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Friday, April 8, 2011

EDITORIAL 08.04.11

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month april 08, edition 000801, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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














































  3. OUR WAR























After years of following a faulty foreign policy initiative in Pakistan, it is good to know that the US Administration has finally acknowledged what the world has known all along: Pakistan is doing absolutely nothing about the terror networks that function within its borders, despite the billion dollar in aid that is given exclusively to fight militancy in the country. This was essentially the crux of the report that was presented on Tuesday by the Obama Administration to the US Congress on the current state of affairs in Afghanistan as well as on US efforts to defeat Al Qaeda. In the report, the Obama Administration has come down strongly on Pakistan for its refusal to effectively crack down on the terror networks that flourish on territory under its control. The report laments that even after several years of military cooperation with Pakistan, "there remains no clear path towards defeating the insurgency despite the unprecedented and sustained deployment of over 147,000 forces and the deaths of 2,575 Pakistani troops since 2001". This conclusion speaks volumes about President Barack Obama's decision to increase troops in the region and aid to Pakistan in an effort to wipe out the Taliban and defeat Al Qaeda — his policy has fallen flat on its face. It must be noted that this report comes just three months before Mr Obama is expected to announce a timetable for the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan and will definitely impact any exit strategy. But more importantly, the report publicly acknowledges what American officials have long admitted in private — that without Pakistan's support it is not possible to defeat either the Taliban or Al Qaeda and that kind of support is just not coming from the Pakistanis. Take for example the 'coordination centres' set up by the American, Pakistani and Afghan troops: Four of these function in Afghanistan but none in Pakistan, even though Islamabad had promised to establish these centres nearly two years ago. Yet Washington, DC has always been reluctant to criticise Pakistan; instead, it has merely chided Islamabad for its refusal to carry out extensive military operations in the Talibani hotbed of North Waziristan. Even in its previous report which came out in September, the Obama Administration let Pakistan off the hook, saying that its troops were busy with relief operations following severe monsoon floods!

Either way, the acknowledgement that "our (US) money is not buying anything that's deep or durable," as Congressman Gary Ackerman put it, is welcome. It is high time that the Congress realises — and forces the Administration to accept — that Pakistan, which could not care less about its own people, will do little more than that which goes beyond its own interests. It will also not fight its friends in the Taliban and other terrorist organisations, no matter how much money the US gives in aid. That is the harsh truth. Instead, the Obama Adminstration will do well to push for closer ties with India, as Mr Ackerman and another Congressman Dana Rohrabacher recommended on Tueday. They have described US ties with India as the "one shining light" of the Administration's foreign policy in the region and pointed out that unlike Pakistan, India is committed to the prosperity of its people. Is Mr Obama listening?







For some time now, the Congress in Kerala has known that the Assembly election in the State, scheduled for April 13, will not be a cakewalk for the party. Rampant corruption in the UPA regime and within the UDF, as well as damaging charges of sex abuse against coalition leaders, threaten the party's reputation while the ruling LDF does not face any strong anti-incumbency sentiment despite its indifferent track record and infighting in the CPI(M). In such a situation, opinion polls predicting a limited win for the Congress-led UDF are a source of much relief and the party seems to be clinging to these results for some hope. Yet even these positive results have brought with them additional reasons for worry. The polls predict that the Congress-led coalition will possibly win only a maximum of 80 seats in the 140-member Kerala Assembly. If this turns out to be true, the UDF is sure to witness some fierce infighting. If the UDF wins less than 80 seats and the Congress itself does not get more than 40 seats, serious problems could come in the way of Government formation. Opposition leader Oommen Chandy and State Congress chief Ramesh Chennithala are already expected to fight for the post of Chief Minister. With neither of them getting convincing support from the party MLAs, they will have to depend on allies. Such a situation would then call for some intervention from the Congress high command. But 10 Janpath has already proved its inability to understand the Kerala situation in its haphazard selection of candidates. The parachuting of a consensus Chief Minister from New Delhi, as it was done in 1995, would only complicate matters further. And this is exactly the situation disgruntled allies like the Kerala Congress(M) are waiting for.

Let us not forget that the Kerala Congress(M) chief KM Mani has a score to settle with the Congress, considering how he was ill-treated during the UDF seat-sharing talks. Mr Mani was reduced to the level of a beggar when the Congress firmly refused to give him more than 15 seats when he had asked for 22. Now, Mr Mani's party is expected to win eight or nine of the 15 seats it is contesting and this is more than enough to threaten the Congress-led UDF if the coalition tally remains below 80 seats. It may be noted that when there was uncertainty in the UDF seat-sharing talks, the CPI(M) had sent indirect feelers to Mr Mani. This could be repeated after the election and Mr Mani need not have any qualms in rethinking his options. It has happened in the past. If the Congress wants to avoid such embarrassment it must to work hard in the five days remaining for polling day. That seems impossible now as the entire UDF campaign is riveted on a single person, that is Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan.









Had Rudyard Kipling been alive, how would he have reacted to India winning the World Cup? He would have probably sniffed, 'It is the Idiot Box!'

Rudyard Kipling, once on the staff of The Pioneer, wrote, "Ere-ye fawned on the Younger Nations for the men who could shoot and ride! / Then ye returned to your trinkets; then ye contented your souls/ With the flannelled fools at the wicket or the muddied oafs at the goals." The last line, a part of the poem 'The Islanders', written when Britain's "flannelled fools" were in Australia for the 1901-02 ashes series, is sometimes cited as proof of his aversion to cricketers and rugby players. But while the line did not reflect an overwhelming admiration for cricketers and cricket and rugby players, 'The Islanders' was actually a stinging commentary on Britain's skewed sense of priorities at a time when the country's poorly-equipped soldiers were dying in South Africa during the Boer War.

Watching the tumultuous celebrations that followed India's winning of the Cricket World Cup 2011, I remembered 'The Islanders' and wondered what Kipling's reaction would have been had he been alive and witnessed the nation-wide explosion of frenzy. Perhaps he would have been a trifle flummoxed! While the absence of rugby players was understandable, the absence of flannels must have appeared extraordinary. The cricketers representing both India and Sri Lanka wore colours dominated by different shades of blue. He might have roared after Cicero, "O Tempora! O Mores! (What times! What mores!)," in sheer disgust, noting that the degeneration has gone far beyond cricket in white to cricket in colour.

Perhaps not. Popularising cricket among the natives was no part of his idea of the White Man's mission. His poem, 'The White Man's Burden', written in 1899, in fact embodied an appeal to the United States to develop the Philippines which it had acquired after its victory in its war with Spain. Rather, he might have hoped, with a tinge of anticipatory relief, that with the former subjects establishing their sway over the willow and the cherry, the former colonial masters would now rid themselves of the "pestilential" sport and focus single-mindedly on re-constructing their lost glory, whatever that might involve in this post-colonial age of de-constructing imperial legacies.

He must have been strongly impelled to do so because, whatever his attitude toward cricket, he must have been more than miffed to see the Brits sent ignominiously packing by the Sri Lankans and Indians humble the Aussies in the quarter-finals. Swearing vengeance, he might have roared, "By jingo! We will teach them a lesson!" Equally, he might not have done so. Kipling doubtless wrote, "Oh the East is East, and the West is West, and never the Twain shall meet,/ Till the Earth and the Sky stand presently at God's great judgement seat." Yet he also wrote immediately thereafter, "But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth/ When two strong men stand face to face,/ Tho' they come from the ends of the Earth."

Would Kipling have welcomed Britain's former colonial subjects as among the important makers of the contemporary world? That would have depended on whether he put them — Indians particularly — on his list of strong men. But there is one thing about which there is little scope for doubt. He would have been clean bowled to see the emotional tsunami that cricket unleashed and wondered about the causes of this strange phenomenon. Finally, having consulted the ghosts of Baloo, the bear, Grey Brother, the wolf, Bagheera, the black panther, Chil, the kite, and Mowgli, he would have growled, "It is the Idiot Box! Make no mistake Grey Brother! It is the Idiot Box!"

And he would have been spot on. For cricket, much more than any other sport, there are now two eras — BT or Before Television and AT or After Television. A person in the BT era, who could not be in the ground as a spectator, had to be content with either reading the reports of a match in the next day's newspaper to know the scores and how players fared. And those who had access to radios — there were not too many of them — could listen to ball-by-ball running commentaries when these came to be aired.

Celebrated kings of commentary like Berry Sarbadhikary, Pearson Surita and AFS Talyarkhan could weave magic into their narration and enable distant listeners to conjure up visions of goings-on in the field. But it was still hearing and not seeing. One had an idea of what was going on but was not forklifted to where the action was. Television brought the action, the game, the players, umpires, and the crowd and the electric atmosphere into one's home, and, with bewildering speed, spread everywhere.

A number of factors have been at work. Television has become ubiquitous because people in the countryside, beneficiaries of land reforms, however unsatisfactory, and the Green Revolution, acquired greater purchasing power than ever before and bought television sets. Economic reforms boosted industrial production and accelerated the growth of an increasingly prosperous middle class whose strength is now estimated to exceed 300 million. All this and the Pay Commissions which vastly enhanced the salaries and pensions of Government servants and teachers, catalysed an explosion of purchasing power and caused the demand for consumer goods and services to spiral. While globalisation and the opening up of the economy led to a flood of imported goods, local products proliferated to feed growing demand. The advertising industry boomed.

The end of the Government's monopoly over the electronic media caused a hundred television channels to bloom, triggering an intense competition for advertisements and a ceaseless search for more popular programmes which, of course, included extensive sports coverage, with cricket, the most popular sport, receiving the most attention.

Sponsorships, brand ambassadorships, fees from appearances in advertisements and skyrocketing remunerations and match fees, have fetched India's international cricketers the kind of money they never had before. In the midst of all this, the BCCI has been transformed into what can be called a hugely profitable business enterprise, able not only to pay cricketers enormous amounts but secure for them highly qualified support staff. The result is increasing success at the international level which in turn has caused the game's popularity to soar further. In the process, cricket has become bigger than BCCI and the symbol of an India that has arrived.







Team India won the F50 cricket World Cup despite below par bowling strength because Mahendra Singh Dhoni gave the team a greater purpose to fight for. Our cricketers played not for personal glory but to pay tribute to the country's greatest cricketer, Sachin Tendulkar. As an excellent leader, Dhoni created camaraderie and lifted the team's spirit

Mahendra Singh Dhoni should be commended for winning us the F50 World Cup. Although Sachin Tendulkar, Yuvraj Singh and others also put in their bit, he is the man who deserves the credit. Many would argue that the team that reached the final of the F50 World Cup in 2003 was more talented than the present Team India. However, many like me were confident that this team would win the World Cup. The leadership of MS Dhoni was the only differentiating factor between the two teams. Leadership is most important in leading a country or a team in any sport.

The Indian cricket team in 2003 had a better bowling line-up. It also had an equally good, if not better, batting line-up due to the presence of Sourav Ganguly — one of the best one-day batsmen in the history of cricket. He is the captain who started the great Indian march forward. But then, Sourav Ganguly failed to win us the World Cup while MS Dhoni did.

The reason is that on the day of the final of a high-octane event like a cricket World Cup match, what matters more than individual talent is leadership. Every great cricket captain has won the F50 cricket World Cup for his country, while talented teams minus a good leader have remained at best runners-up. Although Sourav Ganguly was a great captain, there was a lot of politics in the team then. The team was never playing as a unit the way MS Dhoni has made his boys play.

In 1983, India won the World Cup defeating West Indies and expectedly, the team was elated. However, when Team West Indies toured India immediately after the World Cup it whitewashed India by winning all five matches. Team India was surely an inferior team when compared to the then West Indies team despite the fact that it defeated West Indies in the final of 1983 World Cup.

But even then the F50 cricket World Cup came to the country which had a team with better leadership and team spirit. Kapil Dev was able to create camaraderie in the team that lifted the spirits up — enough to win the Cup on the crucial day.

In league matches, leadership is as important as collective team effort. But as you near the final of an international sporting event, particularly a team-game like cricket, leadership becomes far more important than how talented the team is. A below-par India in 1983 did the magic. And a today's Team India with certainly a below-par bowling line-up did the magic again. In both the cases, full credit goes to leadership.

As a management teacher, I know that what MS Dhoni did on April 2 was straight out of a leadership book. When Sachin Tendulkar and Virendra Sehwag got out, for me the result depended on just one man — MS Dhoni. He brought himself up the order and came in to bat before in-form Yuvraj Singh. Rest, as they say, is history.

Without leading from the front — in terms of personal performance as well as creating a team spirit — one cannot have a winning team. And MS Dhoni led from the front and how. Kudos to him for his great achievement.

After winning the World Cup, he was hardly seen anywhere and chose to stay away from the limelight. He did his job and allowed his team to take the laurels. What was impressive was the way everyone in the team spoke after the victory. They all kept mentioning the same point: "We won it for Sachin!" That is what great leaders like MS Dhoni do. They give the team a bigger purpose to fight for. MS Dhoni had given Team India a much greater purpose to put their best foot forward. It was not the World Cup, not personal glory, but a tribute to nation's greatest cricketer and an equally great human being — Sachin Tendulkar. And it worked magic for the team. This is how MS Dhoni made the difference.

What angers and saddens one is that as a nation we fail to win enough medals at the Olympics. The few medals we win are due to individual brilliance and not because of a national scheme or plan. It is very disappointing to have not even won five Olympic gold medals in the last 25 years.

Cricket is one game that requires varied amount of skills. There is no other game which has so many dimensions — from batting to bowling to fielding to wicket-keeping. Further, there are variations in each of those areas — not to mention more variations at the international level of the game. Hence, the game demands very high skills and extremely high team spirit. For me, a F50 cricket World Cup is equivalent to 25 gold medals in the Olympics, to say the least. MS Dhoni and his team deserve to be applauded for getting it to us.

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







Decline in child sex ratio shows we are an uncivilised society

The spring Navratra currently being underway, devout Hindus throughout North India are flocking to goddess shrines in a bid to secure Mahadevi's grace. This ostentatious show of devotion is at variance with the wretched position accorded to females in an aggressively materialistic and patriarchal milieu, where land, property and family honour have more value than the life of a baby girl. Among well-off farming and land-owning communities in Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and western Uttar Pradesh, females are reported to be routinely killed by family members either for the sake of family honour or for bringing insufficient dowry. The amendments in Hindu inheritance laws, securing their share in ancestral and father's self-acquired assets, seem to have failed to give women their due.

Confirming the bias against the girl child, provisional figures for the 2011 nationwide census indicate that though overall sex ratio has risen to 940/1000, against 933/1000 in 2001, the child sex ratio — in the 0-6 age group — has declined from 927 females for every 1000 males in 2001 to 914 females against 1,000 males. Census Commissioner of India C Chandramauli describes the trend as a "matter of grave concern", with the CSR, vis-à-vis the number of girls, being the lowest since independence. The much touted economic reforms and ensuing prosperity, most evident in the northern states mentioned above and in the national capital, have failed to ensure females' right to life and dignity. Rather, the high incidence of honour killings, dowry deaths and sexual crimes in these regions suggest that high income is not commensurate with high morality.

Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit apparently expressed dismay that the latest CSR of 866/1000 shows a decline in the number of female children in the capital, down from 868/1000 in 2001. This occurred despite the financial incentives offered by her Government to have girls. Clearly, changing the feudal mindset, heavily biased against females, is easier said than done in a city that boasts of world class amenities and high standard of living. CSR in Haryana has risen from 819/1000 in 2001 to 830/1000 in 2011 but, along with Punjab — 846/1000 — the State has the dubious distinction of still having among the most skewed sex ratios. Two other prosperous States, Gujarat and Maharashtra, also fare poorly on the gender ratio graph at 886 and 883/1000 in terms of CSR. Among districts, Haryana's Jhajjar (774 females) and Mahendragarh (778 females) are the worst. Uttar Pradesh (899, down from 916), otherwise on the economic upswing, with glitzy new townships and expressways mushrooming via conversion of farmland to commercial use, and headed by a woman, continues to dislike female progeny.

It is significant that southern States all have a female sex ratio above 900, unlike the richer northern States. Tribal Mizoram (971 females) and Meghalaya (970 females) in the North-East have the highest CSR. Interestingly, high rate of literacy does not necessarily lead to a healthy gender balance. Maharashtra, with a literacy rate of almost 83 per cent, has a skewed CSR. Again, tribal Chhattisgarh, with just 71per cent literacy, has 964 females per 1000 males.

Given here is a relevant excerpt from an article, 'Skewed sex ratio in Punjab a demographic catastrophe', by Mr D Singh, Mr A Kumar and Mr K Vij, Department of Forensic Medicine, in Chandigarh's Government Medical College. The 2001 Census provided data — "The inhabitants of Punjab, who pioneered the green revolution in the last century, are now heading for a devastating economic and social fallout in the near future due to sharply declining (882 in 1991; 874 in 2001) sex ratio. The reasons of 'son-mania' are socio-cultural, economic and political ones. Among others, the predominant cause is the agrarian set-up associated with the ownership of land and the social infrastructure sustained by Punjabis that accords a low status to women. Chandigarh, the city beautiful has the dubious distinction of having the lowest sex ratio (773) in whole of the country despite its high literacy rate of 81.76 per cent. The worst affected districts of Punjab are Ludhiana (824), Fatehgarh Sahib (851) and Patiala (864)). With 11.4 per cent increase in literacy rate during the last decade (58.5 per cent in 1991; 69.95 per cent in 2001), the juvenile sex ratio of 793, compared to overall sex ratio of 874 is a cause of concern in one of the most prosperous States of India. Among the Sikhs in Punjab, a further fall in juvenile sex ratio (only 780), clearly indicates that social practices among Sikh masses have grossly diverged from the egalitarian principles, emphasising gender equality, set forth by the Sikh Gurus...

"In the wake of these developments, Akal Takht, the highest seat of political and spiritual power of Sikhs, has raised an alarm. A 'hukumnama' or edict has been issued on 18th April 2001, that any Sikh indulging in female foeticide could be excommunicated as the practice was forbidden under 'Rehat Maryada' (The Sikh code of religious conduct), issued by Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee(10)..."

Existing penal laws against sex selection and female foeticide have failed to deter offenders. People need to remember that even the orthodox Manusmriti warned that homes cursed by their females would be wiped out, as if by witchcraft.







Though the Congress is upbeat about winning the Assembly election in Puducherry, the All-India NR Congress, floated by rebel leader N Rangaswamy, can spike its chances

The Union Territory of Puducherry, which is also gearing up for Assembly election, has been shadowed by the high-octane poll battle in Tamil Nadu. The State, which still retains remnants of French occupation, is hardly generating any interest among poll analysts. In all, there are 30 Assembly seats that are at stake. Most of the voters in the State are Tamil-speaking people. The Congress, which is ruling the State, is in an upbeat mood and is confident of coming back to power for the third time — particularly because the Opposition is divided.

In the Assembly election held in 2006, the Congress won 13 seats while the DMK won seven. The Congress formed the Government with the DMK's support from outside. In this election, it will be a face-off between two fronts — the ruling Congress-DMK combine and the All-India NR Congress-AIADMK alliance.

The Congress is faced with two major challenges: First, the emergence of the All India NR Congress floated by rebel Congress leader and former Chief Minister N Rangaswamy. Second, the discontent within the Congress-DMK camp.

After he was removed from the post of Chief Minister in 2008, Mr Rangaswamy distanced himself from the Congress and floated his own party. He is popular among the masses because of his clean image and the good work done during his tenure. With his alliance with the AIADMK, he can harm the prospects of the Congress-DMK combine in the election. The AIADMK would like to exploit the clean image of NR, as Mr Rangaswamy is affectionately called. However, the question is whether Mr Rangaswamy will be able to convert his popularity and credibility into votes.

Both the Congress and the AINRC are contesting 17 of the 30 seats in the election and strong rebel candidates are posing a challenge to the UPA candidates in many constituencies, including Uppalam, Karaikal (South), Neravy, Nedungadu, Lawspet and Ozhukarai. While the Congress is projecting Chief Minister V Vaithilingam as the Chief Ministerial candidate, AIADMK general secretary J Jayalalithaa during her poll campaign has announced that Mr Rangaswamy will be made the Chief Minister if the Opposition comes to power. The AINRC locks horns with the Congress over 11 seats. It can be the spoiler by wresting some seats from the Congress.

The rift within the alliance remains another concern for the Congress. Bitter bargaining for seats has created enough discontent resulting in a lack of cohesion between the Congress and the DMK workers. Add to it the 2G Spectrum scam and other scandals tarnishing the image of the DMK. The Congress is worried that the issue of corruption may not go down well with the electorate because what happens in Tamil Nadu gets reflected in Puducherry. To woo the voters, it has promised that it would persuade the Union Government to increase the strength of the Assembly from the present 30 seats to 40 seats.

However, the most significant feature of the election campaign is the promise of freebies to win votes. If the DMK has promised kitchen appliances like mixer-grinder, the Congress has promised mobile phones for families living below the poverty line. Both parties have also announced several welfare schemes for weaker sections of society. The Congress has promised to provide BPL families 35 kg of rice every month for free. Now they get 25 kg of rice. Similarly, APL families will get 10 kg of rice and 10 kg of wheat at one rupee per kg. The AIADMK also is not lagging behind in announcing populist schemes and freebies.

The AINRC has already expressed its worries about the money power that is at play. The Election Commission has taken note of it and is cracking its whip. But political analysts believe that money power could play a role but it would not be a game changer. Whether the populist schemes impacted the voting pattern can only be known after the election results are announced.

Top leaders of the Congress and the DMK, including UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi, will be campaigning in the State. Although there is an anti-incumbency trend, the threat posed by the AINRC is not a daunting one, say insiders. According to them, the organisation of the fledgling party is not very strong. The new party's election fund is paltry compared to that of the Congress and the DMK. Moreover, its alliance partner the AIADMK is not helping it to the extent Mr Rangaswamy had expected.

So the AINRC's loss could be the Congress's gain. But if voters have made up their mind about a change then the Congress may have to bite the dust.







Management of development in our country suffers from poor policy decisions. Thus operationalising financial inclusion beyond slogans will need more thrust and focus

In order to manage development programmes better, there is serious need for appropriate products and more work should be done in this area than is currently evident. What has been attempted so far is useful but not anything remarkable. For instance, in areas of corporate social responsibility, when corporate houses talk of involving gram panchayats in the making of Rajiv Gandhi Suchna Kendras, the implication is clear. The corporate sector is unable to bring in people with higher level of skills, education and proficiency to work for the Suchna Kendras. Perhaps people who are highly proficient do not wish to get involved working with people at grassroots level.

What needs to be realised is that if these Suchna Kendras are to become e-kiosks for delivery of Government services then surely financial literacy is going to be a part of it. Lead banks have been asked to open financial literacy and credit counselling centres in every district. One would recall that similar directives were issued for primary healthcare centres some years ago.

One of the serious limitations of management of development in our country has been the propensity to simplify all analysis and solutions to the level of Western economics — a simple algorithm of equity, interest or financial ratios of the monetised world. People should realise that a substantial part of the globe is neither monetised nor anywhere near to being integrated into the global economic order. Indeed several territories, which have been a part of the so-called global order, have carved out enclaves for themselves with necessary sovereign barriers in place, which has enabled some to become tax havens. The situation serves to underscore the intellectual poverty of the assumption that Western economic theory, which so many in power swear by, suits our country.

Financial literacy, like many other concepts, needs to be re-defined in terms of different contexts. Perhaps a good beginning will be to clarify the indicators of financial exclusion and then gradually build into the problem. Sadly, the parameters of financial exclusion have not been adequately studied but the numbers are still substantial. The wide-spread instances of farmers committing suicides are only one of the many symptoms of financial crisis that is plaguing India. Policy-makers should remember that to lend is easy but to provide services is another matter altogether.

It is about time that we take a hard look at some fundamentals of performance management of financial institutions. Typically, the branch managers of banks would need to be incentivised, based on profit, to take up the cause of financial literacy. The temptation of issuing ex cathedra directives, as was done by the Reserve Bank of India in May last year, will not work in producing expected results. Some would recall that the Chairman and Managing Directors of nationalised banks were told to set financial inclusion targets for the current year. The flip side of the directive was that policy-makers thought it would be useful to think of incentives based on achievements. The approach has to be built further. The linkage between self-help groups and banks has to be strengthened.

Further, the insurance services have to go beyond media columns and channel drumming. Serious thought should be given to macro-insurance though some work has already started in that area. Jeevan Madhur — a life insurance project specially designed for poor people by the LIC — is a case in point. But that is precious little. Every year more than 60 crore LIC policies are bought yet there are no specific products for the urban poor. Similarly, the rural poor have no access to any services. There are very few products, if any, which are focussed on amelioration of poverty in urban areas. Hence, some fundamental rethinking is needed in these areas.

The banking sector in our country has graduated to the core banking system. The regional rural banks are nowhere on the map. The banks need to understand a simple equation: If IT enablement is important for monitoring purposes then IT enablement also facilitates Internet transactions.

The mobile telephony sector also faces similar concerns regarding management of development. The irony is that whereas private sector looks glamorous the public sector is needed to keep the society on an even keel. Mobile telephony for the last mile access is not attractive enough for private service provider and is, therefore, the baby of BSNL. This kind of suo motto contradiction needs to be addressed by taking a policy resolution.

Unique identification data may be a great enabler for financial inclusion to the extent that it can take care of 'know your customer' and 'know your resident'. But the scope of financial inclusion is much larger. Therefore, operationalising financial inclusion beyond slogans and political advantage may be the biggest challenge of the decade.








The Jan Lokpal movement based in Delhi's Jantar Mantar, spreading across India through fasts, marches and vigils, reflects a serious face-off between the middle class and India's political class. As the tussle over the Bill's provisions continues, the depths of the popular groundswell of disgust with corruption become evident, disaffection strong enough to bring together diverse groups.

While the movement's leader,
Anna Hazare, is a Gandhian, adopting the Mahatma's method of fasting, many joining him are not satyagrahis shaped by austerity. Several are middle-class Indians, moulded by professionalism, progress and consumption. Many are youth in university or jobs, shaken by what they see, stirred into joining an elderly leader who refers to another leader's practices, which for many have passed into the realm of cliche. The agitation is strong enough, however, to override these divisions. Corruption, exemplified by a terrible year of scams, is the oil fuelling such coalescing.

However, there's more. The Indian middle class is not only demanding accountability but dignity in citizenship. This notion has been catalysed by recent cases like Rizwanur Rehman's and Ruchika Girhotra's, where regular middle-class lives were crushed by a brutal nexus of political and financial clout. The booing away from
Jantar Mantar of Om Prakash Chautala, one of the political shields around Ruchika's tormentor, police officer S P S Rathore, reflected public anger with precisely this sort of nexus. This reflects growth in ideas about citizenship. Previously, notions of citizenship were limited to a small, well-educated elite. Today, this circle has perforce widened. Media and travel have changed the way people think. Indians are increasingly aware of countries where bribery isn't normal, where murders get punished even when committed by the powerful. It's become apparent that globalisation is not just about mobile phones and malls, but lawful, equal societies, an ideal many are now demanding.

The media is their ally. Starting with the Jessica Lal case in 1999, the media began acting as mirror and motor to civil society agitation, transmitting information about unpunished crimes, locations to gather at and modes of protest, like candlelight vigils, email and text campaigns. The internet also sees massive following for Hazare's movement. All this gives lie to the notion of middle-class Indians being 'apathetic' to politics. Where once frustration existed without cohesiveness, today there are effective means to channel feelings, forums to gather at, ways to debate and discuss. Several 'ideas of India' are emerging. Many Indians feel a deeper connection to their country. In that sense, Anna has won the war even as the battle persists.







The ideals of social emancipation and economic justice championed by the Left in West Bengal may seem far removed from the feudal world of khap panchayats in north India.

Yet there is little to choose between the extra-judicial powers exercised by the CPM cadre in rural Bengal and the clan-inspired diktats of khaps.

For three-and-a-half decades, the Left in West Bengal undermined rule of law in order to lord it over every aspect of public life, as well as the private lives of citizens. Infiltrating and rendering toothless most public institutions, CPM cadre became a power unto themselves.

Despite occasional apologies from top echelons of the party leadership, kangaroo courts presided over by local party functionaries have created a culture of goondaism. The reported case of Purnima Biswas exemplifies this.

The daughter of a farmer in Jagannathpur, she was gangraped in 2005. The accused being politically connected were able to derail justice. Instead of fighting for her cause, the local CPM strongman decreed that she should be married off to resolve the issue.

Whether it is the police, the bureaucracy or the education system, the Left stands accused of enhancing its hegemonic powers by undermining each and every arm of state machinery. While paying lip service to the ideal of gender equality, little has been done to empower women in the state.

In fact, the feudal style of working of the party has ensured that women continue to be deprived of their rights. Yet the party leadership seems unable or unwilling to change the status quo. As Mamata Banerjee and the Trinamool Congress look to end the Left's uninterrupted sway for over three decades, it will help their cause if they can restore the rule of law.









What is to be done? I ask this question of energy policy in India and in the wake of the convulsions in Egypt and Libya, the public unrest in Syria, Bahrain and Yemen and the tragedy in Japan. The energy sector is at a point of inflexion and our decision makers may have to spring themselves from what the corporate world refers to as the 'status quo' and the 'sunk cost' traps. These are traps that deter the breaking of new policy ground even when changed circumstances make the continuation of existing policies a mistake.

Three hard truths confront our decision makers. One, the demand for energy is surging; two, domestic supplies are struggling to keep pace; and, three, the environment is under stress. These three realities need to be tackled in the context of heightened price and supply vulnerability and concerns about the safety of nuclear energy. Two approaches need to be countenanced. One that tackles the immediate vulnerabilities; the other that lays the foundation for a sustainable energy future.

The unrest in Libya and Egypt has taken out just over 2% - 2.2 million barrels per day (mbd) - of global oil production. This shortfall has been made up by increased production from Saudi Arabia. As a result, the market has not gone into shock. Oil prices have risen by 15-20% since January but this is nowhere close to the run-up seen in the first six months of 2008 when they moved from $40/bbl to just under $150/bbl. The bigger issue concerning the market is the consequence of the public unrest spreading to other oil producers and the collapse of Japan's nuclear industry. Clearly, if supplies from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iran or the UAE were disrupted, prices could ratchet to new heights. And if Japan replaced all of its lost nuclear energy with gas-based power, the price of LNG would harden sharply.

Already, the spot price of LNG has moved up in anticipation that Japan will need an extra 10 million tonnes per annum (mtpa) of LNG this year. A further issue is the budgetary implication of the expenditures that some countries have committed to pre-empt or contain public unrest. It is estimated, for instance, that Saudi Arabia will need an average of $85/bbl to balance its budget. If that is indeed the case, OPEC's supply strategy would set this as the new floor price and that might result in a systemic price hike above that dictated by the fundamentals of supply and demand.

The impact of these supply and price uncertainties for India can be severe. This is because India imports approximately 70% of its crude oil from the Middle East and LNG is becoming an increasingly important part of its energy consumption basket. The immediate policy priority has to therefore focus on mitigating the consequential risks.

On the supply front, the government has an array of non-exclusive options. It can contemplate the diversification of supply sources, the securing of long-term contracts and the acceleration of efforts to build up strategic and operational stocks.

On the pricing front, the government could consider deregulating the price of transportation fuels. The public sector marketing companies are on the financial edge because of the widening gap between their 'administered' domestic selling price and the international market determined cost price. The consequent losses have impacted their investment decisions and it may be compromising their adherence to safety and operational standards. The government has been hopeful that the international market will soften and that this will then allow for deregulation. Given the above developments, this hope may now have to be set aside.

The better option would be to deregulate and thereby not only pull the companies back from the brink but also enable them to make investments for additional necessary infrastructure.

The policy focus on the short-term must not distract attention from the longer-term objective of moving away from the current fossil fuels-based energy system to a renewable-based system. The bridge connecting these two systems will be long and it will take time to traverse. It is not easy to transform the energy stock of an economy. Edison illuminated Manhattan in the 1880s. But it was not until four decades later that factories in the US had fully converted from steam power to electricity.

The bridge, however, has to be built. The problem is that the girders have not all been put in place. Gas, for instance, will be the bridgehead but there is still uncertainty about gas pricing and the distribution infrastructure is woefully inadequate. Technology is a key prerequisite for commercialising and scaling up solar, wind and bio. But the allocation of R&D funds for clean technology by our companies is amongst the lowest in the industry. Price is a strong instrument for managing demand and generating efficiency. But the current mechanism encourages adulteration and waste.

'What is to be done?' is a question that does not lend itself to an easy answer. It does, however, compel reflection and highlights the fact that the 'three hard truths' cannot be tackled unless policies are a blend of pragmatism required to meeting our fossil fuel requirements and the ideal of replacing them with clean energy.

The writer is chairman, Shell Companies in India. Views are personal.







Gautam Adhikari , currently a FICCI-EWC fellow at the East West Centre in Washington, spoke with Deep K Datta-Ray about his new book, The Intolerant Indian: Why We Must Rediscover a Liberal Space:

As a long-standing writer for and about India, what do you argue in your book?

The book isn't about an intolerant India. It's about the intolerant Indian, who in my view doesn't appreciate the idea of India. While the republic of India was founded on a fine Constitution, secular, democratic, and liberal in spirit and content, the course that our political life has taken over six decades has not matched that spirit. Secularism has been diluted to a point where its Indian definition no longer fits the historically accepted view of secularism around the world. It's a democracy that has regular elections and assures freedom of speech on paper but functions in between elections in a climate of weakening governance, while free expression is severely threatened by intolerance emanating from narrowly interpreted religious, regional and ethnic identities clashing with one another. Its political spectrum no longer has a wide enough space for liberalism in the classical sense to find expression, while political parties jockey for power with little to offer by way of a vision for the future.

India is a remarkable experiment in republican democracy, perhaps the boldest yet attempted, as the book argues. It has defied early pessimists by merely surviving as a democracy over six decades. But its secular-liberal character is dangerously weak.

Are you critiquing Amartya Sen's 'argumentative Indian' thesis?

In no way. It's a plea for channelling argument in a liberal-democratic political framework in the constitutionally defined fashion which our founding fathers intended. Actually, Amartya Sen's description from his book 'Identity And Violence' of "plural" identities in each of us is mentioned in this book. Should we have only one overarching identity? Or do we have multiple identities? I am a Hindu by birth, an agnostic by choice, an Indian, wildly so when my identity is that of a cricket fan, and a secular humanist in worldview, which itself is in a state of steady evolution.

Are you arguing that Indian politics is polarised between left and right with little room for a middle ground?
Well, yes and no. Yes, Indian politics is polarised between a hard religious-oriented right and a dogmatic, outdated, communist left, with a muddle in the middle where the Congress, various regional outfits and smaller parties thrash about. But, no, this is not a plea for that cliched middle ground so popular in our political discourse. I plead for a revival of the space to which so many of our nationalist leaders belonged - Nehru, Ambedkar, Rajaji, Gokhale and, importantly, Gandhi and Tagore - where democratic debate can be carried out and a spirit of tolerance prevail. It's not a middle path. It's a clear stand against all forms of extremism and woolly thinking of a religious or fundamental kind. And it's against silly, intolerant demands for bans on books.

It's a plea for separation of political life from religious life while arguing for a liberal, democratic and secular space for political expression. That space was evident in the early years of our republic. I may disagree with some of the economic policy choices made in those early years - Nehru's soft spot for socialistic economics, for instance - but most founders and early leaders were liberal-secular. Today, ideologies of the left and right have overshadowed the idea of a liberal, democratic, tolerant society in which many views would compete for power and attention, where the guiding motto of the nation would be 'live and let live'.








Anna Hazare's fast-unto-death against rampant corruption in public life has created a groundswell of nationwide support, including students and homemakers, executives and social activists. Hazare's satyagraha has also found some unusual followers. Perhaps the most unusual of these is Shri Hera Pheri, also known as Mr Wheeler Dealer, the archetypal politician, power-broker, and general fix-it guy rolled into one. Jugular Vein managed to get an exclusive interview with Shri Hera Pheri, which went as follows:

JV: Shri Hera Pheri...

HP: Please, no formalities. You may call me HP. Which also stands for Hire Purchase. Which means i am available both for hire by the day or the hour, or for outright purchase, whichever the customer wants. Here is my Hire Purchase rate card, which is also my business card.

JV: Er, thank you, HP. I don't think i can afford your rates, but it's nice to know that your services are available. You've said you will join Anna Hazare's fast against corruption. Have you had much practice with fasts?

HP: Fasts? Arre, what you are saying? Fast is same-to-same as chalu in Hindi, no? You ask anyone who is the most chalu of them all, and they'll tell you that i'm Mr Chalubaaz himself, not just Mr Fast, but Mr Fastest!

JV: I don't think you quite understand. Fast doesn't mean fast as in chalu but fast as in the non-intake of food.

HP: Food? OK, OK, got it. On his fast-unto-death Annaji is eating fast food only till it kills him, na? No problem. I'll do the same. I love fast food. All fast food. Bhelpuri, pav bhaji, samosas. To begin with let's have some pizza. Hungry, kya?

JV: Fast doesn't mean eating fast foods till you drop. Fast means eating no food at all, fast, slow or medium speed.

HP: No food at all? What a thing. Worse than Navratras where at least you're allowed to eat adulterated kuttu, even if it poisons you. Tell you what. We'll just fast-forward all this fast bit. Let's get on to the next item of Annaji's agenda.

JV: Annaji's agenda, as you call it, is based on the Gandhian principle of satyagraha, which means using the power of truth to overcome injustice, in this case the injustice of corruption.

HP: Yes, yes. I know all about satyagraha and Mahatmaji's Experiments with Truth. I too have done many, many experiments with truth. In fact i have even managed to invent a revolutionary new form of satyagraha, for which i'm thinking of applying for a patent, under Intellectual Property Act.

JV: A new form of satyagraha? What's it called?

HP: It's called jhoothagraha, which means using the power of untruth, or jhooth, to overcome justice.

JV: How can you possibly equate satyagraha with your jhoothagraha, truth with untruth?

HP: How do you equate truth with untruth, Gandhian satyagraha with my soon-to-be-patented jhoothagraha? Simple. What is untruth but truth stood on its head? In other words, an untruth is only truth doing a yogic sirshasan, a headstand. An untruth is nothing but an athletic truth

JV: I don't know how many people would buy that argument.

HP: Who'll buy untruth? There's no end to the number of customers for that product. Why do you think i've made it my stock in trade?

JV: But if your stock in trade, as you call it, is untruth why are you championing the cause of a Lokpal?


HP: Lok-pal? Is that what this all about? What baqwas. All along i've been thinking it's about a friend who'd look after the interests of all us HP types. Look-pal, anyone?






Prime Minister David Cameron took on the entire burden of  British imperial history this week when talking to a group of Pakistani students. Referring to Kashmir, he said, "As with so many of the problems of the world, we are responsible for their creation in the first place."

At one fell swoop, he also took responsibility for the Israel-Palestine problem, the partition of Cyprus, Northern Ireland, the Fijian ethnic divide, a wide array of African civil wars and, through a series of blunders, the creation of the United States. He was denounced and praised back home. The rest of the world paid no attention.

It helps that Mr Cameron is so youthful that only a time capsule resident would be able to discern a causal chain between his brand of zero-gravitas statesmanship, the Instrument of Accession and the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba.

The truth is most such admissions of historical guilt are done at a time and by a person who no one can seriously associate with the original crime. As one commentator pointed out, it may have had some impact if Lord Louis Mountbatten had admitted he had made a hash of partition, but not representatives of a generation of Britons who think 'fine wool' if they hear the word 'Kashmir'.

But perhaps that should be the way it's done. Any historian worth his salt knows that no international problem can be reduced to simple blame game of one country, two ideologies, and three men and a dog. It isn't particularly good when it comes to point-scoring: every country in the world has a skeleton in the historical closet.

Mr Cameron is thus doing the politically smart thing which is to admit blame when it doesn't matter and when it doesn't have credibility. The blogosphere will light up for 15 minutes and the world can go back to blaming the Britons for their more heinous crimes: mushy peas, dreary formal wear, and the Twickenham school of applause.





The government wants more time to untie the knots in a deal between Cairn Energy Plc to sell a 51% stake in its Indian operations to Vedanta Resources Plc for upwards of $8 billion. This despite British Prime Minister David Cameron writing to his Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh seeking an early decision to the takeover announced by the two Britain-based companies in October 2010.

With an empowered group of Cabinet ministers now looking into the issue, Cairn has extended the deal-making deadline by over a month till May 20. Vedanta, on the other hand, is confident about making an open offer to minority shareholders for another 20% stock required under India's takeover code after getting clearances earlier this week from the stock market regulator.

Yet, as petroleum minister S Jaipal Reddy put it after Wednesday's Cabinet meeting, issues remain. At the core are royalty payments made by ONGC, the junior partner in a Cairn oilfield in Rajasthan, which the government wants the British company to chip in with before it cashes out.

It also wants Cairn to withdraw litigation over taxes paid on the oil it is drilling out of India. Cairn points out that if it agrees to either of these terms, its selling price will take a hit.

But the government is also fairly clear that if the sale goes through without these questions being resolved, the buyer could continue with the bickering over concession agreements drafted before India put in place an oil exploration policy. If the group of ministers can't break the stalemate, we are staring at a long court battle.

That certainly does not help India's image as a destination for foreign investment. Big Oil has resolutely stayed away since the Indian operations of Exxon, Shell and Chevron were nationalised after the 1973 oil shock. The pressing need then — apart from controlling fuel prices — was to build India's refining capacity. Both were achieved: India is among the world's largest refiners of oil, and fuel prices are still subsidised by the government.

The enormous refining capacity, however, cloaks our measly crude output. Efforts to get international oil majors to prospect in India have till now been stonewalled — the only significant player has been Cairn. BP's purchase in February of a 30% stake in 23 of Reliance's oil and gas fields for $7.2 billion was timed after India sorted out vigorously contested issues over who owns the gas found after exploration, whom it can be sold to and at what price.

A nation starved of energy can ill afford policy snafus to come in the way of more vigorous exploration.





Mahendra Singh Dhoni is the country's new Pied Piper. From his hairstyle to his helicopter shot, Dhoni's every single move is followed by millions. Sachin Tendulkar may be the presiding deity of  Indian cricket, the ultimate batting god who has scored more runs than anyone else, but he is someone you worship from afar.

Dhoni, by contrast, is the folk hero whose meteoric rise is the classic new India story: from sleepy Ranchi to a rapturous Mumbai, World Cup 2011 has ensured a permanent place in the cricketing sun for the man from Jharkhand.

But Dhoni's larger-than-life image today doesn't have to do with his cricketing abilities alone, it also has much to do with our desperate search for strong leaders, be it in cricket or public life.

India have had great batsmen and bowlers in the past, what Indian cricket has rarely had is a true leader. Captaincy in the Indian context was historically associated with the maharajas.

For India's first Test tour of  1932, the Maharaja of Porbandar was appointed captain and Ghanshyamsinhji of Limbdi the vice-captain. Fortunately, the Porbandar Maharaja dropped out because of  ill-health two weeks before the tour while Limbdi suffered a back injury just before the first test. As a result, CK Nayudu, the finest Indian cricketer of his time, earned the right to lead the team in its first Test. The fact that he wasn't originally chosen as captain had much to do with the game's feudal origins.

Only the royalty was seen to have what it takes to lead an Indian team.

Perhaps, the worst example of  how this 'royal' touch almost destroyed Indian cricket came in 1936 when the Maharaja of Vizianagram, or 'Vizzy', became the Indian captain after manipulating the system to get the top job. This was the tour when Vizzy conspired to send home Lala Amarnath, India's first test centurion, simply because Amarnath was openly critical of his leadership. It is also alleged that in the first test, Vizzy offered Mushtaq Ali a gold watch to run out India's best batsman Vijay Merchant.

Indeed, being captain of India was for several decades an assignment marked by intrigue and low-level politics. When the West Indies toured India in 1958-59, we had four captains in five tests, a dubious record that only reveals the depth to which Indian cricket could plunge when it came to the leadership question.

Nor was this a one-off. As late as 1979, S Venkatraghavan was informed by an airline pilot that he had been sacked as captain on the flight back home from England. And right through the 80s, the Indian selectors played musical chairs with two legends Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev when it came to the captaincy stakes.

Even Sachin Tendulkar, otherwise blessed with the Midas touch, found it difficult to handle the pressures of being India captain.

Ironically, India's first genuine captain of substance was another flagbearer of royalty, the Nawab of Pataudi. While Pataudi earned the respect of his peers, he was also seen as remote and aloof, maybe because he was playing in an age in the 1960s where Indian cricket still hadn't fully 'democratised' itself.

He was eventually replaced by a 'commoner' in Ajit Wadekar, who had the distinction of leading India to its first major overseas win.

Still later, Gavaskar and then Azharuddin were also successful captains, but neither was above controversy. While Gavaskar was accused of playing regional politics, Azhar's fall from grace saw him face a life ban for match-fixing.

Enter Sourav Ganguly, perhaps the first Indian captain to be truly passionate about the idea of being a leader. Ganguly may have been the Prince of Kolkata, but to his immense credit he rose above parochialism and defined an era of Indian cricket where merit mattered above all else. Moreover, he liked the idea of a scrap and instilled a certain self-belief in his teammates.

Dhoni has drawn on the Ganguly legacy, but also taken it several notches ahead. Ganguly wore his emotions on his sleeve, his famous shirt-stripping histrionics at Lords symbolising his rather frenzied approach to leadership. By contrast, Dhoni has brought a remarkable Zen-like calmness to a fiercely high-pressure job. In the last three years as Indian captain, one doesn't recall a single instance where Dhoni has really let his guard down or allowed himself to be carried away by the surround sound which is now part of the game.

He's even publicly admitted to his mistakes, an all too rare quality in our leaders. For example, in the crucial India-Pakistan semi-finals, he candidly accepted that dropping off spinner R Ashwin for a medium pacer in Ashish Nehra was a mistake because he had failed to read the wicket correctly.

To get a politician to accept an 'error of  judgement' takes forever, Dhoni acknowledged his fault almost immediately.

Perhaps, the defining moment of  Dhoni's captaincy though came in the final. Slightly out of form, he could have easily sat in the dressing room and awaited his turn. Instead, he took the risk and promoted himself in the batting order at a time when the game was in the balance. That single act embodied a real intent to win and, importantly, showed a willingness to lead from the front. This wasn't a leader who was content to let things drift, or allow his teammates to flounder without taking personal responsibility. This was a courageous captain who backed himself to face a crisis without dithering.

The contrast with our many netas who do exactly the opposite almost every day could not be sharper.

Which is why Captain Dhoni is now a national icon.

(Rajdeep Sardesai is Editor-in-Chief, IBN 18 Network, the views expressed by the author are personal)





Two years ago, a ministry of defence (MoD) report had stated that "the possibility of China and Pakistan joining forces in India's farthest frontiers, illegally occupied by the two neighbours, would have direct military implications for India". This possibility became real when last week, the Northern Army Commander confirmed that Chinese troops are present on the Pakistani side of the Line of Control (LoC).

The Chinese troops aren't pointing guns towards our posts on the LoC, but the fact that they are located and working alongside Pakistani troops reflects 'joint' interest and enhancement of strategic and operational preparedness.

What the Northern Army Commander has stated is not new. The Chinese military presence in Gilgit-Baltistan area of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK), purportedly to repair, upgrade and re-commission the Karakoram Highway and to improve infrastructure in the area became visible last year. His statement and concern supplement prior information.

It's also known that China plans to construct railway tracks and oil pipelines from Kashgar in Xinjiang to Gwadar port in Pakistan.

When Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao addressed both houses of Pakistan Parliament in December 2010, he said, "To cement and advance the all-weather strategic partnership of cooperation between China and Pakistan is our common strategic choice…" Talking to the media after Wen's address, Pakistan's interior minister Rehman Malik had described it as a strong message to the "enemies of Pakistan".

According to the Indian defence ministry, the length of the India-China border is 4,056 km. This includes the whole of the western sector including Aksai Chin, POK and the Shaksgam valley (ceded by Pakistan to China in an India-disputed agreement in March 1963). For reasons still not clear, in a statement in the Chinese daily Global Times on December 14, 2010, the Indian ambassador to China put the border length to be 3,488 km.

While publishing the interview, the publication added its own comment: "There is no settled length of the common border. The Chinese government often refers to the border length as being about 2,000 km." By reducing the length in its definition of the border, China has questioned Indian sovereignty over J&K.

Without going into details of other security and sovereignty related issues between India and China in Tibet and the Indian Ocean, it is obvious that as China develops greater national power, geo-politically and strategically it will become more aggressive and create new pressures on the border issue.

China is known to be assertive in its diplomacy over security and military issues. It will attempt to exploit our diplomatic appeasement postures and defence weaknesses on the ground to its advantage.

India-China economic and security relations are moving in opposite trajectories. The competitive relationship over our long-term security interests outweighs the cooperative one in trade, commerce and culture. India can't afford to let the latest developments go uncontested diplomatically. In the interest of its own security and Asian stability, it must build a sympathetic international lobby.

In the coming financial year, China plans to spend $91.6 billion on defence. This does not include its budget for internal security. India's approved defence budget this year is $34 billion. India must pay greater attention to its defence preparedness, particularly on the north-western borders. There is an urgent need to build defence infrastructure along the northern border.

According to media reports, our border road building programmes in the north are running three years behind schedule. Along with making up for shortages and replacing obsolescent weapon systems at the earliest, we must build rapid reaction military capability for all underdeveloped areas in the Himalayas. India must not become complacent as we did before 1962.

(VP Malik is former chief of staff, Indian Army, The views expressed by the author are personal)



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

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

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

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






In the shadow of Delhi's Jantar Mantar observatory, an architectural ode to precision and balance, an inchoate movement against the System is said to be now under way. The sit-in is rallied around activist Anna Hazare's fast for the acceptance of his draft of the Lokpal bill. His fast-unto-death entered its third day on Thursday, and the Union government gave in by agreeing to a committee made up equally of members from government and from "civil society" to draft a Lokpal bill. But the talks broke down over who would head such a committee. Representing Hazare — and so presumably "civil society" — Arvind Kejriwal said Hazare's supporters were firm that it should be Hazare, even if the fasting hero is not so keen on it himself. With the government showing every sign of tolerance to such passive-aggressive tactics, it has to be asked, how many "civil society" actors does it take to constitute a movement?

The question of representation is especially crucial, even as Jantar Mantar's carnival atmosphere with assorted persons carrying placards of individual manifestos gets designated the "second war of independence". Representation had been the touchstone of the Indian freedom movement, and progress towards freedom was in step with the gradual accretion of democratic rights wrested from the colonial masters. That legacy of seeing freedom as the privileging of the sovereign will of the people has served this country exceeding well. It is coded in the Constitution, with its checks and balances to guard against individual or institutional excesses, and its success is regularly seen in elections at different levels, from parliamentary to panchayat. This system of checks and balances, as is too obvious, is still a work in progress. Various reforms have been made to make the system more accountable — from mandatory affidavits for those contesting elections to guaranteeing the right to information. More is needed. Therefore, it may appear that the sit-in at Jantar Mantar is really another step to deepen this demand.

The danger is that such passive-aggressive tactics as a fast to cast a demand as that of civil society's subverts the constitutional framework. Can the few gathered at Jantar Mantar, their voice amplified by saturation television coverage, really make demands on behalf of "civil society"? Can they, even as they keep the capital's arena for free association clear of politicians, coerce a democratic system to set aside due procedure and cave in? A sound Lokpal bill is crucial, but what's happening at Jantar Mantar is less about the bill than the assertion of a very few to represent the majority.






Antibiotics and antimicrobial resistance are the biggest threat to India's public health, apart from a weak and inadequate health system. The indiscriminate use of antibiotics and the long-term damage it has been causing have been put on the wall. The problem isn't just the fact of India's antibiotic usage, but a larger lack of awareness and attendant stubbornness that has allowed antibiotics to be purchased over the counter and without prescription. It's the same health culture that makes physicians indiscriminately prescribe antibiotics even for common colds. The consequences of this are visible all around. Now, a WHO study has claimed 53 per cent Indians take antibiotics without a doctor's prescription.

When Lancet had traced the NDM-1 superbug to India's profligate use of antibiotics, temperatures were raised in both government and the medical community here. Better sense, fortunately, had prevailed a little later and the much-maligned Lancet study had led to a group of public health experts drawing up guidelines for hygiene standards and the appropriate use of antibiotics, underscoring the distinction between grave and intense illnesses which demand strong antibiotics and other cases, such as outpatients and emergencies, which call for milder ones. Additionally, the experts had recommended an infection-surveillance system and strictures on cleanliness. Monitoring medical care facilities are necessary to prevent infection and mitigate calls for the antibiotic cure. However, it's not enough.

WHO warns that we could be reverting to the "dreadful pre-antibiotic era", unless sustained action on antibiotic use is taken right now. The antibiotic problem is one of self-nullification — the more we use them, the less useful they are. And the threat of antimicrobial resistance "going viral" is real. All stakeholders — health policy framers, physicians and the public — must be speedily and comprehensively sensitised and steps taken to ensure compliance as far as possible.






India is growing at 9 per cent a year. Its demand for power should grow at an even greater rate; poverty-reduction means creating jobs for people in manufacturing, and in order to get industries going we need electricity to be available and reliable. So India needs to get power generation off the ground. Power generation, even more so perhaps than most other infrastructure sectors, is crucial, a growth-pusher, and the state needs to ensure that capacity continues to grow.

Yet, however ambitious the plans to supersize electricity generation might be, we keep on running into the same old constraint: there isn't enough coal. The coal ministry has told the group of ministers studying the issue that, because of a shortage of coal, plants commissioned in 2009-10 are operating at 42 per cent efficiency, an absurdly low level. (In contrast, internationally inspected nuclear power plants in India are operating at 100 per cent efficiency now that the Indo-US nuclear deal has cleared the way for fuel im-ports.) Future power plants, or those being commissioned this financial year, will simply not have coal to operate, the ministry added. This is a severe constraint; we are missing out on not only the 24,000 megawatts of capacity they were supposed to have added, but also on, the ministry estimates, almost 22 gigawatts of energy this year. Those are truly shocking numbers, especially in a growing economy, and one struggling to avert lower growth this year than the trend — something pointed out by an

Asian Development Bank survey on Wednesday.

There are three ways to fix this. One is to increase the efficiency of Coal India; several coal blocks given over to its use are extracting at little over half the expected rate. This requires greater reform of one of India's few remaining public-sector monopolies. Or the environment ministry could ease up its restrictions on "no-go" areas, as the Planning Commission advises. And, finally, ports and connectivity need to be enhanced so coal imports can help make up the deficit. All three are necessary reforms.








India's engagement with its major trade partners is marked by interesting paradoxes. The India-US strategic partnership signed during President Barack Obama's recent visit seeks to take economic cooperation between the two countries to an altogether new level. If one looks at the details, it becomes clear that America is seeking a quantum leap in trade with India by selling defence and civil nuclear hardware over the next decade. America sees a potential to export over $100 billion worth of sophisticated defence equipment alone over the next 10 years.

However, the one big problem America faces in realising this export potential is that it will have to deal with the Indian state which buys the defence hardware.

Any global company will tell you that dealing with the state as a customer is not easy at the best of times. The Indian defence establishment has its own biases flowing from legacy issues. Some of the American frustration in this regard is evident in the WikiLeaked conversations on the India-US engagement.

So here is the paradox. A capitalist system, which America characterises, is having to deal with the Indian state as a prime customer to bring about a quantum leap in its trade with India. In sharp contrast, communist China will increase its trade with India to $100 billion by 2015 largely by selling power, telecom and other infrastructure equipment to our top private sector companies. In fact, private sector power companies are even getting loans on easy terms from Chinese banks to buy power equipment from their leading state-owned companies. So much so that the Indian government is now apprehensive that Chinese banks could have a lien on massive power sector assets that India would build over the next decade. A rough estimate suggests that nearly 20 per cent of all power capacity over the next five years could be based on Chinese equipment, much of it funded by their banks. Also, most of the leading Indian telecom companies are placing orders with Chinese 3G hardware manufacturers as they are the cheapest and the best. It is obvious that the Chinese companies are far more competitive and have taken leadership position globally in many sectors which were dominated earlier by the US, Europe and Japan.

However, the scary after-effects of the 2008 global recession, with persistent unemployment in America and large parts of Europe, is making the West rethink the way it traditionally looked at the global economy. For instance, when Obama visited New Delhi recently, one clearly got the sense that the US wanted a special knowledge partnership with India to ensure that America maintains its technology leadership in the next few decades with India benefiting equally from that. The Americans now fear only one thing — that China with its ever increasing expenditure in cutting-edge research in new technology frontiers like green energy will skew the global economic balance further away from the West.

Similarly, the European Union has also figured that it has to open up far more to enable movement of capital and labour across Asia in order to stay in the global growth game. It is this realisation that has made the EU negotiate a comprehensive economic cooperation agreement with India which would involve a much more liberal work visa regime for Indians seeking to provide temporary services in Europe. This would have been unthinkable a decade ago when Europe thought it was enough to be engaged in trade and investment interaction with the US, its biggest trading partner. This mindset has undergone a 180-degree change.

After the global crisis, the biggest attitudinal shift has happened in the case of Japan. Suddenly Japan has also realised that much greater openness may be needed on its part to bring the global economy back on the rails. Japan is also close to finalising a comprehensive free-trade agreement in goods and services with India. Again, it was unthinkable a decade ago that Japan would open up its labour market to Indian workers. The Japanese are also open to allowing Indian generic drugmakers to sell in their country, which has an increasingly ageing population. In some ways global demographic changes are also causing old attitudes to be reviewed comprehensively. The massive reconstruction project following the devastation of that country caused by the recent earthquake and tsunami will only further reinforce Japan's need for a deeper economic engagement with the rest of the world.

Overall, there has been a decisive change in the mindsets of the OECD nations as they are being forced to think differently to stay entrenched in the global economic sweepstakes. The US will be particularly conscious of some key lessons it has learnt from history. This has been brought out very lucidly in an article in Foreign Affairs by Liaquat Ahmed. He talks about how global policy-makers can avoid the pitfalls of the 1930s when the Great Depression had caused nations to look inwards as they erected trade and investment barriers, imposed capital controls and this ended up deepening the crises further. The global economy could not be repaired for a full 12 years until 1942 when the Marshall Plan finally came to the rescue of a vastly damaged Europe and US.

Unemployment levels in many Western economies were above 25 per cent then. Things are not so bad today but we do have unemployment levels of 10 to 20 per cent persisting in many developed economies. Besides, Ahmed says a truly visionary leadership has to be displayed by some big economic powers to ensure the current currency war in the midst of an uneven global economic recovery does not degenerate into nations erecting fresh barriers to trade and capital flows. So far there are no signs of this happening and the US has shown appreciation of lessons learnt from the 1930s. Of course, the joker in the pack remains China which has no capitalist history to learn from! And India is in the middle of all this action.

The writer is Managing Editor, 'The Financial Express'







Once upon a time in the Middle East, Qatar didn't matter much. It was a sleepy emirate, more Bedouin than boulevard, its royals found their way to schools in Dubai and Sharjah and the country went along with almost no participation in the politics of the big bad world. But that changed when Emir Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani deposed his father in a bloodless coup in 1995.

It was then that modern Qatar began to take shape, the Qatar we see today, the emirate of intervention, the problem-solving nation. A flurry of calls has been made to this small emirate in the past month over the Libyan issue. The White House called the emir, the emir called upon his allies in the Arab League. Qatar sent six warplanes to patrol the Libyan sky, the first Arab nation to do so. Qatar chose to act, and it reminded the Arab League that it was at their behest that the resolution had gained momentum. Now Qatari warplanes fly alongside French aircraft as a no-fly zone is imposed over Libya, but one wonders, how seriously does Qatar really take itself?

One need not look too far. Qatar is seen at diplomatic tables, its emir has been photographed with Ahmadinejad, Bush, Chavez and just about any international player of significance. Qatar believes it is the country's national duty to act and thus is born the role of Qatar the mediator. It has brokered deals with Hezbollah, mediated in the much publicised 2008 peace deal in Lebanon that brought calm after 18 months of stalemate and is actively involved in finding a resolution to the crisis in Darfur. In fact, Qatar's benevolence is such that in 2007, it negotiated the release of Bulgarian nurses jailed in Libya for apparently "spreading AIDS". Qatar's role in the international arena now parallels that formerly played by Egypt and Saudi Arabia. After all, it is seen as solving problems in all the right places, from Morocco to Chechnya.

It doesn't end there. Qatar's influence is present in almost every home in the Middle East. Al Jazeera, owned by the al-Thani family, has brought to the Middle East a channel so free that it annoys neighbours. Note that a scuffle broke out between Qatar and Saudi Arabia because of critical reportage. It was followed by five years of icy relations, until Qatar reduced its focus on Saudi Arabia.

Qatar proudly announces that it is the only Middle Eastern country to do away with the ministry of information. This when former minister Hamad bin Thamer al-Thani is now the chairman of Al Jazeera's board of directors. The network has its critics. Even the recent dispatch of WikiLeaks cables read, "Al Jazeera, the most watched satellite television station in the Middle East, is heavily subsidised by the Qatari government and has proved itself a useful tool for the station's political masters. Al Jazeera's ability to influence public opinion throughout the region is a substantial source of leverage for Qatar." Yet, Al Jazeera claims editorial independence.

Qatar, like its immediate neighbour Saudi Arabia, is a Wahhabi state. But modern Qatar is everything Saudi Arabia is not. It is a land of freedom, a land of bikinis and alcohol. And life could not get any sweeter for Qatari nationals. They enjoy the world's highest per capita income according to some estimates, thanks to natural oil and gas reserves.

But here is the flip side to the rosy Qatari story. It was only in 2004 that constitutional reform was enacted. It was then that a woman was given the role of minister of education but Qatar is no bastion of democracy. The al-Thani clan has been ruling the country since 1825. Therefore, Al Jazeera, the vocal Arab mouthpiece, is free to report on anything and everything but Qatar, its emir or the royals.

A Qatari municipal council was created to give every Qatari a voice, but nothing has come out of that. It seems that the apathetic people of Qatar are more interested in Gum Ball Rally where superfast cars race each other. They are enjoying another source of pride, the chance to host the FIFA World Cup in 2022. But there are no adequate stadia and its 70 per cent expatriate workforce will have to erect the planned 12 stadia.

Yet, those expatriates who have built Qatar enjoy no freedoms, no inclusion. An Indian friend in Doha asked me, "I have been living here for the past 22 years. Doha is my home, but should the emir wish so my family and I have to pack up. How tolerant is this Qatar?" But that's the face of Qatar that you seldom see.







Social activist Anna Hazare's fast unto death for the enactment of a strong Lokpal bill has provided an impetus to examine not only the bill proposed by civil society activists but suggestions made by various experts.

The idea of establishing an authority where the citizen can seek redress against administrative acts of the government was first mooted in 1963, during a debate on demands for grants for the law ministry. Under the existing system, a citizen can either move court or seek other remedies such as petitioning his member of Parliament. However, these remedies are limited because they maybe too cumbersome or specific grievances may not be addressed. Also, the laws that penalise corrupt officials do not have provisions to redress specific grievances of citizens. Currently, corrupt public officials can be penalised under the Indian Penal Code, 1860 and the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988. Both these laws require the investigating agency to get prior sanction of the Central or state government before it can initiate the prosecution process in a court.

The office of Lokpal or Ombudsman seeks to provide a forum for citizens to complain against public officials. The Lokpal would inquire into such complaints and provide some redressal to citizens. The basic idea of the institution of Lokpal was borrowed from the concept of Ombudsman in countries such as Finland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, the UK and New Zealand. At present, about 140 countries have the office. In Sweden, Denmark and Finland, the Ombudsman can redress citizens' grievances by either directly receiving complaints from the public or suo motu. However, in the UK, the office of the parliamentary commissioner can receive complaints only through MPs (to whom the citizen can complain). Sweden and Finland also have the power to prosecute erring public servants.

The first Lokpal bill in India was introduced in 1968, which lapsed with the dissolution of the Lok Sabha. The Bill was introduced seven more times in Parliament, the last time in 2001. Each time it lapsed, except in 1985 when it was withdrawn.

Several commissions have examined the need for a Lokpal and suggested ways to make it effective, without violating constitutional principles. They include: the first Administrative Reforms Commission (ARC) of 1966; the National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution of 2002; and the second Administrative Reforms Commission of 2007. The Lokpal bills that were introduced were referred to various parliamentary committees (the last three bills were referred to the standing committee on home affairs).

The first ARC report recommended that two independent authorities be created to redress grievances: first, a Lokpal, to deal with complaints against the administrative acts of ministers or secretaries of government at the Centre and the states; and second, a Lokayukta in each state and at the Centre, to deal with complaints against the administrative acts of other officials. Both these authorities should be independent of the executive, judiciary and legislature, and appointed by the president on the advice of the prime minister, the leader of the opposition and the Chief Justice of India.

The National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution urged that the Constitution should provide for the appointment of the Lokpal and Lokayuktas in the states but suggested that the prime minister should be kept out of the purview of the authority.

The second ARC, formed in 2005, also recommended that the office of the Lokpal be established without delay. It was in favour of including ministers, chief ministers and members of Parliament. However, it wanted to keep the PM outside the Lokpal's ambit. The ARC also recommended that a reasonable time limit for investigation of different types of cases should be fixed.

The 1996, 1998 and 2001 bill covered the PM and MPs. The standing committee examining the 1998 bill recommended that the government examine two basic issues before going forward with the bill: first, MPs are deemed to be public servants under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 and thus, if they are also brought under the purview of the Lokpal, it may be "tantamount to double jeopardy"; and second, subjecting MPs to an outside disciplinary authority may affect the supremacy of Parliament.

The 2001 bill was also referred to the standing committee, which accepted that the PM and MPs should be included in the bill. It further recommended that a separate legislation be enacted to ensure accountability of the judiciary. It, however, stated that the bill did not address public grievances but focused on corruption in high places.

The states have been more successful in establishing the Lokayuktas. So far, 18 states have enacted legislation to set up the office of Lokayukta. While the Karnataka Lokayukta is often hailed as a successful case, several other states have had limited success in combating corruption, since all of them are recommendatory bodies with limited powers to enforce their findings.

A group of ministers is looking into ways to tackle corruption, including the establishment of a Lokpal. A public debate on the issues raised by various committees would help iron out the weaknesses of any proposed legislation.

The writers are with PRS Legislative Research, New Delhi.







Are children of invalid marriages entitled to property rights? This is a difficult question with which our courts are constantly bogged down. In 1955, when Hindu marriages were rendered monogamous, a whole range of women and children who were out of the pale of strict monogamy were denied their rights to maintenance and succession and were rendered destitute. However, a slender ray of hope prevailed for illegitimate children, under Section 125 of the Criminal Procedure Code, where they could claim a meagre amount of maintenance. Women in bigamous marriages could also be granted maintenance under this provision by interpreting this socially beneficial legislation in a sensitive manner, and by expanding the boundaries of law. Various high courts and the Supreme Court in a number of rulings had held that strict proof of a valid marriage is not necessary while awarding maintenance to destitute women.

For instance, in Rameshchandra Daga vs Rameshwari Daga the Supreme Court, while awarding maintenance to a woman whose husband had challenged the validity of their marriage, conceded that despite codification and introduction of monogamy, the ground reality had not changed much; Hindu marriages, like Muslim marriages, had continued to be bigamous. The court had further commented that though such marriages are illegal as per the provisions of the codified Hindu law, they are not "immoral" and hence a financially dependent woman cannot be denied maintenance on this ground.

But two subsequent rulings, Savitaben Somabhai Bhatiya vs State of Gujarat and more recently, D. Velusamy vs D.Patchaiammal denied women in bigamous marriages maintenance under this beneficial provision. The later ruling which referred to women in such relationships as "mistresses" and "concubines" created a controversy. But a final ruling on this issue is still awaited as another bench of the Supreme Court comprising of Justice G.S. Singhvi and A.K. Ganguly referred the matter to a larger bench in Chanmuniya vs Virendra Kumar Singh Kushwaha. This ruling has recommended that a broad and expansive interpretation should be given to the term "wife" to include those cases where a man and woman have been living together as husband and wife for a reasonably long period of time, and strict proof of marriage should not be a pre-condition for maintenance — so as to fulfill the true spirit and essence of the beneficial provision of maintenance under Section 125. Ironically, this positive ruling did not receive much attention.

While the controversy over whether a second wife is entitled to maintenance rages on, the law has been more favourable to children of such marriages. In 1976, through an amendment to the Hindu Marriage Act, children born in marriages that were void were held to be "legitimate" and were granted the right of maintenance and inheritance. But discrimination against them continued. The Supreme Court ruling in Jinia Keotin vs Kumar Sitaram Manjhi and Bharatha Matha vs R. Vijaya Renganathan gave a constrained view and had held that a child born in a void marriage was not entitled to claim rights in ancestral property.

Hence it is refreshing to note that the recent ruling in Revanasiddappa vs Mallikarjun, delivered on March 31 by Justice G.S. Singhvi and A.K. Ganguly, dissented from the above two rulings, and has upheld the rights of the child of a void marriage to the ancestral property of the father. While referring the issue to a larger bench in the context of the contradictory positions between the earlier rulings and the present one, the bench held: "The Court cannot interpret a socially beneficial legislation on the basis as if the words therein are cast in stone. Such legislation must be given a purposive interpretation to further and not to frustrate the eminently desirable social purpose of removing the stigma on such children."

The Court relied upon Article 39(f) of the Constitution, which mandates that all children must be given opportunities and facilities to develop in a healthy manner and in conditions of freedom and dignity and must be protected against moral and material abandonment. 

While this is a positive interpretation, a ruling of the Supreme Court in 1961, in Singhai Ajit Kumar vs Ujayarsingh provides us with an even wider scope for property rights of illegitimate children. This ruling has held that even under the shastric law, an illegitimate son of a "mistress" or "concubine" is entitled to the rights of survivorship as he becomes a coparcener along with the legitimate son — and, hence, is entitled to enforce a partition after the father's death. It is in this context that judgements such as D. Velusamy (cited above) which, at one level, use the terms of Brahminical Hindu law, referring to women as "mistresses" and "concubines", but at the same time deny them the protection awarded to them under the shastric law by using a Western model of monogamy, need to be condemned as regressive and backward looking.

The writer is a matrimonial lawyer and director of Majlis, a Mumbai-based NGO which provides legal advocacy and litigation help to women






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, oestrogen was prescribed only for women who were experiencing serious problems with menopause. Then a 1966 book called Feminine Forever argued that oestrogen 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 oestrogen manufacturer.

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

To reduce the danger of uterine cancer, oestrogen 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 gynaecologists," said Dr Ford.

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

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, who 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.

But it still feels as if we need to be on guard against medical overoptimism. "Doctors are far more knowledgeable about the benefits of medicines than the risks," said Dr Wolfe. There isn't always much talk about the possible downside of medicines 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 behaviour 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 behaviour modification. They're medical practitioners, and their instinct is to solve your problems with medicine.

I once had a gynaecologist who put me on oestrogen 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 medicine that would stave off so many undesirable effects of ageing.

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. Gail Collins







President Ram Baran Yadav has almost out-competed leaders of the major political parties in public speeches on what the future constitution should look like. His regular meetings with political parties have been objected to by many, including Prime Minister Jhalanath Khanal. Is the president up to something, since the constituent assembly and major political parties are unlikely to come out with a comprehensive constitution committed to liberal parliamentary democracy as the country's future polity?

The president's legal advisor, Surya Dhungel, let the cat out of the bag. In an interview, he said the role of chief executive may be passed to the president if the political parties failed to deliver the constitution by May 28. There are more than 100 contentious issues still to be settled, including the model of political, electoral and federal system to be adopted. Nepal's politics has moved full circle, as the Maoist-democratic dispensation came into existence to oppose the king when he assumed executive power in 2005 February.

The Maoists, the dominant partner in the ruling alliance, are no longer a revolutionary party, and are dogged by internal crises and factionalism. Gunaraj Lohani, a powerful leader of their teachers' union, revealed recently that at least 10 per cent of the 8,000 private and boarding schools in the country, have Maoist investment — clandestinely, of course — whereas their declared policy is to have such schools shut down.

It is not just the Maoists that are facing such charges. The large-scale disbursement of discretionary funds by ministers (it was recently revealed that Madhav Nepal, as prime minister distributed 75 million Nepali rupees in a year), the diversion of development funds to political parties' conferences and activities, and the cabinet decision four years ago that policy or cabinet decisions could not be tried for corruption, all indicate that the culture and practice of impunity has been institutionalised.

Rameshwar Khanal, known for his efficiency and uprightness, resigned as finance secretary last week foregoing his chance of elevation as chief secretary, admitting that he failed to "defeat" corruption and his conscience did not allow him to continue in the post. Obviously, he was talking about corruption at the highest level and the political patronage it enjoyed.

But will the president be able to assume power following the failure of the political parties? The former PM, Surya Bahadur Thapa, known as a trusted friend of India during his long political career, has been lobbying hard to bring the democratic forces under one platform to counter the Maoists. He believes that the Maoists are in the peace and democratic process only "tactically" and that "they have not budged an inch from their goal of establishing totalitarian rule." There are many takers for his line after the Maoists, and the radical faction of the Communist Party of Nepal - Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) came together to form the government.

Nepal's shift to the ranks of republican, federal and secular nations may not be formalised if the earlier political declaration is not institutionalised through the new constitution and the conduct of the political parties. Maoist leader Baburam Bhattarai recently said his party was full of "kings and feudal elements", sarcasm directed towards Prachanda.

Meanwhile, Hindu organisations have come together demanding that Nepal's status as a Hindu nation as on April 2006 be restored. About 5001 sadhus, sants and mahants are going to serve an ultimatum to the government on April 17 following a three-day "dharma sabha" with their demands, and agitation programmes in case the government and the political parties failed to respond positively.

These organisations are also alleging that the decision to strip the country of its Hindu status was part of a larger design. "Why should the European Union ask the government to have the right to conversion provision guaranteed in the new constitution?", asked Shankar Pande, a former parliamentarian and Congressman who is now actively mobilising Hindus in the country.

People's desperation and frustration on one hand, the failure of the political parties, and the record dimension that corruption at the top during the post-monarchy period, has come together to create a volcanic situation in the country. The government and its constituent parties do not have adequate time to address the pent-up frustration of the people. At the same time, it is doubtful if a presidential takeover is a panacea.







More than two years after Satyam CEO Ramalinga Raju confessed that he had been riding the tiger, admitting that his company's cash reserves and profits had been misstated for years, the Indian regulatory and judicial system hasn't managed to convict either the company's managers or its auditors. The Americans, on the other hand, have gone ahead and fined the auditors. The SEC and its accounting regulator Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB), which was established in the shadow of the Enron scandal, has found a quality control failure throughout Price Waterhouse (PW) India: "The PW India audit practice as a whole completely failed to exercise professional skepticism, a cornerstone of audit integrity and a reasonable expectation of investors." The $6 million to be paid out to SEC and the $1.5 million to be paid out to PCAOB are the largest amounts ever levied against 'foreign' audit firms. To underline how laggardly the Indian system has been by contrast, CBI, Sebi and ICAI are still developing their case against the auditors. As a corollary, while Bernie Madoff's ponzi fraud surfaced about the same time as the Satyam scandal, and while Madoff got 150 years prison time within six months, Raju still awaits conviction. India cannot seem to fast-track corporate fraud cases or even make an example out of auditors who fail to deliver the service quality that markets deserve and expect.

The larger, international narrative is that even though an example was made out of Arthur Andersen in the Enron case (by the time the US Supreme Court reversed Andersen's conviction on grounds of flawed jury instructions, the firm's reputation was sunk beyond recovery), the recent financial crisis proved that the vetting conducted by the Big Four left in Andersen's wake still leaves a lot to be desired. Ernst & Young, for example, is being investigated for gaming disclosures to make Lehman appear less risk-laden than it was. In India, the PW auditors had been in hot waters in the DSQ Software and Global Trust Bank cases before the Satyam scam broke. PW partner S Gopalakrishnan was a signatory on all three audit reports. Perhaps these were sins of omission rather than commission. But that doesn't make them any less solemn, as the SEC has made clear. What is equally clear is that both Indian and international oversight (different though it may be in degree) of the Big Four could do with a lot of betterment.





Even those sympathetic to ONGC in the Cairn-Vedanta deal are hard put to justify the PSU oil major's refusal to protect its interests. Going by the calculations made by ONGC, it will have to shell out around R15,000 crore (on a net present value basis) or thereabouts as Cairn's share of royalties over the life of the Barmer field, and this may even be larger than the profits it hopes to make from the field. So why did ONGC sign the contract? One explanation is that the contract was signed when ONGC was not even a company, when it was called the Oil and Natural Gas Commission, under the direct control of the petroleum ministry—the deal was signed, this argument goes, as part of the government's plan to bring in foreign investment in the oil sector. In which case, why didn't ONGC the company's management insist the government make good its losses or help it get out of the contract all these years?

In recent months, ONGC has started saying its interpretation of the production sharing contract (PSC) between it and Cairn is that the royalty payments have to be treated as an expense—ONGC will still make a loss on the royalties, but this will be a lot less than what it does right now. But if this is indeed the case, why hasn't ONGC gone in for arbitration? ONGC's partner Cairn believes the entire cess payments to the central government (royalties are paid to the state government) are to be paid by ONGC under the PSC, but it has gone in for arbitration on the matter. ONGC may or may not have got unofficial directions asking it not to go ahead with arbitration, but its officials have a fiduciary responsibility towards their shareholders, and that requires it go in for arbitration.

Instead of asking ONGC to go in for arbitration, the petroleum ministry has so far been content with trying to arm-twist Cairn into agreeing to ONGC's terms, that royalty payments will be expensed and that it will withdraw its arbitration claim. Cairn will not agree since this will destroy a very large part of the value it is getting from Vedanta on the deal. But this doesn't give the petroleum ministry the right to arm-twist Cairn. If anything, it has to pull up ONGC's management for not protecting the company's interests. ONGC has got some time, with the case going to a Group of Ministers—a few weeks or a few months? If it doesn't make the most of the opportunity, it has no one to blame but itself.





The slim 38-page report of the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) picks one clear line of reasoning, surrounds it with evidence, and underlines it all with the relevant rules that were violated, to rap Price Waterhouse with a $7.5 million penalty.

The clarity of the prosecution makes junk of the thousand details of the case, the irrelevant dead-ends and the non-sequiturs and just goes for the jugular. This is the exact opposite of the approach taken by the Indian investigating agencies, which, as in the case of the 2G spectrum scam, have taken a clear case of fraud but added so many strands to make it absolutely chaotic. We shall have to wade through several committees to find out if there is a case of fraud to then begin trial in the case.

The report also makes it amply clear that Price Waterhouse India was not correct when it claimed it was the victim of the fraud committed by the former Satyam management. The SEC order makes it clear that the auditors had enough occasion to suspect a fraud and on one occasion were also alerted by one of their network firms from abroad.

None of the Indian investigative agencies or others, including the ministry of corporate affairs, the regulator, ICAI or CBI, have been able to make this accusation stick in the last two years.

Thus, the SEC report shows why it is necessary to employ specialists and then give them the freedom to investigate if there is to be any hope in hell of cracking mischief in white collar crime. There is no record that the SEC used thousands of hours of cross-questioning but instead used its understanding of audit laws and common sense to come to its conclusion, explicit enough to stand scrutiny in a court of law.

This is worth emphasis. Under US laws, SEC has to present its case before an administrative law judge for handing down punishment. The judge, while under the administrative ambit of SEC, is appointed independently and decides on the quantum of punishment. In this case, of course, this did not reach the adjudication judge as Price Waterhouse's plea for a consent order was accepted.

The Indian market regulator does not have to deal with such a system. For each case, it sets up its own adjudication officer, who hands down the award. Since the orders are subject to the scrutiny of an appellate tribunal, that has possibly goaded the Sebi orders to become a model for clarity among all the Indian agencies.

So what is the line of argument of the SEC? It just focuses on the fact that the $1-billion cash balance the former Satyam management claimed it had stashed in several banks from 2005 to 2008 never existed. Price Waterhouse India is culpable as it accepted the contention of the company without doing an independent check-up with the banks about whether the cash was really present. Worse, at times, the auditors, when faced with the evidence from banks that there was no cash or a fraction of the sum claimed by the IT company, decided to believe the management view that the cash existed. The audit reports certified Satyam's spurious financial results, leading to a ramp-up of its share prices and, therefore, a huge stock market fraud.

It is a grim enough accusation to put the company behind bars for a long time to come.

The consent order notes that "During (those years) the Satyam engagement (audit) team received confirmations, in the requested format, directly from branches of certain banks (which apparently held the Satyam cash balances)". At the same time, the team "also received confirmations from Satyam management ... (but) not in the format requested by the engagement team".

And here is the critical link. "The bank provided confirmation responses reflected significantly lesser cash balances than Satyam management represented to be held in fixed deposits at the same banks". So the auditors were not misled by genuine looking sham documents, as PwC has protested all along. The papers were in the wrong format and, to cap it, showed huge discrepancies with the bank supplied figures. As the table shows, the differences were massive. The process falls foul of the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board standards that must guide audit work in jurisdictions like the US and even India.

Not only this, but in Satyam's 2008 fiscal year audit, "a partner from another PwC network firm outside of India alerted members of the Satyam engagement team that its cash confirmation procedures appeared substantially deficient". It adds if this lead had been followed upon, the fraud could have been uncovered in 2008 itself.

In sum, the SEC order says the rot at Satyam was not limited there, but spread as a "quality control failure throughout PW India". Of course, the regulator accepts that there has been a drastic clean up since then, including a rule that all employees are basically read the riot act before they take up any audit work.

Compare this with the 2,500-page chargesheet the CBI and Serious Fraud Investigation Office has been rustling up in three instalments (the fourth is on the way). Those chase the real estate investments made by the Raju clan, the details of front companies, credit card bills of his family and the method in which the invoices were generated. Since the CBI is also chasing Letters Rogatory from six countries to track benami assets of Raju, and KPMG is doing a forensic analysis of how the cash was siphoned to Maytas etc, those are yet another dimension to the fraud altogether.

As I have pointed out in earlier columns, too, this mountain could be replaced with a pithy line of indictment that judges would understand, the defence would find impossible to find holes in, and conviction could follow fast.





A founder-chairman deserting his own baby is a rare act. And then starting another firm in the same competing space, is an even rarer deed. Ashok Soota, MindTree's founder-chairman and one of the highly respected leaders in the Indian IT industry, has done precisely that. His new start-up Happiest Minds Technologies (announced on Tuesday) has certainly managed to turn heads, not only on account of its unique name. But then will investors believe in this second innings, even if scripted by someone like Soota?

The fact is that no one expected the 68-year-old to do the things that he did over the last three months. How can one think of creating a dream organisation twice in the same lifetime, some wondered. A few others were unsure whether Soota had enough gasoline in the tank, to propel another venture.

After all, MindTree, established in 1999, was supposed to be the panacea for all HR ills in the Indian IT industry, only to lose its momentum subsequently.

MindTree Minds, as the employees were addressed, were accorded freedom, flexibility and a rare sense of responsibility towards creating an idealistic company where employees ruled. Led by the shrewd Soota and guided by the master motivator Subroto Bagchi, MindTree had a few glorious years at the top. The company—largely regarded as a break-away group from Wipro where both Soota and Bagchi played stellar roles—was taking shape as a firm where employees loved to work because of the way they were treated and respected. Soota's stature certainly helped in this regard and MindTree was on its way. But then that brings us to a very difficult question. Why did he leave MindTree? What can he do at Happiest Minds that he couldn't have done at MindTree?

Soota himself has not been very forthcoming on these matters. When he quit, he said he was leaving for personal reasons. Not that anyone believed him. And now that he has set up another IT services firm, which just about sounds and feels like his first dream project, it is clear that there was something amiss. It is now becoming clear that Soota had serious differences of opinion with the way in which the MindTree management was running the company. The division of labour between Soota and Krishnakumar Natarajan, MindTree's CEO and MD, was becoming a worrying factor.

When Soota was steering the ship, MindTree was doing just fine. It crossed the $100-million mark in six years. The firm then got ambitious and said it will achieve a revenue of $1 billion by 2014. Its IPO in 2007 was oversubscribed 103 times, and all was looking good. But in the last three years—and recession played a role just like with other companies—MindTree started to stagnate. It struggled to break the $300-million mark and it became clear that it was lacking the x-factor that could catapult it to the tier-I league. The $1-billion target now looks colossal.

Soota then took a big call that eventually backfired. In late 2009, Soota decided that MindTree had to enter the business of manufacturing mobile phones. For this purpose, it also acquired the Indian R&D centre of Kyocera Wireless. Never before in its history had MindTree indulged in product play. This was risky territory.

For the first time in his life, a big decision of Soota's failed. And it probably came at the wrong time for MindTree. A year later, it was decided that the products business be abandoned. The company suffered financially.

It is said that many of the senior officials had not liked the idea of entering the product space in the first place. There was said to be considerable anguish over the decision, but Soota's word had prevailed. Once the plan failed, Krishnakumar Natarjan grew stronger within the company. Now, Natarajan had always been under Soota's shadow, but now he began taking the wheel. Before anyone could sense a breakdown, Soota stepped down in January this year, leaving the industry aghast.

Employees at MindTree are not exactly a happy lot ever since his exit. Creating Happiest Minds is probably Soota's way of hitting out and the thespian, it can be sensed, is looking for a happy ending in his second innings. And he could well drag a few senior executives at MindTree with him.







Good sense has finally registered a victory at the United Nations. The countries of the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) have given up a 12-year long drive to have the U.N. accept the idea of "defamation of religions" and incorporate it in international human rights law. From 1999, the U.N. General Assembly, the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, and its successor body since 2006, the U.N. Human Rights Council, annually passed OIC-sponsored resolutions that sought to protect religions, particularly Islam, from "defamation." Muslim countries saw these resolutions as necessary to defend the religion from the post-9/11 Islamophobia in the West. Incidents such as the Danish cartoons strengthened the campaign, and the OIC pushed to bring the issue on a par with racism. But human rights law protects individual freedoms rather than groups of people. The idea that a religion can be defamed places it in conflict with the freedom of expression, thought, and opinion, blurring the lines between criticism of, and critical thinking about, religion on the one hand, and incitement to hatred. The resolution also raised concerns about opening the doors to an "international blasphemy law" and providing a justification for the suppression of religious minorities, non-believers, and political dissidents. Every year, the resolution was hard-fought and divisive. Support for it dropped in the last two years as the OIC pushed for adoption of an internationally binding standard on this issue, with more countries voting against or abstaining (India in the latter group) than supporting. The recent assassinations in Pakistan of two brave opponents of the country's blasphemy law — Punjab Governor Salman Taseer and Federal Minister Shahbaz Bhatti — appear to have finally sunk the effort. On March 24, the HRC unanimously adopted a resolution on "Combating Intolerance and Violence against Persons Based on Religion or Belief" that contained no reference to "defamation."

The Koran-burning episode in Florida reminded the world that concern among Muslims that their religion is being targeted is not baseless. A fierce backlash in Afghanistan has claimed the lives of 24 people, including seven U.N. employees. Worldwide, there are innumerable instances of prejudice and bias against Muslims. But as Asma Jahangir, the eminent Pakistani human rights lawyer, pointed out to a U.N. committee deliberating the defamation resolution back in 2009, education and dialogue among religions would be more effective than legislation at promoting tolerance. Moreover, existing human rights laws provide a strong framework through which countries, and the international community, can fight discrimination without endangering other freedoms.





The announcement by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-professed mastermind behind 9/11, will be tried by a military commission at Guantánamo Bay, and not by a U.S. federal court, is a serious betrayal of a human rights and political promise Barack Obama made as he began his presidential term. The promise was to shut down the notorious detention and torture centre within a year. Now President Obama has decided not to veto a Republican-inserted budget clause that bars the use of Department of Defense funds to transfer Guantánamo detainees to the U.S. His excuse might be the pragmatic need to back away from a showdown with the Congress, which would mean confronting an intensely partisan Republican majority in the House of Representatives. Another influential opponent of terrorism trials on U.S. territory is New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. He originally favoured trying Mr. Mohammed in New York but then changed his mind, saying the security arrangements alone would cost over $400 million. The opponents of trying the jihadist in the U.S. have exploited widespread public apprehension that such trials would again make the country a target for terrorists.

Trial by a military commission at Guantánamo Bay is a travesty, by any rule of law and human rights standard. The commissions can admit some evidence obtained under coercion; they apply criminal law retroactively; they have applied rules of evidence inconsistently; and they cannot try U.S. citizens. As the international NGO Human Rights Watch points out, these tribunals are "highly vulnerable to appellate challenge" and could be ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court. As for the costs and risks entailed by a proper trial in the U.S., these are exaggerated. After all, in 2010 Guantánamo detainee Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani was tried without incident in New York for plotting al-Qaida attacks on U.S. embassies in Africa; he was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole. Some of the hostility to federal trials may stem from the fact that Ghailani was convicted on only one of the 286 charges against him. But the commissions themselves have succeeded in convicting only six of more than 770 defendants. U.S. civilian courts, by contrast, have convicted hundreds of people on terrorism charges since 9/11. The advocates of military commissions at Guantánamo just don't seem to get it: these trials offend every canon of human rights, national sovereignty, and the rule of law, and the convictions are asking to be overturned on appeal.







Jantar Mantar in New Delhi is a hot favourite of the average tourist in the summer season. As the temperatures soar this year, the monument is drawing even greater crowds, mainly to savour the electric atmosphere generated by a 72-year-old school drop-out from an indigent labour family of Maharashtra's Ahmednagar district. To say that Anna Hazare is a phenomenon is to state the obvious. The spot he has chosen in the heart of the national capital for his fast-unto-death action is not far from Parliament, which in his eyes stands wholly discredited. The numbers he has drawn till now have astonished the whole nation.

Despite glib words of praise for the principle that motivates Anna, there is unmistakable chagrin among those in the corridors of power — whom he is challenging. They claim that they alone are vested with the authority to decide what kind of legislation should be drafted to tackle corruption in high places, and not the likes of Anna Hazare. They look upon him as an usurper who has to be put in his place somehow.

There is a growing feeling that those in South Block and North Block are reading the situation wrongly. They seem to assume that if they hold on for just a few more days, the gutsy man would wilt and the common person would forget that such a protest ever happened. Interesting days are therefore ahead in the battle against the kind of corruption that has come to envelop the country.

During a television debate in which I took part this week, one person in the clued-up audience said it would be better to go to jail rather than live in a 'free' India that has been soiled by the ugly contours of dishonesty in public life. Such is the desperation in the mind of the citizen who has now to pay for every service to which he or she is entitled free of cost as a law abiding and taxpaying citizen. Many of my friends abroad ask why the harassed Indian has not yet risen in revolt, but is taking the situation lying down. It is difficult to respond to the question meaningfully.

Things seem to be changing, however, with Anna's arrival on the scene. While I would not like to exaggerate his impact, I will not underrate him either — as many in authority in Delhi would seem to be doing. Anna could prove to be the Pied Piper who will be remembered for many years, and the undoing of many who currently enjoy power despite their dubious reputation. Anna has already claimed one scalp in the form of the Agriculture Minister, who chose to exit from the Group of Ministers charged with the task of drafting the Lokpal bill. Others may follow. The point is that Anna is no longer inconsequential as many had thought before he launched his satyagraha on April 5.

Some people are critical of the way Anna has given no options to the powers-that-be. He is described as obstinate and impractical. In particular, many legal pundits, of the likes of Harish Salve, are apprehensive that he is derailing and hijacking the democratic process while trying to do good for the nation. The suggestion is that no one, however mighty he or she may be, can be allowed to subvert or bypass the democratic institutions in which law-making authority is vested by the Constitution. This stand is, however, blind to the very rationale for Anna taking to the streets with his case. In his view, the track record of all legislators is poor and they have betrayed the trust reposed in them by the electorate. He is convinced that left to themselves the law-makers will continue to hoodwink the public through their tokenism in the struggle against corruption — a criticism that is based on the weak Lokpal bill that the government has framed.

Anna and those around him, such as Arvind Kejriwal and Kiran Bedi, point out how the Jan Lokpal bill has vastly improved upon the official Lokpal bill, offering hope for drastic action being taken against bribe-takers. To be specific, the civil society bill will cover bureaucrats and judges also, in addition to the Prime Minister, Ministers and Members of Parliament. It will not be a hollow, toothless recommendatory body as the one that is envisaged by the official bill. It will go far beyond that and function as a prosecuting agency, with the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) being a part of it.

Despite Union Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal's appeal that the situation should not degenerate into a 'they' vs. 'us' confrontation, the fact remains that it has become one. There are certainly two parties to the issue, and neither is relenting. Anna Hazare says he had written several times on the subject to the Prime Minister, without any response. This is why he had no alternative but to go on a fast, just as the Mahatma did while fighting the alien ruler. The government, mainly in the form of Mr. Sibal, believes it cannot abdicate its absolute authority, and cannot cave in to the pressure that strikes at the roots of the Constitution.

Amid this wrangling, there is a definite danger to Anna's life. You are not dealing here with a young person, and a 72-year-old individual has limited physical reserves. There does not seem to be a full appreciation of the risks involved. If it is the government's assessment that even in the worst case scenario there is no possibility of a popular uprising because Anna is a political lightweight, my feeling is that the government is being unethical and is playing with fire. If the government believes that Anna is being unreasonable in seeking to pressure constitutional authority, in a way that will also be tantamount to disrespecting the Father of the Nation. It will, in the process, discountenance whatever the Mahatma stood for.

It will therefore be advisable for the Prime Minister to bundle up enough courage and handle the situation himself, instead of depending on those around him. The right step would be for Dr. Manmohan Singh to visit Jantar Mantar without further loss of time in order to persuade Anna to call off his fast, and also explore a compromise. The two men have many things in common, including a belief in the fundamental values of probity and civility in interpersonal relationships. If they cannot do the trick, nothing else will.

Finally, Anna's demand for a robustly independent investigating agency strikes a chord in many of us who have been demanding autonomy for the CBI, which remains an appendage of the executive to be manipulated at will by it. If the CBI has done reasonably well in investigating the 2G spectrum scam, it is because of the power derived from the court monitoring the process. How many cases can the courts thus keep track of and give genuine apolitical supervision?

India undoubtedly needs an Ombudsman of the kind Anna is demanding. This has worked very well in many parts of the globe, especially in Europe. Call it by any name, including the Independent Commission against Corruption of Hong Kong, a truly strong Ombudsman is badly needed in India at the present juncture, when the country's image has received an unparalleled beating. India is now a laughing stock in the comity of nations. Right-thinking people, drawing inspiration from Anna Hazare, can definitely bring about a turnaround. We owe this to this country's future generations.

(Dr. R.K. Raghavan is a former Director of the Central Bureau of Investigation.)









Brandon Rhode (31) was not in good shape when he was strapped into the execution chamber gurney on September 27 2010, in Georgia, United States. Six days earlier he had attempted suicide because, according to court documents, he did not want to be "put down like a dog." As a result, he was left with "deep gaping wounds" from the razor he used to slash his neck and elbows. He was also said to have been brain-damaged from sheer blood loss.

Unfortunately for Rhode, convicted in 2000 of killing three persons during a burglary attempt, the worst was yet to come. For although medics spent 30 minutes trying to find a vein in Rhode's arm, into which they could insert needles to administer lethal drugs, something was clearly going wrong when the drugs started pumping. The first drug injected into Rhode, sodium thiopental, was supposed to render him unconscious, yet Rhode's eyes remained open throughout the procedure and moments before he was pronounced dead he was said to have turned his head and exposed the bandage over his slashed neck.

In a sworn declaration Mark Heath, a medical doctor and an expert witness in lethal injection cases, said: "Given the highly unusual provenance of the thiopental that was used in the Rhode execution, one explanation for the eyes remaining open is that the thiopental lacked efficiency."

The "unusual provenance" that Dr. Heath mentioned in his report was a reference to the fact that the Georgia Department of Corrections (DOC) had imported the thiopental from Dream Pharma, a company located in the United Kingdom, "which operates out of the back of a driving school in London," according to Dr. Heath.

Why did a key death penalty State of the U.S., itself a country steeped in a long and contentious history of capital punishment, have to resort to importing a lethal injection drug? A little bit of background is in order here, especially because since January execution drugs have entered the U.S. from yet another "unusual provenance" — Kayem Pharma Company of Mumbai, India.

While the history of the lethal injection goes back to May 1977, when the Oklahoma legislature first adopted it as a statute-supported method of execution, today 37 of the 38 death penalty States have lethal injection statutes. However, the entire execution "industry" in the U.S. relied on only one company for the supply of the lethal drugs cocktail — a firm called Hospira located in Lake Forest, Illinois. Emails, obtained by The Hindu, between Hospira and the Nebraska DOC, importer of thiopental from Kayem Pharma, made it clear that Hospira "do not support the use of any of our products in capital punishment procedures."

Matters took a turn for the worse for States such as Nebraska when Hospira announced in the summer of 2010 that it had temporarily ceased production of thiopental due to a "shortage of raw materials." Yet, according to Clive Stafford Smith, Director of a U.K.-based anti-death-penalty campaign group called Reprieve, the reason for the stoppage was that Hospira's plant was old and re-tooling it would be uneconomical given that thiopental is now off-patent.

Italy's stance

When Hospira sought to supply thiopental from a plant it owned in Italy, Reprieve campaigners worked with the Italian government, which was said to have been "shocked that Italy might be involved in the execution business," and eventually "suggested to Hospira Italy that if they exported any drugs used for executions they might end up losing their export licence altogether." At this point, according to Mr. Smith, Hospira made the "sensible decision" to cease production of the drugs altogether.

With the supplies of thiopental dwindling rapidly around the U.S., death penalty States saw themselves faced with two options. First, some of them, such as Ohio, Arizona, Oklahoma and Texas, switched to another anaesthetic, pentobarbital, commonly used for euthanising animals, and whose effects on human beings for execution purposes has never been tested.

States such as Ohio and Oklahoma have already executed four prisoners using pentobarbital, despite anaesthesia specialists such as David Waisel of Harvard Medical School warning that "the use of pentobarbital as an agent to induce anaesthesia has no clinical history... [and] puts the inmate at risk for serious undue pain and suffering."

Act of desperation

In what might well have been an act of desperation, State executioners then decided to start importing thiopental, in the first instance from Dream Pharma in the U.K. Scarcely imagining the enormity of the legal backlash that would ensue, Arizona led the way, quickly executing Jeffrey Landrigan on October 25 2010 using the British thiopental. Georgia followed suit, executing Emmanuel Hammond on January 25 2011, having already executed Rhode.

The instant it was revealed in the British media that a home-grown company was supplying lethal drugs for U.S. executions, there was a flurry of public and legal campaigns mostly targeting two Liberal Democrats, Business Secretary Vince Cable and Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister of State Jeremy Browne.

They initially declined to intervene; however they reversed that decision, reportedly after seeing evidence that the drug was only being exported for use on death row. Mr. Cable said: "In light of new information I have taken the decision to control the export of sodium thiopental. This move underlines this government's and my own personal moral opposition to the death penalty in all circumstances without impacting legitimate trade."

The Kayem deal

Enter Nebraska DOC's transactions with Kayem Pharmaceuticals Private Limited, a small generic drug manufacturer based out of Marian Colony in Borivali, Mumbai. A series of emails, which The Hindu has in its possession, began between a representative of the Nebraska DOC and a Kayem sales representative in November 2010, the subject of discussion being the export of 500 one-gram vials of thiopental, valued at $2,056.15, from Mumbai to Nebraska.

The deal appeared to be progressing smoothly until the shipment reached Omaha around mid-December. A hold-up occurred at that point owing to the FDA's lack of clarity on whether or not the Nebraska DOC had a sufficient legal basis for importing the lethal drug. The FDA finally relented on January 7, 2011, making what informed observers described as a "political decision to not review the importation of the drugs." It, however, clarified its position to the Nebraska DOC, saying: "In keeping with established practice, FDA does not review or approve products for the purpose of lethal injection. FDA has not reviewed the products in this shipment to determine their identity, safety, effectiveness, purity or any other characteristics."

Yet with this action the FDA has risked unleashing an execution-frenzy among thiopental-starved death penalty States.

Already a likely victim of Indian-made thiopental has been identified — Carey Dean Moore (53). He awaits execution in the Nebraska DOC, now the owner of enough Kayem-manufactured thiopental to execute 166 men.

With the U.S.' patchy record of untested anaesthetics that fail to produce the expected unconsciousness, Moore may also expect the same outcome as Rhode, which Dr. Heath described thus: "There is no dispute that the asphyxiation caused by pancuronium [the second, paralytic agent administered] and the caustic burning sensation caused by potassium [the third, heart-stopping agent administered] would be agonising in the absence of adequate anaesthesia."

Unless last week's seizures of Kentucky's and Tennessee's stocks of imported thiopental by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency are repeated in other States and the proliferation of these untested drugs eventually stopped, we could enter a new era of "cruel and unusual punishment" for death row inmates across the country. Already, it is possible that the dubious Indian barbiturate has found its way into the broader healthcare system and reached the DOCs of several States.

India's options

And for India, itself a user of capital punishment, although in the "rarest of rare" cases, it is anybody's guess as to whether authorities will follow the stellar example of the U.K. and Italy and ban the export of lethal drugs to the U.S. Perhaps in a stroke of irony it will be economics rather than morality that will stall the entry of Indian generic drug manufacturers into this bloodthirsty niche of global commerce.

According to Reprieve's Mr. Smith, "Kayem can expect to be party to U.S. litigation for decades. It may have made them a small profit at the start, but they will end up paying lawyers until their profits have vanished one hundred times."

Indeed, even as Reprieve held a press conference in Mumbai this week to raise awareness of the issue in the country, Kayem announced: "In view of the sensitivity involved with sale of our Thiopental Sodium to various... prisons in USA and as alleged to be used for the purpose of lethal injection, we voluntary declare that we... refrain ourselves in selling this drug where the purpose is purely for lethal injection and its misuse."

However, if the lethal drugs export persists, even as India clamours for a more prominent place on the world stage, it will have to hide the embarrassing fact that it tacitly condones its merchants of death.






Newly declassified documents show the Russian cosmonaut's flight into space 50 years ago this month was beset by last-minute technical hitches

Engineers working at high speed were forced to loosen 32 screws and remove the hatch of the spacecraft to mend a faulty sensor

His 108-minute journey into space made him the first man to orbit the Earth and one of the 20th century's greatest heroes, but Yuri Gagarin was almost undone by a wonky door and an overweight spacesuit.

Newly declassified documents show the Russian cosmonaut's flight into space 50 years ago this month was beset by last-minute technical hitches.

The formerly top secret Soviet papers are being released after a request to state archives by Russia's space agency, Roscosmos, to coincide with the anniversary next week of the world's first manned orbital flight, performed by Gagarin on 12 April 1961.

They show that shortly before takeoff a fault was discovered with the hatch of the cosmonaut's Vostok spacecraft. Engineers working at high speed were forced to loosen 32 screws and remove the hatch to mend a faulty sensor, which showed whether a hermetic seal had been achieved.

The archived documents — to be published on 12 April in Russian in a book, The First Manned Flight — also reveal that a day before the flight, scientists found that the combined weight of Gagarin, his spacesuit and his seat was 13.6kg above the acceptable maximum.

In an attempt to reduce weight, engineers stripped away part of the Vostok's internal apparatus, but in their haste disconnected two gauges, one for pressure and one for temperature. In turn, that caused a short circuit, which specialists struggled to fix overnight.

Yuri Baturin, a space writer and former cosmonaut, previewed the files in the Novaya Gazeta newspaper. "Only now, from the declassified documents, do we find out what extraordinary situations and unexpected details accompanied man's first flight into the cosmos," he noted.

In a letter written to his family two days before the flight — to be opened in case he died — Gagarin, then 27, admitted that an accident could not be ruled out. "I believe completely in the technical equipment," he said, "but even on level ground a person sometimes falls over and breaks his neck."

The new documents flesh out tales of other defects and mistakes that have been reported since the flight, such as Gagarin's craft blasting to 326 kms instead of 230 kms because an engine failed to cut out.

Also, the cosmonaut was unable to write in his logbook because his pencil floated off in zero gravity and he couldn't find it.

News of the cosmonaut's landing was beamed around the world and he quickly became a global celebrity. He died in mysterious circumstances in a plane crash in 1968.

Russia is preparing for a series of events to mark the anniversary of Gagarin's flight, including concerts, exhibitions and a meeting for the heads of about 40 foreign space agencies in the Kremlin.

Some intrigue was added to proceedings on Wednesday when Sergei Ivanov, Deputy Prime Minister of Russia, announced abruptly that Anatoly Perminov, the head of Roscosmos, could be sacked this month.

"Anatoly Nikolayevich Perminov is 65," news agencies quoted Ivanov saying on a visit to Washington DC. "According to Russian law, no state official can work once he is over this age."

In practice, many officials serve longer than that, and the sacking would be a humiliation for Mr. Perminov. Rumours of his impending sacking began in December after three satellites launched as part of the Russian Glonass navigation system crashed into the Pacific near Hawaii.

    © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011







The reporters who heard David Cameron tell Pakistani students this week that Britain was responsible for "many of the world's problems ... in the first place" seemed to think he was joking. But it's a measure of how far Britain is from facing up to its own imperial legacy that his remarks were greeted with bewildered outrage among his supporters at home.

The Prime Minister should not "run down his own country", declared the Daily Telegraph, the authentic voice of Tory England, warmly endorsing instead the insistence of his Labour predecessor, Gordon Brown, that "the days of Britain having to apologise for its colonial history are over". In reality, no such apology has ever been made.

Mr. Cameron was responding to a question about the Kashmir conflict — a product of Britain's partition of India in 1947 — and was clearly anxious to avoid antagonising either Indian opinion or his Pakistani hosts. "I don't want to try to insert Britain in some leading role", the Prime Minister explained, with a modesty that eluded him in the build-up to NATO's intervention in Libya.

But his critics were having none of it. Mr. Cameron was being naive; he was playing to the gallery, they said; there was nothing to be guilty about — and, anyway, imperial history was all very complicated. So the exposure of a 50-year British government cover-up of official documents detailing the systematic brutalisation, starvation, torture and castration of thousands of guerrilla suspects during the Mau Mau rebellion in colonial Kenya in the 1950s couldn't be more timely.

This was a counter-insurgency war in which hundreds of thousands of Kikuyu were interned in concentration camps and tens of thousands killed. Half a century later Mr. Cameron's government is resolutely refusing to compensate survivors on the outrageous grounds that responsibility for any crimes by the colonial authorities passed to the new Kenyan government after independence.

Grim legacies

But of course Kenya is only one of multiple grim British imperial legacies, a string of which are at the heart of the most inflammatory confrontations of the modern world. It's not just Kashmir and the Pakistan-Indian standoff. The Israel-Palestine conflict is the direct result of British colonial policy, as is the infamous Durand line that divides Pashtuns between Afghanistan and Pakistan and fuels the "Af-Pak" war. Then there's the toxic colonial carve-up of the Arab world and Africa along arbitrary state boundaries, and the colonial divide-and-rule of ethnic or religious groups that continues to haunt the post-colonial world.

So it's scarcely a coincidence that many of the world's most intractable conflicts are in former British colonies or protectorates: from the West Bank and Gaza, Iraq, Kurdistan, Yemen and Somalia to Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Cyprus and Sudan — with the reflex imperial resort to partition a recurrent theme. What Mr. Cameron said in Islamabad can't seriously be disputed.

Of course, the colonial legacy is only one part of the story, and Britain's is only one of the colonial empires whose baleful inheritance can be felt across the world. But the failure in modern Britain to recognise the empire for what it was — an avowedly racist despotism, built on ethnic cleansing and ruthless exploitation, which undeveloped vast areas and oversaw famines that killed tens of millions — is a dangerous encouragement to ignore its lessons and repeat its crimes in a modern form.

What's needed are not so much apologies, still less declarations of guilt, but some measure of acknowledgement, reparation and understanding that invasions, occupations and external diktats imposed by force are a recipe not for international justice but continued conflict and violence, including against those who stand behind them.

The argument about empire isn't so much about the past, but about the renewed drive to western intervention in the present.

And facing up to the colonial record isn't unpatriotic, as Mr. Cameron's critics insist, or "anti-western", but a necessity if the danger posed by the imperial revival is to be avoided.

The United States has, of course, long preferred an informal empire of indirect control, punctuated by military intervention and temporary occupations. And the former European colonial powers, notably Britain and France, now follow a similar approach.

So it is that the British military has found itself back in its old colonial haunts, from Iraq and Afghanistan to Palestine, and now over Libya, which Britain occupied in the 40s and 50s, maintaining its military presence until Muammar Qadhafi came to power in 1969. They've been joined by Italy, which carried out its own genocidal campaign of repression when it ruled the country before the Second World War.

As the U.S. appears to have opted for an "intervention-lite" strategy in the wake of the Iraq and Afghanistan disasters, Africa's one-time European colonists are taking the lead. For all the insistence on the humanitarian nature of their mission, more civilians are now being killed; the Libyan rebels have lost control of their future; and the threat of de facto partition, that traditional imperial bequest, is growing. Meanwhile France is now involved in three shooting wars simultaneously for the first time in more than half a century: in Afghanistan, Libya and Ivory Coast. On the face of it, the west African state would seem a stronger candidate for humanitarian action than Libya, given the scale of the refugee crisis and killing that have followed last autumn's presidential election.

But France, the former colonial power that has staged multiple military interventions in Africa since decolonisation and long backed one side in the ethnically and religiously divided Ivory Coast, is the last state to be carrying out such a mission. It can only increase the likelihood of renewed civil war.

Liberal imperialism

Just as the European powers built their empires in the name of Christian civilisation, modern liberal imperialism flies the banner of human rights. Nicolas Sarkozy has hailed the new drive for western intervention triggered by the Libyan uprising as offering a new model of "world governance" based on the "responsibility to protect." So long as it remains a pretext for the same powers that have dominated and divided the world selectively to enforce their will, it will deliver neither protection nor rights — but only reinforce the imperial legacy.

    © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011








In some ways, the fast led by eminent social activist Anna Hazare — to liberate our state systems from corruption — is reminiscent of the ambience of the protest agitations of the 1970s of which the centrepiece was a towering Gandhian, Jayaprakash Narayan. These extraordinary individuals have moved vast numbers of our people. The government would be making a serious mistake if it permitted self-serving elements within it to seek to belittle Mr Hazare's campaign, which is catching on like wildfire all across the nation, and especially among the articulate middle classes who suffer on account of corruption at every step of their everyday lives.

From the analytical point of view, clear distinctions need to be made between JP and Mr Hazare. The former was a stalwart politician at base (although he shunned government power), unlike the latter, whose campaigns are dismissive of politicians of all stripes. However, the commonality they share is what's important: their charismatic ability to draw vast numbers to their cause. The reason is the despair engendered by the way our government functions — both at the Centre and in the states. This has lowered the morale and self-esteem of the ordinary Indian. Unfortunately, this is no less true now when we have at the helm a Prime Minister whose personal reputation for probity remains beyond reproach in spite of the corruption scandals that have erupted in the recent past. The government will, therefore, do well to pay heed to the essence of the demand that Mr Hazare's fast has highlighted, and not be swayed by technicalities.
The demand for a viable Lokpal brooks no delay. The manner in which all governments have dealt with the idea of such an institution since it was thrown up by the first Administrative Reforms Commission in the 1960s hardly inspires confidence. In the end, all governments have conspired against the creation of an institution that will have oversight powers — with a view to eliminating corruption — over senior levels of the state machinery, including the political executive at all levels, not forgetting the office of Prime Minister. It is time the UPA-2 government broke from the past, and made a sincere effort — in collaboration with those outside the government (among them those who are animating Mr Hazare's campaign today) — to deliver on an anti-corruption mechanism that can effectively serve the nation.
If the proposed Lokpal Bill conceived by the government is advisory in nature and is said to lack teeth, the reported draft proposals emanating from the ranks of "civil society" seem woolly-headed. They also overlook — or worse, undercut — the notion of accountability inherent in the institution of Parliament and of the government constituted by duly-elected members of legislatures. The so-called civil society rallying to Mr Hazare's call arrogates too much virtue to itself and dismisses the institutional prerogatives that accrue to elected representatives of the people. This is tantamount to being dismissive of our democratic structure and its basic institutions. It is all too easily forgotten that political parties too are an inherent part of civil society, and without them can be no modern democracy. It is, however, important to reform our parties through appropriate legislation, clean up the election system, and keep an eye on governments constituted by elected legislators. The Anna Hazare movement focuses on the last. But if we are to get anywhere, it is imperative we try and set right all elements that make up our democracy, imperfect though it is. The fundamental weakness of the movement driven by Mr Hazare that it places a premium on a few good men while denigrating the existing institutions of our democracy. To criticise a government is one thing, to run down core elements of our democracy is another. We cannot throw the baby out with the bathwater.






Every clever politician is only too aware that a clever diversion is a wonderful way to shift attention from the issue at hand. Earlier this week, on his first visit to Pakistan after assuming office, British Prime Minister David Cameron craftily exploited the huge reservoir of "anti-imperialist" sentiment in the subcontinent. Speaking to students of the Islamabad Institute of Technology, no relation to the IITs across the border, he was asked what role the United Kingdom should play in resolving the Indo-Pakistan dispute over Kashmir. "

I don't want to insert Britain into some leading role", he replied, "As with so many of the problems of the world, we are responsible for their creation in the first place".
Predictably, Mr Cameron's reply was greeted by generous applause by young Pakistanis who, like young Indians, have been brought up to believe that regional conflicts — whether in Palestine, Tibet or along the Durand Line — are a legacy of perfidious Albion. Such an assertion may or may not stand historical scrutiny. Indeed, within the UK, Mr Cameron's "politics of apology" has been trashed by both the Right and the Left.
Unless I am horribly mistaken, the shelf-life of this abstruse discussion on imperial responsibility is unlikely to last for more than a day. That is enough time for Mr Cameron to sign a meaningless agreement for "enhanced strategic dialogue"— not "partnership" mind you — and attend to the residual anger in Islamabad over his harsh assessment of contemporary Pakistan during his visit to India earlier this year. By blaming it all on long-forgotten ancestors, Mr Cameron delivered the crucial part of his message: the UK isn't interested in getting its hands dirty in Kashmir.
Pakistan has routinely scoured the world trying to collect endorsements for some form of third-party mediation to solve the Kashmir dispute. It is Islamabad's version of India's hunt of testimonials for the elusive United Nations Security Council permanent seat. Mr Cameron didn't oblige his hosts (unlike the earnest David Miliband who soured Indo-British ties with a monumentally tactless speech on Kashmir). He was content with a suitably clever one-liner.
This is not to suggest that Mr Cameron's all-too-brief visit to Islamabad was a meaningless charm offensive aimed at enhancing the profile of his Cabinet colleague Baroness Syeda Warsi in Pakistan. Accompanying the British Prime Minister was an extremely high-profile delegation comprising the chief of defence staff, the head of MI6 and the national security adviser. The details of what they discussed as part of the "enhanced strategic dialogue" is unlikely to be made public but a few trends are discernible.
First, the importance of Pakistan to the UK is, of course, in relation to Afghanistan. But equally, Pakistan is of considerable relevance to the national security of the British mainland. Nearly half the terror plots targeting Britain are thought to originate in a Pakistan where jihad is the biggest growth industry. It is, therefore, in Britain's self-interest in both Afghanistan and at home to engage with Pakistan and secure the cooperation of its security establishment.
Secondly, it is increasingly apparent that neither the United States nor the UK has the stomach to secure a military defeat of the Taliban in Afghanistan. The growing distaste for Afghan President Hamid Karzai's regime — accused of being the fountainhead of both corruption and drug trafficking — have led to a section of the British security establishment discovering virtues in the Taliban. It is being suggested that the Al Qaeda component of the Afghan Taliban are holed up in north and south Waziristan fighting the Pakistan Army. The ones taking on the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation-led forces in southern Afghanistan, on the other hand, are said to be freedom-loving, conservative Pushtuns with no appetite for global jihad.
Coming to terms with this "good" Taliban, not least to facilitate an early exit from Afghanistan, necessitates working through Pakistan's infamous Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). Already, a Taliban front office is said to be functioning in Turkey and a more purposeful back office is set to be established in the United Arab Emirates. Taliban-friendly mullahs are discreetly making their appearance at talks and seminars organised by thinktanks and academic institutions in the West.
Thirdly, for reasons that may be grounded in either fact or convenience, a section in Whitehall has concluded that the ISI has had a change of heart and is actively engaged in fighting the hardline Islamist terrorists — those responsible for the blasts and the suicide bombings inside Pakistan and plotting attacks in the West. Some members of the British strategic community also appear to hold the belief that a group such as the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT) can be tamed, in the same way as the Provisional Irish Republican Army was defanged in the 1990s, and transformed into non-violent Islamists. This assessment conflicts sharply with Mr Cameron's own espousal of "muscular liberalism" as an alternative to extremism, both violent and non-violent. Whether this optimism stems from voyages of discovery undertaken by US and UK intelligence or is a piece of received wisdom from the ISI isn't known. What is evident though is a desire on the part of the ISI to ensure the LeT remains an "approved" overground player.
Finally, a strategy of engagement with the ISI-approved roster of non-violent Islamism involves making demands on India. It is remarkable how in recent months the linking of Afghanistan with Kashmir has made a comeback. Although it is being said that this linkage is strictly "non-official", it will come as no surprise if pressure is put on India to do its bit to make the Taliban re-conquest of Afghanistan as painless and non-confrontational as possible. Simultaneously, there will be attempts to ensure that India is more accommodating to Pakistan's aspirations on Kashmir. At an officially-sponsored seminar last week at King's College, London, a participant baldly stated that "India has to be generous — otherwise it faces another summer of discontent in Kashmir".
The Great Game, it would seem, never stopped — not even after Mr Cameron recognised the role of yesterday's imperialists in leaving an awful mess for posterity to clean up.

Swapan Dasgupta is a senior journalist






Cricket has become one of the greatest soap operas of our time. A soap opera has three qualities. Firstly, it has a stock of memorable and identifiable characters. Secondly, it creates a corpus of conventional values and vices and then summons melodrama as the mode of resolution. Without a sense of epic battle, a dose of hysteria and a touch of climax, week after durable week, a soap opera as an epic cannot survive.
The World Cup was high excitement but what was more moving and sociologically interesting was the aftermath.

An aftermath is a chorus, a tuning fork that tells you whether the battle has been fought in the right way.
India won and won as a team. The nation state felt it had come of age. It was no longer a collection of talented individuals. Today, no one can say one Pakistani equals to three Indians. We have found our sense of synergy. We are Team India. The nation as a cricket team sounds right. The euphoria is unbelievable. Crowds flow into the streets… strangers greet each other. The sense of tribal ecstasy is complete. The performance continues but at a different level.
Once the nation has been sufficiently affirmed, it is time for family and professional values. The first tribute is to Sachin Tendulkar. Tendulkar is an exemplar. He is a genius at cricket and a complete repository of all the right values. His autobiography is a collection of good conduct certificates. He is the good son, the good father, the loyal husband, friend, mentor prankster — the stuff of moral science books we read as children. His is a middle-class goodness, conventional in its religiosity, predictable in its loyalties, generous in its sense of good works. Tendulkar is a man who can do no wrong, a legend untouched by scandal. He does not climb Everest. He is Everest — as the peak of achievement. As a cricketer, as an Indian, as a person, he is the ultimate Guinness Book of Records.
But the exemplar as exemplar can only survive if the values he upholds and represents are collectively resonated. This, the Valhalla of heroes around him, will quickly do. Yuvraj Singh is no longer prince in waiting. As Man of the Tournament he is quick to salute his guru and his mother. The guru as the peak of renunciation and the mother as the epitome of sacrifice represent our traditional values and sustain them.
Next to them is the teacher as coach, as mentor. The teacher is more secular than the guru, but he represents knowledge to the guru's wisdom. His is the logic of everydayness, the rules of craft, forging the bundle of skills and tactics every cricketer as warrior needs. Enter Gary Kirsten. As coach he is the real Dronacharya, demanding in his discipline, accessible through his advice. Kirsten knows Tendulkar is his Arjuna and treats him as such. Fortunately, there are no Ekalavyas off the field.
Then there is the chorus of cricket, which comes in three magic circles of validation. First, there is the family, middle-class to the core, thrilled at the son's achievement, excited that it is a fragment of history. The scene is always the drawing room; the act is usually the sharing of sweets. The family, as the spectator, waits for the hero's return. The scene could be middle-class India anywhere where an anonymous family becomes a predictable album of middle class values — pride, faith, discipline, love, sacrifice, loyalty, sharing.
The family cannot be complete without the nukkad, the neighbourhood, the ecology of friends that watched the heroes grow. The nukkad is the witness. The nukkad of friends will testify to the making of the hero, his ups and downs. No ecology of Indian cricket can do without the nukkad of storytellers, regaling one about the first six, that special stroke, or the art of bowling brewed in the streets of some small town full of Gambhirs and Sehwags and Khans.
Family and nukkad have something organic about them. The third circle is more virtual, more artificial — this is the circle of commentators, the mercenaries of gossip and expertise paid to dissect every move, retail every blow, the circle of discourse that keeps cricket as a normative framework alive. As experts, as former exemplars and as socialites they enact the tacit rules of cricket, dissect every game, every move as if cricket owes its origin to an anatomy class. They are its genealogists, judges, commentators, scribes, its oral historians, keeping alive stories and values in memory.
Cricket as middle-class nationalism survives because of them. They combine state and market, and nation and individual into that creative dream that sustains us. Cricket as myth would be lifeless without their tireless efforts. They create cricket as a middle-class morality play. They are the sutradhars of middle class values that no management school can match.
Yet, such a picture, moving as it is, hides a more discordant reality. The innocence of cricket as a middle-class reality is anchored between crime and commerce. They provide tension to the value frames of the game. It is not advertising that pathologises the game. Advertising only enacts the dream of middle-class desires and success. A Tendulkar advertising Boost or a Dhoni's ode to Orient fan does little harm. But cricket as commerce gets obscene when the scale of money loses all sense of proportion. It loses its sense of being middle class. One wishes there were more symbolic forms of reward and a wider sense of distribution where grounds-men and "also-rans" get a share, emphasising that cricket is not a zero-sum game of modern mobility. Between money as commerce and money as betting, cricket smells of pathology. One realises that India won but what one wonders how much the punters took home. This nagging question makes the World Cup a bitter-sweet story, reminds one of the other face of cricket, of a brittleness where values are still fragile. This is the shadow looming over a fairy tale called cricket. Excess destroys the middle that keeps cricket such a sane and lovely game.

Shiv Visvanathan is a social scientist






A few months ago I turned 64. They tell me I am now a "senior citizen", a term I detest. I find it depressing and fatalistic. In the US they would call a person my age "an older member of the Baby Boomer Generation". It's a more casual stereotype; it doesn't have a sound of impending doom.
Irrespective of nomenclature, when you are my age you have a sense of mortality. You want to make the most of the remaining years of your life, indulge yourself to the extent you can.

A friend my age recently climbed Mount Kilimanjaro; he says it was one of the many items on his "bucket list". In the movie of the same name Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman are two terminally ill men who escape from a hospital with a wishlist of things to do before they die, before they kick the bucket. They go skydiving, ride a bike, have a very expensive meal in Paris, go up the Pyramids and so on. In short, they have a ball.
Friends my age talk about their fantasies and things they would really like to do before it's too late, but I doubt if they have actually written a list. I try it every once in a while — on paper with a pencil — and trust me, it's more difficult than you think it is. You dream, scribble, scratch out, Google, categorise, think, prioritise, start all over again, and then give up. Just too many things to do in too short a time.
In my experience, it's easier to fantasise about things you would like to do than draw up a bucket list. Some things on my list are easily attainable (get a tattoo or take a ride on the scariest rollercoaster); others are pure fantasies (learn to Tango in Buenos Aires).
Bill Clinton once said he has two bucket lists. On his "B" list is climb Kilimanjaro "before the snows melt" and "run a marathon before I give out". I don't want to climb any mountain but I would like to go scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef and see Orangutans in Borneo. I would also like to learn Mandarin, and how to make a proper omelette. I want to attend a Rolling Stones concert. And before that, I would like to learn to do a two-finger whistle.
Long before I heard of bucket lists a young journalist I knew opted for a "soft" posting in Cyprus — by soft I mean there wasn't much of a story to report — because he knew of some cheap flying clubs there and his dream was to learn to fly. I have always envied him because I've always wanted to fly a propeller-driven Cessna or a Piper.
My son told me the story of his professor who used to read a series of books in his childhood about a fictional Scottish detective called Hamish Macbeth. The detective used to solve cases of petty crime and domestic disputes in a small town in North Scotland, by the name of Lochdubh (pronounced Lokh-Doo). This person's plan was to visit Lochdubh, but when he learned that it was a fictional town, he settled for the town in which the TV show based on the book was set. He is now headed to the town of Plockton in the Scottish Highlands, where he plans to enjoy many pints in the pub where Hamish Macbeth used to while away his time.
I think people my age should be classified by their bucket lists. It would reveal their idiosyncrasies: Are they into adventure? Looking for nostalgia? Are they seeking solitude or companionship? Some want to go minimalist; others keep collecting little things. Some like classical, others classic rock.
I happen to mention to a friend my desire to attend the Monterey jazz festival in California and he said, "Give me a call if you really decide to do it. Maybe I'll tag along". Two people with similar bucket lists would be a great trip. You can spend a whole evening without saying a word to each other, and still enjoy it. Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson were two of a kind.
Bucket lists are also about intensely personal experiences — like doing something substantive for people who have worked with us at home because life's been good to us. I believe that if you have found joy in your life, then you must bring joy to others.
They are also about re-visiting old memories — like finding out where someone you knew 35 years ago is, and having a drink in the bar you used to frequent.
The important thing about a bucket list is to not think too much — start somewhere and just do it. I recently got myself a tattoo. It's a small, colourful eagle on my upper left arm, just above the elbow, hidden discreetly under the edge of my T-shirt. My tattoo is not real but a stick-on. I've always wanted a real tattoo but never had the courage to get one. The thing with a bucket list is it also helps you get rid of your inhibitions.

Shekhar Bhatia can be contacted at









It is the biggest chink in the armour of Vibrant Gujarat. Recently, while a BJP legislator, Dr Kanu Kalsariya, led a march of farmers and inched close to Gandhinagar, industry barons and political bigwigs were visibly disturbed.


The tension was palpable. Frantic calls were made to stay abreast of the march's movements. Some even cancelled their foreign trips to stay back. Such a struggle — people vs industry — doesn't exactly bode well for a state that has held five successive and successful Vibrant Gujarat Investors' Summits, eagerly beckoning industry to set up shop in the state. After drawing the who's who of business and industry to praise Gujarat, the state has pitched itself as a heaven for industries, investors and




Seeing the farmers' march, most of the barons made the remark: "The issue is not of one industry. If this struggle inspires other people in the state to take on industry, the whole industry-friendly environment will be vitiated."


So what drove the otherwise industry-friendly farmers of Gujarat to rally against the government and the industry?


Lakhs of farmers in the coastal belt of Mahuva taluka in Bhavanagar have benefited in the last decade from the bunds built by the state government to store fresh water and prevent seawater from seeping into the fertile land (locally called 'bandharo'). Once considered Gujarat's most-respected industry house, detergent giant Nirma wants to build a cement factory on this land where the reservoir stands. What's more, they want to mine the limestone that acted as a filter and prevented the seawater from rushing inland.


The Mahuva belt is agriculturally so sound that it has India's second largest marketing yard for agro products and exports tones of processed and dried onions. Limestone mining and cement industry in such a fertile region will turn it into a barren expanse in no time.


Interestingly, for three years, the state government, which was on an overdrive to attract business, chose to ignore the issue and the people's demands. No one took Kalsariya, who hails from the ruling BJP, seriously. Even when he took up the struggle and led the farmers, most thought it would fizzle out.


The success of the summits and increasing political popularity of the government seems to have resulted in overconfidence, and perhaps even arrogance, making them and industry insensitive towards the needs of farmers. When the locals protested against the cement plant, they were regularly attacked by goons and cops. The industry thought a little 'advice' by powers-that-be would silence him. But it did not.


What the powerful forgot was the simple fact that a people's mandate to rule them is not the same as a licence to snatch their livelihood and land. If the people vote someone to power, it doesn't mean they have forfeited their fundamental rights. And industry and the state government have to be more sensitive to the people.


Before setting up industries, environmental public hearings and environmental impact assessments are carried out. But these are often just a formality. They need to be taken seriously. None of the giant industries accommodate the requirements of local communities and environment.


Gujarat's squeaky record of no-people's struggle against industries in recent times was marketed as its USP amongst all Indian states. The summits sold Gujarat as a destination where there is industrial peace, zero loss of man-hours due to workers' strife, extremely good power supply, decent infrastructure and, above all, a government that proactively helps industry. And these claims are correct.


But things changed after the Mahuva padyatra (march). The first such struggle was witnessed in Gujarat over a decade ago for the Umbergaon-Maroli port struggle which provoked a major public movement against the Unocal-Natelco port project. And this is now the second such struggle. Of course there seem to be many on horizon that Kalsariya has promised to take up.


Essentially a Gandhian politician, Kalsariya thundered, "Come what may we will not let this happen…" Industry and the government should have realised the agony of lakhs of people in Mahuva and respected their feelings.


Any other tract of land which did not damage the local economy would have done the trick. The industry-friendly government and the industry ought to listen to the people too. The way to development can't pass through people's homes, hearts and livelihoods.








There have been talks for a long time about corporatising the unorganised labour, especially the housemaids or bais as we know them. Some of the demands on their behalf are regularised pay structure, defined hours of work, regular holidays, and a month off every year.


Ask any Mumbaikar, housewife or bachelor, and they will agree the most important member of any household is the bai. And it is here that I can say with some satisfaction that corporatisation of the bais may be the best thing that can happen to us, their employers. Let me explain by taking up each point.


Regularised pay structure: The bais definitely deserve regularised pay with rules laid down on increment and bonuses. I am sure every Mumbai household has suffered from the threat "pagar badha ke do varna main kaam chodd degi" (increase my pay or I will not work here anymore). The familiarity and the headache of finding another bai makes us comply to these extortions at least once a year. A regularised pay structure will put a stop to the persistent demand for 'udhari' (yet another form of extortion). The bai then continues with her extortionist ways, secure in the knowledge that the hapless employer can't kick her out unless the money is returned.


Also, the bonus, that these bais think is their birthright, should be linked to performance with due appraisals, as is done in corporates. Here, the employers also get a chance to practice cost cutting citing inflation.


Definite hours of work: Again, this will work out to the employers' benefit. How many of us spend the day fretting about whether the bai has come or not. Like we have our office hours (a particular time of entry, but no fixed time to leave unless the work is done) so should the bais, too. A fixed time will save us a lot of headache and also if the bai is late, for say more than twice a week, there should be an option to cut pay. Again, if there is more work, say the employer has guests, the bai should work without complaints (do we dare complain to our boss about the extra work). And as in corporates, there will be no compensation for the extra work. Due consideration will be given to the extra effort put in at the time of appraisal, but at the employers' discretion.


Regular holidays: As in corporates, the bais will also be entitled to regular holidays. But let's face it, many of us end up working when we are supposed to have our weekly off. Even the comp offs that we get are at the employer's discretion. Imagine having the power to tell the almighty bai that she has to work on her day off since we need her to. And the best part is, she can't refuse. Of course, she can always take an off citing poor health, like most of us do, but don't they do that already.


Space runs out, so to conclude: Corporatisation of the bais is indeed a very good idea for the employers, but do we see a lot of bais opting for it? No, we won't, because they know that they have us in a corner now, but corporatisation can leave them to our mercy.









It is said that when baddies fight, it's time for good people to rejoice. I did too, but my joy was short-lived. I'd thought that both — the Gods and I — will be spared high-decibel repeat renditions of Munni celebrating her badnami and Sheila zealously guarding her jawani when allegations surfaced about my housing society's Satyanarayan (in a bizarre irony, he is the Lord of Truth) puja committee having embezzled funds and its reluctance in making accounts public.


Just when it looked like we'd finally have some peace, a new committee was formed "to ensure that we don't invite the wrath of the Lord". Hectic preparations are on to have the mother of all pujas to outshine all previous ones. Outshine. The reason why the puja has precedence over fire safety, rain water harvesting and improving recreation facilities for kids.


After all we had to look better than the neighbouring building and its puja. A compulsory amount is collected every month from all flat owners for lighting up the whole building in vulgar displays when 18-hour power cuts are pushing farmers to suicide in this state; setting up 10,000-watt speakers in violation of silence zone norms when a school is just a narrow lane across from the building and getting kids to display pelvic thrusting skills to songs laced with double entendres.


A few Christian families also live here. But we've never cut even a small Christmas cake for them. Perhaps such secular thoughts are beyond us, but why do we, as people, take pride in debasing religion and religiosity like this?


Raising such questions is seen as "asocial and rude" and met with a quick pointing of fingers. "Will you raise questions about the rich temples grabbing public roads in the name of security?" I am asked and told in a steely voice: "We're deciding all this by a majority consensus."


Mid-street pandals, loud processions and pavement-encroaching deities, each of whom has his own annual noisy soiree. It must be a miracle of sorts that noise and Mumbai are not interchangeable words yet. Given that political patronage to such religious excesses generally provides a cheap alternative to actual governance and tackling of real issues, the recent BMC move to bring religious shrines under the Shops & Establishments Act was indeed brave. Later under pressure from BJP MLAs Yogesh Sagar, Gopal Shetty, Mangal Prabhat Lodha and Sardar Tarasingh, the state assembly stayed the civic plan.


The BJP insisted temples weren't profit-making ventures. Really? Back in 1998, a journalist friend with a city tabloid had exposed the mafia controlling begging space at the steps outside the Mahalaxmi temple with rentals of Rs3,000 a month for a spot. If begging can be so lucrative, does one want to even hazard a guess on the crores being minted otherwise?


Meanwhile do write in to tell me of where to buy good ear-plugs for the upcoming puja.









In an interview to a media channel, Foreign Secretary, Nirupama Rao made a brilliant expose of India's philosophy of relations with Pakistan. This is one issue on which the Indian nation as a whole is deeply concerned because of the stress and strain these relations have suffered for last six decades and more. Soon after independence, once Jawaharlal Nehru was asked which was the most important country for India in regard to international relations. Nehru mentioned Pakistan. Pakistan is not only our neighbour; it has been part of united India ever since the dawn of history, and integral to the civilization of the sub-continent. Conflicts, angularities and misunderstanding bedeviled relations between the two after partition, and the legacy has come down to us ever since. Rao rightly asked whether we were to remain bogged with the sordid history of our relations or move forward and find a way of how we could overcome trust deficit and build working relationship for the future good of societies in both the countries. Pakistan is faced with many difficult situations especially in regard to economy, sectarian relations, domestic violence and societal division. In particular, she is under great pressure from terror based jihadism. This combination of lethal disabilities has adversely impacted common man in Pakistan who, otherwise, deserved to be enjoying environmentally a more secure and economically a better life India's interest lies in having a psychologically strong, economically sound and politically independent Pakistan as its neighbour. India would focus on close trade and commercial relations that serve as key to enduring friendship.
But notwithstanding these difficulties, Indian foreign secretary was very right in stressing on some factors that can make Indo-Pak dialogue successful. Pakistan has an independent judiciary that emerged stronger and more dedicated after some attempts made by the army-controlled regimes to destroy its credibility. By and large, Pakistan has a vociferous print media, sections of which are fiercely independent and outspoken. The fourth estate is serving as watchdog of national interests because it speaks boldly on bilateral relationship often projecting Indian experiment with secular democracy in positive terms. Then Pakistan has a sizable and strong intellectual section of civil society generally considered the conscience keepers of the nation. It has the capability of showing great sangfroid in a situation of crisis. Therefore channels that can have a role in giving new direction to the entire process of bilateral relations are not totally blocked, according to the Indian diplomat. Perhaps New Delhi has now come out of a certain mindset that refused to view bilateral relations from a wider perspective after three wars were fought in the past. Bitter memories need to be consigned to dustbin of history, and new beginning needs to be made to give entirely new shape to bilateral and multilateral relations. The two prime ministers have developed better and clearer understanding of the entire gamut of their relations. A good spadework was done at Thimpu and the recent informal meeting between them at Mohali has further strengthened the process. Nobody should be in a hurry to see the whole deck cleared in one go. Endemic suspicion and ill-will will ask for good time for healing, and the healing process is there. Rao made a valuable point in saying that Pakistan has professionals who man the Ministries and that New Delhi is in touch with them. One proof substantiating this statement is the successful meeting between the two Home Secretaries that was held in New Delhi just on the eve of Prime Ministerial meet at Mohali. The two defence secretaries are also scheduled to meet soon, and the process will continue because it has been given the roadmap by the two Prime Ministers. And a day will come when even the most intricate issues between the two will also be hammered out and resolved.






'A bad master quarrels with his tools,' is the old axiom. The Chairman of State Human Rights Commission has come out with a scathing criticism of the organization he is heading. If it is really a bad organization he is heading, we do understand how much torture he is inflicting on himself by being stay put at his post. But let us not forget that there is nothing good or bad only thinking makes it so. Even the much talked about Human Rights Commission of India has come under sharp criticism by observers. SHRC is not an exception. If according to the Chairman the Act needs amendments, well amending the corpus of laws and rules has not to be a subject of criticism. It can happen in normal course of things. After all a dynamic society does amend old or existing laws and enacts new ones to meet the requirement of the society. That is not the fault line for raising hue and cry. The real problem with the entire organ is its structural formation. Appointment of a Chairman and members is the prerogative of the State Government. This takes away the essential potential of the commission, meaning the strength of it being independent. It cannot be independent because those who man it are human beings with human weaknesses. They are not angels come down from heaven having left their weaknesses behind in the high spheres. The real problem is that those who are meant to man the commission are unable to demonstrate their integrity and use their powers. Since their appointment is politically oriented and they know it, hence their handling of the commission is politically oriented and biased. No justice can flow from this kind of orientation. If the members of the Commission are appointed by the people through a parallel mechanism of civil society, thing would change to everybody's satisfaction. Furthermore, human rights as such are one of the most controversial subjects. It has been extensively debated at the UN Human Rights Commission, and no consensual opinion has been formed till date as to who violates the human rights and whose human rights have been violated. The oft-spoken dictum that "one man's victim is another man's hero" sums up the controversy and conflict in the definition of human rights violations. It has not been clear to anybody whether one is a freedom fighter or a terrorist. According to some observers at the UNHRC, a suicide bomber hurling grenades on security posse on patrol, and killing some of them, too, has human rights and cannot be roughed by the security forces if caught alive. Therefore, it has to be noted that nobody should expect a faulty organization deliver a faultless decision.









On the day that Anna Hazare went on his fast unto death in Delhi last week I happened to be giving a talk to journalism students at the Indian Express newspaper's media school. My subject was to examine the deleterious effects of the sudden advent of mass television on print journalism in India. I told my audience of young Indians in their early twenties that in other countries in the free world television had developed as an instrument of mass communication over a long period and this had given serious newspapers time to come up with a wise and effective survival strategy. They learned that the best way to compete with the immediacy of television news was to resort to more analytical and detailed news reporting. In India because satellite channels dropped out of our skies overnight in the early nighties the instant reaction of even serious newspapers was to become superficial in order to compete. So colour supplements filled with tawdry 'celebrities' came into being and if this was not bad enough newspapers started taking their news sense from 'breaking news' on television.
So it has happened with Anna Hazare's well meaning but dangerously goofy 'fast unto death'. He is right when he says that corruption has to be stopped because it has become a cancer that is eating into the soul of India. But, he is quite wrong if he thinks that the solution lies in putting a strong, omnipotent Lok Pal (ombudsman) in place with a network of junior ombudsmen under him. All that this will achieve is to create a fresh layer of bureaucracy which will end up working no differently to the bureaucracy we already have. If the man at the top is sincere and efficient he will ensure that the institution he heads functions well and if he is not he will merely do what most civil servants in India end up doing: enjoy the perks of high office.
Corruption will carry merrily on unaffected and uncaring. And, the Lok Pal's office will become the haunt of well meaning busybodies who will file all manner of reckless cases that will serve mostly to make the inefficient clerks who man the wheels of governance in India even more inefficient. The reason why the Lok Pal bill has remained just an idea for more than forty years is because successive prime ministers have observed that ombudsmen in less corrupt, developed countries have ended up not being able to do very much. In India with corrupt practices in every nook and corner of government right from high offices in Delhi to low offices in remote villages the Lok Pal will be able to do little more than list complaints. If he is given the policing powers that Anna Hazare and his fellow fasters unto death are demanding then he could become a serious menace.
Corruption in public life must be reduced if India is to become prosperous and fully developed but the way to reduce it lies in other things. Anna Hazare is only an ex-soldier whose social activism arose from the simple solutions he found in his own village (Ralegan Siddhi) to improve cleanliness, reduce disease and provide better access to water resources. This is a fine achievement by Indian standards but does not qualify him to understand the intricacies of administrative reform without which there can be no end to corruption. The Prime Minister promised when he first came to office in 2004 that he would implement administrative reforms on a priority basis. He has done nothing so far.
So we continue to have ministries we do not need manned by armies of clerks most of whom we do not need either. Since they have too little work to occupy them they spend their time blocking files whenever they can until their palms are suitably greased. They succeed in this evil practice because the rules of government are antiquated and so complicated as to be almost incomprehensible. Some have not been changed since the days of the British Raj.
Above the clerks, who constitute more than ninety percent of government servants, sit the Burra Sahibs. These gentlemen undergo a form of training that the British invented to keep us natives in check so they learn not to behave like servants of the people of India but as their masters. Their training should have been changed decades ago but has not been and now a new kind of Burra Sahib has come into being who comes not from Oxford and Cambridge but from provincial universities in small towns. His aim is not to serve the people of India but to get a comfortable job for life. He knows that his job will be safe as long as he serves his political masters and helps them cover up their corrupt practices.
Usually, these days, the kind of people who come into politics are those who have grown up thinking of politics as a family business. Money is so easily available to those who make politics a career that no other job seems worth doing. The day after Anna Hazare started his fast the Mail Today newspaper reported that Election Commission officials had 'seized Rs 5.11 crores of unaccounted money in a pre-dawn raid in Trichy.' Since the announcement of assembly elections more than Rs 25 crores in cash has been picked up by Election Commission officials and this could be not even the tip of the tip of what lies beneath. All of this money ends up in the hands of politicians on account of corrupt practices of one kind or another. Making contributions to political parties legal would help stem the rot but then politicians would be deprived of a vital source of big money so they will not let this happen. If Anna Hazare and his fellow travelers had done some research before going on their fasts unto death they may have found a more worthy reason than the Lok Pal bill. Even if all their demands are conceded it will make not even the smallest difference to corruption in public life because they are asking for the wrong things. All they will do is end up losing a few kilos and getting a massive amount of publicity unless some bigger 'breaking news' happens meanwhile. Then they will be ignored even if they are carted off to hospital and force fed.








The World Cup has been won and what can one say for a team whose success goes beyond the game of Cricket and there is a larger message in this success and time for all of us to put on our thinking cap and reflect on the present and the future. Many million of words will be written and billions will be given to our men in blue and all the supporting staff and all this and more is justified as it generates confidence level cutting across all disciplines and only reaffirms the reality of our potential as a Nation. The reality is that change has come for the last two decades and the global society only woke up a decade ago and many still live in denial and can only look at the negatives but think where we were twenty, ten or five years ago and look at today and think of the future! A decade ago visiting teams would complain of playing conditions, food and accommodation and the presence of the top players was always in doubt and see how things have changed and in a decade we have the best facilities the game has to offer not only in the big cities but even in the small towns, every cricketing great past and present is in India in one capacity or the other and the IPL is only second to the NFL in terms of net worth and this could change in a few years and we have much to do to retain this status in the future. The World Cup had super stars from across the globe and there was little to choose between the teams and after a indifferent start we gained momentum and peaked at the right time and with the virtue of hindsight we can always reflect on a easy victory but things were very different when the game was in progress as Sri Lanka after a magnificent century from Mahila Jayawardene put up a fighting total and the early loss of Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar caused more than a flutter! Millions have watched the game and this must have been the most successful World Cup ever in financial terms and now we move on to the IPL contest in a festive atmosphere. Sachin Tendulkar as I have written earlier shows little sign of fatigue and while the World Cup victory is dedicated to him we can do with another victory and another Cup and all talk of retirement makes little sense.
We have a election break before the IPL and I think Mamata Banerjee and the TMC, Congress alliance may well do better than the polls suggest and I would be surprised if they win less than 225 out of 294 seats in West Bengal. The Congress and Allies will win in Kerala and the CPI[M] faces a severe crisis which can claim more than a few leaders and as I have mentioned earlier the Left who have declined from 60 to 24 seats could well go below double figures in 2014. This is unfortunate but the Left pursue an outdated ideology abandoned or modified by most Communist regimes and live in the conflicts of the cold war. Mamata Banerjee will win but will then face issues which confront every party which gallops into power in this manner and 90% of her MLA's
will be new and she will face an internal crisis between those who have battled with her over the years and the new entrants who have joined Mamata Banerjee and the TMC wave sweeping across West Bengal. The TMC leader has to expand her base and it is a fact of life that political vulnerability is at the maximum when the party is at its peak and has to manage diverse demands. The CPI[M] will be humbled but will exist in pockets and know that great expectations can bring disappointments once the ground reality takes shape after the elections. Mamata Banerjee understands her politics well and will be well aware of the need to instill confidence within the system and to attract investment into West Bengal much has to be done at all levels. The Congress will be marginalized with the massive TMC win and will seek their space. The TMC Chief is looking well beyond West Bengal and no surprise that she has fielded candidates in the North East and Assam but the real test will come in good governance in West Bengal.
The electoral trend in Tamil Nadu may well determine the form of alliances of the future and much will depend if the 2G scam fallout and the family wars within the ruling party will demolish the benefit of the caste and cash for vote power of the DMK alliance and the opinion polls prediction is not favorable for the ruling alliance. The CBI have slowed down the legal process as elections progress but the 2G issue firmly etched in the public mind will gain momentum in the Supreme Court and the PAC and the JPC investigation will keep it in the media headlines and along with the CWG 10 the issue will persist and the UPA 2 are on the defensive as scam after scam surfaces and most of these are related to land use issues and the discretionary powers of the Center and the States.

There is a great deal of talk on the Bharat Ratna issue for Sachin Tendulkar and once again the political fraternity is two or three steps behind the public who have already given this honor to our Champion and more than anything else we would like to see a great deal more from Sachin Tendulkar and perhaps the best is yet to come from him in the immediate future.

The World Cup and the emotions attached with our team have consumed our media space but we watch events in the Middle East where violence continues and the Tsunami horror in Japan intensify as thousands of gallons of infected water with high levels of radiation is released into the Pacific Ocean and we see renewed signs of economic turmoil in several parts of Europe. The UK also has its own share of issues and we have a unusual sight of 250,000 people protesting job cuts in Piccadilly in London and 2011 is not going to be a easy year and while we see a positive situation in the BRIC countries and signs of a revival in the USA the picture in Europe is bleak and turmoil in the Middle East and oil prices will be a major concern for 2011-12 and we need good and timely governance to deal with this situation.








It is impossible to shift one billion and twenty one crore Indians as per 2011 census to live in urban centers and become professionals and service providers. So, natural sector economy with villages, forest, agriculture fields, rivers, hills and lakes need to survive with its full glow. Way back in the 70s, villagers never used to migrate to cities and were happy because there was huge food back up in the bio diversity. They were happy healthy and had surplus money to booze and dance during festival. In the 80s when the rivers turned into narrow streams due to deforestation, over damming and silting, they lost their livelihood. The rivers turned dry not due to industrialization but due to deforestation and silting. According to Central Soil & Water Conservation Research and Training Institute (CSWRTI) and National Bureau of Soil Survey and Land use Planning an estimated 5334 million tonnes of soil disappear every year due to erosion. Thirty years back Brahmaputra and its tributaries had thousands of dolphins. Mindless fishing activities, use of fine meshed nets for catching smallest of fish and silting of river bed are the reason why the playful dolphins which could have provided joy to tourists have disappeared.
Like rivers, forest has potential to provide jobs to a large tribal population. As more jobs are lost due to the current economic down turn, sustainable forest management could become a means of creating millions of green jobs, thus helping to reduce poverty and improve the environment, said Jan Heino, Assistant Director General of FAO's Forestry Department. A unique Study-Green Accounting for Indian States and Union Territories Project found the value of our forest at Rs 88,60259 crore in 2003. There are hundreds of minor forest products like cane, wood, bamboo, tendu leaves, tusks, medicinal plants and gums etc which have good demand in domestic and international market.
Jammu and Kashmir is blessed with a rich natural sector economy which has everything: willow for cricket bats, natural beauty for tourists, hundreds of minor forest products, quality animal and plant species and the native skill to produce world famous handicrafts. Transparent supply chain, healthy co-operative societies, dedicated extensions services of the Government and above all political will could earn good amount of revenue for the state. The ILO Report 2009 estimates the global market for environment products and services is projected to double to US $ 2740 billion by 2020 from present US $ 1370 billion per year.
Nearly 47.61 lakh artisans in India as per All India Artisan Census 1995-96 make high value addition to organic material available in nature. The artisans of Bastar make exotic wood craft while the hill tribe in North East India make hundreds of utility and decorative items from bamboo and cains. Handicraft was the major items of export from India in the past. Pliny the Roman officer and Encyclopedist(23-79 AD) complained Indian luxury trade was depleting the Roman treasury to the extent of 50million sesterces annually. As per the Union government's Foreign Trade Policy 2009-10, all handicraft exports to be treated as Special Focus Products and entitled to 5% duty credit scrip. This may help exporter to access world export market for handicraft worth US $ 350 billion.
India can make use of its 20 Agro Ecological regions and 60 sub regions which produce a large number of crops. Agriculturesustainability should be the theme of agriculture planning. G-8 'L' Aquilla Food Security Initiatives concluded on July 10, 2009 hascommitted $ 20 billion to sustain agriculture development in thedeveloping nations in the next three years. The commitment has the apprehension that extreme poverty would grip 90 million more people across the world due to global slow down. In fact, the food security initiative is a measure to correct the wrong done in the beginning of the 20 th century. Farming, forestry and fishing in 1913 accounts for 28% of employment in US, 41% in France and 60 % in Japan and 12% in UK. Their dependence on those sectors has gone down to 6% now and ultimately lead to job loss in natural sectors. Agriculture scientistDr M S Swaminathan had prescribed crop diversification as the solution for Vidarbha farmers' crisis as cotton crop ate up 70% of productive land in the region. While maximizing profit from commercial agriculture, planners should not lose sight of the soil quality, ground water, pollination and increasing input costs.
In the 70s, coastal Orissa farmers used to cultivate a paddy variety called dalua after the normal harvest of paddy in December. Dalua used to mature within four moths and the farmers got two harvests in a year. Government constructed canals to sustain the paddy for about five to six years. When the canal system collapsed after six years the highly thirsty dalua crop failed. India is too vast a nation to strike a balance between Industry, agriculture, trade, services and natural sectors.










The snowballing response to the crusade against corruption triggered off by social activist Anna Hazare is an index of the pent-up anger among people at large, especially the young, over the manner in which politicians of all hues are taking the country for a ride through misuse of office and naked corruption. The public exasperation over corruption has been there for long but it needed a person of unimpeachable integrity to lead and convert it into a movement, which the highly-respected social crusader Anna Hazare has apparently managed to do. The trigger may be the Lokpal bill that has been hanging fire for as long as 42 years but the public outrage is not confined to the bill alone. It goes much beyond that. With the gap between the haves and have-nots widening, with hordes of young people denied jobs due to their inability to pull strings, with wheeling-dealing on the increase and yielding dividends in every walk of life, there is a sense of frustration among the diminishing tribe of honest people which is ready to explode.


Indeed, Anna Hazare is being seen as a rallying point because of his past record. In 1995, Anna's fast led to the then Shiv Sena-BJP government in Maharashtra dropping two Cabinet ministers who were labelled corrupt by the crusading Gandhian. Sixteen years later, senior Union minister Sharad Pawar has quit as a member of the Group of Ministers deliberating on the Lokpal bill following Anna Hazare describing him as corrupt. While Pawar claims that his resignation is due to his preoccupation with other work, it is common knowledge that he is a victim of Anna's crusade. The people who are supporting Anna Hazare in his campaign against corruption are far from satisfied. They want a foolproof mechanism for meting out exemplary punishment to deter corruption.


Anna Hazare is frail and over 70 years of age. As anxiety over his health increases while he fasts, the Government is under pressure to act. It is time Prime Minister Manmohan Singh steps in to talk to Anna on his demands for an officially notified joint panel of government representatives and Anna's men with adequate powers to act against the corrupt. A well-intentioned movement like this one must get its due, lest it escalates.









North India is celebrating the nine pious days of the Navratra festival during which the kuttu ka atta (buckwheat flour) is the staple diet for those observing a fast. But this year, the holy occasion for the purification of the body and the soul has turned into a nightmare for many, thanks to some unscrupulous traders who sold adulterated or old flour which has landed many in hospitals. Reports of people falling ill after eating preparations made from such flour have been pouring in from places as far apart as Dera Bassi, Abohar and Fazilka in Punjab, Hisar and Ghanaur in Haryana and Bulandhsahr and Saharanpur in Uttar Pradesh. In the Trans-Yamuna region of Delhi alone, more than 200 people have reported sick. The total number of people suffering from various degrees of food poisoning may run into thousands.


Some of the contaminated stock has been traced to a trader in Ghaziabad but it is hard to believe that the supply to the entire North India originated from a single place. On the face of it, it appears that there were several traders who supplied such spurious eatable. There are reports that the husk of cereals and pulses which was very old and unfit for human consumption was mixed into the atta. That means that even if it had not been toxic, the traders were playing with the sentiments of the people who ate the kuttu ka atta in the fond belief that it was non-cereal.


As it always happens, the administration woke up only after the damage was done. Raids are continuing but the implementation of anti-adulteration laws is so lax that it is unlikely that the real criminals would be punished adequately. Ironically, when some mills producing the suspect flour were sealed by officials in Bulandshahr, traders gheraoed the police station in protest against the operation. The government tends to succumb to such pressure tactics, thus encouraging the wrong-doers. Adulteration of food-items is a crime of the gravest kind, which must attract exemplary punishment. In practice, exactly the opposite happens. 











Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal has sought a Rs 35,000 crore rural debt waiver from the Planning Commission. How he has arrived the figure is not clear. A similar figure created a storm last year when former Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal claimed a conditional loan waiver offer from the Centre. That was about the government debt. The Chief Minister has taken up the issue of rural people's debt. Mr Badal is too experienced a politician not to realise that the Centre does not normally offer concessions to a particular state. How can the Centre write off rich farmers' loans? With elections approaching, he is playing politics.


The Rs 71,000 crore Central package announced in 2008 was meant for distressed farmers countrywide. Not many Punjab farmers could benefit because of lack of data and the conditions attached. Had the government been serious about rural debt, it would have first studied the extent of debt and then sought Central help for the needy. In 2010 a study by an eminent economist, Prof H.S Shergill, had estimated the cultivating farmers' debt at Rs 30,500 crore for the year 2008-09. There has been no recent government data about rural indebtedness. Indebtedness among the landless and farm labour has seldom been assessed or even discussed. The 2011-12 state budget does not even talk about rural debt. There is no state-level policy to deal with the issue.


It is due to such lack of preparedness and casual approach that Punjab often misses out on Central incentives and aid. It is one thing to show concern for the rural poor, and quite another to do something genuine to remove poverty. Data required is either unavailable or inadequate. Professor Shergill's study revealed that 17 per cent of the farmers are caught in a debt trap. They need help. Instead of announcing waivers, the Centre and the state should set up an institutional mechanism to fight indebtedness on a regular basis. Mr Badal can take the initiative and set an example if he is really serious about farmers' plight.









The situation in Af-Pak is getting complicated by the day and the Obama Administration is bitterly divided over its future course of action to fashion a coherent strategy towards the region. Recent events have only compounded the confusion. On March 20, Terry Jones, pastor of a tiny Florida church, declared Islam's holy book "guilty" of "crimes against humanity" and ordered it set ablaze in a portable fire pit. Days later, after Afghan President Hamid Karzai decided to ask for Jones' prosecution, Afghans took to the streets in protest against the burning of the Quran in Florida. An angry mob killed at least seven foreigners in northern Afghanistan and set fire to a United Nations compound in Mazar-e Sharif, a city where NATO forces have transferred power to the local Afghan forces. Another bloody day followed in Kandahar, when the police fought with protesters, leaving at least nine dead and more than 80 injured.


The ongoing tumult prompted Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top NATO commander in Afghanistan, and his civilian counterpart, Ambassador Mark Sedwill, to issue a statement reiterating "our condemnation of any disrespect to the Holy Quran and the Muslim faith."


"We condemn, in particular, the action of an individual in the United States who recently burned the Holy Quran," the statement said. "We further hope that Afghan people understand that the actions of a small number of individuals, who have been extremely disrespectful to the Holy Quran, are not representative of any of the countries of the international community who are in Afghanistan to help the Afghan people."


When Mr Jones threatened to burn a copy of the Quran on the anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks last year, Mr Petraeus was among several top US officials who strongly urged against it and warned about the troubling consequences that could arise in Afghanistan. Mr Jones eventually called off the event only to announce earlier this year in January that he was going to "put the Quran on trial." He said he didn't hear a single complaint. The "trial" was held on March 20, and the holy text subsequently burned, leading to turmoil in Afghanistan.


Meanwhile, suicide bombers struck a Sufi shrine compound in Pakistan, killing more than 40 people. The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, which has repeatedly aimed attacks at Sufi shrines across the country, along with government targets and security forces installations, promptly claimed responsibility for the attack. The latest attack is another attempt by militants to exacerbate the ideological divides that exist within different schools of Sunni Islam. There have been growing concerns that militants from the tribal regions of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, formerly North-West Frontier Province, have been using Dera Ghazi Khan, where the shrine was based, as a route to enter Punjab.


This turmoil comes at a time of growing tensions within the Obama Administration over the size and pace of the planned pullout of US troops from Afghanistan this summer, with the military seeking to limit a reduction in combat forces and the White House pressing for a withdrawal substantial enough to placate a war-weary electorate. At a time of economic turmoil in the US, the war's cost estimated to reach $120 billion this year is leading to increasing public disenchantment with the war. Attention is shifting to 2012 Presidential elections and the political class, including Mr Barack Obama, will be reluctant to challenge public opinion. Nearly two-thirds of Americans, according to latest surveys, no longer find the war in Afghanistan worth fighting.


Mr Obama's failure to take complete ownership of the war that he had once described as the necessary one is becoming a big liability. Moreover, he has failed to reconcile the differences among his advisers even as the perception is gaining ground that the war is going nowhere for the NATO forces. Though Mr Obama made it clear that the current war strategy will continue and not be altered, there is a grudging acknowledgment in the US policy-making circles that Mr Obama's surge is not showing any signs of success so far. Although military officials contend that the surge has enabled US forces to blunt the Taliban in key areas over the past several months, White House officials remain sceptical that those gains will survive without the presence of American troops and without US financial aid.


Mr Obama had approved a 30,000-troop increase sought by the military in 2009 but at the same time he had made it clear that the surge forces would begin returning home by July 2011. The pace of that reduction, however, was ambiguous, with Defence Department officials describing the initial reductions as minor and some of Mr Obama's other advisers, including Vice-President Joe Biden, saying the pullout would be as rapid as the deployment of the surge troops.


Meanwhile, a major Pentagon task force that has sought to help Afghanistan exploit its mineral wealth and expand private sector employment is facing a crisis with the resignation of several of its members alarming senior military officials, who view the group's job-creation efforts as an important component of the overall US counter-insurgency 


As the US struggles with its Af-Pak policy, India needs to be acutely aware of the implications of the rapidly deteriorating security environment in its neighbourhood. America's diminishing capacity to come to terms with the challenges in Afghanistan will have long-term implications for regional security in South Asia. New Delhi will have to fashion a pro-active foreign policy response that relies less on Washington in crafting an appropriate response to the changing dynamic in Af-Pak. Whether a government mired in scandals can step up to the plate remains an open question.n


The writer teaches at King's College, London.









REVISITING a place from your past is usually an emotionally disappointing experience. We go back in the hope of finding things the way they were when we were there – some vestige of permanence in an impermanent world. We also expect to find some little part of ourselves there, some footprint that we have left behind, a measure of immortality, no matter how small. Disappointment stems from finding that the place has changed beyond recognition and the people we knew have moved on. More often than not we fail to find the footprints that we came to look for.


I spent nine glorious,valuable years in Lucknow University, years of self-discovery, of spreading my wings to see how far and how high I could fly. All the peaks and depths of my life, emotional, intellectual and even physical, were experienced during this time. I know that I did leave a mark on the minds, and in some cases, on the lives of those I taught.


Then years later I went back. The ambience of the university was alien and uncomfortable. All those whom I had known were gone. It was as if I had never been here. My heart ached with an aching emptiness. I stopped near the gate at a stall where we had always come for a mid-morning snack of samosas. I ordered samosas now. The stranger at the stall smiled and said, "And you, of course will not have any chutney." I looked closely at him. He was the little, sniveling child who had always held onto his father while he served the samosas. He had remembered. Some of the emptiness left my heart.


Sanawar was home to me for 30 years of my life and for 17 of those years I know I exercised a considerable influence on many, many lives. I have always been diffident about going back to Sanawar, partly because my last tenure there was a disaster and partly because I have learnt my lesson and have no intention of looking for the past. I do go to Sanawar but purely in my capacity as a father and a grandfather. But no matter how resolutely you push it away the past tends to catch you unawares.


I went for a house show recently and suddenly, after all these years, my heart ached because I did not know any of the children and when I walked to my daughter's house it was as if those 30 years had never been. Then I was greeted by two boys, one of whom asked:


"Are you an old Sanawarian?" I said yes and couldn't help adding that I had also been the Headmaster. He looked at me unbelievingly and then his eyes lit up.


"You are the one who is smiling," he was referring to the photographs of past Headmasters in Barne Hall.


My immortality lies in the fact that I eat samosas without chutney and in the smile in a black and white photograph. But even this is enough. I am content.









Over 50 per cent of the annual defence budget goes towards imports. The production of defence equipment, until recently a government function, was reserved for ordnance factories and defence public sector undertakings (DPSUs), supported by research through DRDO laboratories. Production as well as research has been seriously constrained both in quality and quantity, thus keeping the import bill high. By the time a weapon system is developed, it is far behind the new technology in the contemporary world. Most weapons systems ex-Soviet block were reasonably priced, which India could afford to meet its minimum requirements. Western technology was far superior though very expensive and the country imported some percentage of its defence requirements from these countries. With the fall of the Soviet bloc, the emphasis shifted towards indigenous substitution and import from western countries.


The hostile attitude of countries in our neighborhood has become increasingly paramount, requiring higher defence expenditure. With good performance of the national economy, investments in the defence production sector could also be increased. Since DRDO and DPSUs alone would not be able to meet the current and future requirements, the government is steadily liberalising its Defence Production and Procurement Policy to involve the private sector.


Defence Procedures and Academia-Industry Interaction


Over the years, the government has assiduously tried to increase capabilities in defence R&D, ordnance factories and DPSUs to provide armed forces with all types of equipment. Simultaneously, the better performance of the private sector has made it possible to consider off-loading defence development and production to the civilian industry. Besides, eligible corporates can also apply to be Raksha Udyog Ratnas (RURs). All viable approaches such as formation of consortia, joint ventures, and public private partnerships have been permitted. The government has decided to set up a special fund for providing necessary resources to the public and private sectors including SMEs as well as academic and scientific institutions to support research, development and production.


Defence Procurement Procedure-2011

The Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP) is the defining document published by the Ministry of Defence to enable decisions regarding defence capital acquisition for the Indian Armed Forces to be made in a cost effective, timely and transparent manner.

DPP-2011 aims at expanding India's defence industrial base, encourage indigenous defence production and reduce defence imports. It aims at simplification of procedures, speeding up of procurement and enhanced benefits to the Indian defence industry. Keeping in view the strategic importance of the ship building sector, seminal policy changes have also been incorporated in the ship building procedure. It also covers the civilian aviation sector.

The thrust of the policy is to provide a level-playing field to the defense public sector undertakings, shipyards as well as the private sector. The scope of the DPP has been enlarged gradually over the years through amendments in 2003, 2005, 2006, 2008 and 2009. The basic thrust of the enlargement has been to promote development of indigenous military industrial complex.

The Defence Procurement Procedures laid down in 1992 have been fully revised with the issuance of Procurement Procedures--2011. The aim is to expedite decision-making, simplification of contractual and financial provisions and establishing a level playing field, for both public and private sectors. The scope of the offset policy mandating foreign suppliers for indigenous procurement with orders totaling more than Rs 300 crore has been expanded to include civilian aerospace, internal security and training.

Today higher education institutions (HEI) and the industry are keen on building strong and purposeful partnerships. The existing system through internships, student projects and representation of industrialists on academia boards has not brought about the requisite quality improvements in student's learning. This needs greater monitoring by academic institutes and serious involvement of industries as they are fully interested in better work force. Industries also seek partnerships because of complexity of scientific and engineering knowledge, competition and the drive for innovation. Academia finds industrial collaboration important for their research initiatives and students placements.


Over the past 20 years, US major private laboratories AT&T, Bell, IBM and Xerox etc. have down-sized considerably. Today their focus is entirely products related and have shifted the other research task to universities and are funding the same. Given the current high rate of growth and dynamic investment climate in India, the demand for knowledge workers will only increase.


Execution of the Defence Production Policy


The defence ministry has done well to issue the Defence Production Policy and updated it in January 2011 as a New Year gift to the nation. It has the characteristic features and objectives to achieve self-reliance in the design, development and production systems, and create an environment for the private industry, including SMEs, to play an active role. It also encourages inv olvement of the academia, R&D institutions, etc. outside the DRDO and to synergize efforts in defence production and set up a separate fund to provide resources to all development and production stake holders.


The policy document, however, lacks the teeth for proper execution. Let us discuss some of the significant deficiencies


We have to move from state controlled defence research and production to a process of liberalisation as was done for economic liberalisation in 1990s. Moment the government shackles were withdrawn, the economy grew at a fast rate. Particular example is the IT sector where bureaucratic controls were absent by default.


Second, we have advanced the concept of RURs but have limited the scope to corporates with a minimum turnover of Rs 1,000 crore. This will have to be expanded to bring many more players to compete and unleash their talent and latent energy.


Third, the role of academia--industry interactions has been highlighted without providing methodologies for its achievement. Incentives need to be provided both to academia and industries to strengthen partnerships.



Fourth, it has been found that service headquarters, while formulating general staff requirements (air force and navy including), are unrealistic both in terms of qualitative requirements and timeliness. It has to be appreciated that development is an incremental process and one should not expect disruptive technologies to appear overnight.


Fifth, it is nice to hear that the government will setup a private fund for research and development in the private sector outside the DRDO, but no provisions appear to have been made in the 2011-12 budget.


Sixth, the DPP must carefully appreciate that DRDO has more than fifty full-fledged laboratories but has failed to compete in technology and timeliness with global standards. Delayed production of the LCA and MBT are glaring examples of time and cost over runs.


Seventh, defence services are also seen as a source for easy funds for the politicians because of kickbacks. We have to find a solution and operate in the most transparent and merit based manner.


Implementation of the Procurement Procedures


The MoD deserves compliments for issuing the procurement procedures in 2011. This document needs to be introspected. Three models for defence procurement have been introduced in the past namely "Buy", "Buy & Make" and "Make". The last two models require heavy investments on the part of the industry. The savior of course is the offset policy that so far has not produced the desired results. The MoD should engage organisations like the CII, FICCI, PHDCCI and ASSOCHAM for publicity and feedback. DPP--2011 has also provided relief by removing the mandated requirements for licensing as a pre-requisite for being an Indian offset partner. Banking of offset credits has also been introduced, but this area still remains murky. The government has is also interested in Headquarters Integrated Defence Staff sharing the public version of the 15 years procurement plan with the industry, but we have yet to see its execution.


The private industry has been found to be wary of the defence procurement procedures and delays in payments. I have met many top industrialists in North India whose experience with defence procurement agencies is rather bad and they are scaring off other industries also. Today, an original equipment maker runs around the entire South Block or service headquarters and gets frustrated. There must exist a single window system where all concerns are addressed.


The Department of Defence Production has made a lot of progress in formulating the policy as well as the procedures. Several issues have been highlighted to improve competition on a level playing field for the private sector (corporates and SMEs). Regular seminars should be held to ensure that we progress fast in meeting defence requirements and enhance import substitution through academia–industry interaction. The private sector has tremendous amount of energy that can be liberated for defence development and production if a conducive environment is facilitated by the MoD.


The writer has been the chairman-cum-managing director of two public sector undertakings








In the days after the crowds of the World Cup frenzy, it seems strange that another type of crowd should gather so quickly. At the centre of the storm is an unlikely icon, a lone man whose diminutive build belies the enormity of his moral stature.


His cause is deceptively simple: he wants to rid India of corruption. The Jan Lokpal Bill is his vehicle. Across the country, all manner of people, from students to corporates, have joined his cause and climbed aboard using emails, SMS messages, and every manner of communication. Whether Anna Hazare's chosen means of protest – the fast to death – is right or wrong is irrelevant in the present context; that debate has no easy resolution.


The one thing the protest and fast do is to send a message to the government: the people of India will no longer tolerate the continued venality that now pervades public life. The people's anger is enormous, the frustration deep. The government needs to listen, and listen closely. There are things yet that can be achieved. Ducking the question won't work. Nor will the usual UPA-II-cha-cha-cha (first, go on television and blame everyone else; then dig your head in the sand and pretend the problem doesn't exist).


What is it precisely that the country's protesters seek? At its simplest (and most simplistic), the demand is for greater accountability in public and civic affairs and an institutionalised redressal mechanism for corruption. There cannot be any argument with any of that.


Essentially, the demand is for an ombudsman. The word is of Scandinavian origin, and refers to an official who investigates complaints from the public. What our movement demands for the Lokpal is several things all at once, a governance bhelpuri. First, that the bill be re-drafted with 50 per cent of the contributors drawn from civil society. This is impractical at best and will only delay matters.


Second, it seeks sweeping powers for the Lokpal: the power to prosecute, police powers, an omnibus jurisdiction over all limbs of government, including the judiciary, complete independence, even from the Supreme Court; the right to investigate all kinds of government spending; and even its own fund. The suggestion is that the Lokpal will be the guardian, the consciencekeeper of the nation. The Lokpal will be pure of heart and beyond all reproach. Who will choose him? Not, as in Scandinavia, the government, but retired judges and recent international award winners. But Nobel prizes and Magsaysay awards are no guarantees of incorruptibility. What this model envisages is the creation of an extra-Constitutional fourth super-limb of government, one to which all the three other limbs are subject. What the model implies is dysfunction: no judge, no bureaucrat and no minister ever able to work without fear of some disgruntled citizen (of which we have no shortage) making a complaint.


It also raises a very disturbing question, one that features in the Platonic ideal of the perfect society with its four classes of labourers, slaves, tradesmen and guardians. The guardians protect the city. Socrates is asked the question that was later pithily phrased by the Roman poet Juvenal in his versified social history: quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Who will guard the guardians? The answer is that in a civilised society, there is no need to guard the guardians who will guard themselves against themselves. Why? Because these are the best, and it is their duty to protect the weak; and because they live this "noble lie" without taste for power or privilege.
    The Jan Lokpal bill suggests the impossible. Yes, we need guardians and conscience-keepers; but they, too, must be subjected to scrutiny. Consider the alternative of having guardians without accountability. History provides us with a very long list, from Caligula to Pinochet and Eichmann and beyond, and it is not pretty. Because of who the guardians are, or will become, we must retain the means to guard against the guards themselves, to prevent them from becoming despots and tyrants, corrupted by such absolute power.

We do have a way to do this and it is called judicial review. It is the rudder that keeps the ship of state on an even keel; and this is what the Jan Lokpal bill tries to dislodge. That is not the road to salvation; it is the path to anarchy and perdition.





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The Union Cabinet's decision to refer Vedanta's proposed buyout of Cairn India to a group of ministers (GoM) after months of inter-ministerial consultation is yet another example of the government's indecisiveness. The contentious issues of royalty and cess referred to the GoM headed by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee are not new. They have been in existence ever since Cairn India began pumping crude oil from its Barmer block in August 2009, and even when Cairn Energy informed the petroleum ministry about the deal (August 16, 2010). It took the petroleum ministry a month to write to Cairn that a formal consent was required for clearance. And when Cairn applied, the ministry responded nearly two months later saying that an application for pre-New Exploration Licensing Policy (Nelp) contracts would also be required. The Barmer field, in which Cairn India found India's largest crude oil reserves after Oil and Natural Gas Corporation's (ONGC's) discovery of Bombay High in 1972, was awarded to Cairn before the government introduced the auction of oil blocks in 1999 under Nelp. Surely, there were differences in the way the ministry and Vedanta/Cairn perceived the deal.

While Cairn saw this deal merely as a commercial transaction involving change of ownership, the ministry viewed it as one involving a productive oil asset, whose ownership rested with the central government — as established by the Supreme Court in the Reliance Industries-Reliance Natural Resources Ltd case. The ministry also unearthed the issue of royalty payment for the Barmer block. Meanwhile, both the petroleum ministry and ONGC sought legal opinion on the impact of the deal from the Solicitor General, the highest legal advisor to the government. After this, both ONGC and its administrative ministry opined that the royalty on Barmer was cost-recoverable according to the provisions of the production sharing contract. If that was the case, why did ONGC have to pay royalty on Barmer for the last 19 months? Before the deal, ONGC maintained that the government had assured that it would reimburse the royalty paid by the firm. According to the government-determined licence conditions for the block, ONGC has the right to an output of 30 per cent in any discovery but the state-run firm has to pay not only its share of royalty but also the 70 per cent share of the operator. ONGC, however, woke up to the fact that it could end up paying Rs 14,000 crore as royalty after the deal. It then quoted the production sharing contract to insist that royalty was cost-recoverable. ONGC's view was fully endorsed by the petroleum ministry.


 Former petroleum minister Murli Deora constantly assured that the government would "soon take a call" on the deal. And his successor, S Jaipal Reddy, started off with similar assurances and foot-dragging. In February, however, Mr Reddy preferred to leave it to the Cabinet to take a call on the issue after presenting two options. It is not clear in what way the government's stand will impact the fortunes of Vedanta and Cairn. However, it is amply clear that the approach towards this deal has done its damage to the ninth round of the petroleum ministry's flagship Nelp. There was nothing global about the bids in spite of the high crude oil price and the several foreign road shows organised by the ministry. Only eight foreign companies participated in the round compared to seven in the previous round. It isn't clear whether ministers are making a policy or acting as minders of vested interests. So, new investors would rather wait and watch than step in where angels fear to tread!







Earlier this week a two-member bench of the Supreme Court decided that illegitimate children, born out of wedlock, have the same rights to ancestral property as legitimate children, born to married parents. The country's higher judiciary deserves full marks for this progressive verdict, which is a step forward in empowering innocent offspring of unwed parents. The growing maturity of judicial opinion on such matters is reflected in the honourable judges' observation that once live-in relationships are recognised by law, it is natural that "illegitimate" children must also be recognised in the same way as other children. That is consistency — a trait of maturity in a society. The advantage of the common law system is evident in the fact that by passing this judgment the court has written into law an important element of a just society. Why should a just society not treat illegitimate children on a par with legitimate children? After all, one cannot be held responsible for one's own birth. How are we going to fight casteism if we believe that some children lose some of their rights for what their parents did or did not do? Indeed, the most important argument against discrimination by gender, race and caste is precisely this. Just as a woman did not choose to be a woman, but was born as such, illegitimate children did not choose to be illegitimate.

The judgment is also a blow in favour of individual rights and liberal values. Democracy is not just about elections and majority decisions. It is also about respect and regard for individual rights of citizens, and taking a liberal view of social practices. At a time when many are quick to demarcate groups by community and caste and play group politics, the space for individual rights is getting constricted. In going against an earlier decision of fellow judges, the bench that gave this verdict showed courage and wisdom.


 The verdict will have some important consequences. There would now be an incentive for "illegitimate" children to search for the biological father. With DNA testing establishing paternity, it is no longer only maternity that is a certainty! As was seen in the N D Tiwari case, children are able to establish paternity and seek inheritance rights. The new judgment strengthens the cause of such children and puts men on notice. What it also means is that DNA testing must be better organised, transparent and done in a tamper-proof manner. If all "illegitimate" children go in search of their fathers, the country's statistics may suddenly change, with many men – especially the rich and well-heeled – discovering they have larger families than they had imagined!







Historically, equities have always wobbled around the first Fed rate hike, after a recession. In the process, they have demonstrated a clear setback in prices, while avoiding a bear market. The first rate increase would also normally trigger a bout of sector rotation, with cyclicals and banks underperforming and giving way to the more defensive sectors in the market. Risk assets never like rising rates and draining liquidity, and given the current low levels of interest rates, any tightening will be extended in both duration and extent. Given that most people feel that the markets are currently being driven by easy liquidity, one would expect investors to fear any move to reverse these monetary and liquidity conditions.

However, the bulls argue that the first actual rate hike by the Fed is a long time away, probably not before Q1 2012, so why worry today about an event 12 months away? They feel the party can continue until the Fed actually begins raising rates. Also, given the fact that rates are at zero, even a 25 to 50 basis point hike in rates is unlikely to alter the attractiveness of equities or change interest rate-based valuation models, they argue.


 My sense is that instead of waiting for the actual rate hike, markets may start pricing in tightening well before the actual event. Market movements and price patterns may start exhibiting the start of the tightening theme far earlier this time.

Markets are probably just waiting for a change of language from the Fed (extended period and exceptionally low being the key operative phrases) in the publicly released policy statement. Given the extraordinary nature of monetary easing in this cycle, a change of language will signal the intention of the central bank to move back to more conventional policy settings. Also, historically, central banks were far less communicative, with regular Federal Open Market Committee commentary only beginning in 1999. With the change in approach towards communication, the policy statement has a clear signalling effect. Given the type of hawkish statements being made recently by certain Fed governors, a change in tone from the Fed is imminent.

There is also a growing feeling that we are approaching the end of this phase of quantitative easing (QE). QE2, as it was called, is likely to be wound down by June, with the completion of the Fed's buying programme of $600 billion worth of treasuries. Though there is still hope on the part of investors that this programme will get extended, the politics of Washington would seem to indicate that any extension is unlikely. The decent employment report released last week and the strength in markets make the case for extension weak. Recent comments by the Fed also indicate debate and disagreement, with some members even arguing for an accelerated tightening programme. The formal winding down of the QE2 programme will be definitely taken by the markets to signal the end of extraordinary easing and opening the doors to the start of policy normalisation. The Fed will have to shrink its balance sheet, and any steps taken to do so cannot be good for risk assets.

At the same time as the Fed is likely to wind down QE2, we have the European Central Bank (ECB) embarking on a tightening agenda. Most market observers expect the ECB to hike this week itself, despite the clear difficulties being currently faced by the peripheral European economies. The ECB seems to prefer targeting incipient inflationary pressures, rather than trying to ease the economic pressures on the highly indebted periphery. In the next couple of months, the Bank of England will also move to tighten. Thus, by June we will have all the major developed world central banks (except Japan) either tightening or, at the least, no longer injecting liquidity into the system.

Combine this with the fact that all major emerging market central banks in China, India, Brazil, Turkey and Russia are also implementing some form of quantitative tightening if not outright interest rate increases, and the outlook for equities and risk assets should be challenged. Most of the emerging market central banks including India are still in the midst of their tightening cycle, with still some way to go.

Going by the recent past , markets will wobble, once some of the extraordinary stimulus measures are wound down. If we look at the last two years , global equity markets bottomed in March 2009, as the US began QE1(buying treasuries, agency bonds and mortgage-backed securities). Markets began to struggle in April 2010, once this buying ended and then picked up again with the announcement of QE2 in August 2010. Logically, markets should struggle once again, now that we are about to complete the latest and probably the last bout of Fed asset buying.

Markets, however, do not seem to be perturbed at the moment. Maybe market participants feel that given all the headwinds around global growth in terms of debt burdens, housing market weakness and unemployment, we will not see an extended period of tightening. However, it is difficult to envisage any tightening without interest rates rising significantly, given the current levels.

The headwinds for global equities continue to build. We have the tightening of liquidity discussed above, oil prices at $120 and rising, sovereign issues and surging commodity prices. Yet, markets continue to rise. Whether it is the yen carry trade being put back on, or investors trying to time their exit from markets to perfection, risk appetite remains strong. This seems unlikely to last. The Australian dollar, Brazilian real, gold, silver and soft commodities all are in a strong uptrend. The Russell 2000 index of small cap stocks is at an all-time high, even crossing its 2007 peak. All the money pumped in by the Bank of Japan seems to be finding its way to all sorts of financial assets. Though this cannot continue indefinitely, it is very difficult to predict how much steam markets have left. It is prudent to remain cautious and not chase momentum.

India has done extraordinarily well over the past two weeks, with markets rising by more than 10 per cent from the bottom. The Indian markets also seem to be caught up in this momentum trade, with markets going up despite oil prices, inflation and other domestic issues. India is not cheap, and earnings are going to be at risk. What the upside is from here in the short term is debatable.

The author is fund manager and chief executive officer of Amansa Capital







On April 2, when the whole country was watching the cricket World Cup final in Mumbai, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) filed a charge sheet against nine individuals and three companies for their alleged involvement in the 2G spectrum case. One of them is believed to be Sanjay Chandra, the managing director of real estate developer Unitech. Chandra is also the chairman of mobile telephony operator Unitech Wireless which is one of the companies that are said to have made a windfall in the allocation of 2G spectrum. It is owned 67.25 per cent by Telenor of Norway and 32.75 per cent by Unitech.

Chandra has been the public face of Unitech for some time now. The charge sheet ought to have crashed the Unitech share price. Instead, Unitech rose from Rs 41.85 on April 1, the day before the charge sheet was filed, to Rs 45.25 on April 6 on the Bombay Stock Exchange. In fact, in the last four months, the Unitech stock had fallen from close to Rs 80 to Rs 32 on fears that there could be a financial liability on the company once the 2G investigations are over. The charge sheet has ended the uncertainty. Perhaps that's why the share price has moved up in recent days.


The company chooses to think the worst is behind it. Had there been a severe downside, why would Platinum Investment Management of Australia have raised its stake in Unitech from 4.93 per cent to 5.16 per cent, it argues. A recent JP Morgan report found the company undervalued. The report valued its two primary land banks – 900 acres in Gurgaon and 350 acres in Noida – at Rs 19,200 crore. Net of liabilities, this translates into Rs 62 a share, which is above its current share price. The company claims that cash flows from sale of property remain steady.

Unitech is no stranger to crises. In 2008, when the real estate market had gone into a tailspin, it was stuck with a debt of Rs 8,000 crore on its books. The company had plans to raise $2.5 billion (around Rs 11, 700 crore then) from the market but investors had lost all appetite for real estate. The Unitech share price fell over 90 per cent from Rs 430 in February 2008 to around Rs 30 in February 2009. (The Chandra family had made it to the 2007 Forbes list of billionaires with personal wealth of $11.6 billion. The wealth melted away in the span of a year.)

That is when Chandra sold assets, scrapped ambitious projects, halted all new land purchases and cut price tags on his houses. He capitalised large chunks of the debt, which meant that he would pay interest only when the project for which the loan was taken got sold. This way, he was able to cut his quarterly interest outgo from Rs 300 crore to under Rs 100 crore.

Since then, Unitech has brought down its debt to below Rs 4,500 crore with two qualified institutional placements and internal accruals. The company is focused on residential real estate, and not commercial real estate, because it requires no debt — the sale of flats and houses funds the construction. Commercial real estate, on the other hand, gets sold only after the construction has been completed. The self-imposed ban on big-ticket land deals continues. Small land purchases are being done only where it is necessary to develop ongoing projects. Of course, the revival in the real estate market has helped.

The average cost of land for Unitech is just Rs 250 per square foot. This, according to experts, is among the lowest in the industry. However, real estate brokers say the 2G controversy has impacted the image of the company and it's not so easy to sell its properties.

Does it mean all is well for Unitech and Chandra? Not really. One, the Chandra family has pledged over two-thirds of its 48.57 per cent stake in the company. Any sharp fall in the share price from here could precipitate a crisis. It is learnt that the family paid extra money to the lenders to ensure that none of these shares reached the market when the stock had fallen to Rs 32. Now that the share price has recovered, the family can afford to breathe easy.

Two, ruptures have emerged in Unitech's relationship with Telenor in Unitech Wireless. To expand the mobile telephony business, Telenor wants a rights issue. Unitech, on its part, feels the rights issue is not in the best interests of the shareholders, and instead wants the expansion to be funded out of debt. Of course, Unitech's stake will come down if it can't find the cash to subscribe to the rights issue. Telenor is also aware that the controversy can impact its growth in India — the biggest market for mobile telephony anywhere in the world. Soon after CBI filed its charge sheet, Telenor said: "This was a period prior to Telenor Group entering India. Unitech Wireless will argue its case in court, and we expect Chandra to do the same." The writing on the wall is clear.  







Kafka's equally imaginative brother-in-law Karel Capek coined the term "robot" in his 1921 science-fiction play, Rossum's Universal Robots, to describe artificial, humanoid, slaves churned out in a factory. In 1942, Robert Heinlein's short story Waldo described a paralysed genius who invents powerful mechanical devices remote-controlled by twitching fingers inside an electronic glove.

The scientific community loves science fiction. So it isn't surprising that both terms were promptly borrowed to become part of the technical lexicon. Of course, even as such devices were being developed in real-life, science fiction writers speculated about new, and more unlikely usages.


 The reality is now fast-outstripping fiction — more and more uses are being found. The modern waldo can be defined as a remote-controlled tool, whereas robots have autonomous decision-making capabilities and much more mobility.

Waldoes are used extensively in hazardous, or downright hostile environments, which can be monitored but where human beings cannot go safely — in mining, in undersea pipe and cable laying, in nuclear plants, and nowadays, in space exploration. They are constantly monitored and remote-controlled.

Robots are used even more extensively, on factory assembly lines, to do micro-surgery, to do specialised cleaning and house-keeping tasks, like after oil spills, and increasingly often, on battlefields. Most robots are programmed to do certain tasks and while they are closely monitored, they take their own decisions within those narrow frameworks.

Casualty rates in battle and in hazardous industrial environments can be dramatically reduced by the use of such devices. Japan, which is a pioneer in the use of both robots and waldoes (are you surprised?), is very likely to deploy new versions to assess and clean up damage post-tsunami.

The radiation levels inside the Fukushima plant and in the surrounding exclusion zones will most probably be tested by intelligent mobile devices, rather than humans clad in radiation suits. Miniaturised robots are also likely to be put down sewers and into cable lines and under debris, to assess the damage and locate bodies, among other tasks. Quite a lot of repair and rehab is also likely to be performed via remote-controlled waldoes and robots.

Many of those new devices will be civilian adaptations of designs that have been tested on battlefields. US forces routinely deploy creatures like the PackBot, BigDog and Warrior along with their infantry forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Israelis use them a lot in hostile urban environments as well.

The PackBot is a tracked robot beloved of hazardous materials teams and bomb squads. Weighing around 20 kgs, it can cross rough terrain and climb stairs. It's equipped with hazmat sensors that test for chemical, biological and radiological contamination. The Warrior is a 120- kg beast that can deliver 70-100 kgs loads of ammo, food, etc, as well as do terrain mapping and bomb disposal. BigDog is a four-legged "beast" — it can carry 125 kgs of supplies and run across any terrain that a wolf can cross. It can even limp along, if one or two legs are damaged, courtesy a brilliant gyro-stabilising balancing system.

All these device can receive real-time orders and instructions from over a kilometre away. They come equipped with multiple cameras (including infra-red) that offer 360-degree vision and movement recognition, even in total darkness.

They can, therefore, be configured to find people, move rubble, put out fires, defuse electrical short circuits or deliver supplies in situations where humans would be risking their lives. At the same time, a whole range of very small (coin- sized) robots have been developed to get into very small spaces such as inside electrical ducts. Some of these can fly as well.

Another high-focus area is robotic emergency medical services. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) – the US defence research organisation that funded the Internet – is developing a small 10 kg Autonomous Critical Care System unit (ACCS) that can be flown out to deliver medicines and administer injections, as well as to monitor the vital signs of critically injured people until they can be evacuated. This ties into the concept of the "golden hour" — if you can get medical assistance to a severely injured person within an hour, the chances of survival are exponentially higher.

The Israelis are also developing unmanned aerial ambulances (including helicopters) that can carry out wounded troops and administer emergency medical care until they reach hospitals. They reckon that these could reduce fatalities by around five to six per cent in battlefield conditions and of course, they can reach places where normal wheeled vehicles cannot go. Since Unmanned Aerial vehicles can already be operated by voice command and carry upto 2 tonnes of equipment, it's not so difficult to envisage that these will soon be in operation.

Obviously, there are massive civilian applications for all these. We may never see a robot nanny or lover, as envisaged by Isaac Asimov (PackDog manufacturer iRobot inc. borrows its name from a Asimov story) or an R2D2- C-3PO team. But even more unlikely electronic specimens may soon be commonplace.






The phrase "development is the best contraceptive" has become a cliché and, more often than not, used in India as a slogan for electioneering and political upmanship against the champions of direct family planning interventions. There is no definitive empirical evidence across the world that high economic growth in a decade or two can have a perceptible impact on demographic growth. The significant decline in the growth rate of India's population, as reported by the provisional figures of 2011 Census, in a decade of significant acceleration in economic growth and the quickest turnaround from the global economic meltdown, certainly merits consideration in this context.

The deceleration in overall population growth was expected, given that the Sample Registration System (SRS) has been recording a continuous fall in natural growth (birth rate less the death rate) from 17.4 per cent in 1999 to 15.2 per cent in 2009. The decline in the birth rate has been much sharper from 26.1 per cent to 22.5 per cent. The relatively slower decline in natural growth is because of a corresponding decline in the death rate. Though the death rate has gone down from 8.7 per cent to 7.3 per cent, the overall population growth rate, as reported by the Population Census, has declined from 21.54 per cent to 17.64 per cent during the decade.


 It must be noted that this 3.9 percentage point decline is higher than the corresponding decline of 2.3 points in the previous decade. It is important to note that the population growth rate had been stable during the first four decades since independence largely due to the fall in the death rate. This demographic turnaround understandably gives credence to the thesis that development is a key factor in decelerating population growth, working through the window of gender empowerment, besides other social processes.

The regional pattern of economic growth has changed significantly since the middle of the last decade. During the eighties and nineties, the relatively developed states recorded a higher growth in income compared to their less fortunate counterparts. Making a departure from the past, the latter have now accelerated their growth and brought about a reduction in inequality in the rates. Indeed, the increase in per capita income in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Uttarakhand – all falling in the lowest rung of development – during 2001-11 has been impressive. We must ask if these states are responsible for the decline in the population growth in the country.

The first positive signal in this context is the rapid decline in the birth rate in rural areas, which is one percentage point higher than that in urban areas. Despite that, the decline in their natural growth rates is similar, as reported by SRS. This is basically because rural areas have performed commendably in bringing down their death rate.

It would be difficult to probe the matter further since the Population Census is yet to release the rural-urban breakup of total population. Indeed, their differential growth rates, which reflect the impact of migration, reclassification of towns and so on, can provide insights into the dynamics of rural and urban development. In any case, a similar decline in their natural growth must be considered a significant achievement since all available information suggests a much higher growth of income and consumption expenditure in urban compared to rural areas.

Does the regional pattern of growth from the Census suggest that the relatively backward states have done better in controlling their population growth? Unfortunately, the relatively backward states like Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh have shown a slower decline in the growth rate than the national average. Another backward state is Rajasthan, records a relatively faster decline but has one of the highest growth rates in the country. Orissa reports an average decline but already had low growth. A dramatic decline has, however, been reported in the hill states of Sikkim, Jammu and Kashmir, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh and the island Union Territories of Lakshadweep and Andaman & Nicobar. The law and order in many of the border states (impacting coverage and quality of data) could explain their sluggish growth. However, the tendency of the people in the so-called heartland to go to these states to grab employment and business opportunities seems to have weakened.

The fact that Tamil Nadu and Puducherry – both of which qualify for the "developed" label – recorded an increase in population growth (along with Chhattishgarh) despite their high level of income and education would be a matter of policy concern. One would have to look at the specificities in these states, taking migration into consideration within a larger socio-political framework. Indeed, the slowing of outmigration would explain, at least partly, the relatively high population growth in backward states. There is, however, no prima facie evidence that the decline in population growth has been higher in less developed states despite their high income growth in recent years.

The increase in literacy, in particular female literacy, during the last Census decade is impressive. This is larger than that of the previous decade and has reduced gender disparity. The improvement is striking in almost all the north eastern states as also in Jammu and Kashmir, Daman & Diu and Andaman and Nicobar Islands. This is also a factor contributing to the deceleration in population growth. Importantly, the relatively backward states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal and Uttarakhand have recorded very high increases in female literacy. However, the shocking fact is that the child sex ratio has gone down sharply, much faster than at the national level. The only exception is Bihar which reports a decline but of smaller magnitude. The small consolation is that Delhi, Punjab and Haryana record marginal improvements in the figure although they continue to be at the bottom of the series. Two among the developed states like Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh, recording large increase in female literacy, have experienced the worst declines in the child sex ratio. Female literacy is a social and emotional issue, and undoubtedly the cornerstone of gender empowerment. However, the Census has placed a question mark on its efficacy in reducing the practice of amniocentesis and gender discrimination in childhood.








The government's waffling over the $9.6 billion deal between Vedanta and Cairn Energy points to one thing: policy paralysis. Nothing else explains why the entire Cabinet, the government's highest policymaking body, couldn't take a call on the deal Wednesday and chose to kick the issue over to another, presumably smaller, group of ministers. On the face of it, there is nothing baffling about the Vedanta-Cairn transaction. One London-listed company is buying out the equity of another British company's India operations. The main obstacle is supposed to be state-owned ONGC, which is a partner of Cairn in some oil assets. The oil ministry claims that Cairn should share some royalty payments with the government of Rajasthan, which ONGC currently pays. This is a doubtful claim, dragged up after many years presumably to block or delay the transaction. Every overseas oil company which has been in India's exploration business from the early 1990s works under a similar rule. That's because in the pre-Nelp days, few explorers were willing to take the risk of hunting for oil in India and the government offered to pay some cesses and dues to attract investors.
ONGC's royalty payment issue is not intractable. Some time ago, the government had decided that if state-owned companies like ONGC were paying royalties to states, it could ask for and get back these payments from the Centre. Funnily, all these years ONGC did not object to paying the Rajasthan government, nor did it ask the Centre for reimbursements. Now the oil ministry, which controls ONGC, is adamant that Cairn share the royalty payments. So, the sensible thing to do would be to refer the royalty payment dispute to an international arbitrator and go ahead with the rest of the transaction. India's image as an attractive destination for foreign investments has been severely battered over the last year or so. The Cairn-Vedanta deal has been held up for nearly eight months. This seems to suggest that New Delhi wants to favour a handful of its chums in business, and keep potential competitors waiting at the door. The government has to prove, quickly, that this impression is mistaken.








The Employees Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO) should not waste any more time in putting its house in order. Two PF offices have now been slapped with an income-tax demand for failing to tax premature withdrawals by account-holders. The move could saddle the ailing EPFO with extra liabilities of over . 7,000 crore. This is bad news for the fund that is already in a mess with its poor track record of managing savings of employees efficiently. The EPFO wants to challenge the tax demand, saying retirement savings of employees are not taxable under the EPF Act. Sure, it has the right to move court over differences with the tax department. The income-tax rules for recognised provident funds (RPF) allow a tax break on withdrawals, but with three riders. One, the employee has to serve an organisation continuously for five years. Two, an employee's services are terminated before five years for reasons beyond her control. Three, when the accumulated balance in the employees account is transferred to any other RPF. Logically, therefore, premature withdrawals of an employee will be taxed if these conditions are not met. The tax dispute only compounds EPFO's woes and a speedy resolution is a must. Fundamental reforms are needed to change the way the fund manages its corpus of . 1,72,000 crore. The EPFO must improve record-keeping, accounting and diversify asset classes to maximise returns for workers.

Today, the EPFO has no system to track account-holders who have switched jobs. Its archaic records thwart seamless portability. This has hindered the I-T department from making a scientific assessment of premature EPFO payouts. It has assumed half the total EPFO payouts to people falls in the premature withdrawal category. This is unscientific, but the blame lies with the EPFO. The New Pension System (NPS) that manages pensions of civil servants who joined on or after 2004, and of people who volunteer their savings, offers seamless portability with restrictions on withdrawals. Workers should be given the choice to move to the NPS that has the institutional framework to generate superior returns.







INDIANS would have no reason to sniff disparagingly about Britain's 10 favourite 'smells', as fresh bread, cut grass, clean laundry, tea, coffee, barbeques, petrol, chocolates, cakes and new books have their fans in this country too. We would even add a few other pleasant nose ticklers of our own, from the aroma of parched earth after the first rainfall to camphor chests and the tang of spices tempered in hot oil. But whether we would actually want to have it bottled and ready to dab on at pulse points and kerchiefs is another matter. Much as scents like pinewood and vanilla are loved, out of context they can be disconcerting. While molecular gastronomy has made a lucrative business out of confusing the senses, in a normal setting, a custard smelling of lavender and kitchen cleaners reminiscent of banana would probably confound more than comfort. The launch of 'Le Brew' perfume by Tetley would test this theory, more so since its evocation of "freshly cut tea" and "tropical scents in the tea plantation" may not find instant olfactic recall, though perfume labels proffering green tea have had success in the past few decades. By that m a s ala c h a i, on the other hand, may just hit the spot. This 'eau de tea-lette' may yet turn out to be a better choice than the season's debutante in the US that seeks to cash in on a favourite carnivore smell: bacon. It's been marketed in many forms including baconaise and chocobacon, but even if the eponymous perfume is pronounced with emphasis on the second syllable — thanks to the trendy macron over the 'o' — will wearers attract devotees of all-day breakfasts or will they trigger a Hamlin-like rush of sundry furry quadrupeds, salivating at the thought of moveable feasts? If these perfumes do hit the spot, the possibilities are endless in an odoriferous nation like ours.








Water is the oil of the 21st century and as with oil, supplies of easily accessible clean water are coming under enormous strain because of increasing population and growing waterintensive life. Goldman Sachs estimates that the global water consumption is growing at an unsustainable rate, doubling every 20 years. This situation is particularly precarious in the north-western parts of India, comprising Delhi, Haryana, Punjab and Rajasthan. This unpleasant development is caused by excessive pumping of ground water for irrigation.

As per the report of the Central Ground Water Board, the annual ground water draft far exceeds the net groundwater availability in these four states. The estimated rate of depletion of groundwater in north-western India is 4 cm of water per year, equivalent to a water table decline of 33 cm per year. Of the 1,065 (out of a total of 5,723) assessment units declared critical or over-exploited in the country, almost two-thirds fall in these four states. Water-hungry farms of the region account for over 90% of the ground water use.

Satellite imageries show that this region is experiencing an acute decline in the groundwater table. Studies carried out by the Goddard Space Flight Center of Nasa show that 109 billion cubic metres of groundwater disappeared from the aquifers in the region between 2002 and 2008, which was not expected when monsoon was quite normal. In fact, the rainfall was slightly above normal during this period.

The cause of groundwater over-exploitation for irrigation is the unmetered and almost free electricity pricing to agriculture. Free or underpriced electricity has led to not only gross over-consumption of electricity due to the use of inefficient pump-sets and planting of water-intensive crops like paddy, but also to the over-exploitation of ground water. As per the recent Economic Survey, unmetered and unaccounted for electricity sales are about 35%, amongst the highest in the world, causing massive losses to state power distribution utilities, the combined losses of which is expected to be 1% of GDP. This loss is estimated to triple in the next five years if the business-as-usual attitude continues to prevail.

The state-owned electricity distribution companies underperform due to leakages, outages, lack of transparency in financial accounts, unmetered sales and poor performance management. Due to political compulsions, states are loathe to remove subsidy and to truly price the electricity supplied to the farm sector. The electricity supplied to the agriculture sector is either free or priced ridiculously low at less than 5% of the regulator-determined rates. Moreover, the agriculture sector is deliberately kept largely unmetered by stateowned power utilities. This helps them to pad their huge T&D losses (euphemism for plain theft) by raising highly inflated bills, up to four to five times of the actual consumption, upon the state exchequer for the assumed electricity supplied to the agriculture sector free or at subsidised rates.

As per a study carried out by the agriculture department in 2007 in Haryana, the theoretical maximum possible electricity consumption in all energised agriculture pump-sets in the state was below 25% of the total number of units billed by the state power utilities. This was calculated on the baseless assumption that 30% of the total energy units were consumed by the farm sector. As there is no real competitor to state-owned utilities and the subsidy bill is met out of public money, such ridiculous claims go unchallenged. The excess subsidy due to this over-billing goes to subsidise the inefficiencies and corruption in the state distribution utilities. Moving over to the franchisee model in distribution with the operator selected on tariff based bidding is the panacea for the public loot.

 Groundwater management requires regulatory and participatory approaches coupled with changes in water demand behaviour of users. Free power as well as free use of ground water has increased the growing of water-intensive crops like paddy in Punjab and Haryana in the kharif season despite the water table depleting alarmingly. The Planning Commission has suggested a cess on electricity use to prevent groundwater misuse. A cess for the use of groundwater would also ensure equity of groundwater use.

Water supplies, irrigation and storage find mention in the State List of the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution. A model Bill to regulate and control the development and management of ground water was circulated in 2005 by the water resources ministry for adoption by the states.

For national food and water security, ground water as a common property resource of the whole Community is too important a subject matter to be left to the states alone. The Constitution should be amended to bring the regulation and development of groundwater as a matter of national importance in the Concurrent List. Proper management of ground water in the critical and over-exploited assessment units using the instrumentality of price is of urgent national importance.

A national law on the development and management of groundwater in the notified areas may contain provisions banning free or subsidised electricity for extracting ground water. As suggested by the Planning Commission, a cess should be imposed in addition on extraction of groundwater other than for drinking water purposes. The states may compensate its farmers by providing water subsidy to them in the form of direct cash transfers. This will help in sustainable agricultural planning away from water-intensive crops in the notified areas, rational usage of energy to extract ground water, greater accountability in the performance of state power distribution utilities and more equity in favour of small and marginal farmers.









SWAMI AGNIVESH SOCIAL ACTIVIST State Government has a Cynical Policy

Since 2005, Chhattisgarh has plans for leasing out mining rights in the Bastar region. Several MOUs are in the pipeline with private corporations. The PESA Act of 1996, which had given a sort of sovereignty to villages over their land, water and mineral rights, didn't let the government get land vacated for mining corporations. So, Mahendra Karma, an MLA, instigated the formation of Salwa Judum (SJ), which soon deteriorated into a militia attacking other tribal villages, asking them to vacate. This is also the region where Maoists exist. The Naxal problem is such that poor tribals are caught in the crossfire between Naxals and security forces. The excise, forest, and police officials held sway for long in the area, causing conflict with the tribals. The Naxals complicated that conflict. Whenever the tribals found it tough to deal with these three types of officials, they went to Naxals for protection. Then, the SJ started harassing villagers, alleging they were Naxal supporters. This was instigated by the Congress government followed by the BJP one. It has degenerated into adivasis killing adivasis, with Maoists actually gaining after the deeds of the SJ. After the Supreme Court asked the government to ban the SJ, the latter just renamed it as SPOs. Now, in operations in three villages from March 11-14 , forces along with Koya commandos (drawn from SPOs as boys, given training and a larger salary), torched houses, killed three villagers and raped three women, and people were not allowed to go to check what had happened. This writer reached Raipur on March 24, and reports seemed to confirm the worst fears. Given a security cover, we proceeded with aid, but one sensed the efforts of the local administration were being subverted by elements of local police. After the drama around preventing us from proceeding, the chief minister called to say we'd be provided security to proceed on our humanitarian mission. But we, police and media were attacked by a bigger crowd, forcing us to come back.


The state government has a cynical policy. The CM hasn't yet taken a step towards the villages. The home minister, in the assembly, blamed Maoists for the violence. If that's the case, why should the SJ prevent us from going there?



PROFESSOR, CENTRE FOR POLICY RESEARCH Might Alone Won't do Against Maoists

It would be wrong to pass a judgment on this important issue on the basis of sketchy media reports. However, if the Chhattisgarh government has come to the conclusion that strong-arm methods are the only way to tackle the Maoists, no matter if they violate human rights, then it is a very serious matter. The police is the implementer of the rule of law and cannot themselves be violators of law. Not many can disagree with the Maoist's demands for delivery of social and economic justice to the poor backward and deprived like the tribal and the landless. But it is their methods to achieve their objectives that one objects to. They want to overthrow the whole democratic system and replace it with their own brand of revolutionary government.

Unfortunately, the Indian state has systematically deprived tribals of their land and forest rights on which they have survived for centuries. On top of it, the growing nexus between corrupt politicians, businessmen and police officers has been ruthlessly exploiting the mine areas to satisfy their own personal greed. Should we then be surprised that angry and deprived people in these areas have become fertile ground for recruitment for Maoists for waging an armed struggle against the Indian state?

Left extremism is much more than a mere law and order problem. Only a comprehensive strategy can tackle this serious threat to our internal security with close coordination between the Union and state governments. In spite of the fact that the Prime Minister has repeatedly stated, 18 times, one is told, that left extremism is the most serious threat to internal security, the message has gone home neither in New Delhi nor in state capitals. Narrow partisan politics continue to dominate the strategy. But talk of dealing with them softly because they are our own people is totally misconceived. Ordinary criminals too are our people! The Maoists are guilty of heinous crimes against innocent people, and cannot be treated differently. They should be dealt with firmly, but within the legal framework. We need a better trained and equipped force to handle such movements. Police reforms can no longer be postponed on political grounds








India imported a record $2 billion worth of soy oil from South America in 2010, most of which came from Argentina, the largest soy oil exporter of the world. In the last two years, India's imports of sugar were $2 billion from Brazil, the largest sugar exporter. India has been regularly sourcing small quantities of sunflower oil and pulses from the two countries. India is expected to continue to be dependent on imports of edible oils and pulses and is likely to import wheat and sugar in future whenever domestic productions fall short. India could count on Argentina and Brazil as reliable long-term sources since the two have the potential to increase production in the future.

What will be the scenario of the production of the items of our interest in Brazil and Argentina in the next 10 years? The June 2010 report of the Brazilian agriculture ministry and the September 2010 report of an Argentine agricultural foundation give the following predictions for 2020:

Combined soy oil production of Argentina and Brazil is projected to increase from 10.8 million tones (mt) in 2010-11 to 16.9 mt in 2019-20. Their exports will increase from 6.5 mt in 2009-10 to 8.7 mt in 2020-21. Argentina will continue to be the largest exporter of soy oil and increase its share of global trade from 48% in 2009-10 to 58% by 2020-21. Soybean production of the two countries is expected to reach 150 mt in 2019-20 from 108 mt in 2010-11. The soybean area will increase from 40 million hectares to 48 million hectares in the same period.

Brazilian sugar production will increase to 46.7 mt from 34.4 mt and exports will go upto 32 mt from 23 mt. Brazil will continue to maintain its share of 46.5 % of the global sugar trade in the next decade. Sugarcane production will reach 893 mt from 732 mt. Argentine wheat production will go up from 9.3 mt to 16 mt and export surplus will be 5.8 mt in 2020. The detailed figures are given in the tables below.
India has been importing limited quantities of pulses from Brazil and Argentina whose production of the items required by India is small. Farmers of the two countries have shown keenness to increase production of pulses of interest to India as part of their strategy of diversification of crops and export markets.

According to reports mentioned above, Brazil will add 10 million hectares (60 million hectares in 2010 to 69.7 m hectares in 2020) and Argentina 8 million ( from 31.2 m hectares to 39.5 million by 2020) of land for cultivation in the next 10 years. The projections for Brazil, in my view, are very conservative. Brazil has the largest surplus arable land in the world and they could easily add another 50 million hectares to the crop area.
Besides increasing the area, Brazil and Argentina are increasing the yield by innovations in technologies and practices, using their worldclass research and development facilities. The two countries practice no-till cultivation in over 75% of the land under crops. This practice, implemented in the last two decades, has helped in better preservation of moisture and organic matter, prevention of soil degradation and erosion, increase in productivity and decrease in expenditure, making their agriculture sustainable. Argentina is a global leader in agricultural process outsourcing and is also a pioneer in the system of Silobag storage of grains. An Argentine expert of this system visited India in November 2010 to advise the Food Corporation of India and Central Warehousing Corp as well as the Indian authorities. India could learn from the best practices of the two countries.

Clearly, Argentina and Brazil are emerging as agricultural superpowers with their large fertile land, abundant water resources, best technologies and practices, globally competitive production and large exportable surplus. It should be noted here that agriculture is not subsidised in these countries unlike in the US and the EU. In fact, Argentina imposes export taxes on agriproducts and still they are competitive in global trade. The second point to note is that most of the cultivation in these two countries is rain-fed. If they choose to irrigate like India, they can increase the production even more significantly.

Given the growing demand in India and the challenges faced by our agriculture sector such as depletion of ground water, loss of agricultural land to industrial, residential and commercial use and uncertainties due to the vagaries of monsoon, it would be useful for India to keep track of the agriculture of Brazil and Argentina which complement Indian market. Indian companies could enter the agribusiness in the region following the lead shown by Renuka Sugar which has made investment of $350 million in the Brazilian sugar sector.

(The author is Indian Ambassador to Argentina. Views are








Can a wrong perpetrated in order to right another wrong ever be justified? The philosopher Thomas Hobbes believed that if something supposedly held up as a moral standard or common social rule is violated enough in society, then an individual or group within society can break that standard or rule as well, since this keeps them from being unfairly disadvantaged. For example, take corruption and graft in government offices. Right now, we're witnessing a mass movement in India to root out this kind of rampant evil and thousands are participating in a nonviolent process to bring it about. Unfortunately, a lot of people believe that nothing will come of it. So, what if some seriously rich protestor were to approach the right authorities and offer them huge bribes to accept the demonstrators' demands and legislate a stringent anticorruption law? And suppose further that after such a law comes into effect one of its primary stipulations is that all legislation enacted through corrupt means should be repealed retrospectively with immediate effect. Now what? Because that stands Hobbes's belief on its head. Yet, it's a fact too that taking the law into one's hand also has tremendous box office appeal as movies like Dirty Harry have demonstrated. In the case of the tainted anticorruption law, chances are that people will ultimately flow with it. Does that mean they could learn to live with what they were fighting against? Or is it something like being acquitted of murder because it was committed in self-defence?






In the context of business ecosystems, hierarchy is an architectural property that refers to the degree to which transactions proceed in a single direction, from "upstream" to "downstream." It is often assumed that a unidirectional flow of goods in a value chain implies a corresponding hierarchy in the transaction networks of firms participating in the chain. However, this is an untested hypothesis....

In this study, we apply network-based methods to define and measure the degree of hierarchy in interfirm transaction networks in two industry sectors in Japan: automotive and electronics. Our empirical results show that the electronics sector exhibits a much lower degree of hierarchy than the automotive sector due to the existence of numerous interfirm transaction cycles. Transaction cycles in turn can arise when a subset of firms adopt the strategy of vertically permeable boundaries. Such firms are vertically integrated in the sense of participating in multiple stages of the value chains, but their internal upstream units also sell into and downstream units buy from intermediate markets. Our comparative analysis suggests that firms elect the strategy of vertically permeable boundaries when they face low transaction costs and high rates of product innovation, but at the same time believe there are knowledge complementarities between different stages of the value chain.






                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




In some ways, the fast led by eminent social activist Anna Hazare — to liberate our state systems from corruption — is reminiscent of the ambience of the protest agitations of the 1970s of which the centrepiece was a towering Gandhian, Jayaprakash Narayan. These extraordinary individuals have moved vast numbers of our people. The government would be making a serious mistake if it permitted self-serving elements within it to seek to belittle Mr Hazare's campaign, which is catching on like wildfire all across the nation, and especially among the articulate middle classes who suffer on account of corruption at every step of their everyday lives. From the analytical point of view, clear distinctions need to be made between JP and Mr Hazare. The former was a stalwart politician at base (although he shunned government power), unlike the latter, whose campaigns are dismissive of politicians of all stripes. However, the commonality they share is what's important: their charismatic ability to draw vast numbers to their cause. The reason is the despair engendered by the way our government functions — both at the Centre and in the states. This has lowered the morale and self-esteem of the ordinary Indian. Unfortunately, this is no less true now when we have at the helm a Prime Minister whose personal reputation for probity remains beyond reproach in spite of the corruption scandals that have erupted in the recent past. The government will, therefore, do well to pay heed to the essence of the demand that Mr Hazare's fast has highlighted, and not be swayed by technicalities. The demand for a viable Lokpal brooks no delay. The manner in which all governments have dealt with the idea of such an institution since it was thrown up by the first Administrative Reforms Commission in the 1960s hardly inspires confidence. In the end, all governments have conspired against the creation of an institution that will have oversight powers — with a view to eliminating corruption — over senior levels of the state machinery, including the political executive at all levels, not forgetting the office of Prime Minister. It is time the UPA-2 government broke from the past, and made a sincere effort — in collaboration with those outside the government (among them those who are animating Mr Hazare's campaign today) — to deliver on an anti-corruption mechanism that can effectively serve the nation. If the proposed Lokpal Bill conceived by the government is advisory in nature and is said to lack teeth, the reported draft proposals emanating from the ranks of "civil society" seem woolly-headed. They also overlook — or worse, undercut — the notion of accountability inherent in the institution of Parliament and of the government constituted by duly-elected members of legislatures. The so-called civil society rallying to Mr Hazare's call arrogates too much virtue to itself and dismisses the institutional prerogatives that accrue to elected representatives of the people. This is tantamount to being dismissive of our democratic structure and its basic institutions. It is all too easily forgotten that political parties too are an inherent part of civil society, and without them can be no modern democracy. It is, however, important to reform our parties through appropriate legislation, clean up the election system, and keep an eye on governments constituted by elected legislators.







Every clever politician is only too aware that a clever diversion is a wonderful way to shift attention from the issue at hand. Earlier this week, on his first visit to Pakistan after assuming office, British Prime Minister David Cameron craftily exploited the huge reservoir of "anti-imperialist" sentiment in the subcontinent. Speaking to students of the Islamabad Institute of Technology, no relation to the IITs across the border, he was asked what role the United Kingdom should play in resolving the Indo-Pakistan dispute over Kashmir. "I don't want to insert Britain into some leading role", he replied, "As with so many of the problems of the world, we are responsible for their creation in the first place". Predictably, Mr Cameron's reply was greeted by generous applause by young Pakistanis who, like young Indians, have been brought up to believe that regional conflicts — whether in Palestine, Tibet or along the Durand Line — are a legacy of perfidious Albion. Such an assertion may or may not stand historical scrutiny. Indeed, within the UK, Mr Cameron's "politics of apology" has been trashed by both the Right and the Left. Unless I am horribly mistaken, the shelf-life of this abstruse discussion on imperial responsibility is unlikely to last for more than a day. That is enough time for Mr Cameron to sign a meaningless agreement for "enhanced strategic dialogue"— not "partnership" mind you — and attend to the residual anger in Islamabad over his harsh assessment of contemporary Pakistan during his visit to India earlier this year. By blaming it all on long-forgotten ancestors, Mr Cameron delivered the crucial part of his message: the UK isn't interested in getting its hands dirty in Kashmir. Pakistan has routinely scoured the world trying to collect endorsements for some form of third-party mediation to solve the Kashmir dispute. It is Islamabad's version of India's hunt of testimonials for the elusive United Nations Security Council permanent seat. Mr Cameron didn't oblige his hosts (unlike the earnest David Miliband who soured Indo-British ties with a monumentally tactless speech on Kashmir). He was content with a suitably clever one-liner. This is not to suggest that Mr Cameron's all-too-brief visit to Islamabad was a meaningless charm offensive aimed at enhancing the profile of his Cabinet colleague Baroness Syeda Warsi in Pakistan. Accompanying the British Prime Minister was an extremely high-profile delegation comprising the chief of defence staff, the head of MI6 and the national security adviser. The details of what they discussed as part of the "enhanced strategic dialogue" is unlikely to be made public but a few trends are discernible. First, the importance of Pakistan to the UK is, of course, in relation to Afghanistan. But equally, Pakistan is of considerable relevance to the national security of the British mainland. Nearly half the terror plots targeting Britain are thought to originate in a Pakistan where jihad is the biggest growth industry. It is, therefore, in Britain's self-interest in both Afghanistan and at home to engage with Pakistan and secure the cooperation of its security establishment. Secondly, it is increasingly apparent that neither the United States nor the UK has the stomach to secure a military defeat of the Taliban in Afghanistan. The growing distaste for Afghan President Hamid Karzai's regime — accused of being the fountainhead of both corruption and drug trafficking — have led to a section of the British security establishment discovering virtues in the Taliban. It is being suggested that the Al Qaeda component of the Afghan Taliban are holed up in north and south Waziristan fighting the Pakistan Army. The ones taking on the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation-led forces in southern Afghanistan, on the other hand, are said to be freedom-loving, conservative Pushtuns with no appetite for global jihad. Coming to terms with this "good" Taliban, not least to facilitate an early exit from Afghanistan, necessitates working through Pakistan's infamous Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). Already, a Taliban front office is said to be functioning in Turkey and a more purposeful back office is set to be established in the United Arab Emirates. Taliban-friendly mullahs are discreetly making their appearance at talks and seminars organised by thinktanks and academic institutions in the West. Thirdly, for reasons that may be grounded in either fact or convenience, a section in Whitehall has concluded that the ISI has had a change of heart and is actively engaged in fighting the hardline Islamist terrorists — those responsible for the blasts and the suicide bombings inside Pakistan and plotting attacks in the West. Some members of the British strategic community also appear to hold the belief that a group such as the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT) can be tamed, in the same way as the Provisional Irish Republican Army was defanged in the 1990s, and transformed into non-violent Islamists. This assessment conflicts sharply with Mr Cameron's own espousal of "muscular liberalism" as an alternative to extremism, both violent and non-violent. Whether this optimism stems from voyages of discovery undertaken by US and UK intelligence or is a piece of received wisdom from the ISI isn't known. What is evident though is a desire on the part of the ISI to ensure the LeT remains an "approved" overground player. Finally, a strategy of engagement with the ISI-approved roster of non-violent Islamism involves making demands on India. It is remarkable how in recent months the linking of Afghanistan with Kashmir has made a comeback. Although it is being said that this linkage is strictly "non-official", it will come as no surprise if pressure is put on India to do its bit to make the Taliban re-conquest of Afghanistan as painless and non-confrontational as possible. Simultaneously, there will be attempts to ensure that India is more accommodating to Pakistan's aspirations on Kashmir. At an officially-sponsored seminar last week at King's College, London, a participant baldly stated that "India has to be generous — otherwise it faces another summer of discontent in Kashmir". The Great Game, it would seem, never stopped — not even after Mr Cameron recognised the role of yesterday's imperialists in leaving an awful mess for posterity to clean up. * Swapan Dasgupta is a senior journalist






When the World Cup final was under way in Mumbai, I was ensconced on a beautiful bajra, a traditionally bedecked boat in Varanasi, immersed in the musical genius of thumri singers of the Banaras school. In other words, I spent much of the evening in the middle of the serene Ganga, listening to exquisite renditions of thumri, dadra and chaiti by some of the highly-talented artistes in this genre. Though they are not as well known as their gurus yet, most of the performers were disciples of the legendary Girija Devi, Begum Akhtar and Siddheshwari Devi. Girija Devi was there to revel on the magical journey that was organised by the Delhi-based V.S.K. Baithak, a major patron of music even if they are mostly partial to khayal gayaki. This was my lucky escape from the madness that passed for cricket over the last fortnight. And I am happy that I slept through nearly all of the loud and deafening India-Pakistan match and found Girija Devi's company to escape the final. My decision was vindicated by the turn of events. Pakistan's cricket icon Shahid Afridi has been rowing back and forth over his confused views about Indians and, by implication, Hindus. He has tried to deny how he disparagingly told a TV channel at home that Indians could never be as large-hearted as Pakistan's Muslims. Why did he have to say something so contrary to his post-match comments in Mohali just a few days ago? Did he not play the Wasim Akram-led Test match that Pakistan won in Chennai when the Indians stood up to heartily applaud the winners? In Mohali, in spite of losing the coveted match, Afridi had come out as a winner with his dignity in defeat. Then he proceeded to make a hash of it with his wayward views about his neighbours' cultural traits. So which Pakistani Muslims are generous and large-hearted in Afridi's opinion? Those that prostrated in submission at the Lahore shrine of Data Ganj Baksh or those that bombed it and killed scores of worshippers there? They both are Pakistanis and, presumably, Muslims. A high-ranking Pakistani died tending to a hapless Christian woman's right to equal and fair justice but his killer is as popular if not more among Afridi's fellow Pakistanis. Which Pakistani and which Muslim is Afridi's role model? The virus of bigotry is not new or peculiar to Pakistan. In the 1950s, mullahs of Lucknow tried to make an example of the great Urdu poet Yaas Yagana Changezi by parading him with a garland of shoes astride a donkey. Changezi's celebrated couplet is relevant to the Hindu-Muslim discourse kicked off by Afridi's stray remark. What riled the mullahs was this Yagana verse: "Sab tere siwa kafir, aakhir iska matlab kya? Sar phira de insa'n ka aisa khabt-i-mazhab kya?" (Everyone is a kafir except you, does that make any sense at all? What is it if not bigotry, that revels in your rise and other's fall?) Afridi, of course, is too much of a genial, fun-loving Pathan who makes a competitive, often pugnacious cricketer. It is perhaps unfair to bracket him with religious or nationalist zealotry; yet he must be accused of displaying considerable ignorance. It was naïve of him, for example, to turn a cricket ground into a prayer hall, where his team offered namaz before a grateful gaggle of TV journalists. Can you imagine the obverse? I would dread the thought of Indian players performing a mass puja with conch shells before a match. In any case, whenever I travel by Pakistan International Airlines I laud my luck that Indian commercial flights do not as yet take off to the recitation of Vedic shlokas. Of course, Afridi is not alone in wearing the badge of religion and nationhood to the detriment of the sport that gave him his identity. Equally jarring was the news of Indian skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni's tonsured head, which reports said was carried out as a promised sacrifice to a deity after he lifted the Cup. More worrying have been news stories since the Mumbai win of his eagerness to join the Indian Territorial Army and, together with Sachin Tendulkar, their plan to fly Sukhoi warplanes as an advertisement for the Indian military. The Indian Air Force has accorded them the rare privilege. But what does it all signify — that sports champions are incomplete without a macho, military facet to their personality, which comes in handy in a contest against a perceived enemy. Add to this the filthy display of money power that was unique to this World Cup. Clearly, the fabled billion people of India, many of them starving, could not be applauding cricketers being pampered with fantastic sums of money. The government does not have enough money to feed the poor, or send children to school, but it lavishes crazy amounts on cricketers. The vulgarity borders on criminality. I would have loved to take Afridi along to my Banaras soirée. I would have loved to share with him Mirza Ghalib's famous tribute in Persian to the holy city: "Where autumn turns into the touch of sandal on fair foreheads, Spring tide wears the sacred thread of flower waves, And the splash of twilight is the crimson mark of Kashi's dust on heaven's brow. The Kaaba of Hind; This conch blower's dell."








UNCONNECTED they might have been, but the Supreme Court has just come up with what in boxing parlance is dubbed the 'one-two' ~ to slam prevailing police practices. In a formal judgment one bench flayed the manner in which the provisions for preventive detention are abused, while the observations of another called into question the floating of extra-constitutional agencies to do some dirty work in the guise of assisting the grossly-understaffed regular forces. On paper the offenders were state governments, not even linked by political affinity, but the home ministry at the Centre cannot ignore the issues: they are a severe indictment of the failure to usher in a process of comprehensive police reform. For if the forces were up to scratch there would no requirement for recourse to the obnoxious methods commonly employed. Public and political outcry may have erased TADA and POTA from the statute books, but as the case that was adjudicated by the apex court confirmed, the power of preventive detention was widespread ~ provisions in the Tamil Nadu Special Goonda and Bootlegger Act had been used against a person selling medicines after their expiry date! While the court deemed preventive detention 'repugnant to democratic ideas' it could not declare it illegal since the Constitution approved it, hence their Lordships called for its use to be confined 'within very narrow limits'. The real remedy, however, lies in the political leadership directing the police to abandon taking the easy way out ~ does it have the moral fibre to do so? Do not forget who piloted TADA and POTA through Parliament.
Both the legality and morality of 'people's forces' like the Salwa Judam, Koya Commandos, armed Marxist cadres to fight Maoists, indeed some of the anti-militant outfits in J&K have long been questioned. As for their efficiency the less said the better, except for some of the Village Defence Committees in Kashmir. Ostensibly they are raised to back up the police, in reality they wind up doing the dirty, illegal stuff ~ often politically targeted. Again, it is the Chhattisgarh government that has been asked to do some explaining but the implications are nationwide. It would be in the best interests if the Central government is also asked to come on record, its' 'take' taken on board. Split-jurisdiction can no longer be an alibi for ducking police reform. Will eminent ex-cops have to sit on dharna before the nawabs of North Block accept some responsibility?




THERE are three critical facets of the census figures pertaining to West Bengal ~ the decline in Kolkata's population, the increase in the rate of literacy, and the sharp population increase in North 24-Parganas which now ranks as the country's second most populous district after Thane in Maharashtra. It may be just a coincidence that Wednesday's release of data was in parallel with the Bangladesh government's decision to commemorate Indira Gandhi on the 40th anniversary of the liberation struggle. A road in Dhaka is to be named after her for her famously exceptional support. Unhappily though, the boost in the populations of the border districts of North 24-Parganas, Nadia and Murshidabad has been the ironical outcome of the creation of another sovereign entity in the subcontinent. The census figures are confirmation, if confirmation were needed, that state guests are now an integral part of the country's populace, their status fortified with the Centre's citizenship cards for the fake as much as the genuine. While the national government has extended the hospitality as it were, the demographic dividend has benefited the state since the late Seventies. It is quite another story that electoral prejudices and loyalties have changed over time.

For all the visibly teeming millions, the decline in Kolkata's population is testament to what sociologists would call "out-migration" owing to the comparative dearth of opportunities. The trend began in the early Seventies when students would prefer Delhi to pursue their under-graduate studies. They now move to other states to study medicine, law and engineering as well. Over time, the phenomenon has been reinforced by the shift to the relatively affordable suburbs in the wake of the real estate boom. Not wholly unrelated is a sociological factor ~ the tendency of the present generation to sell off their ancestral property. Increasingly has housing in Kolkata become almost unaffordable to the middle-income group. In the manner of medical care, urban property is only for those who can afford it, precisely the nouveau riche. Well may the Left Front feel tempted to preen its feathers over the fact that the literacy rate has risen to 77 per cent despite a decrepit primary network. The important task now is to sustain the gain, and a huge responsibility devolves on the next dispensation. It will be a tragedy should the literacy barometer slide. Overall, the census figures of Bengal have gone beyond the customary head-count. And the message is profound in terms both social and economic.




IT has been a reverse swing in Dantewada. Quite the most distressing signal a year after the massacre of 76 CRPF jawans by the Maoists is the state-sponsored offensive. It is an offensive that appears to be calculatedly timed with the first anniversary ~ in a manner of speaking ~ of the tragedy. It is almost a reprisal, the dominant impression of the locals that the Chhattisgarh Governor, the Chief Minister, the Home minister and the DGP failed to dispel in course of their joint visit to Dantewada a year after the Maoist strike. Truth to tell, the police offensive in March was the second dose after hundreds of huts were burned, women raped and people killed in the immediate aftermath of the massacre. The victims were not the Left radicals and their families, but the apolitical and perdurably poor tribals ~ as far removed from extremism as from the ideology of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. The severity of the state police against the tribals is at odds with the failure to guide the paramilitary in the forest areas. The enormity of the killings could have been minimised had the police provided the back-up support on 6 April 2010. Even as a public relations exercise, the visit of the worthies last weekend failed to reassure the hapless villagers of Dantewada. As a report in this newspaper indicates, the place is still on the boil and subaltern discontent is simmering. The fundamental issues have not been addressed. Nothing, just nothing, has been achieved in terms of public policy. This is of a piece with the overwhelming failure of the states along the Red Corridor. Besides, Chhattisgarh's experiment with Salwa Judum has been murderously counter-productive. Far from attempting the positive, the administration is largely driven by the contrived notion that every tribal is a Maoist supporter, if not a potential Left radical. Which alone explains the razing of three villages last month. Having failed to wriggle out by issuing a denial, the BJP government has now commissioned a judicial inquiry whose report will in all probability be docketed. On the contrary, attitudes have stiffened on both sides of the fence. The region is verily on a powder-keg with jungle roads extensively mined. A year after, Dantewada is witnessing a dangerous spectacle of competitive offensives. There can be no winner or loser in this imperfect competition.








ANNA Hazare has started his fast unto death in an effort to make the drafting committee of the proposed Lokpal Bill inclusive and representative. Hazare and his band of distinguished citizens fighting corruption want the Lokpal empowered to monitor even the Prime Minister and cabinet ministers for possible corruption. They want the Lokpal to be independent of government influence like the Election Commission and the Supreme Court. Anna Hazare is a social activist with a very high reputation for integrity. His personal record is unblemished and his instincts are for the common good. But his present endeavour is open to criticism on two counts.

First, the method he has adopted to propagate his demand is obsolete and harmful to the democratic system. Secondly, the demand he seeks is a half-measure unlikely to achieve his objective. Let us consider these two aspects in that order.

During the last six decades of independence many leaders of many hues have undertaken fasts unto death for many causes. Some were genuine and commanded respect. Many were spurious and invited ridicule. Gandhi's technique of fasting to get his own way with the British non-violently was justified as long as India was governed by a foreign power that made unjust laws to rule us. Today laws are made by elected representatives of the people. Change can be sought through elections. The display of sufficient public support through democratic rallies for any cause would persuade the ruling party to take heed. Fasting unto death is non-violent coercion. In a democratic system coercion to achieve results is not desirable. It encourages diversion from legal options available in democracy to influence opinion. By non-use of legal options these get atrophied and democracy becomes hollow and ritualistic. Even when mass action becomes imperative to exert pressure on authority, there are innovative methods available that were not used by Gandhi.

In short, law can be used as a weapon to strangle authority just as authority uses law to harass the citizenry. Two political experiments proved this. To stop Indira Gandhi's government from misusing the scheme to give small bank loans without collateral to pro-Congress supporters, non-Congress poor were mobilized to flood the banks in such number demanding forms for obtaining loans as to paralyse the functioning of the banks. The demand was legitimate. The protest worked. No court case against it succeeded. No law was broken.
Similarly in order to prevent the government from spending public money for luxury consumption by starting another five-star hotel, the Ashoka Hotel was choked by thousands of poor in its lobby ostensibly wanting to drink tea as legal customers. In the ensuing chaos not more than a dozen could actually be served tea of course. Despite a court case initiated against the action at the behest of the Prime Minister himself no crime could be proved after three years in court. These are but examples. Other actions on the same principle of using law as a weapon of public protest can be summoned. Results can be achieved by exploiting law instead of violating it.
The second objection to the demand by Anna Hazare and his supporters relates to it being a half-measure. It is most desirable for the protestors to demand that the proposed Lokpal should be freed from the government's stranglehold. But even if that were done the new office cannot be a sovereign institution. The example of the Election Commission has been cited by the protestors. The latter is a constitutional body accountable to the President of India. But it might be seen that this accountability exists only on paper. After the Constitution was subverted to render the President into a titular head and a virtual puppet of the cabinet, how might it be ensured that any constitutional office remains free from government control?

Recall the controversy involving the Election Commission during Mr. Navin Chawla's tenure. Note the current controversy surrounding the other constitutional institution of the Central Vigilance Commission. Both controversies relate to posts accountable to the President. But in both controversies the President could not lift a finger. If it be stated that a proactive Supreme Court should fill the breach we will stray into dangerous territory.


The domains of the judiciary and the executive should remain separate.

What those who seek an end to rampant corruption should strive for is to restore to the President the powers assigned to the office in our written Constitution. The President is the only elective office with a mandate obtained from all the legislators in Parliament and State Assemblies. With a minor amendment, which would not alter the basic structure of the Constitution, the President could in addition be given a popular mandate by the entire electorate. And if the President as the nation's apex Ombudsman were to use his constitutional powers with the single aim of ensuring that the Constitution and laws are followed, corruption would be contained and governance restored. Only after the President can fulfill the role assigned by the Constitution would the Lokpal and all other constitutional posts perform satisfactorily. That is why the present demand by Anna Hazare and his supporters remains a half-measure. 

The campaigners for amending the Lokpal Bill deserve all praise for their aims and objectives. But should they not reappraise some fundamentals of the system as they continue to gather strength for changing India's political culture and ending corruption? Lack of clarity robbed India of a potential cultural revolution after the Emergency. Let us not repeat that tragedy this time around.  

The writer is a veteran journalist and cartoonist







 As the Indian economy keeps growing steadily, the government seems eager to relinquish its welfare role. Perhaps the time has come to shift from the traditional Anglo-Saxon economic template and try the Rhineland model which has fewer social costs, writes arunabha bagchi


There has been a raging debate lately among Indian economists about economic growth and social justice in India. After decades of near stagnation, the International Monetary Fund (IMF)-imposed liberalisation since 1991 brought about unprecedented growth in India. But Left-wing economists remain sharply critical of this which they classify as mindless progress without any welfare objective. The pathetic showing of India in the latest human development index only strengthens their argument. The Right-wing economists, on the other hand, are tacitly supportive of all private investments irrespective of their impact on the environment and livelihood of the rural poor and the country's tribal population and corporate social responsibility as just another fad. They espouse the classical trickle down theory that had seen its heyday during the presidency of Ronald Reagan.

The debate in India between these two camps raged over state-controlled and market-driven economic systems. The Indian growth example and that of many other countries have convincingly demonstrated that a market-driven system is clearly a better economic model than a state-controlled one. I believe that the debate should centre on which form of market-driven system we should adopt in India given that there are several competing with each other in this globalised world.  When I first moved to the Netherlands from Los Angeles during the mid-70s, what struck me as amazing was the social welfare system in northwest Europe. This, as I soon learnt, was the outcome  of a capitalistic economic model fundamentally different from the template I had become familiar with in the USA. When I went back to Los Angeles on a sabbatical in 1981, my Indian friends there wanted to know about my experience in Europe. My reply was simple: "If India ever experiences an economic take-off, we should follow the northwest European model and not the Anglo-Saxon one." All my friends dismissed my statement as utter nonsense ~ the economic emancipation of India deemed an impossible dream by all at that time.

The Anglo-Saxon model is characterised by no role of government in the ownership and management of resources, limited benefits for the unemployed and needy, government involvement only for short-term crisis management and hardly any serious income policy to reduce income differentials. In fact, meagre social security is considered essential for labour market flexibility and huge income disparity is often glorified as being necessary for fostering free enterprise and innovation. The economic template pursued in northwest Europe differs from one country to another but has some common characteristics. Referred to as the Rhineland model, this system, better characterised as social market economy, is associated with long-term relationship between the government, employers and employees, elaborate social security, effective income policy resulting in less income inequality and co-determination (mitbestimmung in German). Co-determination in a company means worker participation in its management. In Germany, workers must occupy at least half the seats of the supervisory board of companies and they are required, along with the management, to have representatives on work councils that take the final hiring and firing calls. At the national level, co-determination involves wage determination through collective bargaining on a industrywide basis under government supervision.
Till the credit crisis caused by American bankers and regulators triggered a global meltdown, the mainstream Anglo-Saxon Press didn't have anything positive to say about the Rhineland model. I recall almost all reports on the economy of Northwest Europe as having a negative undertone, starting from the horror stories they told about small delays for having minor operations in hospitals to suggestions of impending doom because every worker enjoyed a paid leave of seven weeks or more. The Anglo-Saxon Press would point out how the idle and the unemployed received vacation pay before summer and how people claimed royal disability benefits on the flimsiest of grounds. But following the credit crisis, a few knowledgeable columnists dared to point out the distinct benefits of the Rhineland model. Finally, the economic system peculiar to norhtwest Europe was explained honestly and seriously.

This brings us to the debate in India. Now that the impossible dream of India's economic take-off has become a reality, which economic model should be the best for it? To a layman such as myself, it appears that we have an uneasy equilibrium between the Anglo-Saxon model and the bureaucratic, state-controlled one. The current debate seems to be about which model should get the upper hand in future. It has become apparent by now that opening up the economy to more competition with less bureaucratic intervention will result in continuing high economic growth. But growth does not have to come the Anglo-Saxon way. The Rhineland model is just as competitive and open as the Anglo-Saxon one. Only, the social impacts of this template is far more desirable for the vast majority of Indians. In all economic and social indicators, the countries following the Rhineland model came up tops.

At the heart of the Rhineland model is deliberation between stakeholders in the national economy with the objective of reaching a consensus. These are employers, employees and the government, usually referred to as social partners. There is complete agreement between them on the usefulness of the market mechanism and the necessity of "creative destruction" ~ a phrase coined by the economist, Joseph Schumpeter, which suggests that the new will ease out the old and the inefficient. Entrepreneurship and new small-scale industries are seen as key to job creation and economic growth.  In the Rhineland model, the role of government, in close consultation with employers and employees, is to soften the pain caused by the vagaries of the market in the short term, to minimise the effect of creative destruction in the medium term and to chart the future direction of the economy for sustained growth and employment in the long term. What is incredible is that employees' organisations routinely advocate the case of the unemployed during negotiations and often agree to accept lower salary increments in return of promises from the employers' organisations to take suitable measures to reduce unemployment. One critical part of this type of tripartite negotiation is an active income policy. Wage differentials are maintained for providing incentives, but the gap between the highest and the lowest incomes is far slim than in Anglo-Saxon countries.

It is often argued that this can be possible only because the countries of northwest Europe are small and homogeneous and is mainly inhabited by Lutherans or Calvinist Christians. But that is not completely true. Germany is more populated than Great Britain and has a large Catholic population. Austria and Switzerland, which share the same characteristics, are Catholic countries. A common feature of all these countries is a highly decentralised decision-making process that is essential for building a consensus. These countries, along with France, form the backbone of the European Union (EU) and form the pillars of Euro. It is no wonder that England has never been an enthusiastic member of the EU and will likely never agree to adopt the Euro.
Market-driven growth is a given for India's development. The question is whether we can develop the consensus model followed by northwest Europe to combine progress with social justice. Mahatma Gandhi always maintained that Panchayati Raj in ancient India had been based on the consensus model. Unfortunately, New Delhi is too far from the realities of rural India. But the states have enough homogeneity to try consensus building among the "social partners". Decision-making at the state level is the minimum precondition for broadly implementing the Rhineland model of economic growth in India. But Indian states currently lack the financial independence to try that. Taxes on personal income and corporate accruals are collected by the Central government and the states have little say in the matter. They also lack a defined mandate for wage negotiation and reduction of income disparities.

India and the EU both occupy large geographical areas inhabited by people from diverse ethnic backgrounds, speaking different languages and having widely varying customs. Both experience a free flow of capital and labour. Our biggest strength is our federal structure with defense and foreign policies framed at the Central level. In all other areas, we would benefit by looking carefully at the EU where the European Commission has a limited role in the day-to-day affairs of member countries. One positive result would be to give more fiscal authority to the states than they have at present. The states have the primary responsibility of looking after the welfare of its inhabitants but no flexibility to levy new taxes for this purpose. The gap between revenue and expenditure in a state is now met with allocations from the Centre. Unfortunately, many such allocations are tailored to implement Centrally-sponsored schemes even if they clash with the priorities of the states. A restructured revenue generation mechanism will give the states better control over expenditures and investment in areas that are, constitutionally, their responsibility.

The level of decentralisation that this would entail will in no way harm the federal structure of the country. During the first three decades after India won Independence, the country faced a serious danger of fragmentation despite total political hegemony of the Congress. National parties cannot dominate Indian politics anymore. Politics is purely regional now. Yet, India as a country is more united than ever before. One only needs to consider the national euphoria that followed India's World Cup win to know that. Also, given the level of corruption that is emanating from the Centre, it will do the states a lot of good if decentralised decision-making is promoted. This will actually benefit the common people, as there will be fewer participants in the plunder. It is estimated that only 15-20 per cent of funds earmarked for Centrally-sponsored schemes reach the intended beneficiaries. Enormous savings can be achieved by allowing the states to spend tax money according to their priorities. This way, some states may even register a decline in corruption.
But decentralisation of the decision-making process does not begin and end with the states. The effectiveness of the Rhineland model relies on responsibilities being shouldered by local authorities. Once the Centre relaxes its control, the rest should gradually follow. Some districts in India are more populous than many countries in Europe. Democratic deficit at the district level is a serious deterrent to developing a consensus model in India. It will also help if the Centre succeeds in revamping the judicial system from bottom up. Progress can be effective only when social justice complements impressive growth rates. It is possible that some states already have a culture of consensus politics or have no need to cultivate any. But what is important is that the people ruling the country wake up to the merits of a proven growth model whose social costs are far fewer than that of the traditional Anglo-Saxon one.

The writer is former dean and Professor of Applied Mathematics at the University of Twente,
The Netherlands 






If the United Nations' vote that sanctioned military intervention in the Libyan conflict was surprising enough, its decision to send in its helicopters to blast away at Laurent Gbagbo's military camp in Abidjan this week was even more startling. Once again, it was done under a UN resolution supporting the use of force to protect civilians from the violence of war. Once again, it was decided with a surprising degree of unanimity in the international community, with the African Union and West African Ecowas association acting as the equivalent of the Arab League in the case of Libya.

Whatever the formal reasoning, however, the fact is that this week's direct rocket assault on Gbagbo's base marked a sharp escalation in the UN mission and one that has effectively made it ~ as in Libya ~ a direct participant in the war. What the action did was to tip the balance of the fighting by destroying Gbagbo's heavy weaponry and bringing the full force of Western arms on one side in the conflict. On humanitarian grounds that might well be justified. The fighting in Abidjan had grown increasingly bitter, with ~ as ever ~ the civilian population the main victims of the violence, not just from the opposing forces but the armed militia and gangs taking advantage of the breakdown in law and order to pillage and kill at will. The sooner the battle was ended, the better.

In political terms, too, the case for intervention was strong ~ good enough for Ivory Coast's neighbours to join in the call for action anyway. The UN had declared Alassane Ouattara the winner of the recent elections, but the incumbent, Laurent Gbagbo, was refusing, with arms and troops behind him, to accept the result. Something had to be done to break the stalemate. Yet you don't enter a military fray from the outside without consequences. Gbagbo, after all, did gain some 46 per cent of the recent vote. It won't be easy now to convince his tribal and ethnic supporters that this wasn't a foreign-orchestrated plot to unseat their legitimate leader.
By launching its rocket attack, together with helicopters of the French forces in the Ivory Coast, the UN has also associated itself with a former colonial power and one which, under President Sarkozy, is becoming increasingly assertive militarily in these sorts of conflicts. You'd have to be very naive to believe the French President's assurances that France was only doing it for humanitarian reasons.

Abidjan also poses some serious questions about the future of the UN. What we are seeing at the moment, both in Libya and the Ivory Coast, is a reassertion of the principle of humanitarian intervention, only through the aegis of the UN. Srebrenica and Darfur still cast a long shadow over the UN and Western leaders, who feel that they cannot allow such outrages to recur, at least not within sight of cameras and mobile phones.
Yet the conditions which gave the UN such clear majorities on Libya and the Ivory Coast won't necessarily be repeated elsewhere. If Tibet rises up against its Chinese occupiers and the revolt is put down (as previous revolts have been) with maximum force, or Chechnya and the Caucuses go up in flames and the Russians intervene as brutally as they have in the past, what then?

Intervention in Libya and Abidjan has been carried out by, or in co-operation with, Western forces. Yet the ground rules for such actions haven't even been discussed, let alone elaborated upon. Nor has the UN been given the kind of resources that would enable it to carry out the military role which it is now taking upon itself. The debate over providing it with a standing army has gone on for decades and is no nearer realisation. Yet without some force of its own, it is difficult to see how the UN can proceed without relying on others, particularly the West, and thus appearing more and more one-sided in its behaviour.
We're entering uncharted waters here in which the standing of the UN is very much in play. It will need a profound re-think of its constitution and the membership of the Security Council if it is to hold its place as a neutral force for reconciliation in a fragmenting world.

CIA returns to Arab fray

While the US is keeping some distance from the action in Libya ~ indeed the reduction in the number of its air sorties is raising criticisms from its allies and the rebels on the ground - it is actually increasing its clandestine operations on the ground. The CIA is coming back into its own, as is the State Department. What else is General Khalefa Heftar, brought over from US exile to put some discipline into the rebel fighters, but Washington's man? Who is wielding the greatest influence (to the fury of the French) over the Tunisian and Egyptian armies currently in charge of their countries but the Pentagon and the US intelligence? Even more so in the Yemen, where Washington is trying to effect an acceptable takeover from President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
We're back to the old days of the Cold War. Whether the inhabitants of the countries will be quite so pleased is another question. It's not quite the same as the 1950s and 1960s, when the CIA unseated elected leaders to protect US interests. Now Washington is primarily concerned with stability in a fast-moving situation in which America has not been directly involved. But there is a thin line, as those who know their 18th and 19th-century history will appreciate, between promoting "stability" and effecting control over the domestic affairs of other countries. History suggests that one soon leads to the other.

the independent




News Items


An elderly Bengali named Kamikhya Banerjee, of Borrissa Behala, was placed on his trial on Thursday last before Mr Swinhoe, Second Presidency Magistrate, on a charge of theft is respect of a McCabe clock worth Rs 500, belonging to Mr P. Mullick of Pathuriaghata and for cheating the same gentleman out of Rs 5 on the false representation that he was a C.I.D. officer on furlough.

It appeared that the accused obtained access to Mr Mullick's house by telling him that he had done splendid service in the C.I.D. in connection with the Howrah gang case, and had received a wound on the head at the hands of one of the suspects, which brought about temporary paralysis of one of his legs. Accused further supported his statement by showing type written copies of a few testimonials purporting to have been signed by Mr Stevenson-Moore, Mr Norton and other officers of high rank. The accused denied the charge of theft of the clock, although he admitted having sold it to a shopkeeper named Metah Ellahie of Radhabazar, from whom it was recovered by the police. The accused also admitted the testimonials as false.

The Magistrate found him guilty on both the counts, and sentenced him to five months and a fortnight's rigorous imprisonment. The sentences to run concurrently.


An unknown man was knocked down and killed by an early morning passenger train, while trespassing on the railway line, some distance away from the Chuadanga Railway Station on the Eastern Bengal State Railway. When the police arrived on the scene, some time afterwards to remove the body they found only the bones left. The body had been devoured by vultures and crows. The District Magistrate of Nudea has been informed of the occurrence, and is inquiring into the matter.







Between a rock and a hard place is not a nice spot to be. The Australian government has decided to reduce the number of evidentiary requirements for overseas students applying for visas. Having toughened visa rules last year, Australia faced a serious dent in its third most important export, education. For Indian students, forming the second biggest group of fully paying international students in the country, the tougher visa rules came on top of the targeted violence against them, increasing since 2008. Insecurity dogged them, especially those in and around Melbourne, but the edge of racism frightened everyone. Add these to the rising Australian dollar, and Australia rapidly started losing its allure. This February, the country recorded a 30 per cent drop in Indian admissions, in alarming contrast to the steady 10 per cent rise each year since 2002. Being hit in a $12 billion industry in these hard times is something no country can afford.

The tale is a twisted one. In spite of the protests and anxiety of the Indian students and of their home country, the Australian government had refused to recognize the violence and murders as race-specific. (An Indian girl was murdered in March.) Instead, it hurried to address the economic aspect of the problem, toughening visa rules so that students becoming trained in professions such as hairstyling or gardening would not be allowed to stay over, whereas professionals such as engineers and doctors were welcome to migrate. (Although Mohammed Hanif may have doubts about that.) The country needed skilled professionals for the betterment of the economy. But the less skilled ones and their dependents were likely to eat into jobs for which there was local competition. The immigration authorities must have hoped that the attacks on Indians would stop. The declaration that the education path should be distinguished from the migration path — something that has been repeated with the easing of the rules — was also meant to reassure Australians that their jobs were not being given away. But the focus on one aspect in a complicated situation is likely to come back and bite in all sort of tender spots. A 30 per cent drop is projected as a loss of 35,000 jobs, concentrated in New South Wales and Victoria, which are both supported largely by the international student community. The latest in visa rules represents a scramble for damage control.







India unhesitatingly embraced "antimicrobial resistance" as the theme for World Health Day on April 7, but there is enough indication that the avowal of this theme in policy-making may not be as passionate. It has been a few months since the task force appointed by the government to look into the abuse of antibiotics submitted its report. But the health ministry is yet to come up with a comprehensive antibiotic policy. Certain ideas, of course, are being tossed in the air. Among them is the ban on the use of certain drugs, the directive that a clutch of them be sold only with proper prescriptions, the plan of making some colour-coded, some others available only in hospitals, and submitting doctors' prescriptions to regular scrutiny. One may take for granted the fact that vested interests will kick up a fuss whenever they feel threatened — be they drug manufacturers, retailers or doctors. That, however, should not distract policy-makers from the urgent need of preventing the abuse of drugs, particularly antibiotics, which has resulted in a mammoth increase of drug-resistant microbes that complicate the treatment of some eminently curable diseases such as cholera, tuberculosis, typhoid, malaria and others. Given the flourishing health industry in India and its lax rules, such indiscretion also allows for the transmission of superbugs across the country's borders as also for their import into India.

It is well known that doctors in India often prescribe antibiotics, sometimes even the reserve second and third line of drugs, in cases which hardly merit such treatment. An antibiotic policy, naturally, would first try to plug that loophole. But health practitioners should not be made or made to feel that they are the only targets of the policy. Many a time, doctors oblige their patients who insist on immediate relief. At times, patients themselves become the breeding ground of resistant microbes when they terminate their treat- ment on their own or go for self-medication. Given the widespread illiteracy and ignorance, India's antibiotic policy needs to place equal emphasis on building up awareness among users of the drugs. There has to be regular interaction among informed policy-makers, drug regulators, service providers and patients, and revisions and reviews of such policy in order to make it effective.






Gender consciousness was still a future phenomenon 60 years ago. The eccentric university don could therefore get away with what would today be considered an outrageous statement. He was discussing with his class John Hicks's Value and Capital, one of the earliest and most lucid expositions of the neo-classical economic theory which extols the virtues of perfect competition and the so-called free market. The real world, Hicks was candid enough to admit, does not vindicate the assumptions of the perfect market; buyers, for instance, seldom enjoy the freedom to move from one seller to another and yet another, nor do sellers always have the option to move from one buyer to others in search of the best bargain. Another criterion of free competition — complete knowledge on the part of each participant concerning market realities — is usually not fulfilled either. Hicks nonetheless opts for perfect competition as the basic postulate for economic analysis. His reasoning: things are so uncertain in the world of imperfect competition that economists are unsure how to proceed; so better stay with the known devil. The teacher went overboard while explaining the position adopted by Hicks. He digressed. Peter Cheney had borrowed for the title of one of the pieces of pulp fiction he used to churn out during World War II the last bit of a doggerel by an anonymous author: "In this ladies differ/ Essentially from men,/ They seldom say yes/ And they never say when." Imperfect competition, interpolated the don, was like the mind of a woman; it is most difficult to comprehend its processes, therefore stay away from it and stick to the hypothesis of the free market howsoever at variance with the facts of life it might be.


The gender bias was beneath contempt and the analogy atrocious. That does not, however, trivialize the point at issue: market reality, more often than not, walks a trajectory far different from what the tenets of perfect competition suggest. Yet a large body of economists accept without demur these tenets, build models and develop theories on their basis and arrive at otiose conclusions. They then use the content of such conclusions to prescribe policies for improving the state of the economy and for the welfare of people. Since the prescriptions stem from unreal premises, these, if followed, might actually prove disastrous to society is something the economists would not even admit to themselves. Perhaps it is pride, perhaps it is the intellectual pleasure they derive from the subtleties of abstract reasoning they deploy to reach their conclusions. They are so intensely self-centred that the realities of the world do not bother them. If the market is grossly imperfect — for instance, a playground of corporate entities, big business and rich farmers — policies based on the assumptions of a free market are bound to be hugely advantageous to these elements and might further increase market imperfection. Politicians, who instinctively know where class interests lie, keep open house for economists of this species.


Is not a similar summing-up possible with respect to certain sections of nuclear scientists? Unravelling the mysteries of the atomic has been of far-reaching consequences. The likes of Albert Einstein and Robert Oppenheimer had urged politicians who rule the world to exercise restraint while mapping out the uses to which the demonic power generated by nuclear fission in various forms could be put; thoughtlessness on the part of a wayward regime in this or that country could endanger the future of the human race. They spoke in vain. Hiroshima and Nagasaki did not deter politicians. Competition between country governments to embrace nuclear technology and build a stockpile of nuclear weaponry reached fever pitch in the post-World War II decades. Fierce rivalry also ensued between the nuclear 'haves' and 'have-nots'; those who had an early start tried hard to protect their monopoly; those outside the charmed circle tried equally hard to weaken the monopoly. Once someone from among the outsiders succeeded in entering the nuclear club, it too learnt to lecture others on the imperative necessity of nuclear non-proliferation and yet refused to follow the precept on its own part. In any event, proliferation has proceeded apace in the name of 'peaceful' use of nuclear energy. Chernobyl for some while raised a scare. Environmentalists arrived on the scene in the advanced industrial countries; as a result, installation of nuclear plants even for generating power for civilian use was abandoned in many of these countries. That in turn led to the crisis of idle capacity in the industries specializing in the production of nuclear power plants. Excess capacity is fatal for profit-making. Lobbies were soon afloat, particularly in the United States of America and France, to encourage the export of nuclear power plants to the poorer countries; what do they care if the wretched people in those remote lands be victims of nuclear pollution? Ruling politicians in quite a number of poor countries have proved easy targets; they were itching to keep up with the nuclear Joneses. There are, besides, insidious ways to subvert them into submission.


These politicians still need to be wary of the reaction on the domestic front. Information technology has been a great civilizer. Cost-benefit calculations relating to nuclear power generation are not in most countries altogether beyond the knowledge of ordinary men and women. The lethal danger of environmental calamity apart, the unit cost of generating power from nuclear sources, too, is significantly higher than in the case of thermal or hydro power. In this situation, politicians look around for support from within the country. Serendipity or otherwise, they find an ally among certain groups of nuclear scientists. These scientists are highly competent and have dug deep into the nooks and recesses of nuclear technology. They are also in their own manner an intensely patriotic lot; they want to see their country take its place in the comity of nations as a major nuclear power; were the country to embrace a nuclear culture, it would, they are convinced, attain unimaginable heights of economic prosperity. These scientists lament that since not enough resources are available, the country's technological base is lagging behind. They will not therefore mind if a technologically far-advanced 'nuclear' country would be willing and eager to export the crucial technology and equipment to their country. Maybe these scientists are a bunch of romantics, maybe they are naïve, but they rally to support their government's decision to accept the offer from a country far advanced in nuclear technology. A strange coalition emerges in no time between ruling politicians bent to be deferential to the rich country's overture, commission agents lobbying for the proposed import and such scientists as have madly fallen in love with their nuclear dream.


The catastrophe at Fukushima has happened a quarter of a century after Chernobyl. The magnitude of the tragedy is mind-boggling. Ravages caused by the earthquake and the nuclear meltdown have set back the Japanese economy, according to one estimate, by a full 20 years. The fallout of the explosions in the nuclear power stations threatens to spill radiation poison across thousands of miles, enveloping Russia at one end and the western coast of the US across the Pacific at the other. The level of radioactivity in the atmosphere as well as in the sea water around continues to rise with every day; none is in a position to predict what the ultimate consequences are going to be.


The rest of the world, it was widely thought, would re-learn lessons from Fukushima. One such lesson for Indian authorities, many assumed, would be to give up, once and for all, the intention to depend increasingly on nuclear power as a key source of energy. It seems to be a futile hope; the nuclear establishment entrenched in the country remains unfazed. Put on the defensive by the happenings in Fukushima, the government has promised a review of the safety arrangements for the nuclear plants now in operation. Scientists proximate to the establishment toe the line. They make a further claim: the nuclear reactors installed in India supposedly belong to a later generation than the reactors that collapsed in Fukushima and are totally safe on account of an impeccable self-regulatory system. In other words, no effective reappraisal is proposed of the overall energy policy; the motto continues to be nuclear energy über alles — the peril to the nation's environment is no matter. Each vested interest has its own axe to grind. Commission agents would hate to lose the opportunity to amass a huge fortune out of the billions of dollars India is to spend on buying outdated nuclear power plants from the US. The prime minister and the party he belongs to dread any last minute foul-up in the implementation of the Indo-US nuclear deal. The scientists belonging to the romantic school are excited beyond measure: they are about to witness the ushering in of an ambience where nuclear power will be the centrepiece of attention, enormously increasing the scope of scientific and technological research in the nuclear field. As with economists wrapped up in the fiction of the free market, these scientists, too, live in a narrow cloister of their own where consideration of the interests of the nation — and the people who make up the nation — has a low priority.





BONAFIDE: Malvika Singh

Wake up and smell the coffee. The wafting fragrance has enticed all of us outside the rusty barricades of power and governance. The statement made by India on the night of the world cup victory said it all — the energy and professionalism of the people of India had triumphed over the corruption and greed, the grossly defective administrative machinery and the selfish agendas of those in power. Imagine this government not being able to order the release of the 'real trophy' from a government department with a reputation of being dreadfully corrupt and irregular, allowing all manner of contraband through the gates of customs for adequate personal gain.

All Indians believe in this truth. Everyone has experienced it and it requires neither a GoM nor a retired judge to establish this truth. Our traditional system of oral communication is alive, tried and tested, and efficient. Television speaks to us and is the modern gadget that connects us all. The constant 'cover-ups' that have besieged us via the partisan use of judicial and other inquiry panels have been recognized. The eye-wash trick stands diluted and is insulting the intelligence of ordinary Indians who know well that they are being fooled. We are a patient people, but once the patience wears off we can throw ourselves with ease into a revolutionary mode. Let us not forget the determination of a subjugated people who threw out an imperial power with revolutionary satyagraha. In this new millennium, it could 'retool' itself to bring about change and liberation from our indigenous neo-colonial politics.

New laws

The government seems to be running scared of accountability. It seems mortified at the looming possibility of being exposed for the mismanagement of governance and for the countless wrongdoings of its leaders and officers, who have breached the laws of this land. When cabinet ministers begin to speak the language of petty dictators, it shows up as deep insecurity and profound weakness. When a government is perceived to be 'weak', citizens lose respect for the 'rulers'. Overwhelmed by shame and embarrassment, citizens watch the 'cover-up games' being played out in the public domain that brazenly twist the truth, thereby mocking the need for probity in civil society.

The pending Lok Pal bill has been raising many serious questions. Corruption has been a 'game' that has diseased the government, maimed the administration, and amputated the law-enforcement agencies, all of which have relentlessly played this insidious 'game' with partners in the corporate world, thereby generating huge, undeclared gain for one another.

Law-makers have broken the law and got away with illegalities, making those mandated and empowered to protect the law an intrinsic element in the poisoned nexus. These people do not want any intervention in their domains from the civil society because it is bound to unravel further the irregular and corrupt practices. Alternatives can be introduced into existing models that have been corroded and misused. A fresh set of rules can be drawn up that would include norms of accountability. The list of what can be introduced, even within existing government institutions, could address and deliver what our civil society is demanding.

Ordinary Indians are sick of the exclusive 'club' that protects its members from the laws of this land. The crude arrogance of the Congress spokesmen reveals an overriding fear of being exposed for an unending chain of discreditable acts. Their 'performance' was shameful, wrapped in reams of guilt which came across the screens. National leaders better smell the coffee!







No one would begrudge the high adulation and excited paeans of praise across the country for the boys who brought the cricket world cup home. They won a place in the sun for India, so devoid of accomplishments in competitive sports. It was a moment  of glory for a nation which was troubled by doubts and was being ill-served by some of its leaders, and so the emotions that overflowed the cup were understandable. But blinded by sentiments, we sometimes tend to overreact and lose a sense of propriety and proportion. The torrent of rewards by way of cash, land and other goodies  being announced for the heroes is arguably overdone. When they come from unexpected places and in unwarranted ways they raise questions too.

Karnataka chief minister B S Yeddyurappa initially promised sites in Bangalore to every member of the team and even announced the formation of an exclusive layout for them. He has now modified it to a cash reward of Rs 25 lakh each. The rationale behind the largesse is difficult to understand. The government has failed to deliver on its promise of BDA sites to some of the best sportspersons from Karnataka who have brought glory to the country and the state. They include six-time world billiards champion Pankaj Advani. While they are still waiting, the chief minister has made an unjustifiably grand gesture to the cricketers. It is not being parochial to point out that none of them is from the state. Other governments too have announced rewards for the players from their respective states. It is difficult and even embarrassing to criticize a gift but there is no doubt that Yeddyurappa's generosity is devoid of reason and sense.

The cricketers, who are crorepatis many times over, do not need these gifts either.  There are hundreds of sportspersons in other less glamorous but equally important games who have done well but need encouragement and even a helping hand. Some of them are even in dire straits. Money might be better spent on them. Rather than lavish their largesse on cricketers governments might well create better sporting facilities for aspiring sportspersons. Instead, politicians are trying to promote themselves by being seen as rewarding the cricketers and snatching a bit of glory reflected from them. Yeddyurappa has nothing to lose but people's money but he should learn that discretion is the better part of generosity.







The CBI has completed the first phase of its investigations into the 2G spectrum allocations case by filing a charge sheet before a special court. It was racing against time because further delay in filing the charge sheet would have enabled former telecom minister A Raja and others who have been arrested in the case to secure bail. It could just avert that possibility but there does not seem to be much justification for keeping its action for the last day. The case is admittedly complicated and needs careful handling.

But the charges which have officially been made now were already in the public realm and did not call for any great investigative exertion. In fact a good part of the charge sheet relies a lot on the findings made by the Comptroller and Auditor-General.
But it is not just the time factor that makes the charge sheet below par. The CBI has rightly built its case around the actions of Raja and some senior officials of the telecom department who colluded with some private companies in wrongful allocation of spectrum, thus causing huge losses to the exchequer. But other political personalities whose role in the scam has become public have been left out. The Rs 200 crore investment made by a beneficiary firm into a television channel owned by Tamil Nadu chief minister Karunanidhi's wife and daughter, which could be illegal returns for the favours done by Raja, is yet to be followed up. The CBI may file a supplementary charge sheet later but its avoidance of all politicians other than Raja does not inspire confidence.

The agency has said investigations are in progress. But its slackness has given rise to suspicions that action is being postponed because of its likely impact on the ongoing Tamil Nadu state assembly elections. Questions would also be asked about the agency's treatment of the role of the prime minister, who had prior knowledge of the illegalities being resorted to by Raja.

This is not to deny the progress made by the CBI in the investigations. The charge sheet runs into 80,000 pages, names 125 witnesses and cites 654 documents. It could not have done a thoroughly shoddy job when the supreme court is monitoring the investigations. But there are doubts whether it is completely free of political considerations.






At a time of economic turmoil in the US, the war's cost touching $120 billion, is leading to increasing public ire with the war.

The situation in Af-Pak is getting complicated by the day and the Obama administration is bitterly divided over its future course of action to fashion a coherent strategy towards the region. Recent events have only compounded the confusion.

Some time last year, Terry Jones, pastor of a tiny Florida church, declared Islam's holy book 'guilty of crimes against humanity' and ordered it set ablaze in a portable fire pit. Days later, after the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, decided to ask for Jones' prosecution, Afghans took to the streets to protest the burning of the Quran in Florida.

An angry mob killed at least seven foreigners in Afghanistan and set fire to a UN compound in Mazar-e Sharif, a city where the Nato forces have transferred power to the local Afghan forces. Another bloody day followed in Kandahar, when police fought with protesters, leaving at least nine dead and more than 80 injured.

The ongoing tumult prompted Gen David H Petraeus, the top Nato commander in Afghanistan, and his civilian counterpart, ambassador Mark Sedwill, to issue a statement reiterating "our condemnation of any disrespect to the Holy Quran and the Muslim faith. We condemn, in particular, the action of an individual in the United States who recently burned the Holy Quran."

When Jones threatened to burn a Quran on the anniversary of the Sept 11, 2001, terror attacks last year, Petraeus was among several top US officials who strongly urged against it and warned about the troubling consequences that could arise in Afghanistan.

Jones eventually called off the event only to announce this January that he was going to "put the Quran on trial." He said he didn't hear a single complaint. The 'trial' was held on March 20, and the holy text subsequently burned, leading to turmoil in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, suicide bombers struck a Sufi shrine compound in Pakistan, killing more than 40 people. Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, which has repeatedly aimed attacks at Sufi shrines across the country, along with government targets and security forces installations, promptly claimed responsibility for the attack. The latest attack is another attempt by militants to exacerbate the ideological divides that exist within different schools of Sunni Islam. There have been growing concerns that militants from the tribal regions of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province, (formerly North-West Frontier Province), have been using Dera Ghazi Khan, where the shrine was based, as a route to enter Punjab.

Presidential elections

This turmoil comes at a time of growing tensions within the Obama administration over the size and pace of the planned pullout of US troops from Afghanistan this summer, with the military seeking to limit a reduction in combat forces and the White House pressing for a withdrawal substantial enough to placate a war-weary electorate. At a time of economic turmoil in the US, the war's cost estimated to reach $120 billion this year is leading to increasing public disenchantment with the war. Attention is shifting to 2012 presidential elections and the political class, including Barack Obama, will be reluctant to challenge public opinion. Nearly two-thirds of Americans, according to latest surveys, no longer find the war in Afghanistan worth fighting.

Obama's failure to take complete ownership of the war that he had once described as the necessary one is becoming a big liability. Moreover, he has failed to reconcile the differences among his advisors even as the perception is gaining ground that the war is going nowhere for the Nato forces. Though Obama made it clear that the current war strategy will continue and not be altered, there is a grudging acknowledgment in the US policy-making circles that Obama's surge is not showing any signs of success so far.

Although military officials contend that the surge has enabled US forces to blunt the Taliban in key areas over the past several months, White House officials remain sceptical that those gains will survive without the presence of American troops and without US financial aid.

Obama had approved a 30,000-troop increase sought by the military in 2009 but at the same time he had made it clear that the surge forces would begin returning home by July 2011. The pace of that reduction, however, was ambiguous, with defence department officials describing the initial reductions as minor and some of Obama's other advisers, including vice president Joe Biden, saying the pullout would be as rapid as the deployment of the surge troops.

Meanwhile, a major Pentagon task force that has sought to help Afghanistan exploit its mineral wealth and expand private-sector employment is facing a crisis with the resignation of several of its members alarming senior military officials, who view the group's job-creation efforts as an important component of the overall US counterinsurgency mission.

As the United States struggles with its Af-Pak policy, India needs to be acutely aware of the implications of the rapidly deteriorating security environment in its neighbourhood. America's diminishing capacity to come to terms with the challenges in Afghanistan will have long-term implications for regional security in South Asia. New Delhi will have to fashion a pro-active foreign policy response that relies less on Washington in crafting an appropriate response to the changing dynamic in Af-Pak. Whether a government mired in corruption scandals can step up to the plate remains an open question.







Lebanon's pro-democracy movement is demanding more than reform and ousting of its rulers.
The Tunisian, Egyptian, Libyan and Yemeni uprisings in North Africa and West Asia have adopted a similar course. Angry, disaffected citizens have staged mass uprisings with the aim of toppling dictators in power for decades. These uprisings have manifested themselves as raw people's power, ignoring communal, sectarian and tribal affiliations. It took the Tunisians a month to achieve their goal, the Egyptians 18 days; the Libyans and Yemenis are still struggling.

Since the discontents of the 'Arab spring' surfaced, Jordanians and Lebanese have also taken to the streets of their capital cities. But their campaigns have been quite different from those elsewhere because the uprisings have different roots and different objectives.

In Jordan, a reform movement emerged in the provincial Christian town of Madaba where tribesmen and labourers demonstrated against corruption, the lack of jobs, and high taxes on essential goods. Determined to catch the attention of the government, the protesters shifted to Amman, the capital where they have marched, camped in front of the interior ministry, and held rallies every Friday since early January. Idealistic young people, the Muslim Brotherhood and leftists joined the tribesmen and labourers.

Urge for liberty

As in Egypt, Facebook, Twitter, and mobile phone texting became the tools of young organisers. Muhammad Bitar, an engineer, told 'Deccan Herald', "We want a Jordan with no corruption, a government voted by the people, monitored by the people.We want to have the same freedoms they have in Europe". He said: "Our loyalty to King Abdullah is not debatable. We are convinced that the king is protecting Jordan and that he will unite us."

A senior statesman drew the distinctions between Jordan and elsewhere. "Jordan is not a dictatorship like Tunisia or Egypt. We made the important changes between 1989 and 1993." He said that although political parties were not allowed, parties not only existed but fielded independent candidates who represented all shades of opinion in the country from left to right.

He asserted, "We abolished martial law in 1992" unlike Egypt, where emergency law is still in force and Tunisia where it has just been lifted. Unfortunately, he admitted upheavals in the region led to retrenchment from the democratisation process begun between 1989-93. "We need to amend the constitution and the laws to fit current circumstances."

Like Jordan, Lebanon has no dictator, martial law or political prisoners. But Lebanon's nascent pro-democracy movement is demanding more than reform and more than the ousting of its rulers. Last weekend, marchers in the northern city of Tripoli and the southern port of Sidon adopted the chant of the Egyptian rebels, "The people want the end of the regime."

However, the 'regime', the Lebanese movement for change seeks to abolish is the sectarian system imposed on the country by its French colonial masters before independence in 1943. The system, never intended to be equitable or democratic, empowered one of the country's 18 communities and marginalised the rest. Under this system, presidents are always Maronite Catholic Christians (now about 18 per cent of the population), prime ministers Sunni Muslims (20 per cent), and parliamentary speakers Shias (30 per cent). Other key posts are also distributed by sect.

While governance is, in theory, by consensus, this collapses periodically, producing long periods without a functioning government — as now — instability and conflict. Following the 1975-90 civil war, the powers of the president were reduced and those of the prime minister enhanced under a modified power-sharing deal but sectarianism was solidified instead of being phased out.

While Lebanon's presidents and prime ministers change from time to time, pollster and researcher Abdo Saad observed, "One of the manifestations of democracy is rotation within the elite. In Lebanon, power has been in the hands of the same people leading families for 100 years."

Lebanese 'abolitionists' have to deal with deeply ingrained confessionalism, generations of communalism, layer upon layer of interests, politicians who are prepared to fight tooth and nail to retain their positions, their confederates who gain from the system, constituents who also benefit and clients who seek favours. Connections are all important in systems based on what sociologists call 'clientism'. In Lebanon 'clientism' reigns and is the font of endemic, rampant corruption. Consequently, Saad said, "Lebanon will be the last Arab country to attain democracy".







A soldier in a battle zone would be the happiest getting a letter from home.

A recent news item in the 'Daily Mail', UK, says research has found 7.26 pm on a Saturday, to be the precise time when millions are happy the world over. It also says 7.29 am on a Monday, amid the commute to work is the lowest point for happiness. While one didn't need research against the latter, I find the former an arbitrary finding.

You may say, "What is sauce for the goose is not sauce for the gander"; then I would say (in Sanskrit) "Bhinna ruchir hi lokah" (Each has his own taste). I can quote any number of instances where a time of happiness for one may be totally different from another. Ask a man in courtship, he would tell you many moments of happiness every day, just seeing his 'girl', going to college and returning or even meeting her at her home with many others present! Which is the happiest moment for a young parent? Obviously one would say when he/she cuddles the first-born for the first time. Ask the late risers on a Sunday — for them it would be when the alarm fails!

A pensioner with no other income would say, his bank crediting the monthly pension by 28th, the earliest date for credit would swear that is his happiest moment every month! Alas, for government pensioners, no pension in March (but two in April)! For a girl (pretty or otherwise), looking in the mirror and saying, "Hey, gorgeous," after dressing up would be the happiest moment! A person on a holiday in a hill station may be the happiest, just being near the mountains, rivers, waterfalls and chirping birds.

A soldier in a battle zone would be the happiest getting a letter from home and one returning from war may be the happiest spending time with his family. Listening to the voice of one's 'dearest' on the phone may be the happiest moment for someone, while going for a ride in the car with no destination or meeting old friends may give some happiness. Visiting places with fond childhood/ adolescent memories may be the happiest to some. A child may be the happiest, just eating ice cream in the park or playing in the rain.

You will all agree that a Bangalorean will be the happiest driving through the city, without a single autorickshaw, lorry, or tractor-trailer on the road. As for me, the happiest moment is when my granddaughter shouts 'Thatha' for me to open the door to my flat; but that happens only once in 7-10 days!







If the federal government shuts down at midnight on Friday — which seems likely unless negotiations take a sudden turn toward rationality — it will not be because of disagreements over spending. It will be because Republicans are refusing to budge on these ideological demands:

• No federal financing for Planned Parenthood because it performs abortions. Instead, state administration of federal family planning funds, which means that Republican governors and legislatures will not spend them.

• No local financing for abortion services in the District of Columbia.

• No foreign aid to countries that might use the money for abortion or family planning. And no aid to the United Nations Population Fund, which supports family-planning services.

• No regulation of greenhouse gases by the Environmental Protection Agency.

• No funds for health care reform or the new consumer protection bureau established in the wake of the financial collapse.

Abortion. Environmental protection. Health care. Nothing to do with jobs or the economy; instead, all the hoary greatest hits of the Republican Party, only this time it has the power to wreak national havoc: furloughing 800,000 federal workers, suspending paychecks for soldiers and punishing millions of Americans who will have to wait for tax refunds, Social Security applications, small-business loans, and even most city services in Washington. The damage to a brittle economy will be substantial.

Democrats have already gone much too far in giving in to the House demands for spending cuts. The $33 billion that they have agreed to cut will pull an enormous amount of money from the economy at exactly the wrong time, and will damage dozens of vital programs.

But it turns out that all those excessive cuts they volunteered were worth far less to the Republicans than the policy riders that are the real holdup to a deal. After President Obama appeared on television late Wednesday night to urge the two sides to keep talking, negotiators say, the issue of the spending cuts barely even came up. All the talk was about the abortion demands and the other issues.

Democrats in the White House and the Senate say they will not give in to this policy extortion, and we hope they do not weaken. These issues have no place in a stopgap spending bill a few minutes from midnight.

A measure to prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gas emissions came up for a Senate vote on Wednesday and failed. If Republicans want to have yet another legislative debate about abortion and family planning, let them try to pass a separate bill containing their restrictions. But that bill would fail, too, and they know it, so they have chosen extortion.

The lack of seriousness in the House is reflected in the taunting bill it passed on Thursday to keep the government open for another week at an absurdly high cost of $12 billion in cuts and the ban on District of Columbia abortion financing. The Senate and the White House said it was a nonstarter. Many of the same House members who earlier had said they would refuse to approve another short-term spending bill voted for this one, clearly hoping they could use its inevitable failure in the Senate to blame the Democrats for the shutdown. What could be more cynical?

The public is not going to be fooled once it sees what the Republicans, pushed by Tea Party members, were really holding out for. There are a few hours left to stop this dangerous game, and for the Republicans to start doing their job, which, if they've forgotten, is to serve the American people.





Cleve Foster, a former Army recruiter convicted of murder, was scheduled to be executed earlier this week in Huntsville, Tex., when the Supreme Court rightly granted a stay pending a review of his case.

There are so many reasons why the death penalty should be repealed everywhere. It is barbaric, and a terrifyingly high number of innocent defendants have been placed on death row or executed. Mr. Foster's petition makes a strong case that, but for his ineffective state-appointed trial lawyer, he would not have been sentenced to death and that the evidence against him leaves conspicuous room for doubt about his guilt. It also makes a strong case that, but for the weakness of a second state-appointed lawyer who filed a writ of habeas corpus, he would have been granted a new trial.

The Supreme Court must decide whether Texas violated Mr. Foster's rights by providing an ineffective habeas lawyer. The answer must be, "Of course." Otherwise, the state will be allowed to pretend to satisfy his right to be heard while callously denying it. "This is my Life," Mr. Foster wrote the lawyer when he fired him. "I feel you treated me Like a Dog."

The means for Mr. Foster's planned execution are also tainted. Last month, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice said it would use pentobarbital as the sedative in place of sodium thiopental in the state's three-drug lethal injection protocol. (Spookily, in apparent violation of federal law, it was sent using a federal license number registered to the Huntsville Unit Hospital, which was shut down in 1983 because of its abysmal treatment of prisoners.)

Rick Thaler, director of the Correctional Institutions Division, made the switch to the new, unproven protocol without consulting any doctors or other medical professionals. Also in apparent violation of federal law, the prison system is not following prescribed steps to safeguard the drug to ensure there is no tampering.

The suffering of any inmate during execution is inexcusable. The execution of an innocent person is an even greater horror. The Supreme Court should give Mr. Foster the chance to prove his innocence.





The New York City schools chancellor, Cathleen Black, acted in the best interest of the city's schoolchildren on Thursday when she stepped down after 95 days on the job.

Ms. Black's tenure was far too short to judge her ability to do one of the hardest jobs in the city, but she had been in political trouble from the day she started, partly because she had no professional experience in education. Facing suspicious parents and community groups, she had a tendency to say the wrong thing at the wrong time. Once, she joked at a public meeting that birth control was the solution to classroom overcrowding.

Missteps like that one, combined with growing discontent within the Education Department itself, made her position untenable. And Mayor Michael Bloomberg had himself to blame for this mess. He chose her through a process that was far too secretive and sudden and then overrode every objection to push her into the job.

On Thursday, Mayor Bloomberg made a sensible, solid choice by nominating Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott to succeed her. Mr. Walcott will need approval from the state education commissioner, David Steiner, but that should not be a problem since he has been extensively involved in education and has master's degrees in education and social work.

He has overseen the city Education Department for the Bloomberg administration for nearly a decade. He began his career as a kindergarten teacher in the 1970s, served on the New York City Board of Education during the 1990s and worked extensively on schooling issues for at-risk children as chief executive officer of the New York Urban League. He knows his way around the City Council and the State Legislature.

He also faces enormous challenges. He must quickly rebuild the Education Department's leadership, which has been devastated by high-profile resignations. He faces a huge budget shortfall that will almost certainly require layoffs. At the same time, he must prepare the school system for the higher standards and curriculum revisions that were recently embraced by the state Board of Regents.






Many commentators swooned earlier this week after House Republicans, led by the Budget Committee chairman, Paul Ryan, unveiled their budget proposals. They lavished praise on Mr. Ryan, asserting that his plan set a new standard of fiscal seriousness.

Well, they should have waited until people who know how to read budget numbers had a chance to study the proposal. For the G.O.P. plan turns out not to be serious at all. Instead, it's simultaneously ridiculous and heartless.

How ridiculous is it? Let me count the ways — or rather a few of the ways, because there are more howlers in the plan than I can cover in one column.

First, Republicans have once again gone all in for voodoo economics — the claim, refuted by experience, that tax cuts pay for themselves.

Specifically, the Ryan proposal trumpets the results of an economic projection from the Heritage Foundation, which claims that the plan's tax cuts would set off a gigantic boom. Indeed, the foundation initially predicted that the G.O.P. plan would bring the unemployment rate down to 2.8 percent — a number we haven't achieved since the Korean War. After widespread jeering, the unemployment projection vanished from the Heritage Foundation's Web site, but voodoo still permeates the rest of the analysis.

In particular, the original voodoo proposition — the claim that lower taxes mean higher revenue — is still very much there. The Heritage Foundation projection has large tax cuts actually increasing revenue by almost $600 billion over the next 10 years.

A more sober assessment from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office tells a different story. It finds that a large part of the supposed savings from spending cuts would go, not to reduce the deficit, but to pay for tax cuts. In fact, the budget office finds that over the next decade the plan would lead to bigger deficits and more debt than current law.

And about those spending cuts: leave health care on one side for a moment and focus on the rest of the proposal. It turns out that Mr. Ryan and his colleagues are assuming drastic cuts in nonhealth spending without explaining how that is supposed to happen.

How drastic? According to the budget office, which analyzed the plan using assumptions dictated by House Republicans, the proposal calls for spending on items other than Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid — but including defense — to fall from 12 percent of G.D.P. last year to 6 percent of G.D.P. in 2022, and just 3.5 percent of G.D.P. in the long run.

That last number is less than we currently spend on defense alone; it's not much bigger than federal spending when Calvin Coolidge was president, and the United States, among other things, had only a tiny military establishment. How could such a drastic shrinking of government take place without crippling essential public functions? The plan doesn't say.

And then there's the much-ballyhooed proposal to abolish Medicare and replace it with vouchers that can be used to buy private health insurance.

The point here is that privatizing Medicare does nothing, in itself, to limit health-care costs. In fact, it almost surely raises them by adding a layer of middlemen. Yet the House plan assumes that we can cut health-care spending as a percentage of G.D.P. despite an aging population and rising health care costs.

The only way that can happen is if those vouchers are worth much less than the cost of health insurance. In fact, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that by 2030 the value of a voucher would cover only a third of the cost of a private insurance policy equivalent to Medicare as we know it. So the plan would deprive many and probably most seniors of adequate health care.

And that neither should nor will happen. Mr. Ryan and his colleagues can write down whatever numbers they like, but seniors vote. And when they find that their health-care vouchers are grossly inadequate, they'll demand and get bigger vouchers — wiping out the plan's supposed savings.

In short, this plan isn't remotely serious; on the contrary, it's ludicrous.







THE death of Marchella Pierce, a 4-year-old girl in Brooklyn who was beaten, malnourished and tied to a bed, has again aroused anger over child welfare in New York City. Her mother stands accused of murder, and a caseworker and a supervisor were charged last month with criminally negligent homicide.

Reading about Marchella's death in September brought back painful memories. When I was the director of child welfare in the District of Columbia I often woke up at 3 a.m., fearing all that could go wrong. During my tenure, there were increases in adoptions and speedier investigations, and more children went to live with foster families rather than in institutions. But substandard care and terrible cases also continued.

Because there is so much to fix, improvements and calamities can happen simultaneously in long-troubled child welfare systems. In Washington, where I took over from a court-appointed receiver, the work ranged from reducing caseloads to overhauling information technology, contracting, licensing and personnel systems. On good days, we reminded ourselves that it was all worth it. But when a child was hurt or killed, we often reacted defensively, fearing that a misdirected public outcry could undercut our plans for reform.

After I left that job, I kept looking for solutions. For ideas, I examined institutions like airlines and some hospitals that have reduced deaths and injuries. Through rigorous data analysis, they have developed systemic approaches to safety, focusing on clear communication, minimum-staffing requirements and "fail-safe" strategies to reduce the consequences of inevitable human error. Such strategies — including checklists and passing on information at crucial moments like shift changes — can be applied to protecting children.

Findings from the Institute of Medicine, the Commonwealth Fund and other organizations point to several lessons from safety initiatives in these fields:

• You can't fix a systemwide problem by simply blaming or retraining individuals. When systems are broken, workers respond in counterproductive ways. They try "workarounds," as when a nurse guesses at a doctor's unreadable handwriting on a prescription because she is afraid to ask. Or they withhold information to avoid responsibility, wanting someone else to make a decision even if it is wrong. Blaming individuals can also make it harder to recruit and keep the most qualified employees. (In child welfare, talented caseworkers too often give up on investigating troubled families and gravitate to handling adoptions.)

• You can't learn what's wrong with the system from just one case. Understanding what to fix requires analyzing many cases, including deaths, injuries and "near misses." That is why airline safety analysts collect information about maintenance problems and planes that come too close to each other on the runways or in the air, and why hospitals study medication errors. Looking just at Marchella's death focuses attention on the caseworker, while looking at more cases gets us closer to understanding trends and patterns.

• You can't understand problems and fix them unless you create a culture in which employees share information without fear. The Department of Veterans Affairs increased reporting of potentially dangerous errors by promising hospital staff members they would not be punished unless the mistake was intentional or criminal or involved substance abuse. Pilots who anonymously report an unsafe episode receive a number they can use in an investigation to show that they made a report, shielding them from punishment in most circumstances.

These insights can yield simple fixes. In 2005, for example, the Illinois inspector general found that a failure to identify parents' mental health and substance abuse problems was a common feature in child deaths. Harried caseworkers who had to substantiate a complaint of abuse or neglect didn't have enough time to thoroughly investigate whether drug addiction and mental illness were involved. When state forms required them to choose yes or no in those first hectic days, they chose no — and often no one came back to help the families. So the inspector general urged the state to give workers another option, one that would indicate a need for continuing assessment in these in-between cases.

But we need to aim even higher. The Department of Health and Human Services should create a national commission to review deaths and serious injuries to children from abuse and neglect. Among other things, it should examine practices in sectors with strong safety records; look at deficiencies in access by parents to drug counseling and psychiatric care; and recommend procedures for caseworkers to report mistakes anonymously without getting blamed.

For too long, we have had a stalemate: Child welfare experts, worried that anger over high-profile deaths often leads to the unnecessary removal of children from their homes to an overloaded foster care system, are reluctant to talk about systemic safety improvements. Meanwhile, the number of children who die each year from abuse or neglect in the United States — an estimated 1,770 in 2009, or 2.3 deaths for every 100,000 children — has been rising.

There is a way out. Making sweeping policy changes and scapegoating individuals are not the best way to enhance safety, but rather, clear-headed, evidence-driven examination of the resources, conditions and communication that guide decision-making in the workplace. That way Marchella's death will not become just another example of the cycle of outrage and failure.

Olivia A. Golden, the director of the District of Columbia Child and Family Services Agency from 2001 to 2004, is a fellow at the Urban Institute and the author of "Reforming Child Welfare."







IN 1982, when I was a student in Abidjan, I went on strike for Laurent Gbagbo. President Félix Houphouët-Boigny — Ivory Coast's first president, who ruled for more than 30 years — had forbidden Mr. Gbagbo, then a democracy activist and history professor, from holding a conference. The government detained about 100 of us demonstrators at a military base, where we spent two days without food. We didn't regret it; we had pinned our hopes for democracy on Laurent Gbagbo.

But look at Mr. Gbagbo now: Soundly defeated at the polls last November after a decade as president, he refused to concede, plunging Ivory Coast into chaos. Those who protested were tortured and killed; his soldiers fired on gatherings of women and shelled a market, killing dozens. It's only now, after United Nations and French troops have intervened and he has been besieged in his home, that he may be prompted to give up his hold on power.

How did the man who was once seen as the father of Ivorian democracy turn to tyranny? Was it the corruption of power? The intoxication of going from having nothing to everything all at once? Only a year before he was elected president, in 1999, I remember him denouncing Slobodan Milosevic, saying: "What does Milosevic think he can do with the whole world against him? When everyone in the village sees a white loincloth, if you are the only person to see it as black, then you are the one who has a problem." But in the space of 10 years, he became deluded by power, a leader whose only ambitions were to build palaces and drive luxurious cars.

After last fall's election, Mr. Gbagbo and his wife, Simone, refused to accept the results, in part because they had become evangelical Christians, and their pastors convinced them that God alone could remove them from power. Every day on state TV, fanatical clergymen called Mr. Gbagbo God's representative on earth, and the winner of the election, Alassane Ouattara, the Devil's. Many young Ivorians, poor, illiterate and easily brainwashed, believed this.

More prosaically, Mr. Gbagbo and his cronies — guilty, among other crimes, of stealing from the public coffer — fear being brought to justice before an international tribunal, so much so that they have decided to hold on to power no matter the cost. The fear of losing everything can make a dictator, even one who once was a champion of democracy, lose his mind.

The hopes we had in 1982 are long gone now. I was one of many people who denounced Mr. Gbagbo's brazen attack on democracy, and on Jan. 10, his militiamen burst into my old house in Abidjan looking for me. I went into hiding after that, and friends helped me flee Ivory Coast for Ouagadougou, in Burkina Faso, and then France.

I am much luckier than those who have been killed, wounded or raped, those who are languishing in Liberian refugee camps or living without water and electricity. My friend Oumou tells me that her neighbors are burying their dead in their buildings' courtyards. If they go to the cemetery with the bodies of relatives who have been shot in the fighting, they are considered rebels and executed. The same is true for people who seek medical treatment for bullet wounds.

The international community was right to intervene. To allow Mr. Gbagbo to remain in power despite the wishes of the electorate is to give up on the democratic process in sub-Saharan Africa, at the same time as North Africa and the Arab countries are overthrowing authoritarian regimes. We in sub-Saharan Africa began that process 20 or 30 years ago, when Mr. Gbagbo and I were younger men. From Bamako, Mali, to Kinshasa, Congo, students and the dispossessed poured into the streets to topple our dictators.

But in Ivory Coast, we failed; Houphouët-Boigny stayed in power until his death, just as Omar Bongo did in Gabon and Gnassingbé Eyadéma in Togo, while Paul Biya is closing in on 30 years in Cameroon. The seed of democracy had been sowed in Africa, but it grew slower in some countries than in others. I believe it will grow again in Ivory Coast, once Mr. Gbagbo is gone.

I saw him on TV last December, when, despite the protests, he was inaugurated for another term at the presidential palace. Simone Gbagbo wore a white dress, as if she were a bride. At the end of the swearing-in, she conspicuously kissed her husband, and the small crowd applauded. The president and his wife were well-matched in delusion: The whole country knows that Mrs. Gbagbo lost her husband's favor once he became president, and he has since taken a second wife — younger and, it is said, more beautiful. The kiss, like the ceremony, fooled no one.

When I heard that international forces were bombarding Mr. Gbagbo's bases, that was the image that came to me: Laurent, wearing the medals and sash of the office that he refused to give up, and Simone in her wedding dress, the two entwined forever in their tragedy, which is also that of their country.

Venance Konan is a journalist and novelist. This essay was translated by The Times from the French.







For decades, academics and think tankers have been proposing plans to avert a fiscal catastrophe. The ensuing debates were always sedate, high-minded affairs. Now Republican political leaders have come up with a bold proposal of their own and the atmosphere is totally different. Liberals are on the warpath. Republicans are aroused. This is great. It's democracy — how change begins.

The best thing about the long-term budget proposal from Paul Ryan, the Republican chairman of the House Budget Committee, is that it forces Americans to confront the implications of their choices. If voters want taxes that amount to roughly 18 percent of G.D.P., then they are going to have to accept a government that looks roughly like what Ryan is describing.

The Democrats are on defense because they are unwilling to ask voters to confront the implications of their choices. Democrats seem to believe that most Americans want to preserve the 20th-century welfare state programs. But they are unwilling to ask voters to pay for them, and they are unwilling to describe the tax increases that would be required to cover their exploding future costs.

Raising taxes on the rich will not do it. There aren't enough rich people to generate the tens of trillions of dollars required to pay for Medicare, let alone all the other programs. Democrats, thus, face a fundamental choice. They can either reverse President Obama's no-new-middle-class-taxes pledge, or they can learn to live with Paul Ryan's version of government.

Until they find a way to pay for the programs they support, they will not be serious players in this game. They will have no credible plans and will be in an angry but permanent retreat.

Because he had the courage to take the initiative, Paul Ryan's budget plan will be the starting point for future discussions, at least as long as Republicans control at least one house of Congress. But it should be acknowledged that the Ryan plan has several grave weaknesses.

As presently configured, it is unacceptable to moderate voters and stands no chance of passage. Substantively, it does not address the structural problems plaguing the American economy: wage stagnation, inequality, declining growth rates. It doesn't have an answer to rising health care costs. Nor does it leave room for future policy creativity; there's no money to allow future generations to rise to unforeseen challenges. So, while acknowledging that Ryan has done the nation a great service by providing a starting point, we should expect his budget to evolve as the debate goes forward.

First, though Ryan is absolutely right to call for a fundamental reform of the tax code, we should probably aim to generate tax revenues equal to 20 percent of G.D.P., not the 18 percent he proposes. This would allow us to preserve some of the discretionary spending programs that Ryan cuts.

For example, Ryan would cut Pell grants back to their 2008 levels. This is not the horrendous monstrosity some liberals are screaming about. But the economic challenge from China and India demands that we spend more on Pell grants, scientific research, early childhood education and other investments in human capital than Ryan proposes.

Second, we can't let the oldsters get off scot-free. As my colleague David Leonhardt reported in The Times, two 56-years-olds with average earnings will pay about $140,000 in dedicated Medicare taxes over their lifetimes. They will receive about $430,000 in benefits. This is an immoral imposition on future generations. The Ryan budget wouldn't touch this generation, but a bipartisan budget deal should ask middle-class and affluent boomers to make a sacrifice for their country. Slow the growth in health care benefits now and dedicate that money to paying down the debt and investing in the young.

Third, we still need a calm discussion about controlling health care costs. Just about every expert agrees with the following proposition: We can't afford to have Medicare pay for every new procedure that medical technologists devise. The president's health reform plan relies on a centralized board of technocrats to restrict choices. The Ryan plan relies on a premium support model that would allow individuals to exercise greater control over what sorts of procedures they would not be covered for. As the economist Tyler Cowen writes on his Marginal Revolution blog, we probably need a mixed system that takes advantage of both the technocratic and individual rationing models.

Ryan has moved us off Unreality Island. He is forcing Americans to confront the implications of their choices. With a few straightforward changes, his budget could be transformed into a politically plausible center-right package that would produce a fiscally sustainable welfare state while addressing the country's structural economic problems. I suspect the process Ryan has started will take us back toward the moderate framework the Simpson-Bowles deficit commission proposed a year ago.

 Great journeys begin with one bold step. 







Ask a prospective car buyer, and you likely will find he wants more than just a means to get from A to B.

Sure, cars are for transportation, but drivers want them to have an appealing style and perhaps room to carry a family as well, plus amenities to make the ride more comfortable.

Yet more and more car buyers these days are also seeking vehicles that get better gas mileage and produce less pollution. And even those of us who aren't in the market for a vehicle want automakers' manufacturing processes to be as clean and conservation-minded as reasonably possible — while still producing autos that people want to buy.

On Thursday, two Volkswagen officials assured our community that the big new VW plant at Enterprise South industrial park will work vigorously to protect the environment while building fuel-efficient vehicles that customers will find attractive.

Volkswagen's goal is "to become not only the economic leader but the environmental leader" in the auto industry, said Gerhard Pratorius, who leads Volkswagen's social responsibility and sustainability programs.

"It was the right decision" to come to Chattanooga, he said. He and Guenther Scherelis, general manager of communications for Volkswagen Group of America in Chattanooga, praised this area's openness to VW's cutting-edge environmental efforts.

Scherelis noted that the paint shop at the plant at Enterprise South will use less energy than traditional paint shops, and will use 50,000 fewer gallons of water per day. Among other conservation measures at the VW operation are energy-efficient lighting and environmentally friendly landscaping. Plus, the company will use rail service for the efficient shipment of 85 percent of the cars made here.

The diesel-engine Passats built in Chattanooga are projected to get about 43 miles per gallon on the highway. That's obviously appealing in a time of high fuel prices.

Equally appealing is the fact that up to 2,500 people in this area will have good jobs thanks to VW's $1 billion investment, and Passats are to begin rolling off the local assembly line this month. The Chattanooga plant will be able to build up to 150,000 cars per year — a figure that could increase in time.

The local economic benefits and VW's conservation-minded production values are heartily welcome.






A basic responsibility of Congress is to provide for the financing of the government of the United States.

Obviously, there are sharp differences among Democrats and Republicans about how much the American people should be taxed and how much the government should spend. And reasonable decisions are rare, as is evidenced by the fact we have a $14 trillion national debt, with irresponsible spending adding $1.3 trillion to $1.6 trillion each year. Congress does not even pretend to provide balanced budgets.

But as a midnight deadline approaches tonight, Congress has the obligation to do something about funding continued operations of government — or face a partial shutdown when existing finances run out!

Reasonable people do not want a shutdown, and fortunately, vital services would continue in any event. But reasonable people also do not want to pile up more debt.

House Republicans, seeking bigger spending cuts than the president and Democrats in Congress want, approved a bill Thursday to fund government operations for another week and to provide more time for negotiations. But the president vowed to veto it. That proved his unwillingness to accept even the too-timid GOP cuts, much less the deeper, more serious cuts necessary to begin to put our country's fiscal house in order.

So barring last-minute action, it appears a partial government shutdown will take place.

That is a testament to the irresponsibility of the president and too many in Congress.





While many in our federal government are financially irresponsible, Chattanooga's Republican Congressman Chuck Fleischmann is co-sponsoring a resolution in the House of Representatives calling for a balanced budget amendment to our Constitution. Such an amendment "is one of the reasons why I ran for Congress," he said, "and is a matter of national importance."

Fleischmann noted that the state of Tennessee as well as American families must find ways to balance their own budgets, even as the federal government piles up unsustainable debt.

"This is outrageous and is one of the reasons our country is in the midst of a financial crisis," he said in a news release.

Day-to-day congressional votes to cut spending are necessary, he noted, but a balanced budget amendment "would go much further and would actually force politicians in Washington to balance our bottom line.

"While one might think balancing a budget would be common sense, unfortunately common sense seems to evade a number of elected officials; therefore, we need an amendment that forces the federal government to balance their budget. This amendment is needed now, so politicians can no longer kick the can down the road."

Fleischmann obviously is bucking the congressional trend, and undoubtedly will have a hard time advancing his proposed balanced budget amendment.

But he is also obviously right!





We all want good health care. We want it to be readily available and reasonably priced. And most of us certainly don't want socialized medicine.

But as we embark upon ObamaCare, big changes are threatened in our way of dealing with health care for the American people.

Seeking to head off some of that, Republican Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker of Tennessee voted recently to repeal a provision in the new health care law that would have required millions of businesses to submit 1099 tax forms for every business that sells them more than $600 in goods per year. That rule would impose massive, costly paperwork.

"I hope the repeal of this bad provision of the new health care law quickly leads to the law's full repeal, so we can start over on real reforms that will lower the cost of health care for all Americans," Alexander said.

Alexander, who as governor of Tennessee was a leader in health care, noted that our state has suffered 26 straight months of unemployment higher than 9 percent — "and the last thing our state's small businesses need, as they work to grow and hire new employees, is to be forced to waste their time filling out a new tax form for every phone bill or utility payment over $600."

The senator said in a statement from his office that if the provision were allowed to go into effect next year, it would hit more than 40 million U.S. businesses. That includes some 26 million sole proprietorships, or businesses owned by one person, according to figures from the National Taxpayer Advocate Service, an ombudsman for the Internal Revenue Service.

We want reliable, efficient health care for all Americans — but we don't want to be strangled by red tape or smothered by high costs.

We face major challenges as ObamaCare moves along, but it appears that at least one of its burdensome provision will be removed.









After 63 years of denying the Bedouin of the Negev rights to the land they acquired before 1948 and in accordance with the Bedouin law that then prevailed, Israel is about to give partial recognition to their claims, out of court. The condition is that all those still living in unrecognized locales agree to permanent settlement in government-recognized towns. There are four specific reasons why this initiative must not fail.

• Because, if it fails, 110,000 Bedouin - 55 percent of the Negev Bedouin population - will be left without proper housing, continuing to live in the decrepit shanties they now inhabit, without elementary services, in about 50 "unrecognized" villages and dozens of clusters spread widely between Arad and Mitzpeh Ramon. No alternative housing exists for these people, because ownership of the 25,000 building plots needed for them is claimed by Bedouin with whom successive governments have failed to come to terms.

• Because, if the initiative fails, the question of who owns large tracts of land (the Bedouin or the state ) will remain unresolved. Presently, the Bedouin occupy some 440,000 dunams (110,000 acres ). However, once they are properly housed and given alternative land as partial compensation for what they claim to own, they will have 240,000 dunams, with the balance to be used by the state for development.

• Because, the failure of the initiative will render any peaceable and proper settlement of the Bedouin and resolution of the land disputes impossible. Unless the initiative seems attractive and just to the Bedouin, they will reject it and continue living under substandard conditions rather than submit to what they deem an injustice, while their numbers and the space they need continue to grow. It is worth reflecting on how much easier it would have been for the state to address fairly the original land-ownership claims made by 3,200 Bedouin in the 1970s, than to deal with the 28,000 claims raised by their heirs and their heirs' heirs today.

• Because, in the event that the government's initiative fails, the near future, too, may be fraught with danger. Currently, feelings of discrimination and frustration are high among the Negev Bedouin. In 2007, despite the long neglect of their needs and aspirations, they allowed themselves to hope that the appointment of a committee to recommend a new Bedouin policy, under retired Supreme Court Justice Eliezer Goldberg, might presage a reasonable compromise. The committee met for a year, considering the issues from the viewpoint of the Bedouin as well as the state, but its recommendations were rejected by the government of then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who quickly appointed a group to study ways to alter the Goldberg report. This group, which spent the next two years diluting the judge's conclusions, was in itself a great disappointment to the Bedouin. In addition, the Ministry of Justice continued submitting claims in court to prove that the Bedouin had neither rights to land nor to compensation; the government also waged a campaign of destroying "illegal" Bedouin homes, leaving many families without shelter and preventing young couples from marrying.

It is not surprising, then, that the Bedouin are suspicious of the current government's initiative, which was made known to them this week. And the only way to make it succeed is to provide it with two essential components.

The first is equal treatment. The government must stipulate that any claimant to land ownership whose claim was accepted as valid by the Ministry of Justice in the 1970s will receive compensation in land and money - even if his land was registered as state property prior to the deadline set for making claims, he lost his claim through legal proceedings, or he was evacuated from his holdings at some point. These categories comprise one-half of the claimants to ownership, whose support of the initiative is clearly preferable to their rejecting and working against it.

The second component is to adjust the level of cash compensation to what the land would command today on the free market, as determined by a licensed appraiser. This is particularly urgent regarding land needed for housing and public buildings within existing or planned, recognized towns. Without these lands as part of the deal, there will be no Bedouin settlement. In addition, we cannot expect that a claimant will agree to receive NIS 10,000 in compensation for a dunam plot when a similar tract in Rahat, for example, sells for six to eight times that amount.

Raising the levels of cash and land compensation will reduce Bedouin opposition to the initiative to a minimum, thereby assuring the Netanyahu government a historic achievement for the Negev as a whole.

Dr. Clinton Bailey has studied Bedouin culture in the Negev for many years.








This past Monday, on the eve of President Shimon Peres' much-touted meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, the Jerusalem Planning and Building Committee approved a plan to build 942 housing units over the Green Line - expanding the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo, and creating one more fact on the ground to preclude a negotiated solution in Jerusalem.

Mr. Biden may think he is experiencing deja vu. One year ago, he arrived in Jerusalem to assure Israel of U.S. support on the eve of peace talks with the Palestinians. Even as he was meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu and declaring the Obama administration's "absolute, total, unvarnished commitment to Israel's security," the Interior Ministry was announcing that it had given preliminary approval to a plan to build 1,600 new housing units for Israelis in East Jerusalem, in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo.

That announcement had the usual predictable effect. Biden looked miffed and made statements about the danger of unilateral steps in undermining trust. Netanyahu looked embarrassed, but declared that building for Jews in East Jerusalem was the same as building in Tel Aviv and, besides, Israel had been doing it for 43 years. The Palestinians refused to enter negotiations.

But then, something unusual happened. Someone in Washington saw an opportunity and created a crisis. The tone of American rebuke became more pointed, framing Israeli construction in East Jerusalem as settlement activity. This sparked both public anger and public debate in Israel.

The harsh American reaction also ushered in an important period of calm and restraint in Israeli policy in Jerusalem - policy that was in keeping with the official statements that Israel seeks a fair and lasting two-state solution.

From March 2010 until the end of the "settlement freeze," the following September, the Israeli government quietly refrained from advancing new plans for Israeli residential construction in East Jerusalem. In this period, the government also halted settlement activity within Palestinian neighborhoods, and put a cap on the usual policy of demolishing scores of Palestinian homes and structures in the city built without the rare and elusive building permits.

When the freeze thawed, "business as usual" resumed in Jerusalem - with a vengeance. From October 2010 until today, new ideologically based settlements were launched in Sheikh Jarrah, Jabal Mukkaber and A-Tur. In addition 3,480 housing units have been pushed into the planning pipeline - in Pisgat Ze'ev and Ramot in northern East Jerusalem, and in Gilo and Har Homa in the south. And these are just a fraction of the government's plans to build up to 50,000 new housing units for Israelis in East Jerusalem. These new plans expand existing neighborhoods to the edge of Palestinian villages, add new neighborhoods, and unilaterally cement Jerusalem's borders before negotiations can begin.

Most Israelis view the large Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem as integral to our capital and legitimate. To Palestinians, and much of the world, they are settlements built illegally in occupied territory. In the context of a peace agreement, the current Palestinian leadership is apparently ready to accept the East Jerusalem neighborhoods as they existed in the year 2000 (without Har Homa ). The relentless Israeli construction in East Jerusalem, including extreme settlement activity in the heart of Palestinian neighborhoods, threatens that potential agreement.

These are not usual times. The political landscape in the Arab world is shifting. To date, the Arab popular uprisings have focused overwhelmingly on domestic issues of economics and democracy. However, if Israeli actions in East Jerusalem, especially in the area of the Old City, incite anger in the Muslim world, Israel could easily become the focus or scapegoat of rage in changing regimes.

The nations of the world, even some of our best friends, are considering recognizing a Palestinian state - including East Jerusalem - in September. They are doing this out of overwhelming frustration with Israel's continued efforts to scuttle honest, far-reaching final status negotiations. Expanding Israeli housing construction over the Green Line in order to create new political facts - whether in East Jerusalem or the West Bank - is the most blatant expression of such efforts.

Business as usual in Jerusalem is not in Israel's interest. We need to pursue - if not policy initiatives - at least a wise policy of restraint that leaves room for a negotiated solution in Jerusalem. It is critical to Israel's future.

Sarah Kreimer is associate director of Ir Amim, an Israeli NGO working toward a more viable and equitable Jerusalem, with an agreed-upon political future.








As Poland stands poised to assume the EU presidency on July 1, no one in the family of nations is happier than Israel. Over the past two decades, Poland has distinguished itself as one of Israel's staunchest supporters in Europe. When problems in Brussels arise, Jerusalem knows it can count on Warsaw.

Poles have also come to recognize that Israelis are among their sincerest well-wishers. In recent years, many Israelis and Diaspora Jews have rediscovered and renewed ancestral ties to the land that they, their parents or grandparents once called home. Israeli-Polish relations, cultural and commercial, scientific and social - whether formal or informal, official or unofficial - are flourishing.

No postcommunist country in Europe has come close to matching Poland's courage or candor in confronting the darkest chapters in its own wartime history, including transgressions of commission and omission. This has engendered Israel's respect and strengthened the connections between the two nations. For this reason, the Polish government's recent announcement that it will end attempts to enact legislation on the restitution issue is very disturbing and perplexing.

Ever since the fall of communism, successive Polish governments have pledged to resolve the complex issues arising out of the plunder of private property and postwar expropriations and nationalizations.

Since turning back the clock is impossible, any "solution" is inherently imperfect. To be sure, this is not a strictly Jewish issue, as non-Jews were also dispossessed. However, the case of Polish Jewry was one of total despoliation. An entire people was stripped of everything it had accumulated through centuries of toil. To make modern consideration of the matter even more complicated, most Jews who lost property were murdered, and their heirs no longer live in Poland. Survivors who sought to reclaim their properties immediately after the war were often met with hostility and even murderous violence. This only hastened their departure and added to their bitterness.

Poland blames Germany for the immeasurable destruction, human and material, of World War II - and rightly so. But the fact is that all immovable property belonging to Jews killed in the Holocaust remained in Poland. The survivors did not take their apartments, houses, stores, lots, factories or forests with them, and the Polish government, local authorities and individuals to whom they devolved were enriched by those assets.

In a recent interview with Haaretz, during an official visit to Israel, Poland's Oxford-educated foreign minister, Radoslaw Sikorski, hastened to explain: "The Holocaust that took place on our soil was conducted against our will by someone else." In view of what is now known, this is somewhat misleading.

The latest scholarship to emerge in Poland makes clear that the participation of locals in the dispatch of Jews was hardly an exceptional phenomenon. On occasion, intoxicated by the lure of instant enrichment, Poles did not recoil from taking part in the killings, whether orchestrated by the Germans or at their own initiative. And for many years, not a few Poles slept in Jewish beds, ate off Jewish china, played Chopin on Jewish pianos and rocked their babies in Jewish cribs. Presumably, some still do.

The Bible tells us that God sent Elijah to confront Ahab after the innocent Navot was stoned to death so that his land could be seized: "Hast thou murdered and also inherited?" Elijah asked. Had that question been put to the people of Poland after World War II, the answer for quite a few would have to have been "yes." And some among Polish officialdom would have us believe that there is nothing wrong with perpetuating that state of affairs.

Quite paradoxically, even as Polish scholars unflinchingly document the magnitude of local complicity in the destruction of Polish Jewry, Poland's government is adopting the approach taken by its communist predecessors - denying all responsibility. Instead, to deflect criticism, Sikorski lashed out at Washington for its very real failure to take any meaningful action during the war to save Polish Jews. That too is a page taken from a tired, communist-era playbook and has no relevance to the present discourse.

The Polish government has justified its stance by claiming that its treasury could not sustain the burden of any payout. That, of course, is a disingenuous argument: Modern-day Poland has one of the strongest and most dynamic economies in all of Europe. If anything, Poland should take a cue from Macedonia. That small Balkan country, whose economic and geopolitical situation is far more precarious than that of Poland, set a noble example in 2002 in enacting and implementing comprehensive restitution legislation that addressed the issue of property lost in the Holocaust.

Historic wrongs are rarely righted and the challenge of real justice is impossible where the Shoah is concerned. But in refusing to face the issue and rejecting the idea of even a symbolic resolution, it is as if Poland's government has turned its back on all that is great and glorious in Polish tradition. No one better symbolizes that tradition than Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, whose personal heroism in Poland during the Shoah should inspire to action. As the grand old man of Polish diplomacy observed in his memoirs about that period: "warto byc przyzwoitym" - it pays to be decent .

Dr. Laurence Weinbaum is the director of the Israel Council on Foreign Relations and chief editor of the Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs, which operate under the auspices of the World Jewish Congress.







Thursday, April 7, 2011There are, in our view, good arguments for nuclear power. They turn on the dangers of the hydrocarbons of burning fossil fuels, the dire scenarios many scientists predict for climate change or global warning and world's unstoppable appetite for energy. The practical dangers of digging for coal are well established in Turkey, where scores of miners have died in recent accidents. The health hazards of air pollution from coal burning are a related matter, also one with which we are well acquainted in Turkey.

We have continually raised concerns in this space about the nearly 1,000 hydroelectric dams being mulled for Turkey, for the devastation of habitat, genetic diversity and the displacement of thousands of villagers. We realize the limits of the most eco-friendly alternatives, such as wind power or solar. And no, we are no more inclined than the rest of the one-half of 6 billion-plus inhabitants of Earth to surrender our cars, our plasma TVs, our vacations enabled by jet aircraft or – in the case of the other half of humanity – our aspirations for such things.

And of course it doesn't pencil out. Growing our GDP, improving the lives of Turkish citizens, achieving modern levels of welfare requires that energy consumption can and will continue to grow at its current pace in Turkey of about 7 percent a year. We can't do all that with windmills atop the hills near the Aegean town of Çeşme.

But the announcement that a third nuclear plant, beyond the two already on the drawing boards, is being seriously considered for the city of İğneada, 250 kilometers west of Istanbul near the Bulgarian border is really a bit rich. As virtually the entire world is saying, "Whoa, let's stop and think this over," in the wake of Japan's Fukushima, Turkey is marching ahead with an abandon bordering on arrogance. The site on the Black Sea coast near Sinop may well make seismic sense. The site on the Mediterranean, near the village of Akkuyu, is more problematic. It sits nearly atop a fault line that caused one of history's most powerful earthquakes, admittedly 1,500 years ago but that's only a moment in geological time. That tenders for the projects have been issued without transparent, competitive bidding is another concern.

And the dismissals by ministers prime and otherwise, including the joke that male bachelorhood is more dangerous than nuclear power, are insulting to citizens whose fears are real.

A taking stock in the form of a publicly discussed national energy plan is not an unreasonable suggestion. Examination of emerging technologies, including the so-called "fourth generation" reactors, which are perhaps a decade away and will produce a fragment of the radioactive waste of today's technologies, is also not the position of environmental extremism.

Let's have that reasonable national discussion.

The views expressed in the Straight represent the consensus opinion of the Hürriyet Daily News and its editorial board members.  






President Abdullah Gül continues to emerge as the voice of reason, speaking out for democracy and human rights, at a time when the future of Turkey's democratic standing and institutional structure is being debated in Turkey. This is an issue that has special significance for the region as a whole as well, given what is taking place in the Middle East and North Africa.

The first topic that has emerged in this context concerns the question of whether Turkey can be a model for countries such as Egypt and Tunisia as they try to secure a democratic future.

The second subject is whether Turkey should change the structure of its own democracy and move towards a presidential system, a move that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan appears keen on, unlike President Gül.

We had the opportunity, as a small group or journalists, to discuss both issues with President Gül as we accompanied him on his official visit earlier this week to Indonesia. If we take up the second topic first, Gül has made it more than apparent in the recent past that he opposes the idea of a presidential system for Turkey. He has not, however, made it clear why he is opposed to this.

I asked President Gül directly why he was opposed to this change, which would indeed be a radical one for Turkey. He was open in his answer, but before explaining his reasons he still made it clear that it was healthy for Turkey to debate such issues – like every other issue – in a democratic environment.

"If Turkey was a country that was transiting to a democratic system for the first time, a presidential system could have been considered," Gül went on to say. He underlined however that Turkey's parliamentary tradition was not a new phenomenon, adding that a presidential system is something that is completely different to what we have in Turkey today in terms of the structure of the legislature and political parties.

His message was apparent and amounted to saying, "Don't tamper with our existing parliamentary system." This cannot be too pleasing to Prime Minister Erdoğan, who seems to have his heart set on a presidential system, which his political detractors say is part and parcel of his desire to become president himself after Gül's term in office ends.

President Gül had more to say on the matter that could not have been too pleasing for Mr. Erdoğan either. For example he emphasized that the president, as matters stand today, already has too much power, a situation that he believes should be changed.

"The powers of the president under today's constitution are broader than should be the case in a parliamentary system," he said, recalling that the current constitution was the product of a military regime – when the chief of General Staff of the day become president after a coup – and was designed to facilitate what Gül termed as "a transition period."

As to the first topic mentioned above, I also had the opportunity to ask President Gül to comment on the so-called "Turkish model" for the region, given what is happening in Egypt, Tunisia, Syria, Yemen and Libya. Gül said the best Turkey could do in this context was to contribute indirectly to those countries by improving itself to become a good example.

"What is important is for Turkey to consolidate its own democracy, human rights and economy. Our responsibility in this regard is not just to our own people, but to a very broad geography," Gül said. "As we improve ourselves in these areas, this will have a great and unbelievable positive effect on the region," he added saying, "Turkey has no right to be unsuccessful in this regard."

Referring to Syria, President Gül said that those running that country were aware of the need for deep-rooted reforms. "I told them that if they move ahead with confidence in this regard this would be to their advantage," he added. Gül also noted that there was no country in the Mediterranean region that could continue to be a closed dictatorial regime anymore for long.

This is a theme he repeated during his speech at the "Universitas Indonesia," where he received an honorary doctorate in political science. Recalling during his speech that the dynamics of the current change in the region was reminiscent of the 1848 revolutions in Europe and the 1989 revolutions in Eastern and Central Europe, Gül said that the people of the region had finally decided to take their future into their own hands and catch up with history.

"No matter what caused the change, it is no longer a choice, but a necessity and a reality to be reckoned with," he added, not neglecting to criticize Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi in particular for not seeing this.

"From the very outset, we appealed to Libyan leaders not to allow such bloodshed to happen and to pave the way for an orderly and democratic transition. But unfortunately that call went unheeded, and we are now faced with the possibility of a protracted civil conflict," Gül said.

The bottom line that we surmise from President Gül's overall remarks is that Turkey should not engage in unnecessary political adventurism by tampering with its parliamentary system, which has a long tradition, but try instead to improve the system it has in terms of democracy and human rights. This will serve not just Turkey's best interests as a democratic country, but will also make Turkey "a beacon by example" for other countries in the region that have predominantly Islamic populations.

This is not a bad message to be giving to the country and the world at the present time.







Karim Sadjadpour, an associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, recently recalled what an Arab Shiite friend of his reminded him: "Iran wants to fight America and Israel down to the last Palestinian, Lebanese and Iraqi." In contrast, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's Turkey, most probably, wants to fight America and Israel down to the last Palestinian, Lebanese, Iraqi and Iranian.

Since the spectacular ascension to power in late 2002 of Erdoğan's Justice and Development Party, or AKP, secularist Turks have accused Turkey's new elite of having a hidden agenda to turn Turkey into Iran. This column, however, has invariably argued that Iran would be the last role model for Turkey's Islamist rulers. No, it was not only the unbridgeable sectarian difference; it was far more complex than that.

True, Iranian petrodollars are used to finance Islamic radicals like Khaled Meshaal in Syria, Moktada al-Sadr in Iraq and Hassan Nasrallah in Lebanon. True, the same petrodollars may have been used to finance less radical Turks through lucrative energy deals in Iran for the power center's most beloved in Turkey.

True, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's Iran and Erdoğan's Turkey may be sharing a lot not necessarily in terms of love but of hate – hatred for the damned infidels. It is also true that the two neighbors have enjoyed a war-less history since 1639, despite long periods of hostility, rivalry, deep hostility, near-war, almost-war and cold war. But their differences are by nature divided and often mutually exclusive despite their common unnamed foreign policy doctrine in favor of "neo-Third Worldism."

Erdoğan and his men, for the Shiite mullahs in Tehran, are too Western, too little Muslim, too Sunni and too shrewd (for a Turk); they are probably a modern-day Trojan Horse in the eyes of their Shiite neighbors. And Ahmadinejad's Iran, for the Sunni mullahs in Ankara, is too Shiite, discreetly too hostile/rivaling, too ambitious and possibly too unreliable. As one AKP "foreign policy connoisseur" recently told me: "We know they are suspicious about us despite all the polish on the outset. And they know we know." Sounds like a challenging chess game.

Tehran's suspicion that Ankara is probably "too Western and a modern-day Trojan Horse" was once again confirmed when late last month Turkey announced that it seized a cache of small arms and ammunitions aboard an Iranian cargo plane bound for Syria. Complying with and successfully executing a U.N. mandate that bans Iranian arms exports, Turkey, deservedly, won Western hearts and minds.

And the confirmation for Ankara's suspicion that Tehran is probably too unreliable did not come too late when Iran touched a raw Turkish nerve. The mullahs have permitted the screening of Rigran Khzmalyan's "Armin Wegner – Genocide Photographer" film which Tehran will host on April 24, adding flavor to the political meaning. The film on the Armenian genocide may also be broadcast on one of Iranian TV channels, newspapers reported. So, the show has been not much different across the Turkish-Iranian border since 1639.

Fast forward to 2005, an article in the British satire publication Private Eye read: "America and Britain today gave a stark warning to Iran that, unless it curbs its nuclear ambitions, they will do nothing. The fact that – the article then quotes former President George W. Bush as saying – unlike Iraq, Iran actually will have weapons of mass destruction that means both [British Prime Minister] Tony [Blair] and I are committed to doing nothing." Those were the days when, as the headline of an article in this column read, Iran was "trouble, opportunity or both." Six years later, "both" looks like the right answer.

And then fast forward to 2011, the fundamental – though not fundamental enough to block opportunist deals – differences between the makers and traders of fine Iranian carpets – Iranians and Turks – are still there: Muslim Turks want "smaller Israel," whereas Muslim Iranians want "no Israel."

The trouble is that the mullahs think they are smarter than all evil foreign men. They may be right. But they should not underestimate the Sunni mullahs, be they in Ankara or in Pennsylvania.

(To be continued Wednesday, April 13)







The series of "Ergenekon" and the "Sledgehammer" thrillers produced by the "Excellence in Massive Documentation Center" with the obvious aim of hurting the elements still supportive of the headed by secularism founding principles of the Turkish republic "naturally" produced hundreds of people behind bars waiting to be cleared off the charges.

Elsewhere in the world there is a fundamental principle of law: Unless sentenced by a court, everyone should be considered innocent. In this country, thanks to rampant wiretapping, circumstantial eavesdropping, politicians and journalists becoming prosecutors, judges and executioners and people being sentenced and executed on the front pages of newspapers or at prime time news bulletins of TV stations, that fundamental principle has almost become, "Everyone is guilty until s/he proves his/her innocence at a court."

The country has turned into an empire of fear. Not only politicians, politically-active people, officers and businessmen but also ordinary people are scared of talking on the phone because of the rampant fear that the "big brother" might be eavesdropping. George Orwell would have loved to see his famous "1984" novel becoming reality in the Turkey governed by Absolute Ruler Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party, or AKP.

All these being said, however, no one can oppose an effort that aimed at "cleansing the intestines of Turkey" – as great Turkish statesman and philosopher Bülent Arınç of Manisa has said – and bring in front of law all those people who for whatever reason committed crimes against this people or tried to topple the constitutional government of the country. In this country that underwent military coups so many times in its recent history, we cannot and should not tolerate heinous plans to overthrow the civilian government of the country. Naturally, if such threats come from some "civilian" sources or from a brotherhood, this country should now allow a civilian coup either, which indeed might be far worse than a military coup.

There has been of course a tremendous change in the perceptions of the Turkish society over the past decades. For those who remember the Susurluk Probe period – which was described by the first Islamist prime minister of the country, the late Necmettin Erbakan, as a wishy-washy thing – would recall not only the strong support of the society of that investigation but also its deathly silence when some senior officers refused to answer an invitation and testify to a parliamentary commission on the issue.

It was sad but a parliamentary commission was given a clear message at the time that it was none of the business of the civilians to probe "crimes committed for the state." Anyhow, there was as well a woman prime minister in this country for some time who declared at Parliament's rostrum that for her administration there was no difference between those who die for the state and kill for the state; they were both heroes.

The time of becoming a hero by sacrificing your life or someone else's life has hopefully come to an end. At least no prime minister or minister has made such an awkward statement for the past 15 years or so.

There is a marked difference in the perception of the society. While the society, though so supportive of the Susurluk Probe, was dead silent as regards the refusal of some top officers to testify in front of a parliamentary commission, now the same society is telling the military it strongly disapproved of it issuing a statement and saying it found the continued arrest of some over 160 active duty and retired officers in connection with the so-called "Sledgehammer" probe strange. The Turkish society, including those who consider such probes as a product of a revanchist effort of political Islam, or its current apparent representative the AKP government, against the institutions and founding philosophy of secular and democratic Turkish republic, is irritated with the military issuing such a statement.

It may appear insignificant, but this change in attitude of the Turkish society demonstrates in all clarity that though there might be concern in some sections of the society regarding where the country is heading and despite all the worries that the AKP governance has enhanced its control over the judiciary with its latest amendments in the Constitution, the nation still believes that justice will eventually prevail and everyone should stay away from at least direct and open interference in the working of justice system.

Yes, those people might be unjustly kept behind bars. Definitely under the Turkish legal system as well detention and arrest during trial must be an exemption and should not substitute for punishment or become some sort of punishment. Definitely, there is such an awful situation continuing in Turkey for some time. Yet, it is not the duty of the Turkish Armed Forces to issue statements and publicly complain of such malfunctions and anti-democratic and unlawful practices.

Coming to this point, of course, is a marked difference compared to early 1990s.






I call the WikiLeaks documents that daily Taraf publishes every day the "WikiLeaks Documentary." The daily has done a great job in respect to journalism by not only getting ahead of everybody and signing an agreement for scripts that concern everybody; it has also mirrored Turkish-U.S. relations and how U.S. diplomacy works.

The most striking thing about it is the language of translation used in the documents. It is extremely precautious and explains in which context which documents need to be read. They don't put a lot of documents in front of you expecting you to read all of them. They have cleaned unnecessary parts and deleted each and every name that might lead to any speculation or might be interpreted as an informant.

It is an extremely responsible and constructive publication. Besides, the selected documents shed light on many events we have experienced recently. And it disappoints everybody who sees a link between each development and a U.S. conspiracy.

In each publication I see Taraf Deputy Editor-in-Chief Yasemin Çongar's interpretation and responsibility but I'm sure there are others who help her.

These documents prove how carefully U.S. diplomacy examines events, closely and realistically. They work like a Swiss clock. They make mistakes but created a mechanism that never ever misleads Washington.

One can't help but admire.

Ali Demir fails the exam

I don't see any bad intention in the chaos of the Student Selection and Placement Center, or ÖSYM, exam.

On the contrary, it is understood that this chaos stirs from an exaggerated concern about security precautions trying to ensure a more secure environment for an exam. This is called lack of experience.

Take a look at the following statement: According to the center's head, Ali Demir, the reason for such chaos "is the lack of experience in preparing booklets for the press."


This is what happens when the new president and his crew bring about a new system in order to prove themselves. Everybody is interested in the outcome. And thus people label it a lack of ineptitude.

No matter how right the ÖSYM president is, the chaos created by him makes him fail the first exam. He should have anticipated the sensibility of the public and behaved accordingly.

No one can get into details. For, the subject is too intertwined and hard to understand. That is why one enters into political turbulence of which it becomes hard to get out once in.

This is exactly what happened now. The ÖSYM president has given the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, unnecessary pain. In a time where elections are near the administration would not want to encounter such scandalous surprise. Politically it would protect its bureaucrat but if repeated it would get rid of him. Demir has paved the way for fights about separate exams for female students and exaggerated security precautions.

Let's see if he will learn his lesson or just get crushed by spoiled trust.

Why are we afraid of missioners?

With the support of the state the Turkish people are very successful in creating their own bogeymen. And foremost among these bogeymen is missionary activity.

Who are these missionaries?

Those who want to tell and convince Turks that Christianity is a better religion are called missionaries. They also work to spread not only religion but also any other subject.

But what really gives us goosebumps is the Christianity propaganda.

Documents published by Taraf and data resulting from its own news service reveal that we are facing a situation far beyond ridiculous.

The number of missionaries in a Turkey of 75 million inhabitants is only 50(!). What's even funnier is that in this country of 75 million, according to official numbers within the past 10 years, the number of those giving up Islam for Christianity is 500(!).

Isn't that beyond ridiculous?

Let's assume there are 1,500 unknown in addition to the 500.

Is this number worth the fuss?

On one side the Religious Affairs Directorate and on the other side the state-supported institutions or nongovernmental institutions, nationalists, cults and want-to-be pious become prophets of doom. A scary environment is created and the way for execution is paved.

Am I wrong?

Aren't we killing the lives of those who chose to be this way?

Don't we have any guilt in the killing of Priest Santoro in such an environment?

Didn't the innocent people at Zirve Publishing get their throats cut just because of that?

Even theologian Zekeriya Beyaz is ready to announce jihad. They even go as far as saying that this country is being pushed into a great danger and about to be lost.

What do our missioners do?

I don't understand the double standard.

So I ask of you, doesn't Turkey have Muslim missionaries?

We have more than some thousand missionaries.

A great part does not officially announce itself as missionaries, right?

Don't they say that Islam is above all religions?

What do you think schools, religious functionaries and imams all around the world do?

Let us be sensitive about missionaries, be careful, claim our religion but let's not create bogeymen out of dwarves. Let's not put ourselves into a weak or desperate position for the sake of nationalism or piety.






The international community's mission in Libya is still unclear. Does it want to merely protect civilians against Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's brutality? Is it working for regime change? More importantly, what type of government can replace Gadhafi?

The answer to this last question lies with the Libyan people's constitution of 1951. It provides the international community with the means and the leverage to work with the Libyans to establish a modern viable state. Without it, we risk creating a failed state on the Mediterranean.

Even if we know little about Libya's rebel forces, it is increasingly clear that these forces are a coalition. The head of foreign relations for the Interim National Council, or INC, is Ali Al-Issawi, a former cabinet minister of Gadhafi and ambassador to India, who recently defected to the opposition. The spokesman of the INC is Mahmoud Shammam, a prominent Libyan dissident and journalist who has lived many years in the United States and was a frequent commentator on the United States government-owned Arabic channel Al-Hurra. Others have different backgrounds, but they all seem united around one goal: to retake Libya from Gadhafi.

These and other figures remember something important about Libya that is critical to understanding its future: Libya was never a united state before its 1951 constitution. That important document established the modern state of Libya in the same way that the American constitution created the United States. 

In fact, until 1951, there was no Libya. There were three Ottoman provinces: Cyrenaica, Tripolitania and Fezzan (a far-flung province bordering Niger where the Ottoman sultans exiled their opponents by giving them the title of "Pasha of Fezzan"). The Ottomans ruled these disparate provinces for centuries until Italy conquered them in 1912.

In 1951, the United Nation helped establish modern Libya by uniting its three provinces, as represented by a tricolor flag. That same flag is now flying in Libya; the rebels have embraced it. The flag represents Libya's unification in 1951 under its first U.N.-backed constitution. Indeed, it is a symbol of the pre-Gadhafi era. The rebels are signaling to the world that they stand for a united Libya under a modern constitution.

The international community does not seem to have a coherent Libya strategy. The no-fly zone certainly prevents Gadhafi's from massacring civilians. However, the U.N. Security Council resolution 1973 leaves room for individual countries to arm the rebels. This is an unambiguous reference to regime change.

International support for the Libyan people and opposition should not be unconditional, however. The international community that supports the Libya's opposition forces should now accompany them in their nascent political process, to ensure that they uphold universal values of human rights and work for unity and democracy.

Once Gadhafi calls, Western countries must release the billions of dollars belonging to the Libyan state and Gadhafi that they have frozen in recent weeks. But these funds and assets should only be returned to a democratic state that respects the rights of its citizens. In other words, to access to these assets, they must prove that they are establishing a democratic state, and that no radical force will highjack the political process. Only then should the international community return these assets to the rightful owners: the Libyan people. This economic leverage can ensure that the Libyan rebellion is not derailed by undemocratic political currents or radical groups, as has recently been reported.

The economic leverage should not stop at Libyan money oversees. Current and future trade with the European Union and the United States can also be used as leverage. Economic incentives and trading agreements can help the Libyan economy and cement the democratic process.

The West's support for the Libyan people is a moral duty and a move that will serve Western interests in the region. On a regional level, this support can begin to help win over the hearts and minds of the Arab population. Indeed, had Washington and the European states failed to step in, conspiracy minded Arab populations would have blamed the West for tacitly supporting Gadhafi's tyranny. Remaining on the sidelines would have emboldened the other autocratic Arab rulers who still remain in power.

If the West cannot help free Arabs, radical Islamist forces are always ready to lend a helping hand to rebellions. This would ultimately lead to instability. Another Somalia in this troubled region would not help American interests.

*Hayri Abaza is a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.







Battles on the sporting field entertain millions – offering a healthy means to release energy, and, in the view of some anthropologists, fulfilling a fundamental need of humans everywhere. But when wars involving sports and sporting channels are taken off the pitch; the gloves removed; the rule books torn up, things take a far uglier turn. It is this kind of underhand war that the government has opted to wage against the Jang Group by targeting the immensely popular Geo Super sports network. The channel has been pulled off air, following weeks of acrimony and, most lately, a letter from Pemra informing Geo Super that it cannot broadcast from within Pakistan. Security reasons have been cited. This is obviously ludicrous. It is hard to see what threat is posed by images of cricket matches, encounters on a football field or talk shows based around sport. It is even more absurd that a government unable to stop the suicide bombings that occur almost daily should work itself into such a tizzy over broadcasts by the country's only sports channel.

As Geo Super has vanished from the TV screens of the millions who push at the buttons of their remotes in a vain effort to retrieve it, Pemra has denied Geo's claims and implied a technical fault or action by Geo itself is preventing signals from reaching cable operators. We wonder who the body is trying to fool. Geo has lost millions already as a result of the victimisation of Geo Super, most notably during the Cricket World Cup. It would hardly wish to lose more revenue or act to cripple itself. Most people can already see the malevolent intentions that lie behind the move. It has been widely condemned by political parties and civil society members and an adjournment motion has been moved in the national assembly by the opposition against this attack on the media. Anger runs higher in official quarters – perhaps most notably the presidency – over the determination of the Jang Group to expose the government's corruption and its wrongdoings. The pressures it has faced have not stopped it from pursuing its brand of daring, committed journalism. The strategy we see now of trying to strike back by targeting Geo Super will not work. Similar tactics put into play by dictators have failed in the past. If anything, the game we see being played now only further exposes the official set-up and the manner in which Pemra is being misused. People will stand by their favourite sports channel – and their power is such that Pemra and the government thugs behind it will have no choice but to retreat.








That there has been a chronic, extended, and predictably ongoing failure of this government to effectively manage the economy has been evidenced by the Asian Development Bank (ADB). Time after time in the last year, successive reports on our economic decline have all pointed to the same factors for the slippage. There is no dispute among those that finance us as to what the causes of our malaise are, or any dispute as to the remedies. The latest report from the ADB presents a consolidated picture of the national finances, and it is unlikely to be acted upon by this government any more than any other report that points to massive structural reform as the only way out of the alligator-filled swamp we are up to our necks in. The fiscal deficit target of 5.5 percent is likely to be exceeded and our GDP growth will struggle to reach 2.5 percent when we need to achieve a minimum of three percent to keep our heads above water. In virtually every area of the economy, this government has performed badly. Expenditures have been overrun, energy infrastructure continues its slow capsize under the burden of circular debt and there is a sustained decline in public and private investment as a loss of confidence by the business sector drives investment elsewhere.

The Asian Development Outlook (ADO) report released on Wednesday says that our inflation rate is the highest in the region and likely to rise to 16 percent in the coming FY. For the poor – and that is most of us – this is a number that translates into less food than they already have, more expensive healthcare and transport. Poverty, says the report, has increased and notes that the government has, in the last three years, done nothing to objectively measure levels of poverty. All the by now traditional reasons for the ongoing disaster are reiterated. The failure to generate enhanced revenues through direct taxation of the richest in society, haemorrhaging bodies like PIA, Pakistan Steel and other public-sector enterprises, the escalation in our stock of toxic debt and the cost of servicing those debts and the terrifying prospect of runaway inflation as a gutless government prints money to plug the hole in its pockets. After three years in office, the government can no longer play the 'we inherited these problems' card. What we have today is squarely at the door of a government suffering from creeping paralysis.







A new White House report, tabled before Congress, suggests that Pakistan lacks a decisive game plan in the war against militants and has struggled to consolidate its gains in the tribal areas. The report, put before the US Congress twice a year, also notes militant resistance, bad weather and the discovery of large caches of explosives in the conflict zone have been factors holding back success. At the same time, it makes it a point to mention the sacrifices made by those combating the Taliban. While the report has, for obvious reasons, not pleased Pakistan, it raises some extremely relevant points. While our soldiers have made significant gains in most tribal areas, we can hold on to them only through a strategy that includes efforts to win over people, offer them compensation and help them rebuild lives. This is still missing in almost all areas and disenchantment with officialdom allows the Taliban an opportunity to worm their way back into the hearts of people who desperately seek peace and a chance to resume the livelihoods that are vital to their survival.

In view of the report, which also discusses the state of the insurgency in Afghanistan, and the clear evidence of a militant comeback in many areas, perhaps the time has come to pull up chairs around a table and discuss future tactics. The military and civilian leadership need to work together for this. The militants have demonstrated that they can fight a long, hard battle. We must think harder about how to defeat them and involve the civilian setup in the effort so that jobs are created, ravaged towns rehabilitated and an all-out effort made to regain full control over the war-torn areas.








The Punjab government's handling of the young doctors' agitation defies understanding. What could have been settled in a trice – provided there was no surfeit of untreated iron (sariya) in stiff necks – has become a quagmire for a provincial setup priding itself on that last of Pakistani myths, good governance. If this is good governance calculated disaster takes on an entirely new meaning.

The Punjab bureaucracy, especially its health department, has come in for a great deal of criticism because of this agitation. But a bureaucrat is a prisoner of his background and training. Throw him into the open sea – a tempting prospect in many cases – and when he emerges from the waters he will still be a babu, adept at misguiding his political superiors and skilled in looking at the best reasons for saying no.

It is up to the political master to keep the babu in his place and not be misguided by him, and use him as he should be used, as an instrument of administration. But when bureaucratic vision replaces political vision, or when there is not much political vision to begin with, things go wrong. The bureaucrat remains supremely unconcerned. His is a tenured post and he has other nesting-places to go to. The price of administrative failure is paid by the elected politician.

Matters on the doctors' front are still not past the point of no return. They are very much retrievable if, apart from the proviso of untreated iron in bureaucratic necks, the Punjab government recognises the following: (1) young doctors are the backbone of health services across the country; (2) as an overworked and underpaid community, they have genuine grievances and their demands have struck a chord not only in the Punjab health service but in that of other provinces as well; (3) the movement launched haphazardly by the Young Doctors Association (YDA) represents a collective breaking point, doctors simply fed up with their conditions of service and working environment; (4) this movement has now arrived at a point where it cannot be crushed by police methods; and (5) nowhere in the world is there a substitute for trained doctors.

The Punjab provincial health department is purveying dangerous nonsense when it says that it can handle the situation by replacing striking doctors with freshly-inducted recruits from private medical colleges or basic health units. This is the kind of unthinking arrogance which has led to this crisis in the first place. Doctors are not bus drivers or sanitary workers. It takes years of education and training to produce a medical officer from a recognised institution, say, King Edward Medical College or Fatima Jinnah Medical College.

I spent an afternoon in Services Hospital, Lahore, and another in Mayo Hospital, the largest in Pakistan, and one of the largest in Asia. Emergency services and outpatient departments wore a deserted look. The same is true of other hospitals in other cities. It is the public at large which is suffering while the health department is busy issuing handouts saying that the situation is fast returning to normal.

As I write these lines (Thursday morning) there is word that emergency services will be manned for today as a goodwill gesture and as a mark of respect for World Health Day. But barring a counter-gesture from the provincial government will not the strike continue thereafter? How can any government countenance the shutting of hospitals and the discontinuation of emergency services when all it takes to defuse the crisis is a serious attempt at reaching out to the other side?

This should be a cue for Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif to step in and take matters in hand. His subordinates have not been up to the task, and so it is for him to resolve the situation. If this doesn't deserve his attention nothing else does.

But a mystery remains. Matters had been settled between the YDA and the CM's senior adviser Zulfikar Khoso on March 31st, only a formal announcement remaining to be made. It had been agreed that house officers would get a raise of Rs12, 000 a month and other categories of doctors a raise of 20, 000 a month. The CM was supposed to meet YDA reps and in their presence make this announcement. What happened? Who sabotaged this move? Or was untreated iron the problem again?

This amounts to the Punjab government boxing itself into a corner. On the strength of what higher wisdom? As I have already said, the doctors' movement will not be crushed. Threats and dismissals have already proved futile, if anything stiffening the mood of rebellion. The doctors can go on almost indefinitely. The Punjab government doesn't have the same luxury. For how long can it sustain the spectre of empty government hospitals? After a few more days this will become politically impossible, with public frustration and anger mounting, and more questions asked about the meaning of good governance.

The federal government has already stolen a march in this matter by arriving at a verbal agreement with striking doctors in Islamabad. This puts additional pressure on Punjab to arrive quickly at some kind of a solution.

Of course, concerned officials in Lahore have a point when they say that there is no money to spare and if doctors' demands are satisfied, paramedics, teachers and clerks will follow suit. To which the doctors' answer is that they should not be the only ones to drink from the cup of sacrifice. If police and judicial salaries can be raised, if traffic constables can get nearly as much as house medical officers, and motorway police officers substantially more, and if scarce money can be splurged on costly and far-from-urgent road projects catering to the needs not of the masses but an already pampered motoring elite, why should doctors, the most trained of professionals, be denied their due?

There are 22,500 doctors in the Punjab health service, of which 2,500 are house officers. The March 31st package if agreed upon – Rs12,000 for house officers and Rs20,000 for other categories – would have had a budgetary impact (I have the rough calculations) of roughly 5-6 billion rupees. The police pay rise of two years ago had a budgetary impact of nine billion rupees. The cost of road-building in Lahore alone involves huge sums, many times more than what it would take to satisfy the doctors. No one puts in longer hours than government doctors. And no work is more arduous than theirs.

True, doctors have a bad image problem. Looking at the private practice of senior doctors too many of us think doctors to be no better than butchers and cutthroats. But the generality of doctors, those who keep health services going, is not like this.

There's also the larger point about the kind of health service we want in this country. Pakistan is suffering a massive brain drain, with some of our best doctors seeking greener pastures abroad. Come to think of it, 4,000 Pakistani doctors went to Saudi Arabia last year; 2,000 more are on the verge of going.

And why is Saudi Arabia looking for Pakistani doctors? Because Indian doctors are returning to India, drawn by the higher salaries that doctors now get there. What do we want to do with our health services? Do we want to improve them, are we interested in keeping our best doctors here, or are we closing our eyes to trends that spell ruin for the future of our health services?

Clearly, more is at stake than wounded pride or hurt feelings. This is a time for leadership, for transcending pettiness of mind and spirit. And if anyone has to show this leadership, it is the CM, the elected head of the province. But there's no time to lose, for it is the public which is suffering.

Another point which may be kept in mind: Musharraf had his black coats and he lived to rue the day he pushed them on the warpath. The PML-N can do without the province's white coats up in arms against it.








Jasmines are about to blossom in Islamabad, but is there any possibility of a Jasmine revolution in Pakistan? Such a revolution began in Tunisia, it arrived in Egypt and then spread to several other Arab countries with mixed success. Can Pakistan be on its itinerary?

The Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions depended on the resilience of the civil society and youth against terrible odds. The ambiguity inherent in the term 'civil society' notwithstanding, there is a broad base of educated people in Pakistan and hence this component is similar to the Egyptian and Tunisian situation. This segment of Pakistani society has already demonstrated its ability to bring about change in the past, most notably in the case of the restoration of the chief justice and departure of the last military dictator. So, can it bring about change again?

The Tunisian and Egyptian demonstrations started due to high unemployment, soaring prices of food items, corruption, poor living conditions, and the lack of freedom of speech; all but the last are present in Pakistan. The protests in Tunisia and Egypt were not led by any recognised political leadership; in Pakistan there are too many leaders. So, is it the presence of these tried and failed leaders which is preventing a Jasmine revolution in Pakistan? Or is it the absence of a clear-cut agenda of change? If the latter were the case, one can easily construct an agenda.

A Jasmine revolution in Pakistan can begin on the basis of the surrender of the country's sovereignty by the rulers. This needs no proof – even an upstart like David Cameron can cause a near total shutdown of the city when he arrives. Far less important people have caused the entire security apparatus of the country to be surrendered to foreigners; that should be enough proof and if it were not sufficient then the mid-night release of a double murderer and CIA operative, and continuous drone attacks should be enough cause for a civil society revolt against the existing system.

In addition, the continuously rising prices of essential items, high unemployment, and poverty provide enough reasons to hope for the emergence of waves of protest by the middle class and educated youth.

All of these conditions have been present for some time and one would expect that any local group can utilise them to ignite the initial spark. The fact that this has not happened so far is rather difficult to explain; the only explanation one can think of is a great sense of doom and despair that exists throughout the country.

Wherever two Pakistanis are sitting, there is endless talk about the dismal state of the country, the corruption and incompetence of its politicians, and the unending intrigues and political drama, but there is never a spark of hope. Perhaps, it is this lack of hope that has hampered the Jasmine revolution, but then, Egypt was worse in this respect. There, two whole generations had grown up without hope. So, was it the intensity of their hopelessness that made change possible? Are Pakistanis not sufficiently engulfed in darkness?

Revolutionaries must be clear about what they want. Let there be a charter of minimum, non-negotiable demands with the top item being regaining sovereignty. It should be written in bold letters: Henceforth, all drone attacks will be responded to in kind.

Furthermore, all CIA operatives must leave the country within 36 hours. All politicians must declare their wealth to the public within 24 hours and whatever is not declared should become public property and whatever is declared should be scrutinised by an independent commission.

In addition, there should be a list of basic national problems for which solutions must be found within a reasonable time by an independent council of experts who should have the power to implement solutions. On top of the list will be the energy crisis, which has been blamed on corruption, poor planning, lack of resources and just about everything else. However, there are ways to estimate demand for gas and electricity and all that the country needs is a transparent and fast track procedure to meet this demand.

It will cost money, but money is not the problem here; the problem is sheer incompetence and corruption. It has been claimed that if Pakistan were to replace its old grid wires, there will be enough electricity to meet our needs. And it has also been said that if Pakistan's rulers were to stop their extravagance, there will be enough money to overhaul this grid system.

In Egypt and Tunisia, Jasmine revolutions had strong technological components: the internet and various social networking platforms. These platforms were needed because of extreme political suppression; in Pakistan these are likely to play a secondary role in the presence of relatively free news media.

Those who started the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions were just small youth groups; in Pakistan these can easily come into existence through existing mechanisms and hence, objective analysis indicates that the time is just right for a Jasmine revolution in Pakistan.

Pakistan has an abundance of educated youth. These young men and women have great ideas and plans for a different kind of society. All that this new generation lacks at this point is the initial ray of hope; someone just needs to provide them that initial spark of hope and there will blossom a spirit of change.

The writer is a freelance columnist.









The Pakistani cricket team lost the semi-final to India. After the pre-match ballyhoo that was created, admittedly less coarse and far less offensive than the pre-match ballyhoo in India, the loss was a shock.

What if Pakistan had won the semi-final? Would that have created a national high that, even if only for a while, would have compensated for the awful lows that the country has hit in all fields? There is little doubt that this would have been so. Victory in the semi-final would have sent people into euphoric frenzy, until the mounting hardships of day-to-day existence caught up with them again.

But the victory would have been promptly hijacked by opportunists. The team would probably have been credited with the "win," but only after the opportunists had thickly garnished and liberally marinated the "win" with their own "critical role" in the "triumph" over India. Leading the rush of those basking in the glory of the win would have been the Presidency, followed by the Prime Minister's House, ministers, politicians, a medley of religious leaders, prayer leaders in every mosque and others.

The first to jump to take the credit would have been the men and women around President Zardari whose function it is to begin to chirp the moment anything happens that can be used to gain mileage for the chief. The president is weighed down by the deadweight of his nominees to many key positions. In the public eye, however, the two most infamous presidential nominees have been the head of PIA and the chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board, Ijaz Butt. The PIA head is no more, but Ijaz Butt has endured despite his conspicuous failures, and continuing demands for his replacement. He must have strong links somewhere, which the president cannot, or will not, mess with.

Ijaz Butt would have come out a winner regardless of whether Pakistan won or lost. A Pakistani victory in the semi-final against India would have set the president's men and women crowing about the president's "good judgment" in persisting with Ijaz Butt as Chairman of PCB, despite unbearable pressures for his removal.

After the team lost to India, Ijaz Butt is only one in Pakistan to come out a winner. There is little probability of Butt being replaced, for that would amount to apportioning to him some of the blame for the loss. That can never be, for that would also be admitting his critics were right, and the president's judgment not so good, after all.

Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani had claimed his visit to Mohali would be in the interest of the country as, among other things, his presence would "motivate" the team, it did. Wags say the dropped catches which lost us the game occurred because our fielders had their eye on their prime minister, instead of the ball. He was such an eyeful in his snazzy foreign-tailored jacket, even before he changed into a snazzier blazer, he became a big distraction for players, including probably for man of the tournament, Yuvraj Singh, who went for a first-ball duck.

Interior Minister Rahman Malik would have been one hugely relieved man in case of a Pakistan win. Far from feeling squeamish about blurting out a warning to the team on "fixing" and "betting" before the match, he would be claiming his "warning" did the trick. There were few no-balls, and no obvious and deliberate throwing away of wickets. As for dropped catches, one has to look at the "win" as a gift to the nation by the team. The nation, Rahman Malik would have counselled, should stop looking the gift horse in the mouth.

Mercifully, there is not as much polishing of the ball by fast bowlers by vigorous rubbing on a body area, as during Imran Khan's days. Such rubbing would send the religious brigade into a tizzy. Cricket is now accepted by the religious brigade to be not un-Islamic. There were duas said in almost all mosques for the Pakistani team's success.

If Pakistan had won the semi-finals against India, the religious, and the prayer leaders in mosques, would have joined in the celebration of the win. Besides announcing on the mosque amplifiers, turned on to max volume, that the win is direct result of the dua to which the congregation said "Aameen."

There is no dearth of opportunists who would have surfaced to proclaim their role in the victory. Punjab, the home of cricket, Gul, Afridi and Yunus notwithstanding, would be so euphoric that instead of 25 acres, each player would be receiving a tehsil as his jagir.

The Sharifs, like the Moghuls, know no bounds when they are giving away what is not theirs.

The writer is a former corporate executive. Email:







It must be either lunacy or revenge. Otherwise no plausible justification can be found for the dissolution or devolution of the Higher Education Commission, with the 18th Constitutional Amendment used as the pretext. It is lunacy because the HEC had been performing brilliantly in the field of higher education and research since its inception in 2002. It appears to be revenge because the HEC had just rejected fake degrees, thereby exposing the true character of more than one hundred Pakistani legislators whose educational qualifications are in doubt.

The HEC was not an intruder into the system of education in Pakistan. It came into being because of the failure of its predecessor, the University Grants Commission, to serve higher education and research in Pakistan. The report published by the World Bank and UNESCO in 2000 lamenting the backwardness of developing countries such as Pakistan had spurred then-education minister Zubaida Jalal into action to constitute a task force to advance higher education and research in Pakistan. The HEC was constituted at the recommendation of the task force.

As a unit, the HEC performed three functions: assurance of quality in higher education and research; provision of funds for these; and accreditation of universities, both public and private, and the degrees issued by them. These functions are so interdependent that to detach any one of them from the others will undo the whole scheme, at the same time nullifying the very rationale for the existence of the HEC. The HEC's autonomy was vital to each of these three factors. So it is incomprehensible why the HEC's performance in the promotion of education in the field of science and technology should not have been a reason for its permanence.

While provincial autonomy is essential, it was vital for the survival of the HEC to continue operating on the federal level. The past performance of the provinces is dismal even in the provision of simple education. And this is despite the fact that basic and secondary education require lower investment and a simpler mechanisms. The existence of "ghost schools" and the high degree of teacher absenteeism is a well-known fact. The question is: given their record in education, are the provinces even capable of meeting the needs of higher education and research? Further, who will be held responsible for the failure if the experiment of the HEC's transfer to the provinces fails?

There are two other problems attached to devolution of higher education and research to the provinces.

The first is the issues of copyright and patenting. For instance, if a better variety of wheat is developed in one province, it is that province which will have the copyright to the seed, because of the expenditure it incurred in the development of that variety, including payment to experts in the research involved. Similarly, a method of treatment developed in one province will be patented in that province and patients from other provinces would have lower priority. The hitches these and similar problems create could fuel provincialism and undermine federalism.

The second is the issue of different levels of development in the provinces. Just as development levels in the provinces is unequal, so is expertise available in each. Against that background, for instance, one kind of syllabus and one level of financial and intellectual investment will produce a particular level of expertise which will be superior or inferior to that available in another province. This will produce differentials in the development of the provinces. Once that happens, provincialism will receive a boost and will thrive at the cost of federalism.

Currently, with reference to its structure and one portion of its functions, the HEC Ordinance, 2002, is enshrined in Article 270-AA (2) (a) of the Constitution. So it will take an act of parliament or a presidential ordinance for the abolition of the HEC. The HEC's exposure of fake degrees does not target the politicians, as such, because exposure of malpractices in the field of higher education is a duty of the HEC. If the University Grants Commission were still in existence, fake degree would not even have been issue.

Parts I and II of the Federal Legislative List includes the second portion of the HEC's functions. With dissolution of the Concurrent Legislative List, the third portion of its functions has gone to the provinces, although among the three halves of functions, several functions are common. Hence, if the Concurrent Legislative List takes constitutional entries No 38 (curriculum, syllabus, planning, policy, centres of excellence and standards of education) and No 39 (Islamic education) to the provinces, the rest of the functions are still left behind.

Even in the light of the 18th Amendment, it is a moot point whether or not the HEC is a regulatory authority established under a federal law in accordance with entry No 6 in Part II of the Federal Legislative List. The HEC comes under the Council of Common Interests under Article 154 (1), which reads: "The Council shall formulate and regulate policies in relation to matters in Part II of the Federal Legislative List and shall exercise supervision and control over related institutions."

The question is whether or not the HEC is an institution "related" to the CCI because the CCI is related to resolutions disputes like distribution of water among the provinces. Apparently, the HEC is not related to the CCI because the division of the provincial funds (including those for education) will take place under NFC awards. The CCI seems more related to that distribution mechanism than to the HEC.

The 18th Amendment is silent on whether both the HEC and the CCI assert relevance to certain entries given in part II of the Federal Legislative List (like entry No 7 focusing on "...planning and coordination of scientific and technological research" and entry 12 focusing on standards in institutions for higher education and research, scientific and technical institutions), which one should prevail over the other?

Under the 18th Amendment, Article 270-AA allows the legislature to alter or amend the charter of the HEC through either an act of parliament or a presidential ordinance to keep the HEC federal. The point is not whether this can be done or not, but whether there is a will to do it.

The writer is a freelance contributor. Email:






The doctors' strike in Punjab is symptomatic of the greater malaise within our political economy. The state has progressively become weaker and poorer. It can no longer afford to pay its employees properly, while its ambit of operations continues as before. It has two choices: either reduce its spread of involvement or raise revenue in order to survive.

Our founder's aim was to create a welfare state. This meant that the government was to intrude into everything. It had to provide education and health services, create social welfare institutions, run trains, buses, airlines and do much more. There was also an imperative to subsidise basics such as food.

The state structure inherited at independence also had a predilection to control everything. This syndrome was a throwback to the attitudes ingrained during the colonial period when the state was the strongest element within the body politic. Its officials imagined that they knew better, had all the answers and could manage anything.

Contrary to popular belief, the Bhutto period saw the full fruition of these bureaucratic dreams. While the leadership may have been imbued by socialist goals to take over commanding heights of the economy, it was the officials that gained control. The state expanded alarmingly. Its spread and involvement reached every area of national life.

While state authority was galloping ahead with new government controlled institutions coming up rapidly, there was a gaping hole in this arrangement that was not thought through. How will the state be able to pay, house and look after its expanding mass of employees? In other words, while the authority of the state was thrown about, little thought was given to the resources that were needed to back up these grandiose ambitions.

The result was that the wages and benefits available to state employees started to shrink compared to their counterparts in the private- sector. This was in stark contrast to the colonial period when the state was the best paymaster. The salaries of government servants pre-1947 and even after, for a while, were large enough for them to live and retire comfortably.

After the '60s, this proportionality started to change. The salaries and benefits of government servants did not keep pace with inflation. What kept them going, particularly in the elite services, was free housing, transport and medical but the take home salary started to become ridiculously low.

This had to have consequences. When authority and salary are not proportional, corruption is inevitable. Some stuck to the straight and narrow because they had private incomes and considered the status and authority that a government job brings a fair compensation for a poor pay package.

Others, still trying to stay within the broader parameters of honesty took opportunities to get plots in housing societies that they sponsored or helped bring about. Almost universally, government transport and other facilities started to be misused without remorse because salaries were considered so low.

The hardest hit were those government employees who were not senior enough or important enough to receive facilities such as free housing and free transport. If there were opportunities of corruption, they took them, and if not, they took second jobs to make ends meet. While there was a certain historical glamour about government jobs, the actual reality had become quite pathetic.

This was particularly true in non-administrative services such as health and education. They had a large number of employees with little benefits and like the rest of the government employees, their pay packages were continuously shrinking in real terms. The senior doctors were able to adjust by carrying on private practice in the evenings and teachers resorted to private tuitions but this was not possible for everyone. The frustration kept growing.

All the follies of the years past are coming home now. The state should have concentrated on improving its revenue streams before going headlong into expansion. Nothing of the sort happened. At around nine percent, Pakistan continues to have one of the poorest tax to GDP ratios in the world. Its state-sector is dying not just because of bad systems and poor organisation; there is just not enough money to keep it going.

It isn't surprising to see corruption or, at the very least, the misuse of facilities becoming the norm even among senior officers. The core of the state structure has become rotten because there is not enough money flowing through its veins. Why is it that relatives in the private-sector, of the same people who are in the government, lead honest and honourable lives? Only because they are better paid and better looked after.

The poor pay and benefits structure of government employees is a huge blind spot for policymakers and indeed, for the nation as a whole. It is true that nowhere in the world is the state-sector paid the same wages as the private-sector, but its employees are at least paid living wages in other parts of the world.

This does mean that the best and the brightest do not opt for government service but they get by because the general levels of education and capability are higher. It is shocking today to see the standard of some people working for the government in Pakistan, even in senior positions.

If we are to move forward, this has to change. But how? Even if by some miracle, the Punjab government is able to find the money to pay the striking doctors better, will it stop at that? Why wouldn't the teachers and others start agitating? The frustration among government employees is reaching boiling point and young doctors are just one visible symptom of this.

The answer is obvious. The state has to reduce its reach and raise resources to pay those who are left, better. It is a no brainer that most of the state enterprises have to be privatised, in the centre and at the provincial level. But, there is also need for out of the box thinking in areas such as health and education.

Since we are concerned today with doctors, government-owned hospitals need to become revenue earning institutions. If private health institutions can be flourishing enterprises, the government ones with better facilities can compete by charging higher fees of those who can pay, and by subsidising the poor. It is beyond the scope of this article to go into details but it can be done.

Similar innovations would have to be considered for every government entity. The objective has to be a leaner government that essentially is a regulator rather than a doer. A hundred flowers of the private-sector can bloom in many areas that the government considers its monopoly. Secondly, serious attention has to be paid to improving revenues. Without this, nothing is possible.

The road to salvation for our state is difficult but not impossible. But, does the political leadership have the capacity to deliver? Or, even think about these issues?








The criticism faced by the parliamentary commission on the implementation of the 18th Amendment to the constitution has taken a new dimension in recent days. There is uproar from a set of planners, benefactors and beneficiaries of the Higher Education Commission (HEC), set up a few years ago during General Pervez Musharraf's rule, on the devolution of its authority to provinces. A few opposition parties, like the PML-N who ridicule anything done under Musharraf, seem to have switched sides at least on this occasion.

The critics belong to two broad sets of people and perhaps need two different responses. The first belong to the interest and ideology that can only be served in keeping Pakistan as a unitary state. They would continue to belabour arguments in support of a strong central authority. You would find a lobby comprising serving and retired civil servants, military officers, big businessmen and affluent professionals, active in the capital city, bemoaning the incompetence of the provinces and how the newly gained autonomy by the federating units poses a grave challenge to the integrity of the state. They raised the issue of school curriculum first and now HEC to emphasise their point.

The second group comprises concerned citizens and educationists worried about keeping up with the standards of higher education across the country, fearful of an increase in political interference at the provincial level in decisions that may affect merit and transparency, and resource distribution between and within the provinces among different institutions.

Let us take the first set of people. Even after being proven wrong incessantly over decades, they continue to believe and profess that the very survival of Pakistan will be in danger if power is devolved to provinces. Not only that this assertion is in contradiction with the premise of the creation of Pakistan that speaks about federating units coming together to form a state, it also overlooks the failure of political pundits, civil and military bureaucracy and champions of Pakistan ideology (a term coined in late 1960s by the way) who found their interests served in imposing unity at the cost of recognising diversity in both cultures and development needs of different provinces and regions.

How has the unitary state that we lived in for decades and the corresponding central authority exercised by a federal bureaucracy and technocracy succeeded in serving the majority of the citizens of Pakistani state? They have not. The model has failed utterly. Therefore, such assertions have to be dismissed without further ado.

The second set of people, some educationists and concerned citizens, have to be reminded of the fact that HEC replaced the University Grants Commission (UGC) some years back. Besides some of the similarities in roles, the HEC also introduced new programmes and set new standards. But that was all made possible because of its resource richness ensured by the state. The money came from overseas as a result of our participation in the war on terror.

To think that HEC managers were somewhat divine visionaries and were exceptionally superior to those running the resource constrained UGC earlier will be a bit of a misconception. Nevertheless, the issues around competitive standards and resource allocations have to be addressed by provincial and federal governments. This can be done by creating a statutory coordination and quality assurance mechanism including all stakeholders. It is the right of the provinces to run their institutions and compete freely in the job market and in the intellectual arena. They understand no less the challenges posed by the present day and age.

The writer is an Islamabad-based poet, author and public policy advisor.

Email: harris.khalique@










THE US administration in a report on Tuesday gave Congress a highly critical assessment of Pakistan's efforts to defeat Al-Qaeda and other militants, saying that after years of work with the Pakistan military "there remains no clear path towards defeating the insurgency" that, what it claimed, thrives in the country. The semi-annual report noted a deterioration of the situation in FATA, adding that operation in Mohmand Agency and Bajaur has not yielded any tangible result for the third time in two years.

As the report comes ahead of the strategy the American President is scheduled to announce in three months about start of withdrawal from Afghanistan, it is believed that leakage of the selected portions of the document is aimed at exerting more pressure on Pakistan in accordance with the known policy of 'do more'. The attempt to belittle achievements and sacrifices of the Pakistani people, their armed forces and law enforcement agencies, who have suffered immensely in the foreign-imposed war on terror, is regrettable and speaks for itself why there are growing anti-American feelings in the country. United States and its about two dozen allies have themselves miserably failed in Afghanistan despite huge resources at their disposal but they are expecting wonders from Pakistan, which is fighting the war at the cost of its own security and economic, financial chaos. We have been emphasizing in these columns that drone attacks are fuelling more militancy and undermining achievements of the Pakistan Army, which it has made in FATA after Herculean efforts and Washington's own assessment of the situation in the region confirms these apprehensions. But the US remarks about Pakistan Army, though made in negative sense, are, in fact, a complement to the institution as these imply that the Pakistan Army was not blindly following American dictates and is fully aware of its responsibilities and role to safeguard security and strategic interests of the country. No doubt, Pakistan Government and Army are extending all out cooperation to the United States in the campaign against terror yet while doing so they cannot close their eyes to the national interests. Pakistan Army is rightly believed to be one of the finest, efficient and professional armies of the world and no one should expect from such an institution to play in the hands of others to harm their own motherland. In fact, it is General Ahmad Shujaa Pasha-led ISI that is bulwark against all sorts of conspiracies and intrigues to weaken and even dismember the country. We believe that American remarks would help further enhance the respectability, prestige and image of the Pakistan Army in the country.







THOUGH Sindh Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah has claimed that his unbridled Home Minister Dr Zulfiqar Mirza has gone on leave but there are clear indications that this is just widely tried face-saving arrangement under which Mirza has disappeared from the scene. It is also obvious that this has been done as per understanding with the coalition partner in the province — MQM — which had been making demands for his ouster as one of the conditions for smooth sailing of the coalition in Sindh.

Mirza might be physically sick as well because his statements, from time to time, reflected that he had some mental problem and therefore, his going on sick leave is quite understandable. Though there are reports that the PPP leadership have carved out another role at the federal level for him but we hope sick leave would afford him an opportunity to ponder over what he did to the people of the province, people of Pakistan and even to his own party. Attitude and venomous statements of Zulfiqar Mirza repeatedly landed the PPP into trouble and as a consequence its relationship with the MQM, which matters much in Sindh, was pushed to almost point of no return. Some people in PPP might have reasons to feel proud of him but we believe that his negative remarks about other political parties and leaders; federation and federating units as well as judiciary damaged his own party badly. Anyhow, now that Mirza is out of the provincial scene, we fervently hope that PPP and MQM would now concentrate on improving deteriorating law and order situation in Karachi, which is having serious consequences for the economy of the country.







THE inflation rate continues to rise in Pakistan as it jumped up to 13.16 percent in March mainly because of high prices of food items, increase in the prices of petroleum products and electricity tariff. As a result the poor masses are being pushed to the wall because the economy is not picking up, job opportunities are shrinking and thus the poverty ratio is on the increase.

With a stagnating economy and rising inflation, the country needs an urgent change of policy and a coherent strategy for growth. The Asian Development Bank in its annual economic publication said inflation will need to be carefully managed in Asia using a mix of policy measures including more flexible exchange rate management and coordinated capital controls rather than simply relying on tighter monetary policy. The ADB report stated that Pakistan would be having annual growth of around 2.5% which is almost zero when compared with population growth. This means that despite efforts on different fronts we are still unable to stimulate the economy to increase production and create job opportunities. So there is something that is going terribly wrong and the country is not getting out of the slump. To boost industrial production, the Government therefore needs to change policy to generate growth. According to Statistics Division report the food inflation in Pakistan is higher because food items account for a larger share of the consumption basket. The smuggling of large quantities of staples like sugar, wheat, rice, potatoes and onions is leading to higher domestic prices. All activities of this nature must be brought to an end through strict control as well as punishment. Also frequent increases in POL prices and power tariff is adding to the woes of the people because the cost of production and transportation goes up. Therefore it is time that the Government should draw up a comprehensive strategy which must deal with all issues relating to economy, rather than going for short-term solution of increasing prices of oil and electricity, so as to bring the rising inflation under control and provide some relief to the masses.









China, India, Russia and Brazil — now joined by South Africa — are fast-growing economies that have recently taken up a lot of newspaper space for the speed with which they have been developing. However, the fact remains that they are as yet marginal players on the world stage, which is still dominated by the former colonial powers of Europe and their ally, the US. The latest proof of this has been the extraordinary silence of Beijing, Delhi, Moscow, Brasilia and Pretoria on events in Libya. After an initial show of disapproval once it became clear that UN Security Council Resolution 1973 was being used by NATO as an excuse for bombing Libya into submission, the five countries have watched the daily air raids on infrastructure and other assets largely in silence. Clearly, they are nervous at the possibility that they would annoy the NATO powers by coming out more forcefully against what in effect is a war of that military alliance against Colonel Kadhafi and his regime. Is it that countries that were regarded as tigers are in reality only lambs?

What lies behind the NATO attack on Libya? It is definitely not democracy, for if it were, there are far bigger states in the region that are far from democratic. It cannot be the protection of civilians, for NATO is doing nothing to stop the ongoing slaughter of pro-Kadhafi elements by those opposed to the Libyan strongman. In fact, it is tacitly assisting in such slaughter by its open backing for one side in what is a civil war. As for implementing the UN resolution, that has been left far behind by the scale and scope of NATO attacks, now being waged even on oilfields, according to the Libyan regime. The excuse of democracy has often been used by NATO powers as camouflage for their actual aims. However, if we take as an example the case of Hong Kong, the British colonial administration discovered the virtues of democracy only after it became clear that China would not allow the British to get a fresh lease of rulership over Hong Kong, and that they would have to pull out by 1997. The reality is that the so-called "post-colonial" world has been characterised by an alliance between local elites in several countries and the former colonial powers. In Africa, for example, we have the example of France, which seeks to perpetuate its status as the country favoured in commercial deals. In the Ivory Coast, defeated president Gbagbo sought to ensure that other options for his country get explored rather than the claustrophobic embrace of French entities. This made him the target of Nicholas Sarkozy, who is hopeful that Allesandro Wattara will be as pliant a French puppet as pre-Gbagbo leaders were in the Ivory Coast. There seems to be some unique chemistry in the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund – and these days in the UN - that make those who work in these institutions pliant instruments for the fulfillment of NATO objectives. In both India and Pakistan, those with such an "international" background have almost always sought to ensure that the concessions demanded by the NATO economies be granted.

Under Ban Ki-Moon, the UN has evolved into an agency that has legitimized intervention by the former colonial powers in countries that are these days legally independent. The BBC and CNN - not to mention Al Jazeera, which seems to toe the NATO line even more faithfully than these two channels - talk with approval about the intervention of the "former colonial power Italy", just as they approve the muscular French intervention in the Ivory Coast. After all, France is the "former colonial power". While this relapse into the syntax of the past goes on, India, China, Russia, Brazil and South Africa watch by the sidelines, although the toxic nature of such a shift in international practice is damaging to all five. What would Secretary General Moon's reaction be if Japan were to declare a special interest in Korea as the "former colonial power"? After all, he has facilitated such an usurpation of authority by European colonial powers in both Asia as well as Africa. Were it practicable, there is little doubt that South America would be next, with NATO intervening against Hugo Chavez. Why these spasms of activity by NATO? The reason is not political but economic. Financial speculation and the uncontrolled greed visible since the era of Reagan-Thatcher has pushed the NATO economies to the edge of collapse. Now that Portugal has fallen, the next will be Italy and Spain. To avoid such a fate, all kinds of optimistic views are getting aired in the media. However, those in the know accept that it is only a question of time before Spain and Italy fall the way Portugal and before that Ireland have. The best way out would be for such countries to accept that they are living beyond there means, and to drastically cut back on social services and other benefits. However, this is politically unacceptable to the NATO powers, so they seek another way out, which is to squeeze countries in Asia, Africa and South America into providing the surpluses needed for the NATO powers to continue on their unaffordable way for longer.

Libya is a lesson for the GCC. That entity has had its people and its treasuries lose more than $1.3 trillion in the 2008 financial crash. As a result of such criminal misconduct on the part of a handful of financial institutions based in Zurich, New York, London, Chicago and Frankfurt, millions of investors in Asia, Africa and South America have lost heavily. Within the Arab world, there is a growing realization that funds parked in such traditional entities are unsafe, and that options (such as India and China) need to be explored. This, indeed, was what Colonel Kadhafi was seeking to do before the bombing started. The NATO attack on Libya sends a clear message to the entire Arab world: If you do not continue to park your funds with us, look at the fate that will befall you. Of course, parking such funds means the risk of losing them once again, given that the criminal practices of the financial institutions that were legalised after the Reagan-Thatcher Age of Greed began are continuing. Barack Obama has not had the courage or the will to bring to account those that almost ruined the economy of his country, with the result that they and their friends in Europe are once again placing the international economy at risk by speculation. Rather than rein in such criminal activities, the NATO powers are instead seeking to gain economic concessions at the point of a gun. It is no secret that commercial interests in France have been angered by a slowdown since 2008 of Libyan purchases. Those in the Kadhafi government say that the reason for this has been the need to set aside higher budgetary resources for social expenditure such as on food and healthcare. They say that such an increase in money spent on the Libyan population was needed to prevent widespread social unrest, which even after the boosts in public spending rose substantially during the past year. However, even while he sought to damp down unrest in Libya, Colonel Kadhafi angered French and other NATO commercial interests by slowing down his purchases from them. That President Sarkozy is locked into a willing embrace with some elements of French business is well known. He even left his charming, accomplished and socially-aware wife of many years to marry a glamorous lay who is well known for her closeness to business interests. Clearly, he has been persuaded by them to punish Kadhafi for cutting back on business deals with French companies.

It is a source of wonder to the many admirers of Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon as to why the UN chief is unaware of the crass commercial motivations behind the NATO strikes, and the danger in his opening the Pandora's Box of intervention by NATO powers in their former colonies. The fact is that this strategy - of enhancing commerce at the point of a gun the way it used to occur during the period of frank colonialism - will fail. Libya will descend into chaos ,and oil production will be the casualty. Rather than get billions of dollars from their favorites in eastern Libya, the NATO powers will be forced to fund them at a time of economic hardship.

Colonel Kadhafi listened to his nincompoops sons and disarmed Libya. He made himself as helpless as Saddam Hussein had before him. The odds are that he will go the way of Saddam, another victim of those who believe that they and they alone have the right to dictate the path of events. Unless the Five Lambs who will in days be meeting in China for the BRICS summit somehow get enough courage to challenge NATO by demanding a fresh meeting of the UN Security Council that can halt the bombing and destruction caused by "former colonial powers". Looking at present=day events, the word "former" needs to be removed from that sentence.

—The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.







Pakistan is faced with extraordi nary challenges and harsh predicaments. Economic disparity, political instability, Government-Judiciary row, conflicting interests and divergence of views between ruling coalition partners (PPP and PML-N), mutual games of mudslinging and point scoring, inflation, poverty, corruption, war on terrorism, rising crime rate, target killings, scarcity of food, medicine and drinking water, ineffective criminal justice system, energy crisis, deteriorating moral values in the face of foreign media invasion, intolerance and ethnic division in the society are some of the factors which draw similarities between Pakistan and protest ridden conditions in the Middle East.

Certain political elements are also trying to instigate emotions by motivating domestic masses, sending special message to students to create Bahrain and Tunisia like conditions and protest against the Government. Such elements will never succeed in their design to destabilize Pakistan as conditions in Pakistan are not similar to Bahrain, Libya, Egypt, Yemen, and Tunisia where prolonged autocratic rule is being challenged. The system in Pakistan guarantees political stability, social justice and economic growth.

In Pakistan, the democratic Government and independent Judiciary are in place while the Armed Forces are committed to their cause. Despite economic recession in the country the national morale and sense of optimism are high. National resolve can well be measured through peoples' enthusiasm shown in support of Pakistan Cricket Team on winning the quarter final match against West Indies. Actually the people of Pakistan are full of determination, hope and self-assurance to face the challenges and overcome difficulties to make Pakistan a viable economy and even a real welfare state.

This only goes to prove that the people of Pakistan basically comprise a healthy vibrant society, which harbours no ill will against anyone. It is keen to play its part in bringing normalcy to the situation prevailing here. The harbingers of doom and gloom paint dismal pictures and foretell doomsday scenarios to grind their own axe. Indeed the situation is grim as far as the state of the economy; the terror attacks, energy shortages and growing inflation are concerned. However, the people require sound and sincere leadership, which can guide them out of the current morass and quagmire.

The patriotic citizens of Pakistan have demonstrated time and again that they have the will and perseverance to gird their loins and unite to meet any challenge, calamity or vicissitude. The 1965 Pak-India War tested Pakistan's mettle when it was attacked by an enemy five times its size. However, the people of Pakistan expressed solidarity with the Armed Forces and stood behind the defenders of Pakistan and together they formed a solid edifice, which dealt a crushing blow to the adversary. In 1971, Indian forces invaded Pakistan and severed its eastern wing forming Bangladesh. However, Pakistan did not accept defeat lying down. Its people, under sound leadership gathered their wits and through their collective efforts, became a force to reckon with even becoming a nuclear weapons equipped state, much to the chagrin of its detractors. The defeated and truncated of Pakistan in 1971, like a phoenix rising from the ashes, in 1998 surprised the world by crossing the nuclear threshold declaring itself to be a nation, which could master science and technology and work wonders for itself. The 2005 earthquake and 2010 deluge too tested our mettle and Pakistanis proved equal to the task.

Once again the problems besetting Pakistan are myriad and the challenge is tremendous. The people are willing but it is the political leadership, which is dithering and needs to sink its differences to rise to the occasion. Personal vendettas, settling scores and petty differences must be put on hold for the greater good of Pakistan. The politicians need to be reminded that only if there is a Pakistan, can they rule the roost. The enemies of Pakistan are busy gnawing away at the very roots of our existence and the only way to stop them from achieving their heinous aim is to unite.

If our politicians continue with their game of backbiting and attempting to bring each other down, they do not need any enemies. There is no other way out of this maze of trials and tribulations but gearing ourselves together, applying our collective wisdom to resolve the problems and taking them head on. Passing the buck will not do. The Federal Government blaming the Provincial one and the political dispensation in the citadel of power blaming the opposition and the haves finding culpability with the have-nots has to stop. The political leadership must create a sense of optimism among all segments of society; political factions sacrificing their party lines to bring more cohesion, integrity and harmony among the nation creating an atmosphere of reconciliation, tolerance and tranquility. The politicians need the masses as a fish needs water. It is the masses that elect them and place them into the parliament thus the politicians are accountable to them. Unless they resolve their problems, the masses will refuse to elect them the next time around. National accountability is most visible on the day of the polling. Let this fact sink into the minds of the political leaders. They have no option but to unite at this critical juncture.

The media, which plays an important role in opinion building as well as guiding the masses to herald the deeds or expose the misdeeds of its leaders, also needs to pull its act together. Whereas it must expose the wrongdoers, it also needs to raise public morale and it must also avoid projection of conflict-ridden themes having divisive appeal. Various talk shows on the private TV channels appear to be a boxing bout, where the opponents belonging to opposing political factions, take turns in punching each other in a bid to knock the other out. The program anchor wills them on with barbs and taunts to continue the brawl. Such a state of affairs must come to an end. The projection of cohesive aspects of own society is needed and the media has its task cut out.









Indeed, to reflect on Allah's verses is a form of worship that will draw one close to Him. The Quran is not a book like any other; it is a timeless guide for life, death and the Hereafter. Therefore, it is necessary that the reader return to the early narrations of those who witnessed its revelation and heard its explanation by the one deputed by Allah to explain His words to humanity. So every sincere Muslim who hopes to earn Allah's love by reciting and reflecting on His book should hold on to the meaning explained by the Prophet (PBUH), his companions and the early scholars of Islam. Reciting and reflecting on the Quran has tremendous benefits. Each one of these explained here stands as an encouragement to read and try to understand the Holy Quran. The Prophet (PBUH) summarised the faith as naseehah (sincerity). When Hazrat Tameem ibn Aws inquired, "To whom?" He said: "To Allah, His book, His Messenger, the leaders of the people and their common folk." Thus, sincerity is due to the Quran, its recitation, learning the rules of reciting it beautifully, learning about its interpretation and the reasons for its revelation, abiding by the orders found in it, teaching it and calling the faithful to it.

So by reading and reflecting on the Quran, one fulfils an obligation and is rewarded for it. Upon fulfilling this obligation, the Quran then becomes a witness for one on the Day of Judgment. The Holy Prophet said, "The Quran is a proof for you or against you." It will either be in your favour, a proof for you on the day when you will need every single good deed, or it will be something against you, the very speech of your Creator, a proof against you! The Quran will intercede for us on the Day of Judgment. Hazrat Abu Umaamah relates that the Prophet said: "Read the Quran, for verily it will come on the Day of Judgment as an intercessor for its companions." According to Saheeh al-Muslim, there is a story about how Hazrat Umar understood this principle. Some men once asked him "Who do you have to govern Makkah?" He said, "Ibn Abzaa." They asked, "Who is Ibn Abzaa?" Umar replied, "A freed slave."

They remarked, "You have left a freed slave in charge of the people of the valley (the noble tribes of the Quraish)?" He answered them, "Verily, he is a reader of the Book of Allah and is knowledgeable about the obligations of Muslims. Haven't you heard the statement of your Messenger — 'Allah raises some people by this Book and lowers others by it'?" Hazrat Usman also narrates the Holy Prophet as having said: "The best among you are the ones who learn the Quran and teach it to others," according to Saheeh al-Bukhari. There are 10 rewards for each letter you recite from the Quran. A hadith in Al-Tirmizi says: "Whoever reads a letter from the Book of Allah will have a reward. And that reward will be multiplied by 10. I am not saying that 'Alif, Laam, Meem' is one letter, rather 'Alif' is a letter, 'Laam' is a letter and 'Meem' is a letter."

Hazrat Ayesha, too, relates that the Prophet once said: "One who recites the Quran beautifully, smoothly and precisely will be in the company of noble angels. As for the one who recites it with difficulty, stammering or stumbling through its verses, (s)he will have twice that reward." Hazrat Abdullaah ibn Amr ibn al-Aas narrates the Holy Prophet as saying: "It will be said to the companion of the Quran: 'Read and elevate (through the levels of paradise) and beautify your voice as you used to do when you were (alive). For verily, your position in paradise will be at the last verse you recited'!"

The Prophet (peace be upon him) also said: "The Quran is an intercessor, is given the permission to intercede, and it is rightfully believed in. Whoever puts it in front of himself, will be led to paradise; whoever puts it behind him, will be steered to hellfire." This hadith about the Quran is on the authority of Hazrat Abdullaah ibn Masood, summarising for the faithful the importance of reading the Quran and reflecting on its universal message. The holy prophet Muhammad (sallAllahu 'alaihi wa sallam) said "Whoever reads a letter from the Book of Allah, he will have a reward. And that reward will be multiplied by ten. I am not saying that "Alif, Laam, Meem" is a letter, rather I am saying that "Alif" is a letter, "laam" is a letter and "meem" is a letter." So increase your recitation of the Qur'an to gain these merits, and to gain the following merit as well. (At-Tirmithee)

In another hadeeth, 'Aa'ishah, may Allah be pleased with her, relates that the Prophet (sallAllahu 'alaihi wa sallam) said: "Verily the one who recites the Qur'an beautifully, smoothly, and precisely, he will be in the company of the noble and obedient angels. And as for the one who recites with difficulty, stammering or stumbling through its verses, then he will have TWICE that reward." [Al-Bukhari and Muslim]. The Prophet (PBUH) said: The Qur'an is an intercessor, something given permission to intercede, and it is rightfully believed in. Whoever puts it in front of him, it will lead him to Paradise; whoever puts it behind him, it will steer him to the Hellfire." [An authentic hadith found in At-Tabaraanee, on the authority of 'Abdullaah ibn Mas'ood] This hadith proves that people who are not well versed in the Arabic languge or have other difficulties in reciting the Quran, get even a higher reward for reciting the Quran in Arabic for their extra effort.








With the World Cup fervour on its peak, Kashmir continues to simmering as the atrocities of the occupant Indian forces go on unabated against the unarmed peaceful Kashmiri protesters. In the Held Valley, latest deaths toll from recent months of civil unrest has crossed the 200 mark. The bloodshed does not seem to be abating in the coming days as the resilience of the Kashmiri protestors is growing with every passing day.

It is indeed a testing time for the incumbent Indian government when it has no one to point finger other then itself for using unnecessary force to humble peaceful Kashmiri protestors. This time India finds it even difficult to blame Pakistan for its own misdeeds. The international observers and experts on Kashmir also believe that the present mass movement in Kashmir is purely indigenous in nature. Kashmiri youth have thus defied the conventional Indian stance of Pakistani support to seek independence struggle and now prepared altogether to provide impetus to the freedom movement. The young generation of Kashmiri youth is aware of their right of freedom and well determined to face Indian forces in eye ball to eye ball irrespective of the consequences. As the World Cup semifinal match on March 30 neared, the security forces in the Held Valley launched a massive crackdown on the innocent Kashmiri people and hundreds were arrested across Jammu and Kashmir. Ironically enough the tactics of the occupant forces in Kashmir hold parallel to those employed by the Israeli armed forces against the pallet hurling civilian Palestinian. Indian government has denied the international observer and media to cover the ongoing situation in the valley. Thus the intentions of the Indian government are indicative of the nature of conflict in the coming days. Popular Separatist leader and head of the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front Yasin Malik has hinted the risk of escalation in violence. In a recent interview the Kashmiri leader said "Indian Kashmir risks a return to militancy and violent protests if New Delhi fails to push a stalled peace process in the disputed region".

Still the Indian government is foreseeing a tougher strategy to curb the growing unrest. Indian security forces have developed a so-called 'joint strategy' which would include all available forces and means to be employed to crush the surge of violence. Indian security establishment believes that the Kashmiri resistance in the Held Kashmir is at its lowest ebb and might face a death blow if dealt with iron hand. Some hardliner Indian political forces led by Bhatia Janata Party (BJP) not only endorse but also propagate this opinion. The Congress government is under immense pressure from BJP to let security forces continue with the existing tactics. Dialogue on the ongoing conflict does not seem to be materializing as both sides are reluctant to grant concessions. The Indian premier refused to set any preconditions for dialogue with the Kashmiri leadership leaving no room for any breakthrough. The Pakistani Prime Minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani who visited India to watch the Pakistan-India cricket match at Mohali, also clarified that his visit will not include talks on Kashmir. Rationale of Indian leadership is indeed questionable when it is finding difficult to identify the aggressor and aggrieved in the current unrest.

In a recent move the Kashmir leadership rejected the visiting Indian delegation and labeled the visit as a 'Tokenism'. An understandable tougher stance came from Hurriyat Conference. Its leaders are unwilling to concede any concession to India for dialogue. The Chairman of Hurriyat Conference (G), Syed Ali Shah Geelani gave the five-point outline to move forward and on which future discourse with India might take place. It includes; India accepting Kashmir as an international dispute, begin demilitarization in the state under the supervision of a "credible' world agency, repeal all harsh laws, including Armed Forces Special Powers Act and Public Safety Act, release all political prisoners and punish the forces' personnel involved in the recent killings. The Armed Forces Special Power Act gives military the powers to arrest without warrant, shoot to kill and destroy any property used against the occupant forces.

The prevalent draconian laws are the real reasons behind the ongoing turbulence. The Human Right agencies have also shown serious concerns on the grave human rights violations by the Indian forces. The Human Right Watch has also called for immediate repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act and a full and transparent inquiry into human rights abuses that underlie the current protests, Human Rights Watch said today. "The state government should release the findings of its inquiry into allegations of excessive use of force during the ongoing protests in Kashmir". However, the international community has shown limited respond to the Indian brutality and only a few voices of concerns have so far been heard.

In the aftermath of 2008 Mumbai attack the issue of terrorism has gained prominence in Pak-India dialogue. But has this issue undermined the significance of Kashmir problem? Pakistan is important stakeholder and lasting peace is not possible without Pakistan's participation in the key dialogue process and India is well cognizant of this fact. Nevertheless, what mindset has given Pakistan an expedient and relatively lesser vocal criticism on Indian atrocities? United States has given prominence to India as key partner in the region. Thus the US would not strain its relations by questioning Indian policies in Kashmir. On the other had Pakistan has been asked to show more restraint and continue with dialogue process. World powers need to understand that Kashmir is a potential flash point. Moreover, denying Kashmiri youth the room to breathe and feel free on their own land could be fatal and might trigger arm rebellion against the occupied forces. Therefore, international community should stress India to immediately end arm hostilities on unarmed civilian population.

Pakistan has also come out of showing mere sympathies and forcefully take this matter with India. This moment requires Pakistan to intervene actively by taking the matter to the UN General Assembly on urgent basis. The Government of Pakistan should also urge the Obama administration to avoid hands-off attitude in the matter to avoid the derailment of peace process between Pakistan and India.







The political battle for Egypt's future began in earnest last month when the country's ruling military council held a referendum to approve its amendments to the constitution. The Muslim Brotherhood, backing the military, easily won that first test of Egypt's new democracy, with 77 percent of the public supporting their recommended vote of "yes." But the secular Tahrir Square revolutionaries are fighting back, forming new political parties and continuing their campaign for democratic change. And the Brotherhood, although clearly a formidable force, is beginning to fracture, with several Islamist parties planning to offer candidates in Egypt's parliamentary elections in the fall.

What's worrisome is that last month's voting had clear religious overtones in some of Cairo's poorest neighbourhoods. The consolation is that these religious tensions, always rumbling under the surface in Egyptian society, are now being expressed by voters rather than by suicide bombers. Here's what the March 19 referendum campaign looked like in the poor district known as Old Cairo, south of downtown. My account is drawn from Yasmina Abou Youssef, a community activist who took me through part of that area in February. At that time, she believed the Muslim Brotherhood had little influence in these slums. But it seems to have become more active once a political prize was in sight.

Abou Youssef and other activists held a rally two days before the referendum to urge residents to vote "no," arguing that more time was needed to write a new constitution and organise parties. As she left, she received an anonymous text message warning that if she didn't stay away, extremists would throw acid on her face and burn down her community centre. She went back despite the threat — and photographed posters with the simple message: "Yes. Muslim Brotherhood." In the hours before the referendum, rumours spread in Old Cairo and across Egypt that because Coptic Christians were campaigning against the amendments, Muslims had an obligation to vote "yes." (The existing constitution, whose basic text the Brotherhood was defending, does say that Egypt is a Muslim state ruled in accordance with sharia law, but this provision has always been regarded as largely symbolic, and most of the "no" activists didn't plan to change it.)

The Tahrir Square activists were depressed after the vote, with some arguing that their revolution had been hijacked by an alliance of the Brotherhood and the military. "We were all down after the collapse of the referendum," says Abou Youssef. "It turned out as a battle over religion, not the constitution." But in the weeks since the referendum, the activists seem to have gotten a second wind and started forming new parties to compete with the Brotherhood. There's the Social Democratic Party, which includes pro-democracy organiser Amr Hamzawy; the Egyptian Liberal Party, formed by Naguib Sawiris, the head of the telecommunications giant Orascom; and a leftist group called the Popular Alliance. Many more parties are on the way.

Muslim voters, too, will have a broader array of choices in the fall, with former Brotherhood leaders splitting into three and perhaps four camps, with the Salafists forming two parties and a pro-jihad group forming at least one. That's the new Egypt — all the ideologies that were suppressed by force under President Hosni Mubarak are now out campaigning in the sun. Egypt's romance with democracy is exciting, if sometimes also discouraging.

But there's one big danger the ballot box won't address, and that's Egypt's sinking economy. Tourism has collapsed, industrial production has fallen sharply and foreign investment has all but stopped. Nabil Fahmy, Egypt's former ambassador to Washington, worries that a liquidity crunch will hit in mid-summer. If the democratic revolution can succeed in Egypt, it will triumph across the Middle East, says Fahmy, but he warns: "We have a huge hole that needs to be plugged, and we can't do it alone."—The Washington Post








WOMEN in our defence forces are entitled to proper respect.

The Australian Defence Force Academy proudly espouses four institutional values: Do your best; Be honest; Respect others; Give everyone a fair go. It seems clear the final three values have been shredded in the so-called Skype-sex scandal. And as for the first, if this is ADFA's best handling of such a matter, then doing its best is clearly not good enough.

Putting aside all the institutional rules and legal technicalities of the matter, the incident as reported involved a reprehensible breach of faith between a young woman and a man. The male cadet who secretly turned a camera on his lover and broadcast their intimate moments to his mates has shown a flawed character that surely precludes him from aspiring to be an officer or a gentleman. If the facts are confirmed, he must be dismissed.

Likewise, any others who willingly joined in this betrayal of the young woman -- their fellow cadet -- have no place in our armed forces. Any other breaches of rules involving fraternising on campus, drinking or absence, pale into insignificance compared with this insensitive, disrespectful and intimidatory behaviour.

For the authorities at ADFA to force the victim to explain herself on other disciplinary matters while this terrible episode played out displayed amazing insensitivity and lack of awareness about the gravity of the transgression against her. Defence Minister Stephen Smith was right to make that clear, promptly and forcefully, and demand the defence forces improve their processes. This is no way to treat any young woman, let alone one who is in training to serve as a military officer for her country.

Sadly, young men and women will always find ways to put themselves in perilous situations. Those with character will find a way out and avoid trouble. Others will do the wrong thing, harm other people and damage their own prospects in life. Our defence forces, no matter their lofty aims and strict selection processes, cannot be quarantined from these vagaries. They must, however, learn to deal correctly with inappropriate behaviour.

If there are wider problems relating to entrenched cultures of abuse or intimidation, the answer is simple. Disrespectful behaviour should never be tolerated and the punishment should fit the crime. The Australian would hope that the first place we could expect that sort of discipline would be in our armed forces.






Smoking rates in Australia have been falling for decades, without Health Minister Nicola Roxon's latest proposal for even more hideous cigarette packaging. In 1945, almost three-quarters of Australian men smoked. At the last count, the proportion of Australians aged 14 and over who smoked had fallen from 30.5 per cent in 1988 to 16.6 per cent.

The links between smoking, cancer, heart disease and other serious health problems are beyond dispute. Four out of five smokers say they would like to stop and the images on cigarette packets are already gruesome. So it is debatable, to say the least, whether ugly, olive-green packaging, uniform typeface for brand names, larger health warnings and more graphic photographs will deter hardcore nicotine addicts, most of whom spend more than $150 a week on their habit and put up with the inconvenience of not being allowed to smoke in most public and many private places. After all, the absence of attractive packaging has sadly done nothing to reduce consumer demand for heroin, marijuana, amphetamines and other illegal drugs.

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The responsibility for personal behaviour, be it drug taking, snacking on junk food, couch-warming, drinking into a stupor or driving like a maniac rests with individuals.

Ms Roxon, who seems to enjoy the role of Nanny McPhee, should recognise the limits of self-righteous moral posturing. After the 70 per cent tax hike on alcopops in 2009, a cynical revenue-grab dressed up as a measure to deter binge drinking, sales of vodka, bourbon and other spirits soared as young women sought cheaper and stronger alternatives.

If government policy on smoking is driven purely by the need for Australians to give up a harmful habit, why aren't cigarettes, like many other drugs, made illegal or priced out of reach? Paying even more than $15 for a standard packet of 30 might deter more smokers than different packaging, although further hikes in excise would disproportionately hurt poorer families among whom smoking is more prevalent. Australia's 3.5 million regular cigarette smokers would be wise to seek help to kick the habit. But in a free society, if the people's representatives deem cigarettes should be legal, producers should be allowed to package and market them.






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.







THE Australian Defence Force clearly has a problem with women. The latest evidence is the case of the female cadet at the Australian Defence Forces Academy who was clandestinely videoed by another cadet with whom she was having sex so others could watch them online. The betrayal of trust involved here towards the woman, a fellow member of the Defence Force, casts doubt on the fitness of all the males involved as members of the armed services. That would be bad enough. But the subsequent treatment of the woman by the academy once her story became public, and the handling of the case, raise serious questions - yet again - about the prevailing culture within the armed services. Once the case gained publicity, the female cadet was charged and disciplined over a completely different incident. This may not have been a deliberate attempt to intimidate her - but it inevitably looks like one, and the appearance casts further doubt on the judgment of those responsible.

The Minister for Defence, Stephen Smith, has come in for criticism in turn for his handling of the most recent matter. Remarkably, retired senior officers have argued that society is to blame, not the individuals, for their conduct. The argument runs that behaviour of this type may be regrettable, but it happens all too often in other male-dominated environments such as football clubs. The armed forces cannot expect to be immune. Those in charge of the Defence Force Academy moreover should be supported, not criticised, for their reaction to the events. In particular, a civilian minister should leave military discipline to be sorted out by the military hierarchy.

This is nonsense. Smith has done the public and the forces a service by pointing out, with commendable restraint, the obvious shortcomings in the way this matter has been handled. Because it is far from the first such incident within the military - the inquiry into predatory sexual practices, drunkenness and indiscipline aboard HMAS Success was only released in February - it is clear that the military hierarchy, left to itself, struggles to deal effectively with the problem, unlike the organisations with which its defenders want to compare it.

Certainly sex scandals occur from time to time in football codes, to their discredit. However those codes have made a strenuous effort - far greater than the defence forces, apparently - to confront the primitive male attitudes involved, and to educate players on the dangers to which they will be subject. Their efforts are not always successful, but mostly they are open with the public about their shortcomings. Now the head of the National Rugby League, David Gallop, is offering the Defence Department his advice. It should listen.





THERE is no doubt that the NSW Attorney-General, Greg Smith, will win a lot of public support for announcing he wants those convicted repeatedly of spraying walls with graffiti to get heavier sentences, including jail. (How this will help solve jail overcrowding he has not explained.) Most graffiti - particularly the lowest grade, the scrawling of an individual's stylised initials - just makes people angry, as any vandalism does. It is - and is intended to be - a straightforward insult to the public and as such is rightly resented. Graffiti of this type, though, goes further: its association with gang culture and crime also induces fear and distrust in other people. It is a mark of disadvantage: buildings in the poorest and most deprived suburbs are covered in tags, while those elsewhere are less affected. Tags represent no creative freedom or artistic endeavour. Tagging may be a protest, but endlessly repeated it becomes the oppressive dominance of individuals who choose to stay beyond normal restraint - a form of mob rule. Nor is it surprising that crackdowns on crime instituted to rehabilitate slums include as a central element zero tolerance for graffiti.

And yet on this antisocial foundation an elaborate culture has been built. Contemporary values which exalt the individual and devalue the common interest find graffiti's outlaw status congenial, and allow it entry to the mainstream. Its skilled practitioners are celebrities. Their works are venerated by fans and dissected by critics, their methods studied in art schools. Local councils, seeking to channel this uncontrollable creative energy in a positive direction, designate spaces where artists can work in freedom. And indeed - perhaps because a legacy of contemporary design has often been public spaces of stifling dullness - sometimes even graffiti, whether vandalism or not, can seem a welcome relief.

Is graffiti art? Some is. But outside the circle of its own practitioners and some fashion-conscious academics, even the most elaborate and thought-provoking work is yet to transcend its origins and find broad acceptance. Smith's move suggests it will be a long time before that happens in this state. Even Victoria, something of a graffiti centre, now has strict laws against it. But laws will not stop graffiti. Instead, it will always remain beyond the boundary of legality, just as its practitioners also stray beyond the boundaries of safety to leave their mark behind.





CONTROVERSY over religious education in Victorian government schools is hardly new. The debate has raged since the 19th century when the Education Act established that public education should be free, secular and compulsory. A more recent complication is the rise of a multifaith society, along with a decline in religious observance by the slightly more than 60 per cent of Australians who identify as Christian.

While only one in 14 Australians attends church weekly, and one in six monthly, some of the strongest objections to the way religion is taught in school do not come from non-believers. The Religions, Ethics and Education Network Australia has written to the Prime Minister, premiers and education ministers urging a review so that the national curriculum improves on the current flawed model for teaching religion and ethics.

Some argue that a secular system should not offer any religious content. The Age has long held a different view. The field of religion and ethics merits a place alongside other subjects in building students' knowledge of the world. To understand our politics, culture and traditions, some understanding of religion is essential.

What is unacceptable is when proselytising replaces teaching. Relying on volunteers for ''special religious instruction'' - 96 per cent of them from Access Ministries - opens the door to just that. The Baillieu government yesterday announced more funding for Access Ministries, whose CEO, Evonne Paddison, describes the volunteers as ''faith providers'' to about two-thirds of Victoria's primary schools. Indeed, it would be odd if these Christians' motivation was not to spread the Gospel by ''sharing God's love'', as the ministries' website urges. The few accredited volunteers of other faiths are probably similarly motivated to teach the weekly 30-minute courses. Many volunteers will present one perspective, that of their faith. Even if care is taken to present a set of beliefs as beliefs, young children tend to accept what adults tell them as the truth.

Parents may withdraw their children from the classes, but this can be divisive and mark those children as ''different''.

The solution is not to abandon education about religion; events of the past decade illustrate the dangers of religious ignorance and intolerance. However, the government should not rely on faith-driven volunteers instead of trained educators who teach to the same professional standards as in any other subject. The goal must not be to convert children but to ensure they have the general religious literacy they need to make sense of the past, present and future.






Accepting a £1m prize for spiritual works does not make the astronomer royal a fraud or a hypocrite

There are evolutionary theorists who describe scorpion flies as rapists, and Nobel laureate economists who insist that affairs of the human heart are best grasped through cost-benefit analysis. Clever people are, if anything, especially prone to intellectual tunnel vision – recasting every discussion in terms of the one discipline they have mastered, with no regard for how ideas that enlighten in one context often make no sense elsewhere.

The proselytising atheists rounding on the astronomer royal, Sir Martin Rees, for accepting a £1m award from an idiosyncratic foundation fall into a similar trap. The stated aim of the Templeton prize is to reward "insight, discovery or practical works" that affirm "life's spiritual dimension", terms which will leave nonbelievers scratching their heads but will seem self-explanatory from many a religious point of view. The biologist and celebrity atheist Richard Dawkins damns Templeton for blurring the line between science and faith in the hope of leeching the esteem of the former. He has made quite a career of treating religious doctrines as scientific hypotheses and then demonstrating that they are wanting in this regard.

Of course they are. Words can be used to joke or emote as well as inform, and neither scripture nor indeed poetry can be understood by mistaking it for something else. Metaphors ought not be metamorphosed into literal claims, while the test for moral edicts is reflective introspection and not the weight of the evidence that defines the scientific domain. Faith is a professional problem for scientists only where it demands that they close their minds to the facts. Neither Newton's religion nor Einstein's God of sorts (who refused to play dice) got in the way of their work. Conversely, the occasional book-promoting blathering of Stephen Hawking, about how with physics we can variously know the mind of God or prove he is fiction, is utterly wide of the mark.

The question with Templeton is not whether it funds some wacky endeavours, but whether it does anything to undermine the core requirement of good science, namely falsification through the experimental method. Its 2006 study into the healing power of prayer on heart disease was bizarre, but the conscientiously reported results – that prayer made no difference to survival, and by raising false hope may actually have increased the risk of complications – do not suggest intellectual corruption.

As a declared atheist who attends church for the sake of tradition, and a non-believer who nonetheless believes good can come of belief, Sir Martin's mind is one that can cope with nuance, as well as work with laser-like precision. He is perfectly entitled to enjoy his prize.






Yesterday, Dublin. Today, Lisbon. Portugal's caretaker government now has to choose between going for a bridging loan, for which no fund or mechanism yet exists, or negotiating a bailout of anywhere between €70bn (£61bn) and €80bn. Whoever Portuguese voters choose in June's election, their true boss will be a German, Angela Merkel, whose government will be writing the terms of the loan. If the examples of Greece and Ireland are anything to go by, it will not make pleasant reading.

One of the features of the post-crisis world is that the "surplus countries" – those who export more to other nations than they import – call the shots. China is a surplus country; so is exporting powerhouse Germany, and in the eurozone, that makes Mrs Merkel the one who has to be obeyed. The German chancellor may argue that she should have such influence over the bailouts of Greece, Ireland and Portugal, since it is her electorate who will end up having to shoulder most of the burden. Ja sicher. But the politics of these bailouts is what makes their economics so absurd. When dealing with a nation struggling to pay its loans, it would make more sense to restructure its debts – so they are paid back over a long period, say. In Ireland's case, that process should have gone hand in hand with an overhaul of the banking sector. Instead of which, euro bailouts have saddled supplicant countries with even more debt at high interest rates. This enables Mrs Merkel (and Nicolas Sarkozy) to show domestic taxpayers that their money is not being frittered away on feckless southern Europeans. It is indeed difficult to persuade Germans, who got their labour costs down, to pay for countries such as Portugal, who did not.

The European project was not supposed to be run this way. When Jacques Delors called the EU an unidentified political object, the economy was doing so well the union did not need to be defined. Gloriously, it seemed free to set its own rules. Since then, the EU has erred in both directions: two of the entry criteria for the eurozone – that deficits should be no higher than 3% of the GDP, and total debt 60% – turned out to be narrow and restrictive, and yet there were no contingency plans for undefined threats like a banking crisis. So each bailout has been ad hoc and panicky. Little wonder that Europeans are losing faith in the ability of their politicians to sort these continental contagions out, and are turning instead to "patriotic" alternatives, homespun attempts to erect national firewalls.

Our month-long New Europe series started with an ICM poll which revealed that only 20% of surveyed Europeans trusted their government to deal with their country's problems. Only 9% thought they would act honestly. Our neighbours and their political elites turned out to be in as much flux as we were, from the meltdown of Germany's CDU to the aspirations of France's Marine Le Pen, who has a real chance of repeating her father's 2002 performance by going through to a second presidential round. Europe's far right is on the rise. In Finland, Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands, it has populist messages which bundle immigration, crime, Islam and bailouts in one portable package, gift-wrapped for those who think that their identity, as well as their jobs and way of life, are being threatened.

Neither the union nor the eurozone will fall through the floor, but both will need running repairs. Yesterday's decision by the European Central Bank to raise interest rates shows it has some way to go before common sense triumphs over dogma. But the mood is far from being pre-revolutionary, as Marine Le Pen would have us believe, because the underlying principle of regional co-operation is more relevant today than it has been ever before. Unloved and inflexible, it is going to be some time before the union finds politicians capable of leading it, but find them it must.






It's his party and he can cry if he wants to: Nick Clegg, according to this week's New Statesman, listens to classical music in the evening and sometimes cries. Good for him. As a hinterland for a Liberal leader that is healthier than Gladstone's search for fallen women, or Asquith's perpetual games of bridge. There's nothing weak about letting music enter the soul. Mr Clegg didn't name a particular piece and his choices on Desert Island Discs included only two classical items, neither particularly lachrymose, but at least that is one more than David Cameron, who chose a schmaltzy piece of Mendelssohn. It's hard to imagine the prime minister crying to anything much, though he admits to being a fan of the Smiths, whose dreary dirges ought to provoke tears of rage. What might bring a nostalgic glisten to Ed Miliband's eye? Disturbingly, he was reported to have picked Robbie Williams's Angels as a favourite during the Labour leadership election, which if true ought to have disqualified him from running. Gordon Brown would surely be stirred by something Scottish and emotional: Rod Stewart's Rhythm of My Heart, perhaps, "no never will I roam, for I know my place is home", which might account for his absence from the Commons. But for politicians, there is really only one appropriate English classical tearjerker: Purcell's When I Am Laid in Earth. Its lyrical warning about the perils of ambition ought to set them all sobbing: "Remember me, remember me, but ah! forget my fate."







Events in the Middle East are reverberating throughout the world, but no government is as committed to squashing domestic protests as is the leadership in Beijing. The government there has begun a crackdown against liberal voices in China. This seems to be a systematic effort that includes control of communications, beefing up internal security, arrest and prosecution of progressives, and even extralegal mechanisms.

We say "seems" because the Chinese government claims to have no hand in recent events. China's lack of transparency provides deniability, but there is no mistaking Beijing's concern about stability and maintaining social harmony, no matter what the cost.

"Social management" has been identified as a top priority at meetings of senior national and provincial leaders. At the recently concluded National People's Congress, the Chinese government unveiled the 12th Five Year Blueprint on Economic and Social Development. This document focuses on public security, in particular containing and reducing the tens of thousands of mass-demonstration incidents that now occur in China each year. The Chinese plan includes measures that range from increasing the number of "volunteers" who will keep an eye out for and respond to unrest to beefing up the budget for public security forces. For the first time, the official budget this year spends more money on public security ($95 billion) than the People's Liberation Army ($92 billion).

Spurred by fears of a "Jasmine Revolution" at home, Chinese officials have stepped up monitoring of the Internet, reportedly even banning the use of words like "Egypt" and "Jasmine" in search engines. Google has claimed that the e-mail accounts of human rights activists and dissidents have been hacked, a charge that government officials have said is "unacceptable." At a minimum, access to Google's Gmail website has been slowed, as has access to virtual private networks (VPNs) that are often used to get around the Great Firewall of China. Human rights watchers accuse Beijing of specifically targeting communications of human rights activists.

In February, a Chinese-language website based in the United States called on Chinese to gather in the streets to protest the government's authoritarianism. The result has been overkill. Taking no risks, the government has ensured that no large groups of Chinese can gather spontaneously: There invariably are more security forces — usually in plain clothes — than ordinary citizens.

More ominously, there has been a crackdown on dissidents and liberals. By one estimate, at least 23 people were detained for criminal investigations in March. Another list identifies more than 50 individuals who were arrested or "disappeared" the same month; still more are under house arrest. In recent weeks, three high-profile dissidents have been charged with inciting subversion. Last month, Mr. Liu Xianbin a veteran democracy activist, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for slandering the Communist Party.

Adding credibility to the accusations against Beijing was a report issued in March by the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention that demanded the immediate release of Mr. Gao Zhisheng, a prominent human rights lawyer who has been detained for almost a year. Mr. Gao has been officially arrested twice before and he accused the government of torturing him while being held. Two weeks after his last release — in March 2010 — he disappeared and has not been heard from since. The U.N. Working Group demands not only his release but the payment of reparations. Again, the Chinese government has dismissed the call, telling the critics to respect its judicial sovereignty.

The Beijing government's concern is palpable. While the quality of millions of Chinese lives is improving each year, expectations are still rising faster than reality. The corruption that stains Chinese society compounds the anger at growing levels of inequality that rival or exceed those in the most developed countries. The Chinese Communist Party is well aware of the tensions within the country, but the structure of a one-party state precludes any comprehensive solution.

Instead, the government cracks down on speech and dissent. Unfortunately for Beijing, this step only increases domestic tensions. China has the largest Internet population in the world, estimated at over 450 million people. Monitoring and controlling all their communications — not only computers but telephones and microblogs as well — is a Herculean task.

Worse, it is putting the business community on edge as well. Reliable and secure communications are critical to business success. Chinese attempts to control the Internet could alienate the businesses that are driving its economic growth and providing the ruling party's legitimacy. They reflect a shortsighted strategy that is increasing antagonism and creating more enemies






The mega-crisis engendered in Japan by the great earthquake and tsunami has brought to the surface the political problem of Japanese crisis management.

One aspect of the difficulties for political management in the aftermath of the mega-crisis was the relationship between the government authority and private enterprise.

The private enterprise, Tokyo Electric Power Co. (Tepco) in this case, was naturally obliged to keep in mind the viability and profitability of the enterprise, even though they must have been well aware of the "public" nature of the operation of electric power supply and social responsibility of the enterprise.

Besides, each private enterprise has its own "privacy" in the sense of the protection of industrial secrets or the particular manner of management.

It is therefore understandable that the "public responsibility" of the electric power supply company and their commitment to it may not have, at least as the immediate reaction to the disaster, been clear and manifest in the eyes of the general public as the overall priority for consideration.

In other words, the maintenance of the safety of the operation of the power stations is, however important it may be, only a part of the various factors to be considered in their operations and rehabilitation efforts.

On the other hand, from the standpoint of the public authority, the safety of the operation is the primary point of concern and responsibility. This means that political risk management is more important for the government authority than the consideration of economic calculation. How to close this gap between the private enterprise and the public authority is indeed a difficult problem to deal with.

One way to cope with this problem is to keep a constant good relationship and communication route between the regulatory authority and the private enterprise and thereby to establish a relationship based on trust and confidence.

In the past few years, however, there has been a politico-social tendency in Japan to discourage a close relationship between the government and private industries. The breakfast or luncheon meetings between government officials and representatives of industries are practically banned due to the criticism that there was traditionally too much close personal relations between industry and government. Fanned by journalists, this was the major factor for nontransparent dealings between the two.

There was some logic in this argument, particularly in the case of those related to the tendering of public works or similar operations. Even in the case of electricity supply, there has been an argument that the government (regulatory authority) had a tendency to collude with the industry for the sake of efficient energy supply.

However, several groups of journalism and political circles pushed this argument too far with the result that communication, both formal and informal between the government and industries, has become narrow and superficial. The climate of mistrust and detachment, however muffled it may be, has spread in the corridors of the establishment of economic power in Japan.

With this backdrop, it was quite natural that "invisible" barriers of communication should have existed between Tepco and the Japanese government in general. What appeared to be a lack of transparency and miscommunication of the flow information between the electric company and the government, was indeed a price to be paid for the breakdown of the informal yet effective "togetherness" between industry and government.

More serious and more apparent in the process of crisis management following the great disaster in Japan is the drawback implied in the slogan "politics should override bureaucracy." Naturally, the slogan itself is a fundamental principle of governance in any democratic society. However, when this catchphrase was put into practice in Japan, it meant the rise of dogmatic attitudes among some politicians who neglected consultations with the bureaucracy.

The three pivotal political figures appointed to the top echelon of each ministry were sometimes reported to have insufficient discussions on policy matters with bureaucrats. Indeed, some political figures openly displayed their mistrust of the expertise of ministry officials. Some even proudly boasted of their independence of bureaucracy and detachment from their own ministry's officials.

High-ranking career officials in each ministry, for their part, accepted the initiatives of politicians with a docile but ironic grin, presumably for fear that the social trend was on the side of the politicians and that frank or bold intervention and advice should damage their position.

In this process, however, the atmosphere of mistrust, detachment and even a mild degree of helplessness spread around the bureaucracy. Under such circumstances, it should be very difficult for the experts of the bureaucracy to share the same spirit of mission with responsible political figures and gather forces around them for coping with the crisis.

The bureaucracy-bashing and populist trend of many politicians, and of a host of journalists, has undermined the effective functioning of the bureaucracy, which one could count as one of the hidden causes of the confusion in crisis management.

Kazuo Ogoura, a political science professor at Aoyama Gakuin University, is president of the Japan Foundation.








The fire at Cilacap oil refinery (April 2-5) reminds us of problems related to our refineries. Not just on matters of safety, but our vulnerability to disruption of oil supply, huge oil subsidies and the increasing challenges to our energy security.

The fire is not the first case in our refineries' history; in fact it happens quite often. Cilacap refinery (the largest in Indonesia; its crude processing capacity is 348,000 barrels per day/bpd) experienced similar disasters in March 2008 and June 2009.

Another large refinery (Balikpapan: 266,000 bpd) was on fire in January 2010. The smaller one (Dumai: 127,000 bpd) was also in flames in December 2008 and July 2009.

It is still not clear what factors were behind the January 2010 fire accident at Plumpang depot, Indonesia's largest oil products storages near capital city Jakarta.

Although it was officially declared that, "This industrial accident will not disturb our distribution system; our oil stock is safe for weeks to come"; however, the frequent fires might ruin public trust to Pertamina's — the state-owned company
that controls almost 100 percent of oil refineries in Indonesia — operatorship.

Even though it was said, "The accident is controllable; it is not jeopardizing refinery operation", in this era of free debate and growing concern to our energy security, the fire is surely raising public speculation about our refineries' safety to economic/political rumors associated with the accident.

Oil refinery is a very important part of the petroleum industry. A refinery converts crude oil into valuable products such as gasoline, diesel oil, aviation fuels, kerosene, LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) to construction materials (asphalt, etc), and so on.

It also produces feedstock to petrochemical plants that further process such inputs making several petrochemical products plastics, detergents, fibers, polyesters, etc).

Oil refineries are typically large industrial plants that consist of many chemical processing units with extensive piping systems and a large number of tanks/storages.

The process in oil refinery is
quite complex, involving several chemical reactions and physical separations.

In the Cilacap case, it is reported that the fire was in tanks T-2, T-3 and T-7 of unit 31, containing HOMC (high octane mogas components, used to increase gasoline's octane number) and naphta (a petrochemical feedstock).

The public curious about the case might have no further information than that there are more than 200 tanks at the refinery and the fire was not burning even one of the refinery processing units.

To reduce speculation and to recover the public worries, it is a must that the company and authorities deliver smart explanation about Cilacap accident, probably to other issues related to our refineries.

One of the sad truths is that our refineries are aging, not efficient; many of them need repairs and replacement. The total capacity stood at 1,156,000 bpd or less than our petroleum fuels consumption. We have not built any new refinery post the implementation of 2001 Oil and Gas Law that changes the role of institutions, including old player Pertamina, in dealing with refinery development.

The Cilacap refinery (Fuel Oil Complex/FOC I) started producing fuels in 1976 with 100,000 bpd processing capacity. The FOC II (200,000 bpd) began delivering fuels in 1983. In addition, there are Lube Oil Complexes (LOC I-III) and a petrochemical plant (paraxylene) within the Cilacap refinery complexes. The refinery debottlenecking projects in 1998 added to the capacity of the Cilacap oil refinery to the current one.

Indonesia's other refineries, such as those in Balikpapan, Plaju-Sungai Gerong and Dumai, are older
than Cilacap.

Among the problems in our petroleum industry currently are the continuous decline in crude oil production, the fast increasing demand for fuels and the stuck in refinery processing capacity. This means imports for both crude oil and petroleum products are getting larger.

On the other side, the governmnet is keeping the policy of regulating prices for major oil fuels and selling them domestically at much lower than their imports prices (even during this time when world oil prices are skyrocketing). To bridge the gap between the regulated selling prices and the actual costs, the government provides subsidy.

The overwhelming huge oil subsidy taken from the state budget is not only due to aging refineries, large volumes of crude and product imports, and increases in their prices, but also our inefficient distribution system.

The Cilacap refinery (Central Java) is supplying about one-third of our national needs, delivering the fuels to central and western regions of Java. There is an efficient transmission pipeline connecting the refinery to large fuel storages in West Java, the country's largest oil drinkers. However, no other efficient pipeline exists yet in other parts of the archipelago, where oil is distributed using ships, trucks and even costly aircrafts.

The inadequate refinery capacity to meet the growing demand is not a new issue. There are plans to add to the existing capacities (Pertamina's Bojonegara, Selayar, some other mini refineries, etc.) but they are not really delivering yet.

Although refineries are important for a country's energy security, the business is not that easy. Not only must the crude supply be secured (through middle to long-term contracts), off-taking agreements must be in place long before loans are gained and move to EPC works, but the capital intensive and risky refinery project also require long-term stable investment climate.

In addition, tight competition from other refineries operating in the surrounding countries challenges the new refinery to enter the market.

What refinery capacity do we need? Could be the large one to supply Java, but other regions might need the smaller ones (which are not fulfilled yet). In the midst of our lacking a refinery capacity, refineries (Humpuss' 10,000 bpd in Cepu, for instance) have not been able to operate since its construction more than a decade ago, due to the unavailability of crude supply.

Improving the safety and increasing refinery capacity are important, but reducing our heavy dependency on oil by boosting the development of non-oil use (for example: natural gas) is surely imperative to improve our energy security.

The writer is a senior energy planner and an economist with the National Development Planning Agency. The opinions expressed are his own.





The current campaign waged by the US and its allies against Col. Muammar Qaddafi's merciless dictatorship also entails a war of ideas.

Qaddafi and his followers have shielded themselves from democratic protesters with a predictable and boring rhetoric of anti-imperialism and anti-colonialism.

Libya will be occupied by the West, just as Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam were occupied! Colonial powers harbor nothing but jealousy of the Third World's advancing wealth! Oil is at the root of every problem!

The rhetoric evokes the bitter experience of the Islamic world under a long period of Western colonialism. It is not surprising that the US and its allies have been branded as crusading armies bent on destroying their Muslim enemies.

Conspiracy theorists have already drawn analogies between colonialism and the recent Libya campaign. Some Indonesian politicians have promoted this rhetoric in public. Whether anyone wants to listen is a different issue.

Hidayat Nur Wahid, a senior politician of the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), said that the goal of the current war in Libya was "to seize the nation's oil", adding that "European countries have suffered from an economic recession. They need new resources to revive their economy."

It sounds like the rhetoric of Iranian president Ahmadinedjad, except in an Indonesian format. Compare Hidayat's words with those of Ahmadinedjad on the Libyan crisis: "The Westerners have to cast aside their colonialist ambitions."

The rhetoric of imperialism and colonialism can also be found in the case of Ahmadiyah, the minority Islamic sect that has suffered repeated harassment at the hands of Indonesian radicals.

According to the hard-liners, the European Union, the UN and US congressmen asked the Indonesian government to pay serious attention to the plight of Ahmadiyah. Many Indonesian officials, rather than heeding their warnings, fired back at perceived international pressure.

Home Minister Gamawan Fauzi, for instance, rejected demands to revoke laws that discriminate against the Islamic sect. Gamawan's response to the US congressmen does not surprise us, as he warmly welcomed the FPI leaders' proposal to disband the group. You can guess which faction the man sides with.

On March 23, I was invited to speak at the Religious Affairs Ministry's dialogue and public hearing on Ahmadiyah that was held in Central Jakarta.

I made myself as clear as possible to other participants that the failure to protect any citizen of Indonesia means the beginning of the nation's collapse. I reminded the audience about the domino effect. After Ahmadiyah, the Shiite, Christian minority, and liberals, Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah — all groups that are not considered purely "Islamic" by Islamists — will be targeted by the radicals.

I realized that most of the participants disagreed with me. Before my turn to speak I listened to members of the Islam Defenders Front (FPI) — an organization whose fame lies in their radical stances and terrifying tactics — give their threatening opinions.

The Religious Affairs Ministry used to be a place where the idea of religious pluralism and other progressive concepts were incubated under the leadership of A. Mukti Ali, Alamsjah Ratuprawiranegara and Munawir Sadzali. Now the ministry has become a rendezvous for the FPI leaders.

I am afraid that Ahmadiyah will be disbanded by a more "authoritative" law, enacted after the government's "consults" with different groups.

In fact, nobody is sure that the government listened the sound judgments conveyed by scholars and activists at the seminar. As usual, politicians placed political interests ahead of all other concerns.

Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali, who also chairs the United Development Party (PPP), revealed his true colors.

At a conference in Samarinda he urged fellow party members not to hesitate to make Islam as an 'ideology' (The Jakarta Post, March 27, 2011). He also denounced liberal thinking (The Jakarta Post, Feb. 23, 2011).

Indeed, at the ministry's dialogue I heard a moderator provoke the audience when he said that the US and Western powers were meddling in the case of Ahmadiyah — a form of intervention that we must not bow down to.

This rhetoric reminds us the way Abu Bakar Ba'asyir often defends himself in the court. He has repeatedly said that he was arrested under orders from the US. The conspiracy theories then followed: the Indonesian government was a mere toy of the world superpower, the US.

I am afraid to draw some points of similarities among the opinions conveyed by Qaddafi, Ahmadinedjad, Hidayat Nur Wahid, the FPI leaders, Ba'asyir, two of the President's current ministers and perhaps other state officials. I question to what extent radical thinking has penetrated the government.

Has this government and other political leaders already knelt down before the FPI's leaders?

The writer is a lecturer at Sunan Kalijaga State Islamic University, Yogyakarta.





Countries today operate in a highly globalized and networked world, sharing one fragile planet. This world is in the grip of formidable challenges ranging from political and economic instability, to energy and resource scarcity. Amid these, climate change is perhaps the most life-altering of them all, with many of its impacts beginning to be felt across Asia and globally.

This week, negotiators met in Bangkok, for the first of four rounds of UN-backed climate change negotiations in 2011 that are expected to begin the hard work of translating the achievements of last year's Cancún Climate Conference into work plans to support action in developing and developed countries alike.

While the Cancún Agreements alone will not solve the climate challenge, they did lay down important foundations for strengthened global cooperation.

Cancún created a framework for combating deforestation as a substantial source of carbon pollution, and a mechanism for financial incentives with appropriate safeguards to reduce forest loss.

Progress within the negotiations on other important sources of emissions has been much slower. Reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (known as REDD+) is a refreshing case of common ground between developed and developing countries.

Although a strong system for REDD+ could ultimately attract billions in public and private funding to keep tropical forests healthy, there is a lot of hard work that needs to get done, both in individual countries and at the international level, before financial incentives begin to flow.

Fortunately, REDD+ is not our only tool. Other drivers like market demand for ecologically and socially responsible wood products, and tougher, more credible policies to combat illegal logging, are strengthening the business case for improving management of production forests.

This can have an enormous impact in a country like Indonesia, where more than 50 percent of the total forest area is classified as production forest.

This combination of political support and financial incentives adds up to what is perhaps the best moment in decades to encourage and support actions that continue to turn these opportunities into positive changes for Indonesia's forests.

Continuing down this path will require leadership in the form of strong climate policy signals by key developing and developed countries.

It will also require substantial public investments to build the human capacity, tools and institutions that a new REDD+ system demands. This includes ensuring sufficient participation of all key stakeholders from local government, to companies, to communities.

Early signals of Indonesia's leadership and the positive responses of developing country partners to date provide promising examples.

USAID's Responsible Asia Forestry and Trade Program supported the independent third party certification of more than 1.2 million acres of natural production forest in Indonesia.

Furthermore, the Forestry Ministry adopted a mandatory national Timber Legality Assurance System for all exports, developed through a multi-stakeholder approach. These and related efforts are helping to address a major cause of forest loss in Indonesia.

At the G-20 Summit in 2009, Indonesia made a bold commitment to reduce emissions by 26 percent by 2020, and up to 41 percent with international support, while maintaining economic growth at 7 percent per year.

This pledge has catalyzed important partnerships with Norway, Australia, the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Japan and others.

In 2010 Indonesia and Norway signed a Letter of Intent to cooperate on achieving the ambitious goals stated by the President which led to the development of REDD+ institutions, selection of pilot province, and the outline of a national REDD+ strategy.

Finalizing that strategy is now the responsibility of the President's REDD+ taskforce, indicating the high level support for REDD+ in Indonesia. The agreement has been an important catalyst for REDD+ implementation in Indonesia.

The Berau Forest Carbon Program (BFCP) is an Indonesian government-led partnership, being developed with the support of Germany, Norway, the United States and Australia. As a REDD+ program operating across an entire political jurisdiction, the BFCP will demonstrate how REDD+ can be applied across an area large and complex enough to provide important lessons for national and provincial implementation.

The BFCP Strategic Plan is now the official document guiding land use planning across the District. This is an example of how REDD+ can be used not only to combat climate change, but as an opportunity to improve the regulatory framework for natural resource management and increase community livelihoods.

Even as donor governments are facing fiscal constraints on the international conservation funding, it is important to sustain support for partnership-based efforts like these.

Additional actions, which include a national forest clearing moratorium, and measures to enable Indonesians to adapt to the impacts of climate change, are still in their formative stages. Continued work toward meaningful actions on these and other issues are essential for Indonesia to meet its ambitious climate goals.

Climate change is a common environmental challenge to all humanity. Because of this, answers will be found through the kind of cooperative partnerships that Indonesia and its partners are embarking on. Such cooperation will lead to stronger domestic action and reinforced international cooperation.

Ultimately, by highlighting lessons, demonstrating success and building confidence, it will leverage greater investment over time. In the end, it takes two to tango.

We have learned the steps, now it is time to dance to the tune of equitable global cooperation that is in all our interests.

Wahjudi Wardojo is senior advisor for International Forest Carbon Policy at The Nature Conservancy in Jakarta. Duncan Marsh is director of International Climate Policy at The Nature Conservancy in Washington DC.







When former sports minister C.B. Ratnayake branded the current Interim Committee running Sri Lanka Cricket as the most corrupt public institution in the country, he put himself on a shaky wicket and became an umpire whose verdicts were ignored when the powers that be virtually forced him to retain the same committee.

Like most people, we have little respect for politicians in terms of integrity, high principales and sincere sacrificial service to the people.  So Mr. Ratnayake was forced to overrule himself but today somewhere far away from the boundary lines, he must be knowing he has been vindicated because cricket, the pride and joy of our country and Sri Lanka Cricket are at sixes and sevens.

Not that celebrating the downfall of someone or some organization is an accepted norm of decency, but what else can right-thinking people do other than cheer when the rot is exposed in a country where hypocrisy, double games and bluff blaze high on the scoreboard.

With captain Kumar Sangakkara and vice captain Mahela Jayewardena stepping down from their posts in the Sri Lanka team, the selectors resigning for reasons best known to them and a report highlighting that the game's administration has gone bankrupt, Mr. Ratnayake must be on a good wicket  realising he is no longer the head of a so-called sports ministry that is supposed to ensure not winning or losing but how we play the game.

Most cricket fans believe that little or nothing will change in cricket administration. For when one set of questionable characters leave, another set of the same breed, or may be others even worse, enter the fray for their turn. Many believe that the government itself must take a large part of the responsibility for the recent debacles and setbacks. This started some 10 years ago when the government stepped in with interim committees and their stooges being brought in to run if not ruin cricket.

It seems now that some people are shedding cricket tears for the thousands of people who were cheated without tickets to witness the World Cup at their doorstep. When millions of rupees were ripped off in the name of the World Cup, these opportunists were  asleep and should ask themselves what wisdom is there left in crying foul after the match is over.

At least the lilywhites or purists will have just one man in the whole world to thank for the string of resignations. For if not for Mahendra Singh Dhoni's innings of 91, Sri Lanka would have won the World Cup and the maggots and leeches would have been swept under the turf.

The question must now be asked whether the selectors headed by Aravinda de Silva resigned for the reasons they have stated or to save face over a historic selection blunder at the final. Will their resignations be seen as hoodwinking the public to stave off any impending inquiry, the outcome of which will never be made public.

Kumar Sangakkara may have had his reasons to resign, but we take off our caps to him for he had the wisdom to speak out honestly and openly in an establishment where the score books are filled with deception and double talk.





The economy 'stupid' is operating. Asia seems to have successfully beaten the recessionary trend and is well on the path of registering an average of eight per cent growth rate. Along with this welcome news, of course, is an irresistible concern.

Soaring inflation will not only create immense social problems, but also keep respective governments on the edges. Thus, any effort to subsidise food and civic amenities will come with a bill that many of the governments would not be able to foot. Nonetheless, the very fact that microeconomic indicators are stabilising goes on to suggest the confidence the corporate and the nationalised financial institutions have in the polices of their governments, and can well be channelised to address microeconomic necessities in a comprehensive manner.

The 2011 Asian Development Bank report has rightly forecast that the region would expand solidly over the next two years. Its contention that stronger economic links between developing countries could offset reduced demand for goods and services from recession-hit richer countries is worth debating. The two major economies of the region, China and India, are poised with a leadership role and should go at lengths in not only building bridges between the dispossessed East, but also the struggling economies of the West. Japan, which is recollecting from the tsunami debacle, is all set to catch up with the activity as the third major economy of the corporate globe. Greater interaction among the Asian economies, especially the ASEAN, for rebuilding Japans Honshu state could set in a snowball reaction of demand and supply, surging growth and investment profiles across the region. This is a perfect example of finding an opportunity in disaster.

Two other geographies that need to be monitored in due course of time are those of the Middle East and Europe. Though the United States is also not out of the woods, the wave of 2012 presidential electioneering and big money business will keep it afloat. A new war over the horizons of North Africa in Libya, which could spiral in one of the biggest human exodus into southern Europe, will be a test case for policy makers of the West. The tables of growth and sustainability can turn upside down if the conflict impacts free flow of oil across the Mediterranean and the Mideast. Asias growth hype will then come to a naught inadvertently.

Khaleej Times





In the smoke rising from NATO airstrikes on Libya, Iraq, the biggest crime of the coalition forces, remains covered. The ninth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq came and went with little media attention. The mainstream media were counting how many Tomahawk missiles a trigger-happy US President was unleashing on Libya.

As though the blood being shed and civilians killed in Iraq and Afghanistan are not enough, the coalition forces have opened a third front. Once again the objective appears to be oil and a military base — this time to control the Mediterranean Sea. The manner in which Libya is being destroyed reminds one of how Iraq was destroyed and how the war capitalists made billions from its reconstruction. But before we come to that, here are some statistics of the eight-year US occupation of Iraq.

According to, a website which maintains the Iraq war statistics, the number of Iraqis slaughtered in the US war and the occupation of Iraq is a shocking one million four hundred and twenty one thousand and nine hundred and thirty three (1,421,933) as of yesterday. The number of US military personnel killed in the Iraq war — and the occupation — is 4,763. In Afghanistan, the figure is 2,394.

Hawks in the George W. Bush administration said the Iraq war would cost only US$ 40 billion. But as of yesterday, the two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have cost the US economy a staggering one trillion, one hundred and seventy six billion, two hundred and seventy eight million, nine hundred and thirty thousand and seventy two dollars ($1,176,278,930,072). Well this is 17 times the strength of Iraq's economy and 40 times that of Afghanistan. The question arises as to how this money was raised and who benefited from the illegal war which was launched without UN approval.

Donald Rumsfeld, the US secretary of defence, with whom Bush discussed the Iraq war long before the 9/11 attacks, said the bulk of the funds for Iraq's reconstruction would come from Iraqis — from oil revenues, recovered assets, international trade and direct foreign investment.

Isn't this something like the gangster house builder next door demolishing your house and then telling you to sell whatever belongings you are left with and pay him the money for him to rebuild your house?

The gangster not only destroyed your house and asked you to pay for the reconstruction, but he also took the money that his own wife and children had and shared it with his fellow gangsters.

The Iraq war is largely a capitalist war, though it suited the agenda of the neocons, Israel and Islam-hating white evangelists. The goings on show that very little has changed since the European mercantilism era, during which the merchant class funded wars aimed at colonizing Asia, Africa and Latin America and plundered the resources of the colonized countries. The only difference appears to be that the war capitalists now dip into the house kitty. In the case of the Iraq war, it is the US taxpayers' money. Their money and the money Iraq was asked to pay from its oil sales go to US arms and construction companies.

Chief among these companies that made billions of dollars in war profits are Halliburton where Dick Cheney, Bush's Vice President and chief architect of the Iraq war, was once the CEO. Others include Parsons Corp, DynCorp International, Bechtel, General Electric and Blackwater. Joining the gang are the Western oil giants Exxon Mobil, Shell, Total, BP and Chevron. They are benefiting from lucrative oil contracts which the puppet Iraqi regime has handed over to them outside the tender procedures.

That the plunder continues unabated underscores the moral nakedness of the West. As the US occupation of Iraq enters its ninth year, the casus belli for the war — that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction and that Iraq was sponsoring terrorism— has been proved to be a big lie.

It appears that people in the West won't mind if their leaders tell lies as long as they also get a few crumbs by way of a trickle-down channel or as long as the target is a stupid, rich Arab.

A few inquiries were held but they were largely eyewash — probably a second deception to cover the first deception. Take for instance, the Lord Chilcot inquiry in Britain. It gave hope to the anti-war activists that the liars would be exposed. But as the inquiry proceeded, it became clear that this would also end up as another damp squib. Our doubts are largely because of Chilcot's conflict of interest which he failed to declare. He is said to have successfully lobbied the British Ministry of Defence (MoD) to drop its opposition to a lucrative £150m wind farm project, of which he is a director, while the inquiry was going on.

Besides this, a leaked US embassy cable posted on WikiLeaks indicated that the British MoD had given an assurance to the US that measures had been put in place to protect US interests at the Chilcot inquiry. Accordingly, the British government has held back vital documents on grounds of national security.

So the robbery and the plunder by way of deception continue. With Iraq being well taken care of (thousands of US troops will remain in Iraq even after the final troop pullout on December 31 this year), the thieves of Arabian Night fame have set their eyes on Libya. But aren't they like Cassim, Ali Baba's brother, whose was killed by his greed?










Ayubowan, vanakkam, assalamu alaikum and deepest sympathies as you join millions of Sri Lankans in coping with the debacle in the cricket World Cup final against India. It was like a case of virtually winning all the battles but losing the war unlike the May 2009 clash with the LTTE where we won all the battles and also won the war.

Ironically, Sri Lanka's cricket World Cup captain Kumar Sangakkara dropped a second bomb shell on Tuesday by announcing he was stepping downfrom the captaincy of the team for one-day and T20 matches. the next day more bomb shells followed with vice captain Mahela Jayawardena also stepping down and the selection committee headed by former batting star Aravinda de Silva announcing it was quitting immediately. All this led to widespread speculation as to what happened or what was happening or who was responsible for what with rumours ranging from alleged match fixing to political interfearence and disputes over the selection of the team for the final.

 Kumar Sangakkara said he was available to lead the Sri Lanka team for the test matches against England and Australia till a new captain was groomed. He said that when the next World Cup took place in 2015 he would be 37 and was not sure whether he would be fit enough to play for his  country.

Kumar Sangakkara, widely admired by millions of cricket fans all over the world said he had informed the selection committee and others sometime ago that he would be stepping down after the World Cup adding more mystery to the muddle. Whatever it is the series of resignations at the top should also serve as a reminder or warning for the Sri Lankan cricket establishment to be pulled out of a den of corruption and put on a proper footing acceptable to the International Cricket Council. For about 10 years there has been no elected controlling body for cricket in Sri Lanka and the game has been run or manipulated by an interim committee.

Recently, the International Rugby Board suspended Sri Lanka because the game was being controlled by an unelected interim committee. Sri Lanka have now been told that the suspension would be lifted when a proper controlling body is elected in a democratic way but two groups are known to be tackling each other roughly in a scrum to take control. What happened to Sri Lanka rugby on the international scene might happen to Sri Lanka Cricket if urgent steps are not taken to hold democratic elections for a controlling body.

If what happed over the past few days hit Sri Lanka like bomb shells what happened on Friday was similar to the planting of a landmine that would explode and affect millions of people. While the people waited with enthusiasm and expectation for Saturday's cricket world cup final, the government quietly broke the news that the prices of LP gas, petrol and diesel were being increased with immediate effect. The decision was taken by the cabinet on Wednesday but it was apparently delayed till Friday in the hope that the World Cup would defuse the impact.

But now with the World Cup lost the captain and vice captain also lost along with the selection committee, the people will have to face the realities of high prices for a multitude of items. Millions of Sri Lankans who were struggling to find two square meals a day, will be plunged into further misery with the cost of living soaring. Although world oil prices may be beyond the control of Sri Lanka the people need to be given immediate relief. The money for this can come if political leaders and VIPs cut down on the millions of rupees they are spending on non-essential events and if they stopped plundering or pillaging the resources of the country through rampant corruption. If this is not done, what is happening in a growing number of countries in the Middle East may erupt in Sri Lanka also.







The last Collective Agreement (Wage) ended on the 31st of March 2011. The workers are anxiously waiting for the increase of their wages but the tactics of the Employers Federation by resorting to dilly-dally tactics bidding time to sign on every occasion deny the workers the benefits of the wage increment. For this delay, the traditional trade unions who signed the agreement say that the new wage system will be implemented from the date of expiry of the last agreement and every time it takes about six months to come out with the new agreement. But, in actual fact, workers are the losers and the employers are making profit on it. In the last agreement, price share supplement of Rs.20/- was removed and introduced a plucking norm fixed by the Manager and if the norm is not fulfilled, they will not get this Rs.30/- .  So, for everybody this Rs.10/- was denied during the interval period of six months of the new agreement when they paid the arrears. Different Managers also calculate these arrears according to their convenience. In the last agreement, only the pluckers (women) have to adhere to the norm to get the incentive of Rs.30/- but not other workers. By this, 90 per cent of the women are refused this incentive. This is really an injustice done to the plantation women.

As usual, the Unions which are directly involved in the collective agreement and who do not want other unions to participate so far have not openly come out regarding the wage increase (VK- 27.02.2011). The workers feel that the unions have betrayed them. These unions may think that they can help the workers only by joining the Government parties but they should understand that so far what they have brought from the Government to the workers are only some facilities and not any rights. Two unions, namely JVP union and DWC have come out demanding a basic minimum wage to be increased to Rs.700/- and Rs.500/- per day respectively.

Commodity Price Hike Day by Day

Most of the food items are imported and the prices of these items are increased day by day. It is because the prices of these commodities are going up in prices in the World Market. The coconut related products that were exported are stopped and the prices of these items are increased by 100% locally. It is believed that the prices of all the articles would go up in prices after the local council elections. The price of crude oil has gone up from US $ 80 to US $ 100 and it is expected to go up to US $ 150 before long. The Public Service, industry and the agriculture sectors would be affected by this.

 The workers we met say that even if they spend 100 percent of the earnings for food they are unable to have three proper meals a day. All the people know that the estate workers are the lowest paid in Sri Lanka, even lower than the other agricultural workers. Therefore, to sustain their body and soul from starvation, they suggest that Rs.600/- as a basic minimum wage plus cost of living allowance should be given. The pay slip must be made simple for them to understand and the work offered by the estate management should be indicated in the pay slip. All the unwanted deductions in the pay slip must be taken out. There are no barbers or dhobis in most of the estates but contributions are deducted from the workers from their pay slips. All the trade unions have got together and raised the subscription to 95 rupees and all the unions have acted unanimously in this matter. The workers need the trade unions and the subscriptions are necessary to run the unions, but it would be good if the unions directly get the subscriptions from the workers and not get them deducted from their wages. The workers must think deeply about this.

Super Profits to Companies

Today the management, to make the maximum profit, is not going to give the workers a decent work and decent wage. The colonial legacy of hierarchical and rigid organization of work and the system of remuneration has helped in profit accumulation without sharing the benefits with the workers. The wages are calculated on the basis of piece work and norm work thus to achieve this, most of the women have to work for more than 9 hours to get the fixed norm. In the plantation, there exists an incentive system called 'extra leaf price' whereby the workers are paid a stipulated amount for the additional kg of leaf plucked beyond their norm (at present Rs.10/- per kg). This practice intensifies the work of the employees, however they are not in equal measure and it is an advantage for the Management.

The types of employment in the plantation are contract labour, registered casual labour, seasonal labour, pensioner labour and permanent labour. In this type of employment, only the last type of labour gets all the statutory benefits. The other types do the same type of work as the permanent workers but they are not entitled for the statutory benefits. This increases the profits of the plantation owners. There is no separate statistics available regarding the above types of workers, but the Statistical Information on Plantation Crops – 2008, on page 184, state that the labour includes regular and casual employees.

  In all other industries, wages are calculated on time basis – that is the workers have to work for 8 hours a day and above that is considered overtime work and paid accordingly. Also the workers are given compulsory one day of the week as a holiday. Here, during the high  plucking season – 3 to 4 months – workers are forced to work without a single holiday and during the non seasonal months they are not given even 15 days work. This affects the health of the workers and also their social and the family well being. Their economic conditions too are affected by this arrangement. All the workers are not employed throughout the year on a permanent basis. The permanent worker works maximum of 240 days in a year. This depends number of days work offered by the management and also availability of the workers on the days work offered and this differs estate to estate.

(The author is actively involved in community development in the estate sector)

To be cont. tomorrow





Government servants drawing an all inclusive monthly salary of over Rs.50, 000 would have to contribute a Pay As You Earn (PAYE) Tax effective from April 1 as proposed in the last budget. It is 33 years since this tax was last affected. The Bill making provision to this effect was passed by Parliament.

According to the proposed tax levy structure, a tax of 4 percent of the total salary less than Rs 2000 will be levied from employees whose monthly salary inclusive of all allowances is above Rs.50,000 and below Rs. 91,667. If the monthly salary is between Rs. 91,667 to Rs. 133,333 the tax amount will be 8 percent of the salary less Rs. 5667. If the monthly salary is in the slab between Rs. 133,333 and Rs. 175,000 the tax levied will be 12 percent of the salary less Rs. 11000.

Employees whose monthly salary is between Rs. 175,000 and Rs. 216,667 will be taxed 16 percent of the salary less Rs. 18,000. If the monthly salary is between Rs. 216,667and Rs. 300,000 the tax will be 20 percent of the salary less Rs 38,667.A tax of 24 percent of the salary less Rs. 38667 will be levied from employees who are drawing an all inclusive monthly salary of over Rs. 300,000.

'This new tax structure is unfair.'

Janatha Vimuthi Peramuna Propaganda Secretary Vijitha Herath

This new tax structure is unfair. The Government had promised a Rs. 2500 increment to the public servants but instead of receiving that they have been further burdened with a tax at a time when the cost of living is unbearable. We have been against that since the beginning of it and even today we say that it is inhumane and unjustifiable. We opposed it in parliament and the Government hasn't a valid answer to our queries. The government is looking at all the avenues that they can tax the public since the elections are over. The public can no longer think that all they can do is to earn their salary or earn more when they are going to be further taxed like never before. The Government is always looking at taxation as generating revenue they cant think of any other way  generate income. This should be stopped since this only the beginning of what is to come.

'It is a justifiable and equitable move.'

Minister of National Languages and Social Integration Vasudeva Nanayakkara

This tax is charged on public servants who are of a particular income group. It is a justifiable and equitable move. It is a small percentage. I should be taxed under this. Nobody should be exempted unless for a very exceptional circumstance that will contribute substantially to the economic growth.

'Every person who falls into the tax category should be taxed.'

Minister of Water supply and drainage Dinesh Gunawardena

The salary scales have been reviewed of the public servants and other semi government bodies over the years. The perks and privileges to public servants have too been increased over the years. Therefore it is my view that every person who falls into the tax category should be taxed regardless of the sector in which he contributes to. Therefore this is a move to regularize our taxing system rather than protesting. The government grants universal health, education and such facilities to be enjoyed by all alike. 

'All citizens of the country should be taxable.'

Senior Minister for Human Resources DEW Gunasekara

The principle of taxation is equity. All citizens of the country should be taxable. Subsequently due to economic reasons the public servants were given an exemption. Income tax should be applicable to all citizens equal in the eyes of the government. This time when restructuring the taxation policy this was considered. This new measure relates to the employments' source of income. If the tax is applicable to the private sector employees so should the public sector. The discrimination of public and private sector employees in the eyes of the Government will no longer be there due this revision. Besides the tax will be applicable to public servants who earn more than Rs. 300,000 per year. Therefore we could say that only top level public servants will be liable to taxes. This is also applicable to MP's and Ministers with no exemption.

'It will be very unfair given that they hardly get salary increments on time.'

Left Front Leader Dr. Wikramabahu Karunaratne

Public servants stayed in public service although the salaries were low since they were exempted from the taxes. Now they have to worry about the income tax also together with the skyrocketing cost of living. That will be very unfair given that they hardly get salary increments on time. The public servants are promised many things for years and years and even now they have been promised a salary increment instead of receiving that they have been further burdened by this new tax. There should be trade union protests with regard to this but they know that the Government is hell bent on taxing them since the elections are far off. This comes at a time when the public servants are asking for more salaries. I ask the trade unions to take this up very seriously.







April 2, 2011 was predicted to go down in Indian history as a very momentous day.

It also was the day I had designated for my major annual shopping trip.

While Saturday did indeed go down in history, my plans for shopping didn't go off quite as expected.

I had known since the Cricket World Cup semi-finals between arch-rivals India and Pakistan that if India played the roads would be clear and shops empty.

The enthusiasm for cricket here borders on fanaticism as players have temples built in their honour and are worshipped almost like gods.

However, it's not really the sport that Indians are passionate about - most don't watch when other countries play each other - they just like to see India winning.

So, there was a lot to celebrate about in Mumbai for the last few weeks as India cruised on an amazing winning streak and almost everything advertised on television or outdoors was modified to include the 2011 ICC Cricket World Cup theme and the players.

As a member of the silent majority that appreciates some sport other than cricket, I was at first very amused and later a little annoyed at the hysteria that unfolded since the beginning of the tournament.

At first they surfaced in the form of empty threats.

As Mumbai was to be the venue for finals, a local right wing party here declared that should Pakistan reach the finals, they would dig up the Wankhede Stadium where the match was to be played.

It was not really an empty threat, as the Shiv Sena party had indeed dug up the grounds in 1991 on the eve of an India-Pakistan match which eventually led to its cancellation.

Another reason why I dislike the way cricket is followed is that rarely do people have genuine appreciation for the sport.

When India played Pakistan, the mood here was akin to preparation for a war and if India had lost the match, there would have been effigies burnt and an unofficial state of mourning declared.

In the face of such mass frenzy, I routinely take to supporting every team that plays against India, partly to spite my fanatical friends.

So of course on Saturday, I was cheering for Sri Lanka and I even went to the extent of watching the match, though for different reasons.

I watched till Sri Lanka batted and when it was India's turn I decided to step out to empty roads and deserted shops.

However, when I did get out there was not a single rickshaw or taxi in sight to take me anywhere.

After 10 minutes, when I did get to a shopping mall expecting no queues and hassle-free service, I was in for another shock.

There was a TV planted right in the middle of the mall and all the cashiers, a couple of shoppers, policemen and just about anybody who happened to have been passing outside was crowded around it.

I abandoned the idea of getting a salad as there was no one to serve and walked aimlessly around the aisles.

When I finally reached the cash counter, it was unfortunately the same time that India was a few runs away from winning.

The excitement was feverish and the woman in the queue ahead of me was dancing on her tiptoes and squealing in reply to every scream she heard from the TV located some yards away.

The cashier stopped mid-way in his work and it was only after India won the world cup and the place erupted with roars, he bothered about us.

My trip back home on clear roads wasn't so clear this time though.

People set off fireworks in front of the rickshaw I was in scaring the living daylights out of me.

People will be talking about this win for years and already there's no news except this second world cup win for India in most news channels.

This in some ways is good news here.

After a season of scams and reports of corruption in parliament, it is high time people had something to celebrate. * Jennifer Gnana is a former Bahrain resident now studying in Mumbai


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