

It discriminates between different kinds of evil, different kinds of blood and different kinds of victims. It treats third-world societies as though they are not subject to universal moral norms.

It is not yet clear yet who murdered Mer-Khamis. The motive could have been financial, personal, religious or cultural. But it is clear he was not murdered for being an occupier, or an oppressor or a settler. Mer was murdered because he was a free man, who spread freedom in a society that is not free.

This is the hard truth we must deal with. This is the hard truth we must look at straight in the eye. The Western enlightenment and the Israeli left cannot continue to ignore the dark side of Middle Eastern reality.

 

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HARARETZ

OPINION

WHAT ARE WEREJOICING ABOUT?

ANYONE WHO HONORED THE FIRST GOLDSTONE HAS TO ASK HIM: WHAT EXACTLY DO YOU KNOW TODAY THAT YOU DIDN'T KNOW THEN? DO YOU KNOW TODAY THAT CRITICIZING ISRAEL LEADS TO A PRESSURE-AND-SLANDER CAMPAIGN THAT YOU CAN'T WITHSTAND, YOU 'SELF-HATING JEW'?

BY GIDEON LEVY

All at once the last doubts have disappeared and the question marks have become exclamation points. Dr. Ezzeldeen Abu Al-Aish wrote a short book in which he invented the killing of his three daughters. The 29 dead from the Al-Simoni family are now vacationing in the Caribbean. The white phosphorus was only the pyrotechnics of a war film. The white-flag wavers who were shot were a mirage in the desert, as were the reports about the killing of hundreds of civilians, including women and children. "Cast lead" has returned to being a phrase in a Hanukkah children's song.

A surprising and unexplained article in The Washington Post by Richard Goldstone caused rejoicing here, a Goldstone party, the likes of which we haven't seen for a long time. In fact, Israeli PR reaped a victory, and for that congratulations are in order. But the questions remain as oppressive as ever, and Goldstone's article didn't answer them - if only it had erased all the fears and suspicions.

Anyone who honored the first Goldstone has to honor him now as well, but still has to ask him: What happened? What exactly do you know today that you didn't know then? Do you know today that criticizing Israel leads to a pressure-and-slander campaign that you can't withstand, you "self-hating Jew"? This you could have known before.

Was it the two reports by Judge Mary McGowan Davis that led to your change of heart? If so, you should read them carefully. In her second report, which was published about a month ago and for some reason received no mention in Israel, the New York judge wrote that nothing indicates that Israel launched an investigation into the people who designed, planned, commanded and supervised Operation Cast Lead. So how do you know which policy lay behind the cases you investigated? And what's this enthusiasm that seized you in light of the investigations by the Israel Defense Forces after your report?

You have to be a particularly sworn lover of Israel, as you say you are, to believe that the IDF, like any other organization, can investigate itself. You have to be a blind lover of Zion to be satisfied with investigations for the sake of investigations that produced no acceptance of responsibility and virtually no trials. Just one soldier is being tried for killing.

But let's put aside the torments and indecision of the no-longer-young Goldstone. Let's also put aside the reports by the human rights organizations. Let's make do with the findings of the IDF itself. According to Military Intelligence, 1,166 Palestinians were killed in the operation, 709 of them terrorists, 162 who may or may not have been armed, 295 bystanders, 80 under the age of 16 and 46 women.

All the other findings described a more serious picture, but let's believe the IDF. Isn't the killing of about 300 civilians, including dozens of women and children, a reason for penetrating national soul-searching? Were all of them killed by mistake? If so, don't 300 different mistakes require conclusions? Is this the behavior of the most moral army in the world? If not, who takes responsibility?

Operation Cast Lead was not a war. The differences in power between the two sides, the science-fiction army versus the barefoot Qassam launchers, doesn't justify things when the blow was so disproportionate. It was a harsh attack against a crowded and helpless civilian population, among which terrorists hid. We can believe that the IDF didn't deliberately kill civilians, we don't have murdering soldiers as in other armies, but neither did the IDF do enough to prevent them from being killed. The fact is, they were killed, and so many of them. Our doctrine of zero casualties has a price.

Goldstone has won again. First he forced the IDF to begin investigating itself and to put together a new ethics code; now he unwittingly has given a green light for Operation Cast Lead 2. Leave him alone. We're talking about our image, not his. Are we pleased with what happened? Are we really proud of Operation Cast Lead?

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

FROM THE BOSPHORUS: STRAIGHT - EU CONFERENCE SHOULD BE IN ISTANBUL

That the European Commission reportedly bears some suspicion of the strength of press freedom in Turkey is understandable, laudable even. Our own views on this topic are well established. That the commission, as we reported yesterday, plans to hold a May conference on Turkish press freedom is all the more commendable. So is the fact that EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule plans to attend. 

We are, however, deeply disturbed by the venue. It is planned for the EU capital. It should be in the capital of assaults on press freedom, Istanbul. 

Not that a conference in Brussels would be without meaning. Fule, and the European Parliament's Turkey rapporteur, the Dutch Social Democratic lawmaker Ria Oomen-Ruijten, have steadily sharpened their tone in recent weeks on concerns over freedom of expression in Turkey. Two Euro-parliament lawmakers from the Liberal Group have recently done so as well; the Netherlands' Marietje Schaake and Germany's Alexander Graf Lambsdorff have demanded to know the government's view on the recent raid to seize an unpublished manuscript from our sister newspaper, Radikal. A broader and deeper understanding of our situation here by the authorities in Brussels is something we would welcome.

We realize that a conference of this nature anywhere will be a planning and logistical set piece. Difficult to be sure. But if held in Brussels, it will also risk being a media Potemkin's Circus. The various actors in this drama, many supported by formidable lobbying resources in Brussels, will mute the affair. A few token critics, a few apologists will assemble and the inadequate media infrastructure that Turkish media institutions maintain in Brussels will try and reflect it back. 

The conference should be here. Pick a university. Pick a concert hall. While we are not sure of the space and capacity, the Istanbul Press Museum would be a suitable forum. Istanbul's media may be beleaguered, but it is diverse. From the recently revived pro-Kurdish newspaper Özgür Gündem to the stridently Islamist Akit to the nationalist Sözcü, there are many voices that the EU needs to hear. And they can only be heard here.

In a similar vein, the coverage and treatment of the topics discussed can be far more effectively monitored with an Istanbul conference. The day-after press clippings would be a lesson in and of itself for those at the commission who are concerned. 

We realize this suggestion poses challenges and inconveniences for officials who face very busy lives. But it is time they come and see and hear and feel the virus of fear that is spreading through the media. As report after report by media watchdogs and EU institutions has made clear, the threats are many and they are real.

This is why we advocate a real conference. It can only be real if held in Istanbul.

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

LIBYA: MISTAKEN ALL THE WAY

RICHARD REID

The Libya operation has been mistaken all the way – mistaken morally, militarily and politically.

Here is why.

Morally mistaken: The intervention began on a humanitarian pretext. Coalition governments claimed that a Gadhafi regime crackdown would bring a civilian bloodbath across Libya unless outside force stopped it. Simultaneously, the media jumped on claims that a refugee crisis would also ensue. The U.N. Security Council, carried along by the spirit of a presumed humanitarian emergency, invoked its "Responsibility to Protect" resolution, which had been drawn up after the Rwanda genocide and the atrocities of the Yugoslav wars. Similar horrors were certain to happen in Libya, were surely happening already and more needed to be headed off.

But neither a bloodbath nor a refugee crisis has happened yet.

Up to now there has been no independently confirmed evidence of widespread or systematic killing of civilians by the Gadhafi government. Nothing has come from Human Rights Watch or Amnesty International, who are always the quickest to report such events. Their sources have filed daily reports of exact numbers killed by regime forces in Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, and Syria. The two watchdog groups certainly have sources in Libya – observers who are on the ground, alongside the scores of international news reporters who are there.

The only explanation is that fears , not facts – fears from Gadhafi's threats, from his record as a mass murderer, from the hearsay accounts of rebels, from the media buildup and from a thousand rumors – that these, not a known humanitarian emergency, have driven the coalition scare narrative.

As to the much-publicized refugee crisis in Libya, in a few days thousands of able-bodied male workers made their exodus, trekking in columns to the country's borders, with no reported deaths.

Civilian deaths are taking place, of course, because Libya is in a civil war – one that NATO has joined on the rebel side. Non-combatants will die from Gadhafi's tank and artillery fire, as well as from NATO bombing. One wonders how an extended war and its civilian deaths will be morally preferable to what a cruel peace under the rule of a surviving Gadhafi would have brought.

From its conception, the Libya operation has been morally shabby because it had to make up reasons to exist – reasons embarrassingly similar to those made up about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. And NATO has been baldly cynical in choosing for its mercy intervention the weakest, least popular, least strategically useful of the Arab governments now menacing their populations, instead of one of those that the news cameras have repeatedly caught shooting into crowds of protestors. The world will look back on this operation with shame and distaste.

Militarily mistaken: The anti-Gadhafi coalition, slowed by the awkwardness of a joint operation, committed to putting no troops on Libyan soil, lost any chance of carrying the rebels to military victory by arriving late, when Libyan government units were already in Benghazi. Arrival a few days earlier would have caught Gadhafi's tanks and artillery in the central-east part of the country and given the rebels a chance to win and dig in there, with a possible push to Tripoli in sight. There is no chance of that now. The two-week-long back and forth struggle for the oil terminal city of Brega has a flavor of what's in store.

There probably would have been no chance even if coalition ground units were fighting beside the rebels. Progress would have been grinding and slow, and the tide of Arab and world opinion would have soon turned against the invaders. Combat fatigue would have sapped NATO's spirit.

The military end in Libya will be stalemate. Air power can't root out the Gadhafi fighters hunkered down in such Libyan loyalist cities as Sirte – not without reducing those cities to rubble. The coalition will stop short of this and look, as it already is, for a diplomatic solution. Gadhafi cannot be counted on to reliably cooperate in this.

The intervention was morally shabby, but it has been militarily reckless – an air show able to do less than half of the job.

Politically Mistaken: The political fallout from the intervention will almost certainly leave Libya less stable than it was under an unchallenged Gadhafi. He is a ruthless psychopath who has confessed to and paid blood money for two passenger aircraft bombings that cost 440 lives. Yet his successor could be as bad. Samples of Libya's future leadership potential can be seen in Gadhafi's wastrel sons and Moussa Koussa, the man Britain flew to London for talks last week. Koussa, the foreign minister, formerly styled Musa Kusa in CIA reports, was earlier head of Libyan intelligence and is believed to have been the mastermind of the Lockerbie bombing. Koussa may soon be removed from the picture by a debilitating illness, but also standing ready for leadership in a new Libya is the rebel army commander, Abdul Fattah Younes, recent Gadhafi friend and interior minister.

If the coalition helps the rebels secure east-central Libya, besides Benghazi, it could bring a de facto split of the country, reducing it to hostile halves like the Koreas and Sudans of the present on the Germanies and Yemens of the recent past. In a worst-case scenario, a divided Libya could be a haven for al-Qaeda-like terrorist opportunists. Its oil-producing capacity would be set back by years.

The NATO/coalition planners may have hoped that a Mandela-like leader would emerge from confinement or exile to unite Libya and foster democratic politics in the country. There will be no such story-book ending. Once liberated, oppressed peoples generally produce new dictators.

However the fighting in Libya ends, there will be drawn-out and regionally destabilizing political chaos in the country. If Gadhafi had been left alone to deal with the rebels, would the average Libyan been worse off?

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

WILL TURKEY FOLLOW THE NEW CHP?

SONER ÇAĞAPTAY - H. AKIN ÜNVER

Can the main Turkish opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, mount a serious challenge to the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, government in the June elections?

Although the AKP has developed a reputation as an authoritarian party that clashes with the Euro-Atlantic alliance's foreign policy, the CHP has also been known in the past for its narrow nationalism, shortsightedness and anti-Western views. In short, is the CHP any better than the AKP? 

Recent signs indicate yes. Since taking over as party chairman in May 2010, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu has begun creating a new, social-democratic, progressive, liberal CHP. More importantly, will the Turks turn to the new CHP in the June 2011 parliamentary elections?

It was indeed high time for a new CHP to emerge. The old CHP failed spectacularly, performing dismally at the polls with the low point coming in 1999, when the party failed to even meet the 10 percent threshold necessary to attain representation in Parliament. While the CHP has seen its popularity rebound somewhat in the last decade, it never gained more than a quarter of the votes.

Backing for the CHP plateaued in the late 2000s in large part because of the party's failure to put forth a compelling vision for the country that could compete against that of the AKP. Furthermore, the CHP's "old Kemalists" – who emphasize rigid secularist-nationalist modernization over democratization and popular representation – were perceived to be stifling the party's youth movement, thus alienating younger, secular liberals. Ultimately, CHP voters and party members demanded a structural change in which leadership would be passed to the next generation.

Kılıçdaroğlu began to transform the CHP from its previous ossified state into a dynamic, social democratic movement. In the process, he has pushed the party toward adopting a strong pro-Western stance, in contrast to the AKP's foreign policy. In a recent interview with Turkish Policy Quarterly, Kılıçdaroğlu said, "The new CHP is committed to the goal of Turkey's accession to the EU." His position stands in stark contrast to the AKP, which, he said, "does not feel at home as a member of the Euro-Atlantic community."

At the heart of the changes wrought by Kılıçdaroğlu was the overhaul of the party's 80-member assembly. In particular, he paved the way for the election of younger and lesser-known members, a move interpreted by analysts as the "revolution of the new Kemalists." Many of the new assembly members come from the ranks of progressive activism, such as labor unions. Balancing labor and business interests, the assembly also includes 11 new pro-business figures from the arenas of international trade, industry and private enterprise. Signaling a commitment to improve gender equality in political representation, the new assembly has 21 women, a record number.

The powerful 18-member executive committee of the CHP, which runs day-to-day activities, consists of 17 new members who represent liberal, progressive and social democratic forces in a higher concentration than even the general assembly. New members include Binnaz Toprak, a professor of sociology and the lead author of an influential 2006 study documenting the role of AKP-promoted social conservatism in driving social change in Turkey, and Sezgin Tanrıkulu, a Kurdish rights advocate and lawyer who sued Turkey in the European Court of Human Rights for abuses committed by Turkish security forces in the 1990s. Tanrıkulu's inclusion in particular reflects a significant departure by the CHP from its hard nationalist position on the Kurdish question and the adoption of a human rights-inclusive policy.

These figures' addition in the highest echelons of party decision-making indicates the party's aim is to connect with disaffected sectors of the population – liberals, rural voters and blue-collar workers – who have been throwing in their lot with the ruling AKP.

But will they follow?

While the changes in the CHP may be interpreted as a move toward social democratization, some argue that the party's new technocratic and academic leadership resembles more a panel of experts than a grassroots political machine ready to connect with the masses.

Public opinion surveys conducted following Kılıçdaroğlu's election initially showed the CHP leadership change to be well received. A May 2010 poll conducted by the Istanbul-based SONAR organization showed the CHP to be Turkey's most popular party for the first time since the AKP won elections in 2002, albeit by a slender 32 to 31 percent margin.

Nevertheless, early support for the new CHP leadership seems to have wavered. This is partially due to the party's failure to deliver concrete policy positions on a number of issues. Thus far, the party has introduced a "family insurance" welfare program but has yet to issue position papers on pressing problems such as unemployment, the Kurdish question, and how to draft Turkey's new constitution – with the constitutional issue topping the AKP's list after the June polls.

The CHP leadership's messaging problems are only compounded by the AKP's increased pressure on the media to refrain from supporting the newly recalibrated party.

In the long run, Kılıçdaroğlu's reforms may indeed provide Turkey with a social democratic, pro-Western alternative to the present leadership, but in the near term it will likely struggle to communicate its message clearly enough to gather the grassroots strength needed to unseat the AKP in the June 2011 elections.

* Soner Çağaptay is a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. H. Akın Ünver is the Ertegun lecturer in Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University.

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

ERDOĞAN THE WINNER OF A CHALLENGING MARATHON

MEHMET ALİ BİRAND

We get a clear picture when looking at the track record of the past four years, precisely since July 2007.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has exhibited an incredible performance.

We have monitored all leaders up until now but have never encountered one who worked as exceptionable as Erdoğan. If we add to his internal visits the external ones, even at the risk of becoming sick from time to time and staying involuntarily in bed, we better understand what this marathon means.

Erdoğan spoke almost every week end at a different capital, stayed in touch and took the pulse. He did not leave it at that and went on visits abroad. Each compared to the other was a long and exhausting visit.

Of course, we need to state the difficulties of being the prime minister and advantage of using benefits on hand have influenced the track record. Erdoğan's political performance in this respect indicates that he has finished this race ahead of everybody else.

He was able to keep the agenda in his hands.

He did not ease tension and did not give the opposition a break.

His tactics from time to time may have lead to fights in politics in this country but they have brought the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, benefits in respect to politics.

Erdoğan was able to appear as "a leader in charge" to those who were undecided about who to vote for. More importantly, he managed to get people, except those who are definitely pro-opposition of course, to say, "There is no other person who could lead this country better. If there is anyone who could make this country better off then that's him. We can relate to him," even if their expectations economic wise were not fulfilled.

Late participation

Main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu joined the marathon four years later.

Former CHP leader Deniz Baykal performed well until he was disqualified by a conspiracy whose origin we do not know.

Kılıçdaroğlu did not expend much effort to take over the leadership.

This sudden change was a surprise even for him but also brought some excitement to the CHP. He didn't seem prepared for this duty or for the present situation.

Unlike Baykal, a non-authoritarian Kılıçdaroğlu's democratic approach mixed with new staff led to fluctuations within the party and assembly.

But this did not last long; he just spent much time for fine-tuning which prevented him from going on internal visits.

The most important point was that Kılıçdaroğlu, within short period of time, came up with a unique language which the people easily understood.

Just as the prime minister made him a target, he targeted the prime minister which led to forming fronts. They started a strategy of sharing votes with their approach of, "Either you are with us or them."

In short, we need to say that Kılıçdaroğlu, despite his late entry to the marathon, has performed well. His leadership has settled. And from now on only the general course of the party will be discussed, with no respect to the outcome of elections.

Bahçeli has the key to the elections

Deniz Bahçeli took his place on lane three of the marathon. He was forced to run a lane with many hindrances. He was criticized much.

You may have noticed that the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, is facing a general opposition.

I don't share some of MHP's politics but still take the party's importance and especially Bahçeli's leadership very seriously.

It is impossible to ignore this party's importance in especially upcoming elections on June 12.

The AKP repeats that the party won't cross the barrier briskly criticizing Bahçeli and his party.

The reason is obvious.

If the MHP is unable to cross the barrier then the AKP will benefit and increase its members in Parliament to 350.

Words by the prime minister recently in respect to elections have revealed that the MHP plays the key role in this year's elections being effective beyond expectations.

It may not be reflected in surveys or the media but the not crossing the barrier seems not to be an issue for the MHP anymore.

I accept that it is difficult to predict elections and the elector is full of surprises until the last minute. But we need to keep in mind that the MHP has the key and Bahçeli should not be underestimated. In the end, Bahçeli has performed well beyond expectations.

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

IS DIGITAL VOTING POSSIBLE IN TURKEY?

ERSU ABLAK

With election day approaching, it is the right time to discuss digital voting. Traditionally, millions of Turkish citizens go to a physical location where they stamp their votes on paper, enclose it within an envelope and drop it in a closed box, which is later opened and counted by previously assigned people. They also get their fingers painted with a permanent ink and go around with a stain for days.

This type of voting causes hours of lost time, a nationwide expenditure on gasoline that is more than usual, a stain for a week and suspicion as to whether the ballots are really being counted correctly or not. It is a customary sight to find uncounted ballots in the garbage.

Ideally, electronic voting would end all of these troubles if you trust your government. It has been tried in many different countries before and it functioned perfectly well in Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada Estonia, the European Union, France, Germany, India, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Romania, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Venezuela, and the Philippines in a variety of forms. However, there were serious troubles with e-voting in the United States.

The most notorious fraud case is the voting in Florida for the country's 2000 presidential elections. In that election, a punch-card, electronic voting machine called Votomatic was used. However, it was later found that the machines in the Democratic-inclined neighborhoods were flawed, and many democratic votes were not counted. This resulted in George W. Bush being elected over Al Gore.

As with any technology, e-voting can be a force of good or evil, depending on how you use it. Given the latest scams in university entrance exams, it is possible that if e-electronic voting is applied in Turkey, there could be another Florida case. Therefore before even talking about electronic voting, a super-transparent auditing system should be put in place.

But what is e-voting?

Electronic voting, as defined on Wikipedia, is a term encompassing several different types of voting and embraces both electronic means of casting a vote and electronic means of counting votes.

Electronic voting technology can include punched cards, optical scan voting systems and specialized voting kiosks (including self-contained direct-recording electronic voting systems, or DRE). It can also involve transmission of ballots and votes via telephones, private computer networks, or the Internet.

Electronic voting technology can speed the counting of ballots and can provide improved accessibility for disabled voters. However, there has been contention, especially in the United States, that electronic voting, especially DRE voting, can facilitate electoral fraud.

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

ABSOLUTE'S DEMOCRACY

YUSUF KANLI

There is a demand from the people of this land who are aware what democracy is for Turkey moving on to an "absolute democracy" while the bitter reality biting souls clearly underline the existence of an "Absolute's democracy" or some sort of a "democratic governance" which is shaped at the discretion of the sole executive, decision-maker, legislator and indeed family planner.

The army of opponents of the secular democratic Turkish republic's founding principles or the Kemalist ideology often claim that Turkey moved on to democratic governance with the 1950 elections and the period in between the creation of the republic in 1923 and Turkey moving on to pluralist parliamentary democracy in 1950 was an era of dictatorship.

Obviously, if a country has a political system based on the existence of only one party, irrespective of the name or the ideology that party subscribes to, that country cannot be in the same league of Western democracies or cannot be even considered any sort of democracy even though it may even has a name stressing that the country is a democratic one. Definitely, the pre-1950 republican Turkey, despite many failed efforts to establish a multi-party democracy, was a country with single-party governance. Was it democratic? Was it theocratic? Was it a dictatorship? Whatever it was, the first decades of the republic was the period during which republican reforms were undertaken and a climate suitable for democratic governance was systematically nourished. Thus, of course it was also partly because of the prevailing international climate of the post-World War II period, the Soviet territorial claims on Turkish territory and resulting aspiration of Turkey to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization but more so because the singe-party government wanted to undertake that reform that Turkey ushered into democracy and decades of single-party government handed over administration to the winner of the 1950 polls peacefully. It may appear so simple today but just a glimpse at what's happening in the Middle East neighborhood today with governments clinging on power the 1950 electoral revolution in Turkey would be appreciated better.

Thank God Turkey now has a democracy in which governments come and go through free elections participated in by several political parties. However, whatever is the type of democracy that has evolved in this country, neither is there equality of parties participating in the elections, nor does the nation have a chance to elect its own representatives to parliament. To prevent the absolute inequality in the public financing of the parties – the current system heavily favors the ruling party and the major parties while minority parties are almost totally denied of any public assistance – perhaps public funding of politics should be replaced by a new system based on supporters of parties funding their parties. It is just an idea, but the current system is definitely against the equality principle of the constitution.

As regards hegemony of political party leaders on the choice of the electorate, however, definitely, Turkey has a serious problem. On June 12 millions of Turks will go to the booths to elect their representatives. But, will they be voting for the candidates of their choice or the candidates already chosen by the party leaders?

"I will make use of the friends I will leave outside of [candidate] lists at duties at the party headquarters," Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told parliamentary deputies of his Justice and Development Party, or AKP, this week. That short sentence is indeed the summary of the "fiasco democracy" that this country has. The ruling party claimed to have established its candidates through works of first six commissions. But, the prime minister says "he will make use" of those current deputies "he will" leave outside candidate lists. What he said was indeed a reaffirmation of the existence of a crooked democracy of absolute leaders – whatever it might be – in this country.

Right, Erdoğan has publicly reaffirmed that he is the sole executive, decision-maker, legislator in short everything in the AKP. Are other party leaders, including the social democratic Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu. much different than Erdoğan in view of their current performances? Yes, in less than a quarter of Turkish provinces Kılıçdaroğlu "allowed" his Republican People's Party, or CHP to determine candidates through by-elections, but the CHP as well mostly prepared its candidate lists at the party headquarters. Not only there is a prime minister who believes he has absolute power but we have party chiefs who consider themselves "absolute leader."

The 10 percent threshold bans minority views from Parliament, leaders decide who should be the deputies to represent the nation, a court bans an unpublished book, over 60 journalists are behind bars (some allegedly of trying to stage a coup with their pens or typewriters). And, we still call this country a democracy? What an absolutes' democracy

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 HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

REAL POPULATION DENSITY

GWYNNE DYER

Why is India's future brighter than China's, especially in a warming world? Because India has more good agricultural land per person. That will get more and more important as the temperature goes up.

I first encountered the concept of Real Population Density (note the "Real") when I was interviewing people in the Netherlands last year about how the country would fare as the temperature rose. My initial focus was on sea level rise, because 20 percent of the country is already below sea level. But the Dutch are confident that they have the sea level problem under control, at least for the rest of this century.

They are already committed to spending large amounts of money to prevent flooding, not by raising the dikes even further, but by "beach replenishment." When dikes fail, it is generally because they are battered by huge waves – but if you extend the beaches far out to sea (by dredging up sand from even farther out), then the waves do not reach the dikes.

The Dutch sea-level experts were also confident that the Netherlands would not face any problems with food when the temperature rises. The country is, after all, the second or third biggest agricultural exporter in the world. But it still feels like a very crowded country, so I looked up a few agricultural experts, and they explained the concept of Real Population Density to me.

"It would take a country three or four times the size of the Netherlands to support our present diet," said Dr. Huib Silvis of the Agricultural Economics Research Institute at Wageningen University. "We import huge amounts of soybean and other animal feed, which we could not produce ourselves. If we had to be self-sufficient, we would not be eating meat."

The Real Population Density of the Netherlands – how many people there are per square km. of farmland – is 2,205. That's higher than Bangladesh (1,946 people per sq. km.), and it means that the Netherlands, to be self-sufficient in food, would have to feed 22 people from each hectare of land.

So how can the country be the second- or third-biggest agricultural exporter in the world? Because that's the cash value of its exports, which are mostly high value-added products. You get a lot more for a ton of cut flowers than you do for a ton of potatoes – but you can't eat cut flowers, and the Dutch could barely feed themselves from their own resources even now.

Global warming makes matters much worse, because it hits food production very hard. The rule of thumb is that the world loses about 10 percent of its food production for every rise of one degree Celsius in average global temperature. 

So the amount of food that is for sale on the international market drops drastically, because some of the big food-exporting countries aren't producing enough food to export it any more. As the food gets scarce, the price goes up.

Countries that can't feed themselves either pay huge amounts to buy the limited amount of food that is still available on the international market (if they have the money), or else they go hungry. Which brings us back to India and China.

Almost half the total land area of India is good arable land, whereas only 15 percent of China is. So although China looks bigger on the map, India has a significantly lower Real Population Density: 753 people per square km of farmland compared to 943 for China. Add in the fact that China is currently losing about 1 percent of its arable land per year to buildings, roads and parking lots, and the numbers for China start to look seriously bad.

They look even worse for the East Asian countries that are already fully industrialized: around 2,900 people per sq. km. for Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. That's off the scale: nowhere else is that bad apart from some tiny island states like Kiribati, the Maldives and Singapore.

At the other end of the spectrum, look at the big industrialized states in Europe. Italy and Germany are in the 700s, but Spain, France, Sweden and Poland are all in the 300s. So are Brazil, South Africa and Turkey, the most promising of the rapidly developing countries. The lucky ones still have room to grow; the others don't.

And the uncontested winners in this new lottery? The United States has only 179 people per sq. km of good agricultural land. Argentina has 144, and Russia has 117. Canada is 78, and Australia is 43. Australia, in other words, has more than half a hectare of good land per person.

This is deeply unfair, given which countries are actually responsible for the global warming. To them that hath, shall it be given. But then, you already knew that the universe isn't fair.

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

NEW YORK LESSONS FROM THE 'GROUND ZERO MOSQUE'

DAVID DYSSEGAARD KALLICK

I suppose there are by now only a handful of people around the world who haven't heard about the Islamic cultural center just a few doors down from my office. The immediate fury seems to be dying down as the public learns the facts, but last summer and fall the "ground zero mosque" was at the center of a big and unfounded controversy.

As the world moves on, is there anything positive to learn from the fracas?

Perhaps it is some comfort to know that, in New York, we've seen this movie before. It's a story of negotiated cultural space.

Virtually every newly visible group – Germans, Irish, Italians, Chinese and Jews, to name a few – went through the same process. In the late 19th century, New York was famous not only for the large number of immigrants fleeing the potato famines in Ireland, but also for signs posted by employers around the city saying next to job listings, "Irish Need Not Apply." The popular press frequently described the Irish as dirty, Catholic and culturally impossible to integrate with the dominant white Anglo-Saxon Protestant population.

We saw the same thing, too, with my forebears, the Jews, whose immigration produced a torrent of nativist outrage. Jews were reviled as communists, secretly seeking world dominion, too rich, too poor, unable or unwilling to learn English, and most of all just too … Jewish. They were seen as impossible to integrate into American society. Even the food they ate was suspect. As my friend Jane Ziegelman recounts in her book "97 Orchard," the over-consumption of pickles was a serious worry of the time. How could Jewish children ever be expected to integrate into American culture, the thinking went, if they consumed such sour and salty food, which surely "destroys the taste for milder flavors, causes irritation, and renders assimilation more difficult?"

Food is one thing, but what about values? Today, Americans comfortably talk about a Judeo-Christian tradition, but it wasn't always so. At a recent forum, Philip Kasinitz, who has written extensively about the integration of immigrants in America, was asked: Aren't Muslims different from Jewish and Catholic immigrants of the past? Don't Muslims stand outside of the Judeo-Christian tradition Americans share? Phil laughed and said: "You know, my grandfather wouldn't have understood what you're talking about when you say 'Judeo-Christian.' In his day, there were Christians and there were Jews."

Yet, over time, Jews – like Irish and Italians and Chinese and others – have become integrated into New York. And, it's important to note that they've done so not by shedding their culture, but by making a place for it in America. They built Catholic churches and created St. Patrick's Day parades and formed Jewish cultural centers and celebrated the Lunar New Year.

The "ground zero mosque," as everyone should know by now, is near but not on ground zero. It's still in the early phase of planning, but it's conceived as being 90 percent community center and 10 percent prayer space. One model cited frequently by its principals is the 92nd Street Y – a Jewish cultural center that has superb classical music programming and very popular adult education classes and lecture series, sometimes with a Jewish theme and most often not. Founded in 1874 as a Jewish alternative to the YMCA – its full name was the Young Men's Hebrew Association – the 92nd Street Y expanded to include arts, cultural events and evenings with prominent speakers. Over the years, the Y changed with New York's Jewish community, and it helped the Jewish community change as well.

A little while ago the comedian Jon Stewart – whose Daily Show sketches about the "Ground Zero Mosque" dispute were spot-on – got big laughs performing at the 92nd Street Y when he called the venue "the third holiest site in the Jewish religion"… after the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem and Zabar's delicatessen on Manhattan's Upper West Side.

What was once a place where Jews could swim is still a place that feels like home for secular Jews like me – and, I guess, Jon Stewart – who want to be part of a Jewish cultural tradition but not necessarily in a particularly religious way.

After testifying at the community board hearing last spring, I met with Sharif El-Gamal, the developer of the Lower Manhattan cultural center, and started to read the book written by Faisal Abdul Rauf, the imam who's been associated with the center. Sharif is as nice a neighbor as you could hope to have. He's a member of the Jewish Community Center on the Upper West Side, where his daughter learned to swim, and he says he wants to give something back to the Lower Manhattan community where he works. And, Rauf's book describes the "Abrahamic" faiths and traditions that unite Christians, Jews and Muslims in a common heritage – exactly the kind of cultural conversation that forged the notion of a Judeo-Christian tradition in the minds of Americans.

The project near ground zero is still a long way from settled, even though the controversy has mostly died down. Mayor Bloomberg made a moving speech supporting the right of the project to go forward, and all the necessary government approvals have been given. It's important to remember, though, that this is still an idea in its early phase. Since the fall, differences of opinion have emerged between El-Gamal and Imam Rauf. There's a board of directors that needs to be set up, a director to be hired, and money to be raised. All the normal sorts of tensions and issues faced at in the beginning stages of any new institution.

As I say, we've seen this movie before. There can be frightening, sometimes harrowing scenes along the way. But, like Hollywood movies, the story generally has a happy ending. That was true for German- and Irish- and Chinese- and Italian- and Jewish-New Yorkers. Opposition may flare up again, but I have little doubt that ultimately Muslims will find their rightful place in New York – shaping the city and being shaped by it. In fact, to a significant degree, they already have.

* David Dyssegaard Kallick is director of the Immigration Research Initiative of the Fiscal Policy Institute, and for the five years after September 11, 2001, he was coordinator of the Labor Community Advocacy Network to Rebuild New York.

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 I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

STRANGE PRIORITIES

 

The priorities of our government seem, to put it very mildly, quite peculiar. While the three-decade old case of the hanging of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto is being vigourously pursued, after the president moved a review petition before the Supreme Court, not even a written application has been lodged seeking the extradition of former president Pervez Musharraf. Musharraf is being strongly implicated in the far more recent case of the murder of Benazir Bhutto, and visiting British Premier David Cameron has said that while no extradition treaty exists between the UK and Pakistan, as a first step a formal request seeking the return of the dictator needs to be put in so that the matter can be considered in London. This seems to be the logical way to proceed – provided that the government is serious about solving the case. The response by Information Minister Firdaus Ashiq Awan, that court orders are being awaited in the matter seems somewhat odd, given the gravity of the matter. A judicial ruling is hardly required to begin discussing the issue with London – but it seems that this was not taken up with Mr Cameron during the detailed discussions with him in Islamabad. Do our leaders really want to bring BB's killers to justice, or are we being played games with? Are the intentions of those who hold power what they seem to be?

Certainly, the situation seems bizarre. Aged witnesses, who in some cases have confessed their recollection of events is now hazy, are being called before the court in the ZAB case, far less effort seems to be on to determine what events led to his daughter's death. Is there a lot to hide? This seems to be the case. Even beyond the murder of Benazir, there are many who would like to see Musharraf returned to the country to answer various questions about his actions – including those pertaining to the judiciary. There would certainly appear to be no harm in beginning an effort to do so, and using the warmer ties now established with the British government as a means to move forward and put to an end to a tradition which allows de facto rulers to escape without having to answer for the wrongs they have committed or the harm they may have inflicted on their country and its various institutions.

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

 

COUNTING HOUSES

 

The census got underway on April 5, with phase one being a counting of houses, hopefully to be completed by April 19. The data gathered in the housing census will form the baseline for the counting of the heads that live in the houses in August or September. This is the sixth time we have counted ourselves since 1951, and the final enumeration is going to be a powerful long-term planning tool. The complexities of such an operation are daunting, more so when the population is disturbed by flood and warfare. A census is not just a headcount, it is a snapshot of a majority of the population at a moment in time from which may be extracted a plethora of information. It answers question like how fast is the population growing. We know it is growing too fast, but we need details to be able to say where it is growing fastest. There are changes going on in our society, particularly in the way in which families live their lives. We are becoming more urbanised, and not everybody lives in a joint family system. How many of our elderly people may need to have care in the future if their families are not looking after them?


The census will also tell us about our young population, where they live and what they are doing with themselves. We will know what the big picture is for education and literacy, and how healthy or unhealthy we are. The housing survey will tell us just how many houses short of our needs we are. It is thought to be about 7.5 million, but the floods will have increased that number. Housing units are being counted this time in a way that will give a more accurate picture – multi-occupancy apartment blocks are to be counted by household rather than as a unitary entity. All of this counting will be done by teams that have – hopefully – been appropriately trained and whose safety in insecure areas will also hopefully be underwritten by the security forces. Each team is tasked to count 700 houses. It is in the interests of all of us that the census proceeds as smoothly as possible, and that once the counting is finished, the government may do something truly innovative and make long-term plans based on objective reality rather than political expediency.

 

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I,THE NEWS

OPINION

PASSPORT BACKLOG

 

New instances of poor governance, the malfunctioning of the state and the anarchy this is leading to, become apparent each day. Obtaining a new passport or having one renewed seems to have become an ordeal that has entrapped tens of thousands of people – preventing some from travelling abroad for weeks or months. Business trips have had to be cancelled, umra visits put off and other plans abandoned. Officials in Islamabad confess that there is now a passport backlog of over 0.25 million documents, which could take 10 weeks to clear. Many fear it could be far longer before applicants see their documents, given that new requests for the green booklets pour in every day. It has been reported that in Lahore, no passport has come in since February in the case of 'ordinary' applications; whereas the time officially said to be taken to issue a new passport is a mere two weeks. The chaotic situation at passport offices where people queue for hours despite the 'computerised' system put in place some years ago, is yet another story.

The explanations being given seem rather flimsy and appear to vary from one report to the next: the required paper is not available; ink provided to the printing press is sub-standard; machines are out of order and new ones have not yet been put into commission. Who knows what the exact truth is? There is conjecture that this is primarily a money-making exercise, aimed to coerce people into paying more for 'urgent' passports. Even these are being delivered after long delays. The entire mess needs to be investigated. Tens of thousands of people who have paid sizeable sums for passports are suffering. Something has clearly gone very wrong and there is urgent need for action to be taken before the backlog grows still worse, depriving citizens of the right to travel, that they should not need to suffer so dearly to avail.

 

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

FATA DOESN'T NEED WISHES

AYAZ WAZIR

 

  It was a pleasant surprise to see the new governor of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa the other day during a seminar on Fata at a hotel in Islamabad. The governor sounded aware of the basic problems faced by the people, of which he made mention in his address. Talking about the poverty and illiteracy in the tribal areas, and the injustices suffered by the people there, he expressed some wishes: he wished for the spread of education in Fata; wished for amendment to the "notorious" Frontier Crimes Regulations; wished for extension of the Political Parties Act to Fata; and wished for actual utilisation of funds meant for Fata in the tribal areas themselves.


What the governor desires for Fata is what the tribesmen themselves have been wishing for, and for more than six decades. If he only longs for changes in Fata, just as the tribesmen do, what has he become governor for? A person in his position is supposed to be able to take action and actually deliver what needs to be delivered. The situation that exists in Fata desperately needs a strong person at the helm, capable of taking decisions on the spot to change the course of events. If the governor continues just wishing without taking steps to redress the situation, then his name will also be added to the list of his useless predecessors who are only remembered as mere occupants of high office.


No one can dispute the importance of the measures that he mentioned for development of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, and for their being mainstreamed with the rest of the country. But how he is going to execute them is of primary importance. The tribesmen will lend full support to anyone who can actually take them out of the status quo in which they are mired since Pakistan's independence. They are aware of the difficulties entailed in the washing away of the sins of omission in these 63 years and they know that everything cannot be undone in a week, a month or a year. It will take time, but the timeframe should not be decades and centuries. The beginning should be made without further waste of time. in making empty promises and wishing, without taking the actions that are required.


If he is serious about winning the hearts and minds of the people who are now his responsibility, he should get his priorities right and immediately do what comes first. And for him the first thing to do is to rid the tribesmen of the tide of death and destruction. This "collateral damage" has already caused havoc in that area. He needs to arrange for the healing of the wounds of those who, in these nine years of US military operations and drone attacks, suffered most from "collateral damage" (that hateful American term which is now used by our military too).

At the same time, he must ensure rehabilitation of the internally displaced people, who left their homes in a hurry, leaving everything behind in the vain hope of finding their belongings intact on their return after the end of military operations. That unfortunately did not happen. Their homes were looted or suffered destruction, and peace is still a far cry. He should enable them not only to return to their homes but should facilitate their bringing in food and other essential items. He should see to it that building material is made available to them on-site for reconstruction of their homes.


For that to happen, the governor will have to declare all roads in Fata open for traffic. This reminds me of what a senior military officer promised at an international conference while discussing arrangements to facilitate the safe return of the IDPs. Apart from other facilities, he said, cooked food would be available to them when they return to their homes. The return of some IDPs was shown on TV with great fanfare, but what happened later is hardly known even to those who propagated their return. They had to leave the area and head back for the camps as all roads connecting them with other nearby towns and markets were closed, thereby denying them access to any place for buying of food items – to say nothing of cooked food.


Fata needs to be connected with the rest of the country. It has a good network of roads but most are closed for public use because they are being used by the army. Some of the tribal agencies even have good operational airports, but, again, they are only for military use. These far-flung areas need to be well connected and linked by air with the rest of the country, to make it possible for the non-local employees, volunteers, social workers, and other professionals to travel there to help in education, health, agriculture and other fields.


The late Prime Minister Muhammad Khan Junejo realised this need of the area and promised an air link between Wana and the rest of the country. But that also remained a promise, like so many others by various leaders.

Outsiders' development mantras cannot erase the fact that the people of Fata have been living under the corrupt political agent system for centuries. Be they political agents or the military, both have failed to make life liveable for the people of the tribal areas, and that is what the governor needs to understand. If Fata continues to be considered and treated as a war zone by the policymakers in Islamabad and Rawalpindi, then peace is unattainable and development merely a proposition.


Whatever the views of our politicians, intellectuals and academicians, serving and retired government officers, senior TV anchorpersons and other opinion-makers, the local people take a straightforward view on their problem. They consider extension of the law of the land to be the only solution to all the problems faced by the people. I wish it were that simple. There is no disagreement on the need for the mainstreaming of Fata, but there is a sharp contrast on the ways and means of achieving that objective. It has to be done in accordance with the customs and traditions of the tribesmen, which no outsider can understand by simply having served in that area. The wishes of outsiders will only complicate matters further.

Fata has been a victim of empty promises because the destiny of its people is in the hands of outsiders whose interest is limited to the perks and privileges that they enjoy, which is why they are not concerned about the welfare of the people of Fata. It is high time that we treat Fata as part of Pakistan and the tribesmen as loyal citizens of this country, giving them the responsibility for development of their own area. They are quite capable of taking Fata out of the present mess.


The writer is a former ambassador who hails from Fata. Email: waziruk @hotmail.com

 

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

A DOUBLE-EDGED WEAPON

RAOOF HASAN

 

The manner in which things are being systematically pushed towards an ultimate clash between state institutions looks ominous. The pile of apex court adjudications awaiting implementation is rising as the government apparently seems to be savouring its survival in perpetual affront.


NRO beneficiaries continue to occupy positions of authority. The letter that was to be written to the Swiss court to re-open the case/s against President Zardari has been pending for over one year now as he survives hiding behind the untenable immunity granted to his office. The Supreme Court's injunction regarding contractual appointments is being blatantly flouted. Presidential pardons have been granted to those who were convicted by the court. Instructions to appoint an honest person as head of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) have not been honoured. The controversial parliamentary committee continues to tamper with the appointment of judges in spite of the apex court's adjudication to the contrary. And much else!


The government even lives in violation of its own legislations. It has so far failed to constitute an independent election commission. The much-trumpeted empowerment of the state institutions remains a dream as they continue to be ruled by lackeys of the presidency. The downward trend, visible ever since the incumbent aberration took over, gains in speed with every passing day.


But, it is with the SC injunction declaring the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) chairman Deedar Shah's appointment illegal that a new and self-destructive dimension has been injected into the game plan. The decision was met with calls for protest by the ruling party in Sindh. The province was virtually shut down with large-scale incidents of arson and looting. Over twenty people were reported killed on the day in an environment of fear. When the apex court summoned the two PPP legislators, Sharjil Memon and Taj Haider, who had given a call to protest against the SC decision, practically all the party members of the Sindh Assembly travelled to Islamabad to be present in the court room. After the hearing that gave the two PPP leaders a fortnight to submit their response, it was publicly announced that if the SC proceeded with punishing the two errant party leaders, all the legislators of the provincial assembly would court arrest.


Having lost the battle for winning legitimacy, the ruling party has launched an assault to invoke ethnic feelings. Insinuations are being persistently cast on the partisan role of the superior courts and odious comparisons are being enacted citing decisions made in the past. A persecution syndrome is being fuelled projecting the courts as the principal villains that are out to dismantle a 'democratic' government.


The spectre of violence has ripped the country apart. Every day is a witness to a spate of harrowing tales of tragedy and mayhem, but no meaningful remedial measures are in sight to stem the tide. On the contrary, there are further cowardly assurances of pursuing the US-led 'war on terror' that was promised in exchange for the 'right to rule' vide the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO).


As people die in scores, more funds are provisioned for enhancing the security mechanism and implements of the ruling elite. All this comes at a cost to the state – a state that was founded to provide relief and protection to the poor people reeling under the tutelage of dominant exploitative forces. The ruling faces may have changed, but the perverse policies have persevered – now also garbed as 'democracy'.


The gulf separating the rich and the poor is widening. While those endowed with the right to rule have conveniently claimed the prerogative to divide among themselves the riches of the state that are in abundance, the poor are being deprived of the basic essentials of life. There is no water, no electricity, no gas, no healthcare facilities and no education infrastructure. A poor man's two meals a day have been reduced to one, even none. The underprivileged have been literally flung to the wolves to devour of them to the last bit and drop. No one stirs – not among the ruling elite! Only their appetite increases.


The principal organ of the state, the legislature, has abdicated its responsibility to the whims of the ruling few. It is manoeuvred to suit their gory cravings. The executive has corrupted itself out of function. It only works to satiate its corpulent abdomen. The political elite are busy in their trademark Machiavellian tricks to render the electorate abysmally dependent on their largesse that they would dole out against the promise of continuing support at the elections. The tentacles of economic bondage are digging deeper into the poor people's flesh causing incurable haemorrhage.


The judiciary, the only organ of the state that is functional, is being continually indicted to render it inoperative. There is a villainous intent to it – this being the only way for the incumbent aberration to complete its tenure, even go beyond. Every directive emanating from the apex court is being dubbed as a challenge to the 'supremacy of the legislature'. The edifice of the state rests on inducing a fear syndrome of some invisible forces.

The reference filed by the president asking the SC to revisit the death sentence awarded to Z A Bhutto, later executed by tyrant Zia, is a double-edged weapon. While the SC may proceed with speed to undo an 'historical wrong', it would instantly deprive the PPP leadership of the relevance of the 'Sindh card' that it has been brandishing wantonly since taking charge more than three years ago.


The injection of the ethnic vaccine in the conundrum is bound to add further bite to the exploits of the ruling elite. Their ravages have depleted the poor of their ability to survive. Weaving further webs of deceit would soon deprive them of their right to life.


The writer is a political analyst.


Email: raoofhasan@hotmail.com

 

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

OUR ERSTWHILE METTERNICH

ZAFAR HILALY

 

Just as it is always said of slander, that something always sticks when people boldly slander, so it might be said of self-praise, that if we praise ourselves fearlessly, something will always stick. But praise will only stick, said Francis Bacon, if it is not entirely ridiculous.


Alas, that's what the self-cloned Bhutto, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, is increasingly beginning to sound. Just the other day he claimed credit for the supposed improvement in US-Pakistan relations. Now he has proclaimed himself to be the architect of our India policy. India's belated decision to re-engage with Pakistan had been mapped out by him while he was in office. It was he who cleared the path to a full-scale resumption of the India-Pakistan dialogue. It's just as well Qureshi was no longer on the scene when we were in the World Cup semifinals, or he would have also claimed credit for Manmohan Singh's invitation to Gilani. Earlier, Qureshi had insinuated how much he was loved by the Foreign Office and his farewell, a routine matter accorded to all foreign ministers, had about it the aura of a wake, if one is to believe the version of tutored hacks.

In the Foreign Office there is a tendency to feign belief, and much else that's part of their trade. During their careers officers have had to pretend or fake belief in the policies of assorted governments and put up with the caprices and eccentricities of foreign ministers, so much so that after a while it becomes second nature. But only politicians who have fallen in love with themselves get fooled by the pretence. The reality check only occurs once the minister has left office. The fate of two appointees of Qureshi is illustrative.


The first relates to the optician and inseparable companion, nay, bum chum, Nisar Ali Khan. Qureshi persuaded Zardari/Gilani to appoint him as ambassador at large. While Qureshi was in office, Nisar roamed the world unquestioned. However, once Qureshi departed the scene Nisar, the optician, showed he possessed 20/20 vision, because he stopped turning up to work. The Foreign Office wallahs, who till recently were so beloved of Qureshi and his chum are now so happy he has gone and so desperate Nisar not return they are offering his well-furnished office on the third floor to any passer-by, including a former ambassador who was asked to "please go and sit there and work out of it." As for the indispensable advice Nisar rendered and the economic expertise he claimed to possess, only Qureshi fully appreciated it. No professional considered it anything but dispensable. One of them actually said: "I haven't a clue why he was appointed and what he was supposed to do."

If Ambassador at Large Nisar does not turn up to work except to pick up the mail, and is truly "at large," then, hopefully, like the patriot he claims to be, he has stopped accepting the hefty Rs100,000 allowance, as well as the other hefty perks which come with the job, including the tab of expensive five-star hotels.


In contrast, another such ambassador at large, the journalist and restaurateur working in Dubai, had the decency to resign once he discovered his (non-existent) diplomatic talents were neither appreciated nor utilised. In stark contrast to this is the demeanour of yet another ambassador at large, Zia Ispahani, who maintains a Spartan outfit at his own cost in Karachi and regularly entertains foreign diplomats. Zia Ispahani guards the contents of his conversations with these foreigners with a jealously which suggests that, if leaked, their assessments of the government's performance would either bring about a rupture in relations or cost him and his interlocutors their jobs.

Another example of the indifference of the Foreign Office to the outgoing foreign ministers was for it to immediately reassign Qureshi's chosen nominee for the ambassadorial slot in Saudi Arabia. The poor fellow was about to board the plane for Riyadh, so to speak, when he was told of his reassignment. He has been replaced by a quintessential babu, with a top story to let, only because he apparently grovels before the foreign secretary rather than the former foreign minister.


Notwithstanding such antics, the importance attached to an ambassadorial assignment in Saudi Arabia today is of course immeasurably greater than it was a few decades ago, when the Saudis were treated as mortals. Actually, then it was virtually nonexistent. So much so that one Secretary, Administration never bothered to meet the ambassador. This became evident when our then ambassador to Saudi Arabia, seeing the secretary greet him with an extended hand as he disembarked from his flight at Islamabad airport, gushed, "Sir, you should have not taken the trouble to come yourself."


When they were in the car, the secretary asked the ambassador how the wheat harvest had gone. The ambassador replied that it had gone well. "What about the water supply?" the secretary asked. "Well, as you know, sir, that's always a problem in Saudi Arabia," the ambassador replied. "Saudi Arabia? Who's talking about Saudi Arabia, you fool," snapped the secretary and, before the astonished ambassador could reply, asked him, "Who are you?" When the ambassador told him, he shouted, "Oh! I thought you were the new manager of my lands. Get off! Get off! I have to pick him up." As the driver turned the car to dash back to the airport, the ambassador was seen by the road, bag in hand, hailing a cab.


Come to think of it, that seemed the right amount of emphasis to be attached to the Saudis. Nor, frankly, would it have mattered who we sent, the secretary's land manager would have been as good. (As it happened, the ambassador was a second-rung politician whom Bhutto wanted to be rid of at home.) Actually, even today our ambassador in Riyadh doesn't get within hailing distance of the king, although the Saudi envoy here is wined (juiced) and dined by the president.


By keeping the slot of foreign minister vacant following Qurashi's sacking, the government is for once being both realistic and candid about the state of affairs. Pakistan does not have a foreign policy, so why have a foreign minister, especially one so puffed up with self-importance as Qureshi. Ours is a one-dimensional approach to foreign affairs. Only Pakistan-US relations count, and these are effectively handled, on the one hand, by Haqqani and Zardari and, on the other hand, by the army. When the two sides agree all is well, and when they do not, the army's call prevails. In the case of Afghanistan and India, of course, the locus of power resides entirely with GHQ.


In the circumstances I am not sure what role our erstwhile Metternich thought he played, which in his view was so crucial to this country's foreign policy that without him it would somehow become inoperable and rudderless. Close to the shrine in Multan to which he tends as the hereditary protector, there must be graves of seemingly "indispensable" men. In fact, it must be full of such graves, considering the importance they congenitally attach to themselves.


The writer is a former ambassador. Email: charles123it@hotmail.com

 

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

POLITICISATION OF EDUCATION AND THE HEC

KAMILA HYAT

 

The writer is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor


A lower-key controversy that had been wafting in the wind for some time over the future of the Higher Education Commission, established amidst much fanfare in 2002 by then president, Pervez Musharraf, to replace the Universities Grants Commission, has flared now into a far more ugly war.

It appears that the HEC may be done away with under the 18th Amendment which devolves education to the provinces. Some of the less sensible assertions being made suggest either that the HEC be packed up because it was the 'gift' of a dictator, or else that it is being victimised because it had found the degrees of so many legislators to be false.


In the high-pitched arguments that have been raging on, we appear - as we rather often do - to have lost all sense of perspective. The question is not so much that of how the HEC was set up or by whom, but whether it is serving any useful purpose today in the labyrinth of horrors that is our education system.


It is certainly true that the body has done some good. Some 4,000 Pakistanis are currently pursuing PhDs overseas on HEC scholarships, another 1,000 are studying medicine in Cuba as part of a programme backed by the Cuban government. The brave efforts of the body to tackle the enormous issue of plagiarism in higher education and initiate action against professors at top institutions must also be lauded.


Other work undertaken by the HEC is of course more questionable. The criterion used for its ranking of universities has been criticised. In 2005, its acquisition of highly costly scientific equipment was strongly questioned and there have been many accusations of attempting to intervene to too great a degree in the affairs of institutions, and thereby placing their autonomy under pressure.


It is a fact also that much of what the HEC has been able to do stems from the enormous budgets allocated to it since its inception. These have run into billions. The slashing of the budget to Rs 15.76 billion for 2010-11 fiscal year, against a demand of Rs 30 billion, drew loud protests, from university VCs as well as the powerful HEC lobby itself.


The question of the HEC's future and the arguments being put forward can in some ways only be adequately assessed by taking a wider look at our nightmarish educational picture. The report on Pakistan's educational emergency produced by the Pakistan Education Taskforce emphasises - with much drama - all that is wrong. This is a useful function, but surely a government body should be focusing on how to deal with the problem rather than describing it.


Declaring an 'educational emergency' as the prime minister has said is to happen, does not address the needs on the ground for better schools, a high quality of education in the public-sector and, to help achieve all this, more spending on education.


The huge allocations in the past for the HEC may, or may not, have improved the state of higher learning in the country. But logic dictates that if we are to get anywhere with our education and climb up the academic ladder quickly, at least to the level of other South Asian countries, we need to start at the bottom of the pyramid and not its very top.

The masses of children who are still deprived of even schooling that is adequate at the most rudimentary levels all over the country need to be given the start in life that is vital to open up opportunities and lift them above the poverty in which their families grovel.


The highest budgets then need to go to education at the primary level rather than at the apex. Only a miniscule percentage of those who begin schooling are able to reach levels that go beyond the intermediate.


Unless the first rung in the ladder is secure and solidly bolted to the frame we cannot really hope for success at the top. This is one reason why no Pakistani university ranks among the top 100 in the world according to the HEC. The future of the HEC then needs to be seen as a part of the whole educational jigsaw - and all the pieces that have dropped out from it.


Politics should not really enter into the picture. We are already beginning to see a distinct polarisation along these lines. Much of what should really be discussed has become lost as a result of this. The HEC has undoubtedly helped generate debate on issues in higher education. This process needs to be continued. It would be a pity to lose all the more beneficial functions of the body as the process of devolution takes place. The matter needs to be given some thought by policy makers, while remaining within the ambit of the 18th Amendment.

The most crucial need of all is however to find political commitment for the cause of education. This has been missing for the last six decades since Pakistan came into being. The result of course is the educational disaster, at both the higher and lower levels, that we see today.


The dichotomy that has been created in education, with the children of the wealthy attending elite private schools and those of the poor consigned to the far harsher environments of madressahs, government schools or all kinds of poorly regulated private institutions, also means that unscrambling the educational jumble is not a priority for the political leadership, whose own children rank of course among the privileged.


Too often, we see nearly an attempt to tinker with the system for cosmetic reasons rather than make any effort to introduce the wide ranging educational revolution that we require.


The HEC issue needs to be removed from politics. It also needs to be treated in relation to the larger education situation, rather than as an isolated issue. Pakistan's problems with education were well-established even before the latest taskforce report. The real need is to solve them rather than engaging in petty squabbles of all kinds and refusing to meet the overwhelming needs of a population that is often subjected to still further neglect when ugly quibbling of the kind we see now breaks out.


Email: kamilahyat@hotmail.com

 

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I. THE NEWS

THE LIBERTY FACADE

RIZWAN ASGHAR

 

The Anglo-French-American consortium, using an ambiguous "no-fly zone resolution" approved by the UN Security Council, has launched a full-scale military assault on Libya on the pretext of protecting people form Gaddafi's forces. Today western rulers are calling Gaddafi 'a monster who must leave'. Perhaps, not much time has passed to dim the memories when former president George W Bush named Gaddafi a reliable partner in the war against terror.


The British Prime Minister David Cameron has termed the allied powers' assault on Libya, a sovereign country, as both a legal and rightful act. But, in fact, hypocrisy and jingoism are glaringly obvious on the face of western claims. It is impossible to identify in these slogans of human rights raised by the west, the operation of any lofty principle.

Great phrases, such as 'humanitarian agenda' and 'promoting democracy' are being used just to lend an air of dignity and to cloak their intervention with the veneer of morality. The western leaders are trying to control the direction of Arab uprisings ignoring the sentiments of the Arab masses. These policies, driven by neo-imperialist strategic interests, are only aimed at seizing control of key oil rich areas and belie all humanitarian claims.

The overwhelming majority of Libyans are asking: Americans have come to save them from Gaddafi's brutality but who will save them from the Americans?


In Bahrain, protesters fighting for their freedom are being gunned down by the ruling thugs. There are no sanctions or attacks to stop the carnage. This cruel silence of the international community in the face of gross human rights violations in Bahrain and Yemen is a classic case of irony.


Robert Gates has recently stated that there are only three repressive regimes in the whole Middle East: Iran, Syria and Libya. It is no surprise as these countries have defied American dictates in the region and consistently opposed Israel's aggressive designs.


It is more than ironic to see the Obama administration still unhesitatingly protecting and nurturing autocratic regimes because their loss will cost the US its allies who are strategically vital to its imperialist interests.

Today, the US has turned a blind eye to the intervention of Saudi troops to snuff out freedom fighters in Bahrain but 21 years ago, NATO troops had jumped into an all-out war against Iraq when Saddam Hussein intervened in Kuwait on the "invitation of local revolutionaries". This presents a fascinating contrast of extremes.


The US has refused to learn lessons from the past 10 years. Military intervention can seem simple but is, in fact, a complex affair with the potential for unintended consequences. This is a highly unpalatable and frightening option pregnant with the possibility of widespread chaos and prolonged social instability.


In an almost mindless way, the Obama administration has committed another profound and unnecessary mistake, an instance of what Joseph Conrad called "human folly," further igniting an ever-deepening hatred for the US in the Muslim world. Using force to secure peace in Libya may mark an initial move towards a faster route leading to a point that will make future peace in the whole region impossible.

Email: rizwanasghar7@yahoo. Com

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

CAMERON FOR FRESH START BUT…

 

BRITISH Prime Minister David Cameron's one day visit to Pakistan on Tuesday would definitely help clear some of the pall on bilateral relationship that UK itself laid because of its tilted approach towards regional issues. During his interaction with President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and joint press stake out with the PM and address at COMSATS university obviously sent a message that his country wanted to strengthen ties with Pakistan in different fields.


Cameron was surely referring to his own unfriendly remarks he made during his visit to Indian last year (accusing Pakistan of sponsoring terrorism) when he talked about taking a 'fresh start', adding that tensions of the past shouldn't hold back the two countries. Pakistan is all too willing to maintain and promote cordial ties with the United Kingdom as the two countries have a lot to gain from this relationship and this was aptly conveyed by the Pakistani leadership to their guest. UK is an important trading partner and source of investment, a large number of Pakistanis are working in that country and thousands of Pakistani students prefer to seek admission in British educational institutions every year and therefore, this relationship has significance for Islamabad. Pakistan is also seeking enhanced access in European Union markets and UK can play an important role in clearing the way for the purpose. We welcome announcement of the British leader about enhanced assistance for Pakistan especially for education in the next four years. But Britain's bigoted visa policy for Pakistani students runs contrary to this objective and we wish our leadership should have taken up the issue in a substantive manner during talks with Mr. Cameron. Again, the intention to double bilateral trade from the existing pound sterling 1.2 to 2.5 billion by year 2015 would remain an elusive dream without granting concessions to Pakistan and without Islamabad making serious efforts to revive and promote its industrial sector that is going through a worst phase of stagnation due to shortage of energy and frequent increases in rates of power and gas as well as POL products. Anyhow, we hope that pronouncement by Cameron to make a fresh start in relations would not prove to be rhetoric and his country would demonstrate through actions and policies that it genuinely wants equitable and beneficial relationship with Pakistan.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

PAKISTAN FOR ATOM BOMB FREE WORLD

 

PAKISTAN has once again demonstrated its commitment to the lofty ideal of nuclear non-proliferation by demanding total elimination of nuclear weapons from the globe, which is the only guarantee to secure durable peace and security for all. Speaking at the 2011 Substantive Session of the UN disarmament Commission in New York, Pakistan's permanent representative Abdullah Hussain Haroon said the most effective and credible way to promote this object, both regionally and globally, is through the pursuit of transparent, irreversible and verifiable nuclear disarmament.


Some countries of the world, led by the United States, are accusing Pakistan of blocking consensus on Fissile Material Cut off Treaty (FMCT) but unequivocal statement of its UN Ambassador has exposed their claims as it highlighted the reality that Islamabad just wants a non-discriminatory, transparent, equitable and fair system that meaningfully contributes towards regional and global security and not mere loquacious and eye-wash statements and arrangements. This is in line with Pakistan's principled position as it has been offering consistently since 1980s different proposals for establishment of nuclear weapons free zone in South Asia. However, these concrete proposals have always been rejected by India in disgust and Pakistan was forced to pursue the path of nuclear weapons to ward off threats to its very survival and existence. It is rightly argued that Pakistan's nuclear programme is defensive in nature and unlike India it never resorted to nuclear blackmail. What happened in Hiroshima and Nagasaki made it clear that nuclear weapons are as dangerous in the hands of perceived most civilized country of the world as they could be in the possession of any other state. Declared nuclear powers as well as Israel are sitting over thousands of weapons of mass destruction and a sudden rush of blood could lead to more Hiroshimas and Nagasakis and therefore, the world leadership should take notice of the situation and respond to Pakistan's proposal for nuclear free world in a positive manner.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

KARACHI STANDS UP AGAINST EXTORTION

 

BUSINESS activities came to a standstill in Karachi, the business hub of the country on Tuesday to protest against the extortion mafia. The law and order situation was already pathetic in the city but extortionists who want their share in the earnings of the business community, whether big businesses or small retailors have made the life of the people miserable.


For a vast number of people in Karachi, it is life on a razor's edge. With criminals and political zealots enjoying a free hand, ordinary citizens seem to live in a constant fear and uncertainty in Karachi, which witnessed a sharp increase in crime, extortion, kidnappings, target killings and political and religious violence. Along with old power players, new gangs of extortionists and criminals have emerged in recent months. They take pride in openly stating their affiliation with this or that political party, seeking their pound of flesh in this brutalised city. As a result the constant fear and insecurity have hit hard the small and big businesses, markets and the industry and that was why the entire business community of Karachi stood up against the extortion on Tuesday. Though an unfortunate incident took place at the Polo Ground between the KCCI and All Karachi Tajir Ittehad workers but the strike proved that the business community wanted a peaceful environment and there was no dispute over that. MQM, the main political party in Karachi has also issued a two-day ultimatum to the government for taking stern action against extortionists. The business community organised protests at more than a dozen places to express their opposition to extortion menace. According to a recent survey, no family in Karachi remains unaffected from theft, extortion, car and mobile lifting. The result is not just an intangible psychological pressure under which people of Karachi now live, but the constant fear and insecurity have hit hard the small and big businesses, markets and the industry. Businessmen and industrialists are forced to donate and those refusing meet dire consequences of killing or kidnapping for ransom. It is therefore time that the Government must deal with these gangs of extortionists and criminals with a firm hand to remove the menace from the Mega city and restore the peaceful environment for which it was known for a long time.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

PAKISTAN-CHINA TIES IN FOCUS

FRIENDLY FIRE

KHALID SALEEM

 

There are no two opinions that the twenty-first is destined to be Asia's century. Asian states, therefore, particularly ours that is so strategically situated geopolitically have to keep this in mind while doing their calculations. Some of our relationships in the Asian context are of vital importance and no one should be allowed to tinker with them.


The relations between Pakistan and China fall in this category. Before going further, some incontrovertible facts need to be put on record. Firstly, let us not forget that we are a proud nation of some hundred and eighty million people rather than the collateral appendage of some outsiders' scheme of things. China, our neighbour, happens to be an ancient civilization and as a friend and next-door neighour we have a lot to learn from it. In our inexplicable propensity to go gaga over anything that is West-oriented we must not lose sight of the possibility that our ultimate destiny may lie with our neighbourhood to the East.


Talk of Pakistan-China ties has by now become something of a cliché with us. And much like a habit of long standing, it comes naturally to most pen-pushers who don't even bother to delve into what they are driving at. Extolling of Pakistan-China friendship has, therefore, become something of a de rigueur in press parlance as well as after dinner repartee. This tendency, though natural in many ways, also has its pitfalls. In the field of international affairs, relations between countries –friendly or otherwise – should ever be in a state of constant evolution; never static and, in no case, stagnant. An unpardonable error our side is apt to commit is living too much in the past. Most pieces on the subject begin by highlighting the ups of our bilateral ties in the past and end with a string of clichés. Not that one has any serious objection to this line of approach. The pity is that what we have settled for is to relive the high points of the past of this glorious relationship embellished with hollow expressions of pious hopes of its continuation in the same vein. International relations must never be allowed to stagnate, but should rather be in a state of constant evolution.


The international scene has undergone a sea change over the turn of the millennium. Paradigms, such as they were, have lost the glimmer of old and, in most cases, will need to be formulated anew. It is in this context, that the relations between Pakistan and China in the twenty-first century would deserve to be re-evaluated, re-oriented and, indeed, re-vitalized. But age-old parameters must not crumble. One of the constants in the evolving Pakistan-China relations has been the resolve not to interfere in each other's internal affairs. In fact, it is this constant that has etched the course of this relationship that has aroused the wonder and, at times, the jealousy of several interested outsiders. China has observed with interest several upheavals inside Pakistan over the decades. Besides its benevolent interest, China has scrupulously avoided any move or observation that could even remotely be construed as interference in this country's internal affairs. We have responded in kind. There is no reason to alter this equation.


Needless to state our relations must evolve with the times. But there is no justification in moving the goal posts. For one thing, we have much to learn from China. China appears to be a country in a hurry, bent upon making up for the lost time. Development is taking place at a feverish pace. What is more, the development activity is not at all haphazard but is extremely well-planned. The infrastructure, the development projects and the industrial complexes are all parts of a giant jigsaw puzzle that appears to be emerging out of the landscape as a well- choreographed whole. Nothing appears to be either incongruous or misplaced; each piece of the puzzle is meticulously planned to fit in its proper place.


All one can wish for is that our planners would break out of their stupor, shed the web of statistics that they have conveniently woven around their public pronouncements and learn a few lessons from our Chinese friends. China is like a sleeping giant that has woken up. Through its pragmatic policy over the past decades, China has successful shifted its emphasis from political issues to economic development. Not that China has sacrificed any of its principles, just that it has taken a conscious decision to reorder its priorities to conform to its national interest. Coming back to Pakistan-China relations, time is ripe to break out of the strait jacket of hollow slogans and come down to brass tacks. Realism demands that our friendly relations be given some economic, commercial and cultural moorings. While we have been expending our energy in raising hollow slogans, other countries of the region have left us far behind. India, for instance, has developed into China's biggest economic and commercial partner in the region. Conversely, China has emerged as India's biggest trading partner.


One must not lose sight of the fact that Pakistan started with an initial advantage, but we have not only failed to build on the base but may actually be in the process of doing some damage to the foundations. One notices in particular the virtual absence of mutually beneficial joint ventures. Commercial exchanges too have become a little too one-sided. We have failed rather miserably to expand our exports base. The Free Trade Agreement that was heralded as a landmark can be effective only if we put our own house in order. And we must do it quickly or we are in imminent danger of missing the bus. A new generation is slowly but surely taking over the reins of power in China. This younger generation will be guided more by pragmatic considerations and less by inane sloganeering. It is imperative that our younger generation is also educated in the intricacies of the Eastern ethos. Over-dependence on Western mores may not be what our destiny calls for or what the nation, in deed, deserves.

It is in the context of the foregoing that we must nurture our relations with China. The guiding principles on which our relations are founded must not be lost sight of. In particular, it is hardly in our interest to jump to unwarranted conclusions in relation to our great neighbour's internal affairs. It is for China, and China alone, to sort out its internal problems without outside interference. And it does not behove our liberals to offer gratuitous advice where none is called for.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLES

KAMKWAMBA MOMENT

RIZWAN GHANI

Here is an amazing story of William Kamkwamba to further Zardari and Gillani's resolve to revamp country's power sector, end load shedding, explore indigenous energy resources and rationalization energy imports. Kamkwamba is a 14-year-old eighth grade school dropout from a remote village of Malawi who used few pictures and some scrap to build a windmill that lights bulbs, pumps water for irrigation and self-employs him to sell electricity to locals to charge mobile phones. As an author of a book titled, "The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind", he is an inspiration for families, villages and nations around the globe and a proof to what one can do for oneself and create a better life for all those around him or her http://movingwindmills.org/. Energy mix is the need of the hour to revamp country energy sector. The reports of Pak-China energy cooperation plans needs to be executed forthwith in accordance to international standards including transparency. Hydel Energy generation is the core of Beijing and Delhi's poverty alleviation strategy http://www.alternative-energy-news.info/hydel-power-poverty-alleviation/. Hopefully, these projects will be completed within agreed timeframe and steps will also be taken to complete the old projects that are incomplete more due to the lack of the will of the governments than finances.


In its 12th five year plan (2011-15), Beijing has adopted a mix of renewable energy to provide relief to public, cut its dependence on fuel imports, reduce negative impact of international oil price increase on local economy, and cut emissions in step with International Green Goals. Street lighting in China has been shifted to renewable energy. The photosensitive devices automatically manage solar powered streetlights to meet light conditions. More and more government buildings are shifting to LEDs that use 94 percent less energy and last a lifetime. Beijing is supporting zero emission cities fulfilling energy and water needs from renewable resources and water recycling. China is generating 8 GW from solar panels and 37 GW from wind. In addition, China has installed 470 electric charging stations for one million electric cars that will be in public use towards the end of 2011.

Beijing has facilitated millions of households to shift heating, water heating, daylight energy use to solar power to meet its goal of 35 percent of national energy consumption to renewable resources by 2015. In addition to more productive photovoltaic cells, solar paint has been developed that can turn house windows into energy producing solar panels http://www.gizmag.com/thin-film-turns-windows-into-solar-panels/16058/. Pakistan can follow UK and give long term loans and tax incentives to individual homeowners to shift to renewable energy to make turn Pakistan into an energy surplus country. The use of solar painted electric cars can help Pakistan to skip establishing electric car charging stations. In its bid to cut $10bn fuel imports, save foreign reserve, reduce 80 percent natural gas consumption in local industry, Islamabad needs to facilitate 29 million households to adopt renewable energy and shift government sector to renewable energy. Islamabad can realize this objective in months by introducing zero tax policy to allow domestic, industrial and commercial usage and manufacturing of solar panels, solar water heaters and cookers, wind equipment, water recycling plants, rainwater harvesting equipment, drip irrigation equipment, allied equipments including batteries etc. Today, a $1000 solar panel set in international market costs around $1450 in Pakistan. Also, there is a dire need for a regulatory authority to ensure quality control, after sale services including warranty and trained manpower.


The introduction of renewable energy in the country can generate around 70,000 to 120,000 jobs in next two years. In immediate terms, it can revive fishing industry comprising half a million people with help of solar powered boats on lines of first solar trans-Atlantic crossing success http://www.gizmag.com/go/7262/. Similarly, millions of power-loom units, cottage, small and medium industry can benefit from renewable energy and year on year reduction in energy cost will increase their market competitiveness. Instead of levying of 17.5 percent tax on the sectors, Islamabad needs to facilitate their recovery through adoption of renewable energy on lines of Europe, Asia and Scandinavia. Therefore, PPP government has to end the hegemony of energy producers, distributers and oil and gas mafia by adopting renewable energy and providing immediate relief.

The standoff between public and government in India over naked support for private airlines, transporters and national politician backed road contractor at the cost of railways has shown that railway is six times more economical than road transport. China has already adopted railway as the strategic mode of communication. High-speed rail is Beijing's showpiece. Pakistan can follow suit and develop railway as the national mode of intra-city, intercity and freight transportation. Monorails, trams should be introduced across the country to cut pollution, travelling time and earn revenue to use on education, healthcare instead of funding mega road and flyover projects in major cities. Reportedly, 70 million Indians use metro-rail services http://www.delhimetrorail.com. The math shows its daily earnings for the government and the resultant benefits to the public. Islamabad needs to improve functioning of railway to serve public and national interests instead of privatizing it.


Bicycling is the new trend in mega cities like Beijing, New York and Delhi. New York City has created more than 300 miles of cycling lanes. Rent a bicycle companies are already working in London http://www.londonbicycle.com/ and cycling holidays are part of UK's countryside tourist attraction http://www.countrylanes.co.uk/. Pakistani police should follow footsteps of Chinese police to catch bad guys http://www.greenpacks.org/2008/12/18/chinas-police-will-start-pedalling-to-catch-the-bad-guys/. Zardari and Gillani should use bicycles to reduce expenditure on government transport. In 1997, a case in Supreme Court revealed that it cost Rs.77 Bn to the national exchequer. In 2010, the expenditure of chauffer driven government servant transport exceeded country's total Public Sector Development Program spending for the same period while our leaders begged around in their imported bulletproof luxury vehicles to collect aid in the name of abandoned flood victims. Government should create safe cycling lanes for public in all major cities backed by legislation for their protection and its spread.


The city planners should promote use of adobe buildings (structure made of bricks made of earth and straw dried by sun) as part of eco friendly green houses. Research has shown that due to their material they are energy efficient, resistant to outside temperatures and less toxic because little or no paint is required in them. Similarly, fresh air is four to five times cleaner and healthier than air-conditioning. Therefore, as a national health and architecture policies, government should discourage use of air conditioners and promote building designs that allow circulation of fresh air to cut health and energy costs.


Government should encourage universities, technical institutions and industries to develop micro-windmills, solar panels, water recycling equipments, rain harvesting for individual houses and water conservation irrigation systems to sustain local energy and water resources. The abundance of Silicon in Cholistan Bahawalpur area can be used to build solar industry because solar furnaces use sunlight to make solar panels http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_furnace. Pakistan can seek help of Beijing to generate jobs for locals and help institutions to develop the technology and technical expertise.


In conclusion, a school dropout from a remote African village has proved to the world that where there's a will there's a way. It is therefore need of the hour that every individual, institution, and leader plays his or her role to bring millions of Kamkwamba moments across the country to overcome energy challenges and (water shortage) help turn Pakistan into an energy (and water) surplus country. Statistically speaking, by adopting the measures Pakistan can reduce its energy imports by 60 percent and in turn save around $6bn annually.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

LIBYA WAR: DAWN OF A NEW WORLD ORDER?

HAMID WAHEED

 

There has been a revolutionary change in the Arab world with peoples' calling for the removal of autocrats. Starting with Jasmine revolution it is now facing a stiff challenge in Libya where bombardment of NATO force is going on indiscriminately. With the UN resolution authorizing its members "to take all necessary measures… to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya", this war is raging on without any particular leadership. The legitimacy of the war itself is questioned and the way this war is being handled points towards a strategic shift of policy.


Libya's regime was using limited force to subdue internal rebellion where the rebel group consists of motley kinds of people. The African Union was against any military intervention and was planning to negotiate as against the stance of Arab League which on 12th March backed the idea of a no-fly zone over Libya. As chapter VIII of the UN Charter allowed a broader mandate to regional bodies to deal with regional matters of war and peace, the African Union (AU), of which Libya is a leading member, was definitely the one to be consulted with. But in reality it was barred from entering Libya by NATO forces prior to the NATO offensives.

This war is actually a hastily prepared one with England and France spearheading it. America was reluctant in going into war but the announcement of Gaddafi to cleanse Libya house by house prompted Obama in taking actions. America has again started a new war against a Muslim country when it has already been mired in wars against Afghanistan and Iraq. Obama, the 2009 Noble Peace Prize winner is trying to avoid being the ringmaster. This war actually has seen a shift in America's stance towards crisis or conflict management. America always used to take a proactive role in the case of identifying crisis, taking actions and bounding threatened countries to join in the 'collective action'. America is showing less of its imperialist nature now due to a variety of factors.


We can see a moderate temperament of US president over dealing with Libya which is already been criticized in his own country. America has not shown its big brother attitude as it has been pursuing an aspiration of repairing the damaged relation with the Muslim world. The Cairo speech of US president in June 2009 signaled towards a change in this direction. He mentioned that US was seeking "a new beginning" based on "mutual interest and mutual respect". The irony about this speech is that he was the guest of Hosni Mubarak then. He further mentioned that "no system of government can or should be imposed upon one nation by any other".

Another fact which might work here is the fact that US election is not so far away from now. Barack Obama has already declared his intention to stand for a second term in office in 2012. Obama's Democratic Party in November 2010 suffered a huge blow when it lost control of the House of Representatives and had to give away several Senate seats in mid-term election to Congress. At such a point of time it is normal that Democratic Party would not want to jeopardize its position more by taking the lead of this war as the economic condition of US is not also robust now. But America had to intervene at last in conformity with their previous records. America involved with first World War just when it was imminent for them to tip the balance of the war. The same happened in the case of second World War as US involved with this war only when Japan attacked it and Hitler declared a war. America used to call any war against Islamic countries as 'crusade'. But with the realization that they could not make friends with this strategy, America used the term 'war' for the first time in the Gulf War of 1991. From then on America always remained a proactive state in case of warfare as opposed to their pre-Gulf war position as reluctant imperialist.


As US was reluctant to spearhead this attack, England and France came forward. These two countries got involved in this war in haste mentioning that they are to save the people of Libya from the atrocities of Gaddafi and that they can remain inactive bystander in such a moment. As US was reluctant to further entangle in another war, they came to the forefront. Only saving the people (their stated intention) may not be the only target, rather if we take history as any guide there may be some stealthy intentions. We need to understand the way leading western countries perceive Arab countries. When RAF Middle East command in Cairo approached Winston Churchill (Secretary of State at the War Office in 1919) for acquiring permission to use chemical weapons "against recalcitrant Arabs as experiment", he authorized this experiment and found nothing "unreasonable" in it. He said "I do not understand this squeamishness about the use of gas… I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes. . . . It is not necessary to use only the most deadly gasses; gasses can be used which cause great inconvenience and would spread a lively terror and yet would leave no serious permanent effects on most of those affected." Another thing which history tells us that England itself was a big imperialist country which lost its dominance over time to US.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

EDUCATION EMERGENCY IN PAKISTAN

ALIYA ANJUM

 

Pakistan has misplaced priorities when it comes to sacred cows. The blasphemy law is a sacred cow but the national educational policy is subject to whims and fancies of each ruling government. The 18th amendment received presidential assent on 18th April 2010 and now education is officially a fundamental right of all citizens below the age of 16. Pakistan's Education task force a partnership between government officials and civil society has declared an education emergency and launched a social media campaign.


As of this writing 117,444 people had joined their Facebook page and the 200,000 petitions being aimed for, in their own website have more than 170,000 petitioners. Twitter uses SMS to relay messages and given Pakistan's tele-density it is an effective community engagement tool. However, the service is only available for Mobilink users in Pakistan. Additionally, the messages of the Education Emergency initiatives are in English so the SMS impact too is likely to be minimal. Interestingly this major campaign only asks people to sign a petition or call a representative and join a march. The social media momentum gained during the first few days through Facebook slowly waned as there was no tangible cause to rally around. The website engages the community by asking them to run their own awareness event on educational emergency. That is about it. There seems to be no clearly defined mission or goals of this hyped up campaign. Community engagement through facebook and twitter alone is hardly more than a feel-good experience for a few. The globalised Pakistani youth of today is energetic and charged for change. However, all initiatives are hollow and there is no path defined to channel national youth energy. Primary education is already in dire straits when 25 million children are not attending school.

To add to it the current government has struck a blow to higher education. The Higher Education (HEC) under Dr Atta-ur-Rehman's had made impressive contributions to develop professional talent in Pakistan. His moves mirrored those of Nehru in India circa 1951, whose wave India has ridden high ever since 1990's. In Pakistan we were five decades late and even then we have no unity of vision as the current government undid the initiatives of previous government-unmindful of long term economic impact. The HEC is now under threat of being dismantled and its agenda handed over to provincial governments.


This would perhaps be a blow to our socio-economic growth at par with the devastation wreaked during the Zia's regime. When higher education suffers we would see the impact in a decade manifested in poor quality doctors, engineers, professors and managerial professionals who make the backbone of the country. This move is however being fought and hopefully would be thwarted. There are reports submitted by the Education Emergency website. Gleaning these reports they refer to the IMF induced dilemma of social sectors reform which essentially mean lower government spending, the Washington Consensus which promotes corporate interests at the expense of the world's poorest, the political economy which boils down to nepotism coupled with greed and finally budgetary constraints which arise when public funds are channeled to private accounts of politicians, beauraucrats and generals. These reports full of technical terms are prepared by experts and somehow experts excel as economic scribes but never as economic doctors. Such reports in a nutshell relate that the problems are just too many and too complex to be solved. As Pakistanis live suffering from the elephant in the room syndrome, a former mountaineer named Greg Mortenson from the United States is single handedly achieving miracles.


He got lost in the formidable mountain range of the Karakoram in 1993 during an unsuccessful bid to climb the K-2. His life was saved by destitute village dwellers of Korphe. Having no funds, no special skills he made a promise to a little girl that he would build them a school. Upon his return to US to keep his promise to a poor little girl he asked a Pakistani origin shopkeeper to teach him computer usage. Then he typed endless letters from an old type writer to corporations asking for funds. In the end his persistence bore fruit when an old ailing wealthy mountaineer offered funds for the first school establishing the Central Asia Institute (CAI) which has in 17 years come a long way to build 145 schools and has educated 64,000 children in Pakistan, Kashmir and Afghanistan where the terrain bordersTajikistan and China-in the heart of the world's most volatile militant territory. Mortenson's CAI raises 91% funds from individuals in United States so he is not beholden to corporate agendas.


Greg did not share our language or culture or religion. He did not achieve a top university education imbibing terms such as social responsibility, community engagement, stakeholders, spillover effects, quantifiable goodwill, sustainability, geo-politics and glocalisation. Mortenson's learning curve worked automatically. He is now teaching us how to create, manage and operate an enterprise that deserves the most prestigious award known in management parlance as the "Quality Award." Mortenson was awarded a Sitara Pakistan announced by Musharraf but conferred by Zardari yet his work remains little known in Pakistan. He has been iconoclastic in a region where our Muslim leaders despair of archaic tribal custom and militancy in the face of new players of the old great game. He has won the hearts and minds in the most militant and rigid tribal codes and created an educational miracle that extends to public health involving the most oppressed members of society namely women.

If the Pakistan Education Task Force was serious about change it would have studied the work of Greg Mortenson's CAI and Pakistan's own indigenous The Citizens Foundation and then set benchmarks and outlined best practices to chalk out a plan. A social media campaign would have then focused on mass appeal through a local version of Twitter that enlisted all telecom providers. The energized youth would have whole heartedly devoted time and resources to a noble cause. Remote access learning programs are already been effectively employed in many countries and even the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and other development organizations strongly advocate their usage. Even within the current dismal 2.1% of GDP devoted to education, directing more money to ICT based education programs can significantly address the education emergency. Pakistan Education Task Force has failed to plan and is thus planning to fail.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

LEADERS WHO COULD NOT LEAD

MAHBOOB A KHWAJA

 

Over the decades, Pakistani neo-colonial dominated politics failed to produce any leaders to lead the nation to a promising future. It will be rational to describe the Pakistani politics as being of the few, by the few and for the few. Under "Zardari's Katrina" (Foreign Policy, Aug 4, 2010), Fatima Bhutto, the niece of late Benazir Bhutto enlightens the readers with sensational insights on Asif Ali Zardari, the self-made president of Pakistan. In "Pakistan at Crossroads" (12/2009), it was noted that Dean Nelson of the UK Telegraph (October 07, 2009), had made a pinching observation and asked: "Has Pakistan lost its honour?"


The article referred to Dr. A.K Khan's much appraised Urdu write up "Ghairat" – honor a reflection on the current sad affairs of the nation. There are growing wall posters across the globe that Pakistan is a failed state, it is ruled by thugs and gangsters despised as the Pakistan People Party (PPP), and that Zardari is a known thieve who continues to operate without any impunity from the law and order agencies in Pakistan. Fatima Bhutto is no stranger but an insider of the Bhutto family and quite open to explain the tragic events facing the Pakistani people, not just the raging floods and loss of human lives but all the encompassing miseries, from poverty, human deprivation to moral and intellectual disabilities under the PPP governance.


While the masses were entrapped in life and death crisis, Mr. Zardari and five of his cabinet ministers were entertaining themselves in London Royal Suite at a daily cost of $11,160. But few conscientious British MP of Pakistani origin refused to meet with Zardari while in the United Kingdom. Is Zardari a fool or a qualified wicked person who does not care for the consequences of his behavior? Rationally, two distinct opposing characteristics such as piety and criminal behavior cannot be combined in one human character. There is ample recorded evidence to reflect on Pakistan's continued shame – Zardari, the president, Recently the "Total Truth Sciences" (Google website, March 2010) listed "Ten Ways to Recognize a Fool": Some of the indicators are quite startling and appear relevant to Zardari, if not in intent but in recognition of the facts of human personality. 1. A fool is anyone who despises wisdom, instruction, and correction from a proven mentor. 2. A fool is anyone who refuses to abandon evil even when corrected. 3. A fool is anyone who's conduct does not change even after experiencing the painful consequences of their foolish actions 4. A fool refuses to admit his mistakes even when his pain is the obvious result of his actions. Some of the basic facts must be clarified about Mr. Zardari who was not elected president by the people of Pakistan but he camouflaged the outcome of the national assembly elections while his wife Benazir Bhutto was killed in a public rally, and informed sources point out that Zardari might have forged the will of Miss Bhutto to assume the co-chairmanship to become president through the backdoor conspiracy and blessings of the US political operatives in Pakistan. It was a done deal through the offices of the US Government that General Musharaf, the former dictator will be given a safe passage outside Pakistan in return to phase-in Zardari to the president house. Currently, General Musharaf is residing in $1.4 million mansion in UK under the British security protection.


How did Zardari became the president, raises many truth seeking eyebrows in Pakistan but he was already known to be Mr. 10%, the corrupt person who was indicted in Pakistan and Switzerland on corruption charges and money laundering scheme of things. You won't get a straight answer if asked about the legitimacy of Zardari's presidency. It is a puzzle that remains a puzzle as to how an indicted criminal can assume the presidency of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan? Under the circumstances, Pakistanis appear more and more morally and politically deprived people chastised by God for a deliberate co-existence with the evil doers. When people live in darkness, they lose sense of direction. Conscientious Pakistanis MUST face the soul-searching question, how could thugs and criminals become leaders in Islamic Pakistan and rule the country for so long unless the people were also accomplice in this scheme of things? "Zardari takes lot of overseas trip" narrates Fatima Bhutto. Well, Zardari maintains high valued properties in France, Switzerland, UK and Dubai and elsewhere all with stolen money from his homeland, so he must keep the business as usual.

The national interest of Pakistan or the sufferings of the flood victims and thousands of reported deaths of the flood victims are not part of his mental faculties. Zardari is a businessman, and he is making money and doing that all over the world. It is just that his nation is helpless and deprived of any courageous leader to speak out the truth of which Fatima Bhutto is making reflection and all the wicked people all together to rule Pakistan, not to serve the cause of the masses who have lost everything in the floods and whose sufferings are their own, not understood or shared by the ruling elite under Zardari.


—The writer specializes in global security, peace and conflict resolution.

 

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THE AUSTRALIYAN

EDITORIAL

FEARS RISE AS BROADBAND TAKES ANOTHER BROADSIDE

STEPHEN CONROY NEEDS TO COMMUNICATE AN EXPLANATION.

You don't need high-speed broadband to realise the government's NBN project is facing serious difficulties. This historic scheme, the most expensive public infrastructure development in Australia, is being sold by the Gillard government as a bridge to the future. The aim is to deliver world-standard broadband access to every home and workplace in the nation, mostly through direct optical-fibre cabling, at a cost to taxpayers of $36 billion. Taxpayers have been told the services will be provided at affordable prices, with the public investment eventually recouped by privatisation. It all sounds too good to be true.

Paradoxically, for a project focused on communication and information, there has been a problematic lack of transparency. Since the project's announcement, the opposition has demanded a full cost-benefit analysis, to no avail. Because the National Broadband Network is being delivered through a publicly funded private corporation, NBN Co, it has avoided the scrutiny of parliament's public works committee, which would normally provide detailed examination of such a massive taxpayer investment. The project also receives privileged treatment under competition laws and is largely shielded from Freedom of Information obligations.

Given the federal government's poor track record in service and project delivery -- witness the BER program and the home insulation scheme -- taxpayers have every right to be keenly interested in the performance of the NBN. The slow installation, poor take-up rates and high costs in the first-release areas in Tasmania and on the NSW south coast give taxpayers no cause for comfort. Critics of the scheme continue to warn it is likely to prove far more expensive than even the government's record funding estimates and the latest developments point ominously towards a cost blow-out. The cancellation of the construction tender process because all the bids were too high has dramatically amplified these fears. And now we learn the executive in charge of the NBN build, Patrick Flannigan, has quit. With no reason given, the portents are not encouraging. Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has refused to explain it, arrogantly dismissing the departure as none of his concern. Confronted with these worrying problems, Prime Minister Julia Gillard has referred to the NBN as visionary and courageous, which is an interesting choice of words. Taxpayers perhaps don't expect tens of billions of their dollars to be spent courageously.

Senator Conroy has deflected critics from the start, dismissing warnings about the scope of the project, its primary reliance on one technology and the limited private sector involvement. He has stubbornly refused to conduct a cost-benefit analysis and portrayed the debate as one between the technology agents-of-the-future versus luddites. It is, of course, nothing of the sort. Most Australians recognise the importance of widespread, affordable broadband. At issue is the extent of the government's involvement, mix of technologies, cost of infrastructure, price of service and the competence involved. We certainly need to learn more about the NBN's difficulties but we already know that if something sounds too good to be true, it usually is.

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THE AUSTRALIYAN

EDITORIAL

ACTING IN THE NATIONAL INTEREST

THE SGX BID FOR THE ASX WAS MORE TAKEOVER THAN MERGER.

All other things being equal, if it came to a choice between market forces or politically expedient populism, the market gets our vote. Governments must keep the nation open for business if trade and investment is to remain healthy. But just because foreign investment is good for the nation does not mean that all foreign investment proposals are in the nation's interest.

A case can be made that the ASX should follow the global trend and merge with a larger international exchange, giving it greater access to global capital. But the Singapore exchange's $8.4 billion bid for the ASX , while portrayed as a merger, would, in fact, have been a takeover. The Australian board would have had to answer to the main board in Singapore, where control would have resided. The ASX would have been subject to directives of the Monetary Authority of Singapore, the regulator with discretionary power to block overseas bids for 5 per cent or more of the SGX.

The pertinent test is what would have happened had Australian investors wanted to buy the Singapore exchange. It is the same question we posed when Chinalco wanted to increase its stake in Rio Tinto. And Singapore, like China, would have sent us packing. On top of the MAS's blocking powers, the Singapore government's large stakes in key companies discourage bids in companies such as Singapore Airlines and SingTel, which was allowed to buy Australia's Optus. The SGX's dominant shareholder is the Singapore government's sovereign wealth fund.

Wayne Swan has left the door open until Monday for the operator of the Singapore exchange to give him reasons to overrule the FIRB's unanimous rejection of the deal, but he is most unlikely to do so. The FIRB decision is fortunate for Labor, saving it from a bruising row in parliament. The less said that could upset a valued ally and trading partner the better. The more important challenge for the Treasurer and the government is to set policies to allow Australia to take its pick of global investments as countries like Singapore have done for years. We must lock in the benefits of the mining boom for future generations with a dedicated savings fund to preserve and grow the current once-in-a-generation windfall. And it needs to happen soon, before any more of our common wealth is squandered.

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THE AUSTRALIYAN

EDITORIAL

LOTS FOR LEFT TO LEARN ON ISRAEL

THE GREENS' ANTI-ISRAEL POSTURING IS WRONG AND DANGEROUS.

Anti-Americanism was a fundamental tenet of the Left in Australia and around the world during the Cold War and some of it continues to this day, often expressed through the proxy of antipathy towards Israel. This is the only plausible way to explain the foolish and dangerous anti-Israel posturing of the Greens, exposed in our pages again today.

For many years the Labor Party was forced to quash this sort of theatrical railing against Israel but it has been largely relegated to the past because leaders such as Bob Hawke, Kim Beazley, Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard have demonstrated a solid commitment to the US alliance and a healthy respect for the democracy of Israel. Sadly, the Greens have been all too willing to take up the ground vacated by Labor's lunar Left. Former NSW Labor premier Bob Carr warned about this trend recently, saying the conservationists in the Greens are being "overtaken by the hardline leftist Greens".

This presents a dilemma for Greens leader Bob Brown who styles himself as Ms Gillard's partner in government. Despite distancing himself from the Israel boycott promoted by incoming senator Lee Rhiannon, Senator Brown is now confronted with a pattern of behaviour on this issue. Some of the Greens' support for the Palestinian people has translated into offensive condemnation of Israel, effectively providing succour to extremist, Iranian-sponsored groups such as Hamas. At a time when UN investigator Richard Goldstone has recognised his error in unfairly judging Israel over the Gaza war with Hamas, the Greens ought to be using the opportunity to apologise for their rhetoric and revise their policies.

Instead, Senator Brown has claimed that his is the only party with a clear Middle East policy, which is arrant nonsense. Labor and the Coalition are longstanding, robust and bipartisan supporters of a two-state solution and harsh critics of the Hamas extremists. If the Greens are to be taken seriously as responsible contributors to federal governance they will have to develop a credible and consistent attitude to foreign policy rather than have senators and state MPs free-ranging. The Greens need to inform themselves and contribute to an intelligent debate. The danger for Ms Gillard is that unless the Greens do this, they will not be the wind beneath her wings but the albatross around her neck.

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

EXCHANGE CALL LACKS CLARITY

The Treasurer, Wayne Swan, by failing to explain the reasons behind his disposition to block a takeover of the Australian Stock Exchange by the Singaporean bourse, has created a vacuum which gossip, speculation and intrigue have rushed to fill. The Treasurer is well within his rights, and indeed his responsibilities, to block a foreign takeover of an Australian company he deems to be against the national interest. But by failing to spell out the reasons why he, and the entire Foreign Investment Review Board, believe the proposed takeover would damage Australia's interests he leaves himself open to accusations of economic nationalism and politicisation of the decision-making process.

Australia long relied on foreign investment to finance the gap between our national savings and investment. Foreign dollars allow us to invest beyond our means, generating higher growth and delivering higher living standards than otherwise. It would be worrying indeed if foreign investors were left with the impression that their dollars are not welcome here.

Countries around the world are in the process of giving up the idea of stock exchanges as national icons. A global wave of stock exchange mergers, such as the recently announced merger between the New York Stock Exchange and Germany's Deutsche Boerse, is testament to this. At heart, stock exchanges provide a platform for companies to offer and exchange their shares. Regulation of trades is a separate matter monitored by a country's financial authorities. There is nothing wrong, per se, with a publicly listed stock exchange merging with another exchange.

Foreign investment rules seek to protect every Australian industry from foreign investments that could either damage the national interest, give rise to national security concerns, substantially diminish competition in that market or give a buyer of our goods and services a strategic stranglehold over the supply, as is the main concern with Chinese companies taking over our natural resource companies. Rumour has it the FIRB and Swan are concerned the Singaporean government's indirect stake in its stock exchange could mean decisions by a new merged entity would favour Singaporean businesses. Indeed, more of a takeover than a merger, the proposed deal raised concern in general about an imbalance of power in favour of the Singaporean entity.

Are these the potential sources of damage to Australia's national interest in the Treasurer's eyes? We just don't know. Into that breach run rumour and the perception that foreign investment decisions are dominated by political considerations, not transparent business or economic ones. It's a perception we can ill afford. The Treasurer must reveal his reasons. Quickly. 

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

A BAD ROAD MADE WORSE

The loss of yet another life along a notorious stretch of the Pacific Highway between Kempsey and Coffs Harbour raises questions which go far beyond the events that led to the horrific crash. It is believed the young male driver may have strayed onto the wrong side of the road early on Tuesday before smashing into an oncoming truck carrying chemicals; the truck driver escaped, but the ensuing explosion and fire consumed the victim's small four-wheel drive. An accident investigation will determine what happened. However, the real issue is why such tragedies continue to occur so frequently along one of Australia's main intercity highways. In February two elderly women died in a head-on collision only 500 metres from this week's accident site and the roadside trail of white crosses and wilting flowers is a constant reminder of hundreds more who have lost their lives in recent years - arguably as much to political complacency and bureaucratic ineptitude as to bad weather or driver fatigue or error.

That significant stretches of the coastal Sydney-to-Brisbane corridor are particularly dangerous is well-known; more than half the Pacific Highway is still an undivided two-lane road, more suited to local rural vehicles than an ever-increasing road freight industry and intercity traffic. It's more than two decades since Australia's worst road accident - a head-on crash between two tourist buses on this same stretch which killed 35 people and injured 41 - prompted the then NSW coroner, Kevin Waller, to recommend dual carriageway all the way. The coroner conceded that no roadworks could ever prevent deaths due to driver fatigue, error or recklessness, but argued a divided dual carriageway would prevent head-on collisions.

Various state and federal politicians regularly make the right noises about Pacific Highway black spots, but upgrading work has progressed far too slowly. Meanwhile, massive B-double freight trucks have gained access to the entire length of the highway, irrespective of the local conditions. RTA statistics show a sharp growth in truck traffic on the Pacific Highway since the 2002 decision on B-doubles; more than 10 per cent more trucks every year, compared with only 1.83 per cent for the inland New England Highway route. This makes for a treacherous traffic mix on narrow stretches. Accelerating road-building is the obvious answer. But whatever the conditions, all road users must be expected to drive safely within them, and keep to recommended limits. Needless discussion of margins of error for speed limits encourages reckless drivers to believe speeding is tolerated, and safety is someone else's problem.

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

UN RIGHT TO HASTEN DICTATOR'S END

WHILE the world's attention has been diverted by the civil war in Libya, thousands of people have been killed and a million made homeless in another African country that rarely makes the headlines. But the outcome of this second conflict, in Ivory Coast, is raising again all the questions about when, if ever, it is right to intervene in the internal conflicts of a sovereign state.

Five months ago, Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo was defeated in a UN-supervised election. In an all-too-familiar African scenario, however, he refused to stand aside for the victorious candidate, Alassane Ouattara. The result was a civil war that is now entering its final phase, as Mr Ouattara's forces take control of the country's commercial capital, Abidjan. The fighting has devastated a nation that is still recovering from an earlier conflict, but which once boasted one of Africa's more prosperous economies. Both sides are accused of atrocities, and Mr Gbagbo has attempted to incite tribal and religious hatred against Mr Ouattara, a Muslim from the north of the country. For his part, Mr Ouattara has to explain the slaughter last week of 1000 people in a district controlled by his forces.

There have been parallels with the war in Libya, with the Gbagbo government weakened by defections. And in the past week there has been international intervention, as helicopters flown by UN peacekeepers in Ivory Coast have attacked bases operated by Mr Gbagbo's army, destroying heavy weapons that have been used against civilians. French President Nicolas Sarkozy ordered French forces to participate in the attacks, after a request from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Some will question the wisdom of the intervention, as has happened with the NATO campaign in Libya, and the doubts will be fuelled by the fact that France is the former colonial power in Ivory Coast, and because both sides of the conflict have been accused of war crimes. The accumulated evidence of Mr Gbagbo's guilt is stronger, however, and his forces had earlier attacked the UN peacekeepers, intending to make their task impossible. And there is no doubt that he is clinging to power illegitimately. It is also a relevant consideration that, in Ivory Coast as in Libya, the foreign intervention was authorised by the UN, to protect civilians.

The ethics of intervention will never be simple, nor will intervention always be militarily possible. The lesson of Libya and Ivory Coast, however, is that tyrants are on notice that it may happen, and the world is better for that.

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

MILITARY'S SLOW FORWARD MARCH FAILS WOMEN

THE ADF MUST DO BETTER FOR THE SAKE OF DECENCY AND SECURITY.

IT'S a long time since military service was an all-male preserve. Not long enough, though, to eradicate a sexist culture that creates endless scandals. In the wake of an inquiry that confirmed female whistleblowers' complaints of drunken sexual misconduct aboard HMAS Success, a Defence Force Academy cadet has claimed that footage of her having sex with a fellow trainee was broadcast to his mates. Australian Federal Police and the ADF Investigative Service are investigating. The Age reports today that a reservist who runs courses on sexism and racism has been horrified by the attitudes in the ranks.

As Defence chief Angus Houston has said, sexism, drunkenness and bullying represent a cultural cancer that must be cut out. For a start, gross misconduct and disregard for the rules - and for senior officers' warnings - undermine discipline and operational effectiveness. The ADF's ability to attract enough talented recruits to fulfil its role is also compromised. The 8000 women in the ADF are entitled to the same respect as the men. Bastardisation of male recruits has long been condemned, but life in the military can be even tougher for women.

In 1998, a damning ADF report on sexism and sexual harassment - one of many over the years - prompted the then ADF chief, General John Baker, to promise ''zero tolerance''. At the time, 12.8 per cent of ADF personnel were women. Today, about 45 per cent of the Australian workforce is female, but the 2009-10 ADF annual report shows that of a permanent force of 57,799, only 7995, or 13.8 per cent, are women. That is a 1 percentage point increase in a dozen years. Unless many more women can be persuaded the military offers them a worthwhile career, the ''boys' club'' culture, which has also shamed male-dominated sporting codes, is likely to persist. Indeed, the reservist The Age quotes today, who has worked with ADF personnel and NRL players, is scathing about the ADF's slow progress.

At the top level, the ADF has engaged consultants, eliminated most discriminatory policies and intensified efforts to recruit women. More than 90 per cent of ADF job categories are open to women, who are no longer barred from serving at sea or required to resign if they marry or become pregnant. In 2008, Air Chief Marshal Houston convened a panel of prominent women working in the public and private sectors to advise on ways to make the ADF more female-friendly. A plan was launched to attract and retain more women, and the shift is reflected in the ADF's $15 million-a-year recruitment and advertising campaigns. The female intake rose from 13.6 per cent of recruits in 2008-09 to 14.9 per cent in 2009-10. Women make up 16.2 per cent of officers and 22 per cent of officers in training. It is also noteworthy that the rates at which men and women left the ADF last year were similar.

Recruitment and retention rates were the best in 20 years, but economic recovery and unemployment of about 5 per cent mean the ADF must compete with other employers for talented people. It cannot rely so heavily on only half the population, especially as 50 per cent of tertiary graduates are women. The ADF annual report notes the need to lift the quality of recruits so they can operate sophisticated military equipment in years to come. Even after favourable recruiting conditions, the ADF ended last year short of skilled personnel. About 20 employment categories were classed as critical, which ''severely limit the range of strategic and operational operations'', or perilous, with a risk of ''mission failure''.

The need to attract better recruits able to meet 21st-century military needs is why Defence chiefs cannot tolerate sexism and harassment. Public perceptions are a huge obstacle to recruitment of women. Those who do enlist should not have cause to regret it because of their gender. For decades, Australians have heard the promises of cultural change. Decency and the nation's defence demand better.

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THE GUARDIAN

EDITORIAL

IN PRAISE OF … PIEROGI

A cross between a dumpling and Italian ravioli, the Polish delicacy is not to be confused with the Russian pirozhki

The genealogy of one of Poland's culinary delights leads the uninitiated swiftly but surely through the minefield of empire, invasion and several centuries of eastern European history. Polish pierogi, a cross between a doughy dumpling and Italian ravioli or tortellini, are not to be confused with the Russian pirozhki, a baked bun stuffed with savoury or sweet fillings. But ask Russians what pierogi resemble, and they show no hesitation. It is, of course, nothing more than Russian pelmeni, they reply. Ukrainians hotly disagree. It's vareniki, because they are boiled until they float. The debate is further complicated by ruskie pierogi, with a filling of potato, white cheese and onion. Ruskie has nothing to do with Russia but Red Ruthenia or Eastern Galacia, which is now part of Ukraine. It is as straightforward as that. Whoever owns the copyright, the dish itself is delicious, although not for those pondering regime change. The word pierogi is plural for a reason; one is never enough. But once two or three have slipped down (filled with sauerkraut and dried mushrooms or minced pork, mushrooms and cabbage, with the attendant sour cream), weight-watching must be a distant memory. The dish is as versatile as its many fillings. It also knocks on the head the notion that fast food is a North American phenomenon, but for too long pierogi were displaced by the superior marketing of McDonald's. It is time the flow of the fast-food industry was reversed and pierogi were a common sight on the streets of Britain.

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THE GUARDIAN

EDITORIAL

PORTUGAL'S CRISIS: OUT OF OPTIONS

Portugal has been the financial-market equivalent of a dead man walking ever since José Sócrates resigned on 23 March

It took Portugal's prime minister, José Sócrates, two weeks to accept the inevitable but he finally got there. By calling on Brussels for an emergency loan, Mr Sócrates was indeed taking the most drastic of all measures available to him – but he was also only doing what European policymakers, financial markets and many Portuguese had been expecting for days.

In truth, Mr Sócrates ran out of options on 23 March, when he resigned as prime minister after failing to get yet another austerity programme of spending cuts and tax rises through parliament. That evening Portugal entered political limbo – and became the financial-market equivalent of a dead man walking. Borrowing costs for the state have been on the rise for over a year now, but in the past two weeks they have ratcheted sharply upwards. When officials in Lisbon tried to raise €1bn in short-term credit, financiers charged them 5.12% for a loan of six months, up from 2.99% at the start of March. By way of comparison, at current rates the German government is charged only 3.42% for a loan lasting 10 years. In effect, this was a buyers' strike: cash was just about available – but at such high interest rates that you'd almost rather not have it.

Had that situation continued much longer, Portugal would have needed to borrow an ever-increasing amount from financiers just to pay the interest it owed them.

Details of the Brussels package will take some time to be negotiated – although European commission's president José Manuel Barroso promised that all would be processed as swiftly as possible – but some important basic points can be made now.

If the package is anything like that offered to Greece and Ireland, Portugal will not get a handout, but a loan facility – and it will not come cheap. Dublin has got its emergency loans for over seven years, but they are at just below 6%. That is better than financiers would offer, no doubt, but punishing enough that the newly-appointed premier Enda Kenny is campaigning for a bit more slack. Under their EU/IMF bailouts, Greece and Ireland are still saddled with a massive debt burden that will drag on their economies for many years to come.

Lisbon is likely to get much the same treatment. Without the option to devalue their currencies or to default on their debt, all three countries face a mini-depression – contracting or near-stagnant economies and rocketing unemployment.

One big consequence of the Portuguese bailout is that investors are bound to ask if Spain is next. After all, Spain's trade with neighbouring Portugal is worth 10% of its GDP and three of its biggest banks have Portuguese subsidiaries. All the same, Spain is not in the same boat as Portugal or indeed the rest of southern Europe – its public finances have historically been run with far more discipline than in Greece, and it is well into programmes to reduce government borrowing and clear up its troubled saving-banks (or cajas). Markets have been inclined to give Madrid the benefit of the doubt so far; when the Portuguese government finally collapsed in March, it was notable that Spanish borrowing costs barely rose.

Spain is an economy almost too big for the eurozone to fail, and much of the effort in the eurozone over the past year has been expended on putting it behind what officials and financiers refer to as a firewall. If those efforts have succeeded – and despite all the economic rationalism, it is a big if – then Portugal will appear to be the climax of the Great Eurozone Crisis of 2009-2011. That is a result that many eurocrats will see as at least half a victory. But some tense weeks lie ahead before we can know that. And in the meantime three European countries – Greece, Ireland, Portugal – will have been forced to seek financial rescues that will lead to years of austerity. Some victory.

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THE GUARDIAN

EDITORIAL

SOARING STUDENT FEES: PAIN WITHOUT GAIN

Recouping the vanished teaching grant by charging high is a natural impulse there is little reason to suppress

This week the Liberal Democrats forced an open retreat on the NHS. The state of play in the universities, where the party loyally rode into the valley of death for the sake of coalition unity, suggests this was wise. Their chief cavalier in the charge of fees, Vince Cable, reluctantly wore a £9,000 cap in return for worthy but obscure protections for poor graduates.

The explicit understanding, however, was that the full £9,000 would only be charged in exceptional cases. Most colleges would compete below the cap, securing value for students and bringing down average fees to the point where Whitehall's scarce funds could cover the subsidised loans that have to finance them. Well, that was the theory, but experts spotted flaws. Recouping the vanished teaching grant by charging high is a natural impulse there is little reason to suppress – and especially not if snobby students regard discounts as the marker of an unappealing bargain-basement education. It was thus both predictable and predicted that many universities would cluster at £9,000, although it is startling how many are now doing so. Of those institutions who have shown their hands, three in four are maxing out, including former polytechnics such as the University of Central Lancashire. A worried Dr Cable yesterday conceded to an audience of vice-chancellors that he had "not seen much evidence" of the creative thinking about curbing costs the new market was supposed to spur. He threatened to withdraw unfilled places at institutions who have over-charged. His difficulty is that this threat is an idle one, as places will be filled at almost any price.

With youth unemployment at 18% and rising, the smart money is on excess demand for college places again this summer. Last year 10 candidates chased every available place through the clearing process. Snatching any places unfilled after that (and there may well be none) may help (slightly) with balancing the books, but it will not deter universities because of the tiny number of places involved. Besides, cutting back on places in some colleges without increasing them elsewhere is deeply perverse, since the whole point of higher fees was meant to be releasing the growing desire to enrol in college from the constraints of public finance.

Thank goodness Dr Cable and David Willetts managed to limit the hit the Home Office had tried to impose on income from foreign students, otherwise they would be in an even finer mess. A fine mess it remains, however. In time perhaps new providers will – as they hope – force overcharging institutions to mend their ways or close their doors. For the moment, fees will be tripled, and neither students nor the Treasury will have much to show for the pain.

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THE JAPAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

OVERCOMING THE NUCLEAR CRISIS

The crisis at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant does not warrant optimism. Nuclear fuel in the cores of the No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 reactors is believed to have been severely damaged. In the No. 4 reactor's storage, where spent nuclear fuel is kept, water evaporated at one point, and a hydrogen explosion released radioactive substances into the environment.

The government should pay close attention to proposals made by 16 Japanese experts on nuclear power engineering, nuclear physics and radiology on April 1. It should mobilize all available means to mitigate the crisis.

Tepco is cooling the reactors by pumping water into them by using pumps connected with external power sources. But it cannot stop highly radioactive water from flowing out of the reactors. The more water it pumps into the reactors, the more contaminated water flows outside. Apparently, components for containing radioactive water have been damaged. The No. 2 reactor's suppression pool is feared to have cracked.

On land, the accumulated radiation level during 11 days from March 23 has reached 10.34 millisieverts in the town of Namie, Fukushima Prefecture, just outside the 30-km radius of Fukushima No. 1. Residents inside the zone should evacuate or stay indoors. If the accumulated level over several days reaches a range of 10 to 50 millisieverts, the government calls on residents to stay inside their homes to avoid radiation.

The situation at Fukushima No. 1 is "extremely serious" and demands Japan's all-out efforts, the 16 experts said in their April 1 statement. Three of the 16 — Mr. Shiori Ishino, professor emeritus at the University of Tokyo, Mr. Shunichi Tanaka, former acting chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, and Mr. Shojiro Matsuura, former chairman of the Nuclear Safety Commission — explained the statement at the education and science ministry.

Since those who signed the statement include former members of the AEC, a body that sets the nation's basic policy for development and use of nuclear power, the NSC, a body that sets the nation's basic nuclear safety policy, and scientists belonging to the Atomic Energy Society of Japan, the government and Tepco should share their sense of crisis and humbly follow their proposals.

The 16 "as people who have pushed peaceful use of nuclear power" expressed their regret over the nuclear crisis and apologized to people. But they did not hide their fear that a critical situation may develop at Fukushima No. 1. They do not rule out the possibility that as time goes on, a molten core melts a weak part of a pressure vessel and enters a containment vessel, destroying the reactor's function to contain radioactive substances, or that hydrogen gas forming inside a pressure vessel explodes and destroys a containment vessel, causing serious radioactive contamination over a large expanse of land and sea. They warn that release of a large amount of radioactive substances could make uninhabitable not only the current evacuation zone but also larger areas.

Mr. Tanaka and others said that the current makeshift efforts to cool the No. 1, 2 and 3 reactors will not be able to completely cool down molten nuclear fuel so as it will not burst through the bottom of pressure vessels. They also said the three reactors contain a much larger amount of radioactive substances than the Chernobyl nuclear plant did.

The points made by the statement include: (1) utmost efforts must be made to both prevent the release of a large amount of radioactive substances and to reactivate the residual heat removal system which internally circulates water to cool reactors and spent fuel storages, (2) spent nuclear fuel must be completely immersed in water, (3) detailed measurement of radioactivity both in the air and the soil in various areas and assessment of their effects must be announced so that area-specific measures can be taken and (4) residents should be fully informed before and after radioactive substances are vented from reactors.

It adds that since hydrogen is forming all the time in the reactors, hydrogen explosions must be prevented at any cost.

The statement also calls for (1)increasing personnel at Fukushima No. 1 to lower their exposure to radiation and to enable them to take enough rest and (2) setting up the headquarters for the crisis containing operations inside or near the plant site (so that headquarters personnel share the burden of radiation exposure and pain with on-site workers.)

The 16 experts say it is essential to set up a system in which the NSC will take the lead in strategically and flexibly utilizing the knowledge and experience of Japan's nuclear authorities — including the Japan Atomic Energy Agency and the National Institute of Radiological Sciences — the power and related industries and universities to end the nuclear crisis. Prime Minister Naoto Kan must exercise strong leadership in setting up this system as soon as possible.

 

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THE JAPAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

WEST IS ON A SLIPPERY SLOPE

BY BRAHMA CHELLANEY

NEW DELHI — From initially seeking to protect civilians to now aiming for a swift, total victory in Libya, the mission creep that has characterized the Western powers' military attack raises troubling questions about their Libyan strategy and the risks that it could end up creating — however inadvertently — a jihadist citadel at the southern doorsteps of Europe.

After having tacitly encouraged and endorsed the Saudi military intervention in Bahrain to crush peaceful protests against a totalitarian monarchy, the military intervention in a tribally divided Libya indeed has helped highlight a selective approach to the promotion of freedom and the protection of civilians — an approach reinforced by these powers' continuing support to other Western-backed Arab regimes that have employed disproportionate force to quell popular uprisings or unrest.

The Western powers must be applauded for enunciating the goal to prevent civilian slaughter. The free world cannot stand by while tyrants use military forces to massacre civilians. But any intervention — whether military in nature or in the form of economic and diplomatic sanctions — must meet the test of impartiality, if despots are to be stopped from unleashing untrammeled repression.

Ivory Coast — where rampant abuses and widespread killings have led up to one million residents to flee Abidjan, as strongman Laurent Gbagbo openly defies the international community — was clearly a more-pressing case for international intervention than Libya. But because it lacks strategic importance or oil, the exodus of Ivorians into Liberia and the influx of Liberian mercenaries have continued unchecked.

The political upheaval in the Arab world is tectonic in nature, with the potential to transform the Middle East and North Africa in the same way that the 1989 Berlin Wall's fall fundamentally changed Europe. Indeed, 1989 was such a watershed in world history that the most profound geopolitical change has occurred in the period since in the most compressed historical time frame. Yet, with the same regimes and practices firmly entrenched for decades, the Arab world had escaped change.

Now, the tumult in the Arab world represents a belated reaction — a yearning for change that signals a grassroots democratic awakening. But will this awakening lead to democratic empowerment of the masses? After all, there is a wide gulf between democratic awakening and democratic empowerment.

The air of expectancy in the Arab world today parallels the new hope that emerged in the East bloc in 1989. Yet history rarely moves in a linear or predictable fashion. While it is now clear that much of the Arab world is in transition from the present order, it is not clear what it is in transition to.

In 1989, an American scholar, Francis Fukuyama, smugly claimed in an essay that made him famous that the Cold War's end marked the end of ideological evolution, "the end of history," with the "universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government." Yet two decades after the Cold War's end, the global spread of democracy is still encountering strong head winds, with only a small minority of states in Asia, for example, being true democracies.

In fact, a new bipolar, Cold War-style ideological divide has re-emerged in the world. The rise of authoritarian capitalism — best symbolized by China but embraced by countries as disparate as Malaysia, Singapore, Kazakhstan and Qatar in different forms, soft or hard — has created a new international model that competes with (and openly challenges) liberal democracy.

Latest developments indeed are a reminder that democratic empowerment hinges on complex factors in any society — both endogenous and exogenous. Internally, two factors usually hold the key: the role of security forces, and the technological sophistication of a state's repressive capacity.

In recent weeks, security forces have helped shape developments in different ways in three Arab states. While the popular uprising in Yemen has splintered the security establishment there, with different military factions now in charge of different neighborhoods in the capital San'a, the Bahraini monarchy has employed foreign Sunni mercenaries that dominate its police force to fire on the predominantly Shiite demonstrators.

In Egypt, it was the military's refusal to side with Hosni Mubarak that helped end that ex-air force commander's three-decade-long dictatorial rule. The military, long part of the political power structure, had become increasingly wary of Mubarak's efforts to groom his son as his successor.

Today, the heady talk of freedom cannot obscure the reality that the people's revolution in Egypt thus far has spawned only a direct military takeover, with the 30-year emergency law still in force and the country's political direction uncertain. Although the ruling military council has scheduled parliamentary elections in September, the fact is that is no country has the military voluntarily ceded power without mass protests or other pressures.

As for the second key internal factor, an autocracy's ability to effectively police cell-phone calls, electronic messages, e-mail and access to the Internet has become as important as a well-oiled security apparatus. The use of social networking sites and instant messaging to organize mass protests has made national capability to enforce stringent, real-time censorship of electronic communications critical.

Take China: its internal-security system extends from state-of-the-art surveillance and extralegal detention centers to an army of paid informants and neighborhood patrols looking out for troublemakers. In response to Internet calls for people to gather on Sundays at specific sites in Shanghai and Beijing to help launch a jasmine revolution, China has bared a new strategy: pre-emptively flood the protest-designated squares with police to leave no room for protesters.

As the world leader in stringent, real-time censorship of electronic communications, China appears strongly placed to block the contagion from the Arab world reaching its shores.

External factors are especially important in small or internally weak countries. Nothing illustrates this better than Bahrain: The House of Saud sent forces into that nation under the Gulf Cooperation Council banner to crush peaceful protests, yet it is civil war-torn Libya that became the target of an international military attack.

The blunt fact is that no nation has contributed more to the spread of global jihad than Saudi Arabia. Indeed, this terror-bankrolling state's military intervention to prop up the Bahraini regime parallels the 1979 Soviet intervention to bolster a besieged Afghan regime in Kabul — an invasion that led to the multibillion-dollar, CIA-scripted arming of Afghan rebels and the consequent rise of transnational Islamic terrorists, including al-Qaida.

Yet, as the CIA conducts covert operations in Libya to aid rebels, Washington is in danger of coming full circle and spurring the rise of a jihadist haven at Europe's southern gates.

The broadening of the Libya intervention from a limited, humanitarian mission to an all-out assault on the Libyan military suggests that this war is really about ensuring that the Arab world does not slip out of Western control. The intervention has seemingly been driven by a cold geopolitical calculation: to bottle up or eliminate Moammar Gadhafi so that his regime doesn't exploit the political vacuum in neighboring Egypt and Tunisia.

Yet few have examined the costs the free world is made to pay — in the form of rising Islamic extremism and terrorism — for the overpowering U.S. intent to have only puppet Arab regimes, an objective that has fostered an alliance with inimical Wahhabi forces.

At a time when America needs comprehensive domestic renewal, it has slid — under a president who won a Nobel peace prize in his first year in office — into a third war when the other two wars already carry an aggregate $150 billion annual price tag. A quick military victory in Libya is what President Barack Obama badly needs to reverse his declining popularity at home and win re-election.

But even if the Gadhafi regime collapses quickly under the mounting military attacks, re-creating a unified, stable Libya free of Islamist groups may prove difficult. Saddam Hussein's ouster by the invading U.S. forces did not yield the desired results. Instead, a once-stable, secular Iraq has been destabilized, radicalized and effectively partitioned.

With Libya set to become Obama's Iraq, a plausible scenario there is a protracted stalemate, coupled with a tribally partitioned country. The paradox is that while aiding Libyan contras even at the risk of creating another Afghanistan, the U.S. is desperately seeking a deal with medieval forces — the Taliban — to stave off certain defeat in the decade-long Afghan war.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates recently rebuked allies for effectively abandoning the Afghan war. Why blame allies when the U.S. itself has abandoned the goal of victory and now seeks only a face-saving exit? And even as the U.S. fires hundreds of missiles at Libyan targets, its policy on Pakistan — the main sanctuary for transnational terrorists — is unraveling fast, with Washington clueless on how to stem the rising tide of anti-Americanism in a country that is now its largest aid recipient.

In fact, with popular revolts sweeping much of the Arab world, the White House has concluded that the Arab monarchs are likely to survive but the Arab presidents are more likely to fall and, therefore, it is OK for the U.S. to continue to coddle tyrannical kings.

The effort to draw specious distinctions between "good" or valuable despots and "bad" or discardable despots is redolent of the manner in which the arming of "good" contras has exacted heavy international costs.

The resort to different standards and practices in the name of promoting human freedom, unfortunately, sends the message that democratic empowerment in any society is possible only if it is in the great powers' geopolitical interest. This also plays into the hands of the world's largest, oldest and most-powerful autocracy, China, which has long accused the West of using promotion of democracy as a geopolitical tool.

More fundamentally, the issue is whether there should be a rules-based international order or an order pivoted on military might and driven by the narrow interests of the most powerful.

Brahma Chellaney is the author of "Asian Juggernaut" (Harper Paperbacks) and "Water: Asia's New Battlefield" (Georgetown University Press, forthcoming).

 

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THE JAPAN TIMES

OPED

FALLOUT OF NUCLEAR AND FINANCIAL MELTDOWNS

BY GEORG ZACHMANN

BRUSSELS — The metaphors used during the financial crisis of 2008-2009 — earthquake, tsunami, meltdown, black swan and fallout — are back with a vengeance, but now they are being recycled literally. In fact, the financial crisis and the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima nuclear-power plant in Japan share at least four similarities:

* The "black swan" metaphor suggests that these events reflect difficulty in correctly assessing risks in complex systems.

* Regulators proved unable to forecast and prevent the crisis.

* The "fallout" is potentially cross-border in nature.

* The costs incurred by the imprudent companies will be partly socialized.

The 9.0-magnitude earthquake that struck Japan is, of course, a highly exceptional event — an event so rare that its probability cannot be well assessed with models based on limited historic data. Events with very low probability but high impact — so-called tail risks — have also been at the heart of the financial crisis.

One cause of the financial crisis was financial institutions' appetite for selecting (and in some cases, creating) products with above-average returns in normal times but excessive losses in exceptional cases. Old nuclear power plants in seismic zones have a similar payoff structure. Moreover, both the financial- and nuclear-risk models seem to not have correctly appreciated the correlations between different risks.

While financial institutions tried to mitigate risks by bundling subprime mortgages, Fukushima's cooling system was able to cope with either a blackout and an earthquake, or a tsunami. But, in both cases, the failure probabilities were correlated, and their joint occurrence led to catastrophe.

Both nuclear and financial meltdowns tend to leave behind fallout. In the Japanese case, only wind and the lack of a land border prevented a major impact on neighboring countries. In continental Europe, many reactors are within 161 km of another country's territory. So a nuclear accident in Europe would likely have cross-border consequences.

But, like financial regulation, nuclear regulation in the European Union, even with its Euratom treaty, is still essentially national. And, given the deep disparities in nuclear power's importance for European economies, consensus on regulatory harmonization is hard to reach.

France, for example, will remain dependent on its nuclear-generating capacity, which will continue to account for the largest share of its electricity. Italy, on the other hand, might wish for a zero-nuclear risk environment, as it does not produce electricity from nuclear power but is surrounded (within about 160 km) by one Slovene, one Swiss and six French nuclear-power plants. French reluctance to subject its nuclear plants to European regulation determined by its nuclear-skeptical neighbors is comparable to British efforts to prevent major European harmonization of financial-market rules, owing to the importance of its financial sector.

Another similarity between Japan's current crisis and the recent financial crisis is that the false risk assessment was largely due to the asymmetric distribution of social welfare and individual cost implied by more effective risk mitigation. Both Lehman Brothers and Tokyo Electric Power Company were able to increase their profits as long as the risk they were willing to accept did not materialize. Their management certainly benefited as long as everything went well. When crisis hit, however, the cost of the meltdown exceeded the companies' equity and thus had to be socialized.

So there is a structural failure in coping with complex private activities that risk leading to large societal damage. In fact, this is well understood — and is the reason why we have regulators for most such systems.

But, prior to both Japan's nuclear crisis and the financial crisis, regulators were unable to prevent the risk. America's SEC did not require more capital or halt risky practices at the big investment banks. Japan's nuclear regulator did not enforce stricter security rules.

There are several reasons for this regulatory failure, including the inability to acquire and process all relevant data, the political difficulty of enforcing strict judgments, and the difficulty of modeling tail risks. Consequently, relying on low failure probabilities, national policies, the caution of private actors, and monitoring by regulators seems to be insufficient to prevent catastrophe. So what should be done?

As in finance, ensuring that the originator of a risk pays the cost seems to be the most sensible approach. If each nuclear-power plant was obliged to insure against the risk that it imposes on society (within and outside the country of its location), it would face the true economic cost of its activities.

In this ideal world, insurance for individual plants would be linked to factors that can and cannot be influenced, such as location in a densely populated area and the local population's risk averseness. Furthermore, risk assessment should be linked to individual plants' risk factors, such as location in a seismic zone, secondary containment, safety redundancies, etc. Plants in densely populated areas with lower safety standards, for example, would face higher insurance costs, which could lead to a self-selected phaseout of the riskiest plants.

Implementation of such a scheme is unlikely, however. First, it is virtually impossible to assess individual plants' risk profiles correctly. Second, such a scheme would impose large costs on only a few companies in a few countries. Their governments would fight hard to protect these companies from being required to pay for the societal risks that they represent.

This likely outcome mirrors the initiative for a European or global banking fund to insure against the next financial crisis. In both cases, however, perfect insurance could nonetheless serve as a valid benchmark to guide the choice of policies to implement.

Moving toward this benchmark could be aided by two measures: first, a phaseout of nuclear power plants not according to their age, but to their risk profile, however schematically this is calculated; and, second, introduction of mandatory cross-national insurance for nuclear accidents. Under such a scheme, the Soviet Union in 1986, for example, would have been required to pay for the costs that the Chernobyl accident imposed on European farmers and health care systems.

Implementing these improvements will be difficult, to be sure. As with the financial sector, however, crisis can be the mother of reform.

Georg Zachmann is a research fellow at Bruegel. © 2011 Project Syndicate

 

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THE JAKARTA POST

EDITORIAL

PSSI REFORM KICK

What a shame. Indonesian soccer, which has been struggling on the field, needs unprecedented intervention from international patron FIFA to overcome off-the-field matters.

Nevertheless, the world soccer body has come up with the much-awaited prescription to help the Indonesian Soccer Association (PSSI) recuperate and find new momentum to restore public faith and furthermore the country's pride on an international level.

Now that FIFA has formed a "normalization committee" under former PSSI chairman Agum Gumelar, support from all parties is all that the national soccer ruling body needs to cool down and regroup after months of energy-sapping controversy centering on Nurdin Halid, who has recently lost FIFA's confidence as PSSI chairman.

The committee's mission to bring the PSSI and the country's soccer back to normal is crystal clear, and nobody should doubt it or interpret it as they please.

According to FIFA, Agum and his team will have to administer a national congress to elect the new PSSI chairman, a post that definitely cannot go to Nurdin, former deputy chairman Nirwan Bakrie, or contenders Army chief of staff Gen. George Toisutta and businessman Arifin Panigoro.

It's imperative for the committee to hold an election that upholds fair play and sportsmanship, the virtues of sports. If necessary, the committee can introduce a new selection process that allows the public to scrutinize the candidates.

The committee has to give no room to non-partisan candidates, including government officials, to run for the PSSI chief post, as experience has taught that the soccer body needs individuals who dedicate themselves only to soccer rather than politically-wired or high-ranking officials.

Another challenging job Agum has to bear is to reconcile factions within the national soccer community, which culminated in the launch of Indonesian Premier League (LPI) as a rival of the PSSI-sanctioned Indonesian Super League.

The good news, if the reconciliation materializes, is the return of soccer idol Irfan Bachdim and other "rebel" players to the national squad. They have been banned from national coach Alfred Riedl's roster due to their commitment to LPI.

It remains to be seen how Agum and the PSSI will formulate the reconciliation, as it will deal with non-technical matters such as sponsorship. It is certain, however, competition will be tighter and only the best will make it to the national team.

For better or worse, the scrimmage plaguing the PSSI gives us a dear lesson. The soccer body has turned a deaf ear to aspirations from its constituents who demanded a change of guard as they knew the individuals who ran the organization were part of the problem.

Therefore, reform is undoubtedly the pressing agenda for the new soccer boss to be elected in the upcoming congress in Surabaya early in May.

 

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THE JAKARTA POST

RE-DIRECTING THE ACCUSATIONS AGAINST NURDIN HALID

MIKAEL DIAN TEGUH

At this point in time we are likely to blame and deem Nurdin Halid, the current chairman of Indonesian Soccer Association (PSSI), as a notorious figure who is behind all of the mess plaguing national soccer that has forced the world soccer body FIFA to intervene.

Having looked tough and unrivaled during his period as the PSSI boss since 2003, Nurdin has started to lose grip on his position over the last couple of months.

That is mostly due to the chain reaction that he set off when he tried to stop the LPI (Liga Primer Indonesia), a rival competition initiated by businessman Arifin Panogoro in a show of protest against the official competition that relies on regional budgets as the main financial source.

Upon assessing what has happened and what will follow in this conflict, I think it is best for us to understand the core of the problem based on appropriate logic before judging.

It is not Nurdin, regardless of the way the society has turned against him, however, who should be held responsible for the malfunction of our national soccer.

He has in fact contributed a lot to the PSSI, in spite of his criminal track record.

Nurdin was behind the division of the Indonesian soccer league into two regions: West and East.

Although it proved short-lived, the policy saw an increase in the number of clubs and more chance for new talent to develop, especially those from the eastern part of Indonesia who had been overlooked.

Nurdin was also a player behind Indonesia's outstanding performance in the latest AFC Cup in
December 2010, although the national team was beaten in the final by Malaysia.

The naturalization of foreign and foreign-based players, which became a major focus of the media during the AFC Cup fever, is one of Halid's legacies that put Indonesia back on the international scene.

The point is that Halid has indeed done some major things to revolutionize the system as the PSSI chief.

Nevertheless, Indonesian society tends to review the case in such a way that we end up missing the core problem, which is far more serious than simply who should lead the PSSI.

I personally believe that it is not the PSSI chairman himself but the entire structure of the organization that is in need of sweeping reform.

A telling example of this was clearly seen when the media reported the news that Indonesia crashed out of the Olympic Games 2012 qualifying.

That Turkmenistan, a nation deemed as having a lower quality soccer than Indonesia, managed to send Yongki Aribowo and his young colleagues out of the Olympics was supposedly a matter that warranted self-reflection.

The event prompted an immediate conclusion that Indonesia's young soccer talent had not improved compared to those from fellow developing countries. This contradicts the fact that the PSSI once had a youth league that was a breeding ground of future national and professional players.

If the young talent is not handled with care, how can we hope for them to realize our long-waited achievement?

Regardless of the desires of the stakeholders, soccer should belong to the general public or every person in this country. That part is something that we have been missing with the recent administration of the PSSI.

The axis of Nurdin, PSSI secretary general Nugraha Besoes and deputy chairman Nirwan Bakrie were often at the forefront of key decision-making, such as in the case of the ticket prices fiasco ahead of the AFC Cup final match.

The dominant role of the trinity and efforts to dethrone them have sparked allegations of a conspiracy, particularly as the government has clearly displayed its disapproval of the incumbent PSSI leaders.

Given the complexity of the issue, it is obvious that at the end the press and the people will seek someone to blame. Enter Nurdin, with his sort of criminal background and his decision to cling to power, who has now been deemed as the source of all the problems.

Yet, despite all of the accusations, let us exercise our wisdom by viewing Nurdin as not the only person we should blame for the decline of Indonesian soccer.

Not only the boss, indeed, but the system and certain other members of the PSSI should also share the responsibilities for failing to listen to the true needs of Indonesian soccer in the past.

Finally we have to ask ourselves: Will the future PSSI, with or without Nurdin, be able to reform and reach what we have long expected, or will it be no better than it is today?

The writer is an English language student at Sanata Dharma University in Yogyakarta

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THE JAKARTA POST

PLANNED RUPIAH REDENOMINATION FOR NATIONAL PRIDE?

MOCH. DODDY ARIEFIANTO

One important aspect of the currency bill that is being debated by the House of Representatives is redenomination.

The issue, raised by Bank Indonesia last year, has drawn controversy, although the spirit of the policy is to increase national "pride" in our currency, the rupiah.

The rupiah is one of the "cheapest" currencies in the world, with denominations reaching 100,000, second only to Vietnam's dong, which has a 500,000 note. We would see if the advantage of this complex policy is justified.

Redenomination is a policy to change the denomination of a currency at particular ratio (Dogarawa, 2007). In most cases, redenomination is conducted only by eliminating a number of zeros in the old denomination. This change does not alter purchasing power; it is purely a matter of rescaling.

In a disclosed plan, Bank Indonesia (BI) will replace the current Rupiah with a new currency at a ratio of 1 to 1,000.

A cellular phone voucher which now costs Rp 100,000, for example, would be valued at Rp 100.
This process, of course, needs a transition period, in which all goods in the economy will have two prices: one for old rupiah and one for new rupiah.

The concept is really simple and many countries have adopted it. Since 1960, there have been 70 redenomination episodes (Moseley, 2005), including Turkey (2005), Romania (2005), Zimbabwe (three times between 2006 and 2008) and Brazil (1994).

Redenomination is usually conducted for two reasons: First, if an economy experiences high inflation and second in the case of a currency union. In most cases redenomination follows high and chronic inflation.

Turkey, for example, experienced almost 100 percent annual inflation in the 1990s before opting for redenomination. The accumulation of such a high inflation rate caused regular prices to reach astronomical levels. It was not surprising that when redenomination took place in Turkey, six zeros were removed from the currency.

Indonesia had a similar experience in 1965. After years of macroeconomic mismanagement, inflation reached 1,136 percent. Redenomination was performed, and the new Rp 1 replaced Rp 1,000 of the old currency.  

The most important benefit of redenomination is restoring the credibility of policy makers. Through the policy, authorities send a signal that past macroeconomic management was wrong: That there were past mistakes but from now on the macroeconomic management will be more prudent.

Another advantage of (successful) redenomination is convenience. Most humans cannot deal in calculations that involve too many digits. We can imagine the hard time that a cashier or bank teller would have while handling currencies whose denominations reached billions (nine zeros). Even electronic systems could experience errors or crash if forced to handle transactions with too many digits.

It should be noted, however, that redenomination is a mere signaling instrument. It could succeed or fail to achieve its original goal. If a regime has entirely lost public confidence, a series of redenominations would not have any impact.

The Zimbabwe Central Bank performed redenominations four times (4th Zimbawe dollar) between 2002 and 2008, but annual inflation remained out of control. The bank gave up and since April 2009, Zimbabwe has adopted the South African rand and US dollar as a means of exchange.

The implementation of redenomination could impose a significant cost on a state. The principal cost is the adjustment cost.

BI has planned for 2013-2018 to be a transition period when both the old and new rupiah will be
applicable. In this period, every business player should display price tags using both the new and old currencies.

With millions different kinds of goods and services available, the cost of this adjustment will be high. In addition, enterprises should accommodate financial reporting / accounting in both currencies.

Another problem may arise due to coordination failures. It is possible that after the redenomination the new price of certain goods is not the same as it used to be.

This condition would most likely arise when market competition is not perfect because of the presence of monopolistic and oligopolistic practices. There would be a particular group of society that loses because of the redenomination.

While it must be admitted that the current ratio is not ideal, it is not psychologically disturbing either.

Inflation is well managed and has hovered below two digits for the past five years. It could be said that the government has succeeded in creating an image and reputation of prudent macroeconomic management.

No complaints have been heard of the number of digits in the currency, either. Therefore we need to question if this policy is necessary to improve the national image.

While it is not wrong to improve this image, all necessary costs of policy implementation should be calculated beforehand. Policy makers need also to answer if redenomination is a feasible means to reaching a better currency standing.


The most important benefit of redenomination is restoring the credibility of policy makers.

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THE JAKARTA POST

CRUCIAL POINTS IN SPY BILL

MUHAMMAD NAJIB

The House of Representatives and government are currently debating a House-sponsored bill on intelligence. This follows on from a lengthy deliberation among members of House Commission I, involving political parties and input from experts and academic research.

The bill was formulated in the House's legislative body after making sure it did not conflict with other laws.

In his response to the initiative bill, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono focused on four matters, which means that everything aside from these matters was acceptable. The first has to do with state intelligence bodies.

The current administration feels it is untimely to form a State Intelligence Coordinating Agency, as stipulated in Chapter VI of the bill. It seems that the administration wants to retain the coordination function, which has traditionally been conducted by the State Intelligence Agency (BIN).

While the House has not yet detected any serious problems regarding coordination among intelligence units within the military, police, Attorney General's Office and other intelligence functions, coordination issues could become a serious problem in the future. This possibility takes into consideration the increasing problems that must be addressed, increasing in numbers and complexity. Furthermore, this chapter was made to avoid overlapping intelligence functions and any possibility of rivalry among state intelligence authorities.

The second matter relates to state secrets, as regulated in Chapter V. The government recognized that state secrets had a nondisclosure period, except for those which could endanger national security if declassified. It looks like the administration deems the 20-year nondisclosure period (Article 25, clauses 1 and 2) proposed by the House as not long enough, which is debatable.

The more serious aspect of this issue has to do with classified information that may be withheld indefinitely. There are very substantial differences of opinion between the legislature and the government on this point. On one side, the House views that in essence all classified information has a period of nondisclosure, which is why there are no regulations or criteria set forth regarding classified intelligence information in the bill. There is only a provision that makes it possible to extend the period of nondisclosure, which must obtain House approval.

During internal deliberations within the commission, it was felt that creating a category of classified information that could never be declassified would create potential abuses of power.

The third matter is connected to the authority of intelligence bodies. After a lengthy debate, the House finally authorized intelligence agencies to conduct electronic surveillance/wiretapping.

Initially, this could only be done after obtaining court permission. However, considering that many actions need to be carried out for the sake of national security, and that court processes are usually time-consuming, this requirement was finally dropped.

It appears that the government deems that this power is insufficient and asks for an "extra authority" of making arrests. The House considers this authority very prone to abuse, in particular in connection with the political interests of those in power. The traumatic experiences of activists who fell victim to the rulers during the New Order regime still linger in our memories.

Commission I has already provided a solution to this matter. If an arrest is required, then the intelligence authorities can request for the National Police to do so. If questioning is called for, it can be submitted to the police and intelligence personnel can be present behind police officers, to directly follow the process.

The fourth issue is connected with supervision. The government maintains that the supervisory function is embodied in the rights of the incumbent House members and that does not necessitate being reformulated by law. However, the House insists that sensitive cases, especially those linked to other countries, cannot be handled entirely by House members.

For that reason, a shortlist of House members should be given a special oath, so that they will not disrupt relations with other nations in the course of their duties. This function is also meant to anticipate the possibility of abuses of power granted to intelligence authorities. In this way, whenever there is a report or indication of such abuse, a clarification can immediately be made.

Of these four matters, it appears that only the first one can be resolved easily, with the rest requiring patience, good judgment and creativity from both sides in order to come up with a formula acceptable not only to the government and the House, but also to the public.

The writer is a member of House of Representatives' Commission I, which is currently deliberating the bill on intelligence.

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THE JAKARTA POST

TWO CHALLENGES FOR ASIA'S ECONOMY IN 2011

CHANGYONG RHEE

Asia's recovery is firm and the region is expected to continue to grow by 7.8 percent in 2011 and 7.7 percent in 2012, despite the modest and still uncertain recovery in the major industrial economies and the recent hardship in Japan.

However, maintaining high growth could be more difficult than Asia seems prepared to admit. In order to sustain its growth, the region needs to address two important challenges.

First, managing inflation pressures must be the first priority. Thanks in part to their faster recovery, some Asian economies are already showing signs of overheating. Moreover, ongoing tension in the Middle East and the nuclear anxieties in Japan have further heightened market expectations of higher oil prices.

Rising inflation, in particular of food prices, is proportionately more damaging to Asian economies, home to two thirds of the world's poor. It could not only undermine the region's recovery, but also aggravate income inequality, hamper political and social stability, and affect growth prospects in the long run. The recently announced Twelfth Five-Year Plan of the People's Republic of China recognizes the importance of inclusive growth.

However, managing inflation in a two-speed world is not an easy task. Monetary tightening through hiking interest rates would attract even more volatile capital inflows, further compounding the problem. For example, foreign exchange intervention to maintain international competitiveness could be self-defeating as it inevitably increases domestic liquidity and subsequently inflation.

Maintaining a coherent policy mix is key to success. For countries with persistently large current account imbalances and misalignment between their exchange rate and fundamentals, more flexible exchange rates are a better policy. For countries without such symptoms, relying more on temporary policies, such as capital controls, may be an option. But it has to be executed in an internationally coordinated manner to avoid the risk of being protectionist.

Second, looking ahead, Asia has to find new sources of growth as it reduces reliance on the US as consumer of last resort. Industrial countries are unlikely to drive global demand and growth any time soon. In addition to increasing domestic consumption in Asia, strengthening South-South links through recycling of savings to investment in the less affluent South can take up the slack.

It is encouraging that this trend is already happening. South-South trade has expanded fast in the past two decades, from about 7 percent of world merchandise trade in 1990 to 17 percent in 2009. The South is also no longer just a recipient of foreign direct investment (FDI) from the North. Some of the high-saving economies of the South have become new sources of outward FDI.

However, this trend does not automatically guarantee new sources of future growth for Asia. Much of it has been the result of the rise of "Factory Asia", where developing Asia sourced intermediate goods and parts mostly from the South for assembly into final goods that are exported to affluent markets in the North. Hence, growing South-South links do not necessarily translate into greater economic independence from the North.

To maximize its full growth potential, the South has to reduce barriers to trade in final goods and investment. Although tariffs in the South have fallen in the past two decades, they are still much higher than with the North. Applied tariffs in the South averaged 9.3 percent in 2005–2008, compared to 3.2 percent in the North.

Reducing these remaining bottlenecks will result in more industry migration from Asia to other less affluent developing countries. Hosting manufacturing industries, which the North previously exported to Asia, could be a new stimulus for African growth, for example. Using savings from the South for investment through industry migration rather than holding them in safe assets in the West will contribute to the stability of the global economy by promoting global rebalancing.

The writer is chief economist, Asia Development Bank

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DAILY MIRROR

     EDITORIAL

 

 

RIGHTS OR RESPONSIBILITIES?

At a time the UN is reeling under various international problems, ironically some students here had called for a UN intervention against the alleged suppression of their 'rights' in Sri Lanka. One wonders if the Federation had grown to bigger proportions as such it deems an organization like the UN should intervene or if the UN has in been fact down sized by the students to their level!

In fact, it was none other than the Inter University Students Federation that has called for a UN intervention and as naïve as the student body could be. The IUSF handed over a letter addressed to the UN office Colombo calling for its intervention to stop the alleged harassments of students, early this (last) week. It also goes on to show that there is no educated and mature patron overseeing and guiding the Federation.

Worse is the fact the student grouping is known for their political affiliations here.

But the real problem lies elsewhere. Students and many workers in this country rarely realize the difference between responsibilities and their rights.

Whether immature and naïve students who are younger than 25 should involve in matters that decide a country's destiny remains debatable anyway. On the other hand it shows how the free education system had miserably failed. The teachers and parents are equally responsible in educating or not educating the children the true meaning of the so called "Free Education."

That is, in fact that their education is not free but is paid by the community and there is a cost involved in their education. And that cost is borne by the tax payers! This should be taught to children right from an early age. Today, it is sad that even undergraduates do not realize the fact that they are paid for by tax payers.

Perhaps the teachers (As well as the University Academics too) should realize the fact they are supported by the taxpayers! It is time for the dons to reflect upon if they were doing justice to the salary they get from the public in making "productive and employable citizens!" In an aside, the same applies to graduates of medical, engineering and science graduates in particular.

Mainly, the engineering and medical graduates should realize that the society had paid for them to become doctors or 'engineers' and that it was unethical and immoral for them to seek foreign employment and contribute to the advancement of another country. (Including private practice)

Paying back the "cost" as in bonds is a fallacy as whatever it is when a student goes through the university he/she had blocked a patriot's seat. The time and effort spent is not recoverable.  Are we producing doctors/engineers and giving them away to advanced countries like the UK, US, Australia and Canada?

So, coming back to the topic, if the students know that their responsibility is to complete the studies and engage in productive contribution to society probably they would not come to the streets. The same applies to workers in general as well.  Many workers too resort to trade union action over issues over worker rights, without realizing if they had fulfilled their responsibilities!

The bottom line is that as a whole our society has failed to inculcate in many of us the fundamentals in a proper way for the country to forge ahead.

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DAILY MIRROR

EDITORIAL

'WORLD'S GREATEST SPYING MACHINE'

Speaking to students at Cambridge University earlier this month, Julian Assange, Editor-in-Chief of WikiLeaks, offered an important insight: "while the Internet has in some ways an ability to let us know to an unprecedented level what government is doing … it is also the greatest spying machine the world has ever seen." Now, the inventor of the World Wide Web, Tim Berners-Lee, has cautioned against the Net coming under a regime of espionage and censorship in various countries, negating its potential for good. These warnings underscore the rising importance of the world's biggest public network and the need for the people to ensure that it remains truly free and open, unimpeded by official controls, technological discrimination, and cost barriers. The digital natives who inhabit the world look upon unrestricted, good quality access to the Internet as a fundamental right. Indeed, some progressive countries have initiated action to legislate such an entitlement. Finland became a model state last year by making broadband connectivity a legal right. There is a message here for India, which brings up the rear among fast-growing countries when it comes to high-speed Internet connectivity. After setting ambitious targets, it has taken weak, jagged steps to improve broadband coverage, particularly in rural areas. The target is to provide high bandwidth connections to 160 million households by 2014, but this involves a steep climb — the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India says only about 10 million were connected at the end of 2010.

Physical access to the Internet is crucial, but as Mr. Assange and Mr. Berners-Lee emphasise, the more complex issue is one of official controls. India put in place the Information Technology Act, 2000 and amended it subsequently in a bid to address public and industry concerns. But the law is still founded on the principle of executive control of online publication, rather than judicial due process. The amended Act has drawn criticism from advocates of free speech and data protection for its over-broad sweep and poor legislative clarity. This law must be rewritten in plain language and the fundamental right of free speech protected without dodges and equivocation. The more odious provisions enabling pre-censorship must go, and generic descriptions that serve as definitions of infringements need to be replaced with specific ones. India also needs a data protection law that restricts access to personal data collected and held by government. The Internet era is all about sharing and enabling people to express themselves freely. The imperative is to specify just what governments are allowed to do — and prevent them from exercising Orwellian control.

Hindu

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DAILY MIRROR

EDITORIAL

GOVERNMENT DIALOGUE WITH TNA – A ONE SIDED AFFAIR?

 Today, 7th April, the government and the TNA are scheduled to meet for the fourth time in their structured dialogue. The discussions are divided into two sections. First are the consequences of the war, the humanitarian, rehabilitation and reconstruction issues faced by people in the conflict affected areas. The second set of issues, scheduled for discussion on 29th April, are political reforms aimed at addressing the causes of ethnic conflict. Namely state reforms which seek to mitigate the anomaly of imposing a mono ethnic state on a multi ethnic polity.

No Government

engagement to date
The government of Sri Lanka, engaging in dialogue with the TNA as the necessary and considerably lesser evil compared to engaging with the unelected and extremist Tamil Diaspora groups has seeming not been taking the process very seriously. The urgency surely requires that the dialogue should be conducted on a weekly basis and not the monthly basis that the government has insisted on. Even President JR Jayewardene's all party conference and other precedent dialogue processes occurred at more frequent intervals. According to media reports, the government has been insistent on the TNA submitting its proposals while the government has failed to indicate its thinking in this regard, other than conceding that political reforms are required.

Why no Northern

Provincial Council elections?

The Northern Province is the UPFA's serious electoral weakness. Repeatedly rejected by the Tamil people at the polls, whether presidential, parliamentary or local, the Government is fairly adamant on seeking to hide its repudiation by the Tamil people by not conducting the Northern Provincial Council elections, despite the presidential, parliamentary and some local elections been held there. Conducting the Northern Provincial Council is a promise in the Mahinda Chinthanaya (Way Forward) of 2010. It would take immense work for the UPFA, whether Douglas, Sri Ranga or Rishard Bathurdeen to win the Northern Provincial Council elections.

No progress on any substantive issues
According to Tamil media reports, the TNA has raised several issues with the government. This includes most importantly, the urgent need for a data base of people detained by the security forces on the strength of emergency regulations without any recourse to judicial proceedings or documentation. This is a basic requirement of the rule of law in a legitimate state and a civilized society. That we suspended such basics for thirty years of war, while deplorable was understandable. That we persist with such measures two years after the end of the war is unjustifiable. More importantly the government through written memoranda to the diplomatic community as well as the TNA undertook to create and provide such as data base, located in Vavuniya accessible by families of those surrendered, arrested or captured by the authorities.

The issue of IDP's resettling in their private hereditary lands from which they were evicted to erect the High Security Zones in Jaffna, which cover almost a fourth of the land mass of the peninsular has also been raised. Despite a long drawn out Supreme Court case on the rights of the displaced, progress has been slow in resettling the Jaffna IDP's in their former lands. Another matter before the Supreme Court and included in the dialogue has been the military's registration of civilians in the Wanni. That this process has no basis in law, is discriminatory on the population of Kilinochchi and Mullativu districts is the legal issue before the apex Court. The political decision by the government to do so is discussed at the dialogue.  The world is watching Sri Lanka's post war, peace building policies closely. From Sonia Gandhi, to Bob Blake, to Ban Ki Moon, serious concerns have been clearly expressed. Unless we change course, the world which supported and applauded our military defeat of the LTTE, is unlikely to idly stand by and watch a victor's justice extracted from the poor Tamil civilians of the North and East.

 (The writer served as Presidential Spokesman from 2001-2005)

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DAILY MIRROR

EDITORIAL

 

 

 

 

VAGRANCE, BROTHELS, PROSTITUTION AND LAWS AGAINST THE POOR

BY JEEVAN THIYAGARAJAH

Two sets of Ordinances focus on  Prostitution and Vagrancy in Sri Lanka. The Brothels Ordinance began in 1889 and the Vagrance Ordinance even earlier, in 1841, when Victorian England dealt harshly with poverty, as Charles Dickens shows in his accounts of the impact of similar ordinances in Britain.

Both these ordinances, one explicitly, the other implicitly, deal with questions of what in the Victorian era was considered indecency. We live now in more enlightened times, when there is more knowledge and more tolerance of sexual activity. The old Christian notion of couples bound to each other for life (and after death too) no longer exists even in the West. We live too in times of early maturity and early sexual activity. This has also contributed to problems, such as high rates of daily abortions, some arising from the persistence of old laws. These are also times in which there is greater understanding of sexuality outside fixed norms, with more open expression of homosexuality. There is need therefore to look more closely at mechanisms to promote public health, without sticking blindly to laws introduced in an age when Victorian morality, and Victorian repression, held sway.The Brothels Ordinance has for the past 120 years attempted to suppress brothels. Whether this has been successful is known not only by the Police. What is well known is that sex for commerce has not abated. Instances run into thousands and are unlikely to be found only in brothels for habitual prostitution. The definition of commerce too needs to be reconsidered, since advantage can be taken of the ability to bestow favours that are not always financial. And, in this modern age, we should really think carefully whether we believe there should be restrictions on freedoms that do not harm others. Thus, if two or more persons above the age of 18 decide to engage in sexual activity 'not constituting an act gross indecency' outside of the public eye, should they be in danger of breaking the law and being liable to punishment? If a fee is levied for services as between two consenting adults, should it be illegal? What constitutes such a fee? Can habitual prostitution be tamed? 

Sri Lanka should be ready for such discussion, because it is imperative to ensure that proper laws are in place to protect people from harm, while not wasting time and energy and public money in persecuting people who do not harm others.

The Brothels Ordinance itself, as its title suggests, outlaws the running of brothels for 'habitual prostitution'. Punishments include fines or imprisonment or both. A second offence attracts higher penalties including the need for sureties. Tenancies of brothels can also be abrogated. The offences do not preclude bail. The Ordinance makes no reference to workers in brothels.

The Vagrance Ordinance is more colorful. It terms persons rogues and vagabounds if they are found idle or disorderly twice, or resisting arrest, exposing themselves  or indulging in indecent acts; exposing wounds or gathering alms attracts fines not exceeding 20 rupees or imprisonment  with hard labour for 1 month. Third time offenders and those escaping from a place of legal confinement and those living on proceeds from prostitution are defined as incorrigible rogues.

It is not coincidence that the vast majority of those who suffer from punishment under this Ordinance, and indeed being labeled so objectionably, are poor. This is despite the country having evolved and become an independent state since the first version of the Ordinance was enacted in 1841, and revised on 11 occasions by the time of Independence in 1947.

A little over half of 16 pages of the Ordinance is devoted to women and children. On this subject the Institute of Human Rights complained to the Human Rights Commission which led to the following  recommendations in 2004  -

n     Immediate focus on detention without proper court mandate, including no-date detainees, detainees held after their sentence, the refusal to release detainees without a guardian and the detention of women who have not committed punishable offences.

n    Resolving the discrepancy regarding the definition of vagrant in the Vagrant's Ordinance and the House of Detention Ordinance, Amend the House of Detention Ordinance to include a provision that all adult detainees should be released upon expiration of their sentence, notwithstanding that any person claims custody of the detainee.

nDepartment of Social Services and Judiciary and local magistrates to formalize a uniform sentencing procedure that requires judges and magistrates to specify a release date upon sentencing, that mandates detention only upon a charge or conviction of a punishable offence and that prohibits a house of detention from detaining adult women simply because they have no guardian.

n    Conversion of at least part of the detention centre into a shelter for women.

Close on a decade since the complaint IHR is back with the HRC, trying still to achieve the outcomes envisaged in the recommendations. The problem still continues despite too various recommendations and the expressed determination of the Ministry of Justice to change sentencing policy.

There is no doubt that the subject of prostitution and brothels are best served through one modernized  Ordinance. Labelling persons is derogatory, shows a class bias, scars the identity of those so labelled and should be outlawed. The Vagrance Ordinance has not reduced vagrancy;   it has in fact in many instances perpetuated vagrancy and prevented many from emancipation from such unfortunate situations. It has seen practices which are in fact abuses of the rights of less literate and poorer citizens, and it is women and children who suffer most.

There is no reason why those who produce persons to be incarcerated should not be obliged to ensure that they are released on completion of their term. Those who are produced should be represented or be able to present their views. Unfortunately that is a wholly forgotten practice. Collectively we have failed to address the problems of a voiceless, poor group of citizens. This writer is one who initiated the 2003/4 complaint. To find a decade later that the status quo remains is, to put it mildly, appalling. It is symptomatic of prejudice towards the less fortunate. The judicial system and those who are expected to uphold laws in the interests of justice, must act soon to provide much needed relief to those who suffer unfairly.

Dr. Jeevan Thiyagarajah is Executive Director of the Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies

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DAILY MIRROR

EDITORIAL

 

HACK ATTACK!

Over the last so many weeks and still continuing, there have been a number of critical reports on the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA)- the election monitoring body of which CPA serves as the Secretariat, the Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (MEV), in particular - the National Peace Council (NPC), and Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL).  There have also been personal attacks on me. Consequently, I am taking the liberty to clarify and comment on a number of aspects of this reportage and personal attacks.

At the heart of the matter is an investigation, which is reportedly being conducted by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) into the funds received by CPA, the NPC and TISL since the end of the war.  That this is underway is confirmed by statements attributed to the Director General of the Media Centre for National Security, and also to remarks attributed to the President with regard to the right of the state to investigate funds received by non-governmental organizations. In connection with this, the Executive Director of NPC was questioned by the CID. Neither CPA nor, as far as I know, TISL has been formally notified of any such investigation.  Both these organizations were the subject of questions raised in respect of their finances by MP Rajiva Wijesinha in Parliament last year.  All financial reports requested by the CID at that time were given to them, even though the government was in possession of all the information required on account of the two organizations registered as companies reporting as required to the Registrar of Companies with their audited accounts.  In some recent media reports the Sri Lanka Press Institute was also mentioned but its name has been dropped in subsequent reports. 

Questions arise as to why such an investigation is being conducted at all, at this time, and by the CID. Are these organizations guilty of a crime or crimes, breaking the law of the land in any way, and what has prompted this investigation into these particular organizations at this time?  They do have in common a critique of the regime from the perspective of governance and human rights and at various times, including the present, the heads of these organizations including myself have been accused of being supportive of the LTTE and terrorism.  No hard evidence has been produced to substantiate these allegations. We have been branded as traitors, the public exhorted to spit on us and expose us. We have been detained at the airport, called to the CID, received death threats, and in the case of Mr. Weliamuna, the former head of TISL, there was a grenade attack on his home when he and his family were in residence. No doubt the authorities charged with the present investigation will inform the subjects of it in due course, the grounds for it, and the nature of the investigation.

Questions have been raised yet again about CMEV funding.  This has been a constant refrain ever since the Wayamba election in 1999, which CMEV called upon the Election Commissioner to annul in the early afternoon of the polls and before any other organization.  Interestingly the government of Sri Lanka and private media houses used to give CMEV free advertising space for its media campaign against election violence, before that infamous assault on the electoral process.  CMEV has nevertheless survived to be recognized by the Election Commissioner's office as one of two national election monitoring organizations – the other being PAFFREL. Both organizations have been authorized to station monitors in polling centres on the day of elections.

CMEV is made up of CPA, the Free Media Movement, and INFORM – Human Rights Documentation Centre, and is activated at the time of elections. It has engaged in public interest litigation to strengthen the electoral process, called for the annulment of elections on the basis of evidence supplied by its monitors in the field, including in the Northern Province when the LTTE engaged in major ballot stuffing.  Its methodology has influenced the way in which the Police now treat and report on election related violence and its reports contributed to the adoption of the Seventeenth Amendment, the gutting of which, some of these individuals who question CMEV finances have taken time off to lament.  It deploys monitors in the field in every polling division during the campaign and on polling day at polling centres and in mobile teams.  It has a headquarters in Colombo staffed by provincial coordinators, financial and administrative staff.  CMEV monitoring also includes a component of international observers to work with national monitors – the full component of international monitors has never been deployed due to the lack of funds.  The methodology of CMEV monitoring and its audited accounts are electronically available on CPA's as well as CMEV's websites and the final reports containing this information and reportage of the incidence of election violence are also available as hard copy reports in Sinhala, Tamil and English. 

The foreign donors who fund CMEV, PAFFREL and more recently CAFFE are well aware of the methodology of each monitoring organization and of the work of each organization.  It has been their practice to ascertain the funding needs of these organizations at meetings at which all three organizations have been present, and all three organizations have jointly reported on their monitoring to funders at meetings convened by funders. 

The barrage of attacks by reporters and columnists, and not restricted to any one publishing house or media organ, raises a number of questions.  Are these individuals acting on their own accord and devotion to governance, or are they an integral part of the investigative process that passes for investigation by the state of Sri Lanka today?  

Interestingly, although these reports and columns allege lack of transparency and accountability, they contain specific information about who signed agreements with funders and the sums of money received.  Did they obtain this information from intrepid and ingenious investigative reporting or from the recipients, the funders or the regime?  In a number of these reports, there is a constant reference to government sources saying this or that, begging the question that if it is transparency and accountability that is at issue with organizations accused of supporting terrorism, why is there a reluctance, even reticence, to name the government source?  Is this excluded from the public interest?  In one instance one of these individuals did phone me to clarify a typographical error he had encountered in a document.  Interesting that he did not seek clarification in respect of the issues he raised in his subsequent articles.

Are these individuals acting alone or are they acting on instruction?  Were it to be the former, it appears to be a case of devotees straining to be more Catholic than the Pope, and in the process bringing the Pope and the faith into disrepute!

 Given the hate and the harm that is their stock in trade, it would seem that a motley crew of toxic hacks are destroying journalism in this country.

Toxic hacks: toxic waste.

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GULF DAILY NEWS

COMMENT

BAHRAIN'S SUN RISES AGAIN  

BY HAYAT ABDULLAH

Just when I thought I had lost Bahrain, I can see Bahrain's sun rise again. We went through a period of sunset, where Bahrain seemed to dissolve. It had a sensation of drowning and we as people needed to breathe.

The whole nation, or Kingdom of Bahrain, felt the uncertainty and gloominess.

- People of Bahrain were turning their heads left and right hoping to hold on to a rope and pull out again.

Personally I had strong instincts and a positive vision for the future. I must admit as a citizen, yes I saw skies turning grey, but it gave me an opportunity to see the light of Bahrain. I had a sensation of a huge wave coming to my face, but I was full of inspiration. Because knowing Bahrain's people, with their great love, devotion and belief, they can face all obstacles.

- People of Bahrain, we should be grateful and thankful to God Almighty who allowed us to pull out and swim again with a smile. With great modesty, I am proud to be a Bahraini. The spirit people of Bahrain hold is unbelievably strong. With assurance I know we will make Bahrain flourish into a better Bahrain for all. Patience and power will clear the black clouds of Bahrain.

Meanwhile, we people of Bahrain agree that masks have fallen off and matters have become clear to all parties. It's time to gain the benefits and make adequate, appropriate change.

Yes, change. Change is an inevitable part of life. "It's n