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month april 09, edition 000802, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul
Editorial is syndication of all daily- published newspaper Editorial at one place.
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- WHEN THE UN MISLEADS
- THE SUPERBUG SCARE
- JAN LOK PAL IS NO SOLUTION - NITIN PAI
- ANNA'S CRUSADE FOR INDIA - SANJAY KAUL
- BIGGER THAN THE BIGGEST - CHIRAG SAWANT
- …but isn't the Constitution supreme? - CP Bhambri | Professor Emeritus, JNU
THE TIMES OF INDIA
- REPENTING AT LEISURE
- THE HIGH ROAD AND THE LOW - SUNIL KHILNANI
- A POTENTIAL SOURCE OF NEW IDEAS
- IT'S A COSTLY DISTRACTION - JAY KUMAR
- WHEN ANNA GIVES IT TO THOSE ONES - DILEEP PADGAONKAR
- RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE
- OUR MOMENT OF TRUTH – ABHIJIT MAJUMDER
- THIS CANNOT BE A ONE-BILL MOVEMENT - PRATIK KANJILAL
- GETTING GOD ON OUR SIDE - GOPALKRISHNA GANDHI
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
- MAKE IT BETTER
- CASTE & CLEANSING
- TAGORE'S GIFTS
- CYNICISM VS HOPE - BAIJAYANT 'JAY' PANDA
- IN DEFENCE OF MAMATA – COOMI KAPOOR
- DEMOCRACY DOESN'T TAKE DICTATION - RAGHUVANSH PRASAD SINGH
- CHINA'S NEW CRACKDOWN
- 'BACK IN THE 1970S, WE WERE UTTERLY NAIVE' - GEORGINA MADDOX
- CAMERON IN ISLAMABAD - RUCHIKA TALWAR
- DODGING THE DRAFTS - KAUSHIKI SANYAL
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
- BATTING TRACK
- BUMPER CROP
- JANMAT VERSUS JAN LOKPAL - SUNIL JAIN
- WHY WASTE TIME WITH HAZARE? - RISHI RAJ
- THE STAND-OFF OVER CORRUPTION
- SAVING VULTURES
- CONFRONTING FEARS OF RADIOACTIVITY - R. RAJARAMAN
- WE NEED ROADS, NOT GUNS - SAIRA SHAH
- IN LIBYA, REBELS STRIVE TO BECOME AN ARMY - CHRIS MCGREAL
- ITALY, FRANCE TO WORK TOGETHER TO BLOCK MIGRANTS - COLLEEN BARRY
- SOMALI PIRATES FREE GREEK SUPERTANKER
- NEW ZEALAND, AUSTRALIA DISCUSS ENERGY EFFICIENCY COOPERATION
THE ASIAN AGE
- GETTING A DIVORCE TO GET A BIT EASIER?
- SILLY POINT
- IF I WERE DHONI'S MUMMYJI - SHOBHAA DE
- CRUSADER AT JANTAR MANTAR
- HARMFUL SELF MEDICATION
- CRICKET A BIG TIME BUSINESS - BY ML KOTRU
- CRPF IN SERVICE OF COUNTRY - BY MADAN MOHAN SHARMA
- GANDHI AND CLIMATE CHANGE - JASWANT SINGH RANA
- NO BUGGING ISSUE, THIS
- SECURE THE VEHICLES
- A TROUBLED NOBEL LAUREATE
- INDIA'S KNOWLEDGE DEFICIT - BY N.S. SISODIA
- SURPRISE IN THE LOVE OF LIFE - BY SANJEEV SINGH BARIANA
- GENNEXT CAN HELP TO BANISH CORRUPTION - VIPUL GROVER
- SECOND BATTLE FOR RTI WARRIORS
- OUR TAHRIR SQUARE - T N NINAN
- WEST BENGAL VS TAMIL NADU - PARTHASARATHI SHOME
- PERVERSE INCENTIVES IN GENDER BIAS - DEVANGSHU DATTA
- INVASION FROM THE NORTH EAST - SUBIR ROY
- TO MOUNT KAILAS AND BEYOND.... - V V
- THE LEANING PILLARS OF DEMOCRACY - SUNANDA K DATTA-RAY
- BHOPAL GAS TRAGEDY - JUSTICE AT OUR COST - DORAB R SOPARIWALA
- NAVIGATING MACRO PITFALLS - RAJEEV MALIK
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
- BEYOND LOKPAL
- CHANGING TACK
- JANTAR MANTAR VS IPL
- BREATHING NEW LIFE INTO MFIS
- THE 'MUSLIM DEBATE' IN FRANCE
- AN ARAB AWAKENING, AFTER ALL - RAJIV JAYARAM
- SUCCESS IS SWEAT PLUS - VITHAL C NADKARNI
- BREAKTHROUGH: EIGHT STEPS TO WELLNESS - SUZANNE SOMERS
- RELUCTANT CBI
- UN SOLDIERING
- SOUL OF IRRESPONSIBILITY
- INTEGRAL LEARNING - RUDRASHIS DATTA
- ON RECORD
- 'CORRUPT MANDARINS DON'T TAKE CVC SERIOUSLY'
- THE INDIAN MUSEUM AND INDIAN CRAFTS
- BEHIND STONE WALLS
- NEHRUVIAN INDIANS - RAMACHANDRA GUHA
- BLACK ART
- BEYOND YUNUS
- BONANZAS GO BUST - BY GAYATHRI NIVAS
- MOHALI MATCH - BY KHUSHWANT SINGH
- LUCKY FOR SOME - BY PADMA GANAPATI
THE NEWYORK TIMES
- THREE MEN IN A ROOM
- CUE THE OBAMA MONEY BUNDLERS
- THE VOCAL STYLINGS OF NEW YORK CITY TRANSIT
TIMES FREE PRESS
- SHUTDOWN SHOWDOWN
- BOB BERNHARDT'S NEW CHAPTER
- AN EDUCATION REFORMER
- KEEP U.S. TROOPS OUT OF LIBYA
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
- A BOOK ON THE PRESIDENTIAL SYSTEM - CENGİZ AKTAR
- HOW TO DISMANTLE A BAD CONSTITUTION - MUSTAFA AKYOL
- ARINÇ'S WASHINGTON VISIT AND LIMITS FOR TOLERANCE - İLHAN TANIR
- THE CORRIDOR - CODES OF THE KURDISH QUESTION IN CANDIDATE LISTS - GÖKSEL BOZKURT
- A BIRD'S EYE VIEW - A NOBEL PEACE PRIZE THAT MUST BE RETURNED - ADVENA AVIS
- LIBERATING TURKISH CYPRUS FROM ITS SAVIOR - YUSUF KANLI
- TEMPERING TROUBLE
- BACK ON CALL
- GET REAL
- LEARNING FROM FUKUSHIMA - PRAFUL BIDWAI
- THE REAL QUESTION - NAWAB MUMTAZ ALI BHUTTO
- YEMEN: THE NEXUS OF ARABIA - ZAFAR HILALY
- CHAKWAL'S DEBT OF GRATITUDE - SAJID SULTAN
- REOPENING THE BHUTTO CASE - BABAR SATTAR
- THE AFGHAN ARMY - RIZWAN ASGHAR
- GOVERNMENT'S TOTAL INSENSITIVITY TO HEC
- PARADISE QUETTA TURNING INTO A HELL
- RETURN OF AL-QAEDA IN AFGHANISTAN
- BRITAIN OWES IT TO HELP RESOLVE INDO-PAK ISSUES - M ASHRAF MIRZA
- US REPORT IS DETESTABLE - MOHAMMAD JAMIL
- HEC DECENTRALISATION? - ALI ASHRAF KHAN
- DIALOGUE REVIVAL - MALIK M ASHRAF
- WANTED: CLEAN, SAFE POWER - MICHAEL RICHARDSON
- THE CHALLENGES CONTINUE IN MULTI-LEVEL ECONOMY
- SPIES, LIES AND LIFE LESSONS
- RED-TAPE OVERKILL IS NO SOLUTION
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
- ARMED GUARDS WON'T MAKE STATIONS SAFER
- THE OPPOSITE OF REASSURING
- LONGEVITY ON SPECIAL - THIS WEEK ONLY
- SACRED COW HERD TRAMPLES TAX SENSE
- BENEFITS: DEPARTMENT OF WOEFUL PRACTICES
- PHONE HACKING: AN APOLOGY – BUT NO ANSWERS
- UNTHINKABLE? BANISHING TYRANTS TO EXILE
THE JAPAN TIMES
- NEW FOOD CONTAMINATION RULES
- SUMO MUST CLEAN UP ITS ACT
- WITH THE WORLD LOOKING IN, JAPAN NEEDS TO SPEAK OUT - BY KUMI SATO AND MICHAEL J. ALFANT
THE JAKARTA POST
- AGONIZING OVER UMAR PATEK
- DEFORESTATION – ALWAYS SILENT YET DEVASTATING - YANSEN, BENGKULU
- INDONESIA: A WORLD CLASS GOLF DESTINATION IN WAITING - DENNIS G. KLOETH
- BULLETIZATION OF EDUCATION - ANITA LIE, SURABAYA
- THE IMPACT OF INDIAN ELECTIONS ON SRI LANKAN POLITICS
- COUNTERTERRORISM IN THE DOCK
- FACING A GLOBAL REALITY: ECONOMISTS' VIEW ON FUEL PRICE HIKES
- FAMILY BASED WAGE SYSTEM DECEIVES THE PLANTATION COMMUNITY - BY REV. FR. S. GUY DE FONTGALLAND
- INCREASING DIVISIONS BETWEEN THE HAVES AND HAVE-NOTS
GULF DAILY NEWS
- A TIME TO CELEBRATE - BY JENNIFER GNANA
WHEN THE UN MISLEADS
GOLDSTONE ADMITS ANTI-ISRAEL BIAS IN GAZA REPORT
Eighteen months after a UN fact-finding mission on the Gaza conflict of 2008-09 brought out a report that severely criticised Israeli action during 'Operation Cast Lead' and included accusations of war crimes and possible crimes against humanity against the Israeli Defence Forces, the document's primary author, Justice Richard Goldstone, who led the inquiry, has now gone back on his 'findings' and effectively said they are not worth the paper they are printed on. In an opeditorial published by The Washington Post, Mr Goldstone, who is a retired Justice of the Constitutional Court of South Africa and former chief prosecutor of the UN International Criminal Tribunals, said on April 1, "If I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone Report would have been a different document." This, of course, should not come as a surprise to the readers of The Pioneer as this newspaper had pointed out the flaws in the report. The report was doomed from the start given its faulty mandate — investigating "violations of international law by the occupying power Israel against the Palestinian people" — which assumed that Israel was guilty of human rights violations even before the investigation began. But Mr Goldstone's admission is nonetheless welcome for it serves to silence critics of Israel who have persistently used the report to further their own vested interests. Mr Goldstone now notes that a vast majority of those killed during 'Operation Cast Lead', which followed murderous rocket attacks on Israel, were Hamas combatants and not civilians, thus debunking the much-touted canard of an Israel-sponsored massacre of 'innocent' Palestinians. Mr Goldstone now emphasises — it's a pity he failed to record the truth at the time of drafting the report — that Israel actually launched a series of investigations into allegations that the Israeli Defense Forces engaged in inappropriate military conduct during the conflict. While these may be time-consuming, they are nonetheless evidence of Israel's commitment to international laws that govern war-time behavior. More importantly, it is proof that Israel retaliated in self-defence and had no intentions of targeting civilians, as was initially alleged. That the Government of Israel has also implemented several policy changes aimed at protecting civilians during armed confrontations only serves to debunk the organised campaign of calumny.
It must also be noted that in his article Mr Goldstone has come down heavily on Hamas. This serves as a complete turnabout since the UN report barely mentioned attacks by Hamas militia on Israeli civilians and indeed this was one of the major reasons why it was criticised as being overwhelmingly anti-Israel. In his recent confession of sorts, Mr Goldstone has been harsh in his criticism of the terrorist group — that is what Hamas really is — for, unlike Israel, not conducting investigations into the rocket and mortar attacks it had launched into Israeli towns like Sderot. He also notes that Hamas continues to direct rounds of rocket fire at Israeli civilian targets and regrets that he foolishly expected a terrorist organisation to investigate its own attacks. Mr Goldstone has now asked the UN Human Rights Council to condemn the attacks. But given that he himself has accused the body of flagrant anti-Israeli bias, that seems like a long shot.
THE SUPERBUG SCARE
HOW SERIOUSLY SHOULD WE TAKE LANCET?
The report, recently published by Lancet, claiming the presence of drug-resistant New Delhi metallo beta-lactamase or NDM-1 bugs in tap water and puddle water samples from India's capital city is clearly aimed at raising alarm by recycling an old claim that has been found to be manufactured. Drug-resistant microbes — superbugs as they are called — are immune to most antibiotics and can spread faster through human carriers in a highly inter-connected world. Last August, the journal first voiced its claim of drug-resistant bacteria in India after suggesting that foreigners who visit this country for medical and cosmetic treatments may carry back the deadly microbes with them to their home countries. Indian medical experts questioned the authenticity of the claim, and rightly so, because superbugs like MRSA bacteria are found to have travelled to India from the US and European countries. The new report seeks to establish that the NDM-1 is no longer a hospital-born infection but can spread through contaminated water and food. Understandably, this has raised hackles in India. That said, we must also consider the larger issue. Drug resistance is fast becoming a global health concern because drug-resistant pathogens can turn a simple infection like dysentery fatal. With few new anti-microbials under development, doctors worldwide are battling to treat once-curable diseases like malaria and tuberculosis. According to the World Health Organisation, some 440,000 new cases of tuberculosis resistant to different types of drugs were detected last year in 60 countries across the world. The emergence of the drug-resistant superbug is being seen as a natural process of evolution of organisms, but what should bother all of us is that the indiscriminate use of antibiotics is hastening the process.
The people in India are at a greater risk because poor sanitation and faecal contamination of water supplies help in spreading the microbes faster. The problem is further compounded by the fact that doctors tend to prescribe antibiotics unthinkingly — often the dosage is inadequate and the combination of drugs inappropriate. As a counter-measure, providing basic civic amenities like safe drinking water and proper sanitation is imperative to prevent an epidemic of new-age malaria, tuberculosis or diarrhoea. Also, the Union Ministry of Health should focus on strictly implementing the measures suggested by the task force set up last year. Those include a ban on sale of antibiotics without prescriptions and regular audits of doctors' prescriptions to curb irrational use of antibiotics. What is needed is a collective effort by the Government, civic bodies and the medical fraternity to tame microbes that were once considered vanquished.
JAN LOK PAL IS NO SOLUTION
Tackling corruption requires economic reforms and a popular re-engagement with electoral politics. We should shun the politics of hunger strikes.
The idea of a 'Jan Lok Pal' is flawed and profoundly misunderstands the causes and solutions of corruption in India. It seeks to create another chunk of Government, more processes and rules, to solve a problem that, in part, exists because of too many chunks of Government, too many processes and rules.
If the 'Jan Lok Pal' presides over the same system that has corrupted civil servants, politicians, anti-corruption watchdogs, judges, media, civil society groups and ordinary citizens, why should we expect that the ombudsman will be incorruptible? Because the person is handpicked by unelected, unaccountable 'civil society' members? Those who propose that Nobel Laureates (of Indian origin, not even of Indian citizenship) and Ramon Magsaysay Award winners should be among those who pick the Great Ombudsman of India — who is both policeman and judge — insult the hundreds of millions of ordinary Indian voters who regularly exercise their right to franchise. For they are demanding that the Scandinavian grandees in the Nobel Committee and the Filipino members of the Magsaysay foundation should have an indirect role in selecting an all-powerful Indian official.
The argument that people should be involved in drafting legislation is fine, even if it misses the point that the Government is not a foreign entity but a representative of the people. It is entirely another thing to demand that the legislation drafted by an self-appointed, unaccountable and unrepresentative set of people be passed at the threat of blackmail. If we must have representatives of the people involved in law-making, we are better off if they are the elected ones, however flawed, as opposed to self-appointed ones, whatever prizes the latter might have won.
The 'Jan Lok Pal' will become another logjammed, politicised and ultimately corrupt institution, for the passionate masses who demand new institutions have a poor record of protecting the existing institutions. Where were the holders of candles, wearers of Gandhi topis and hunger-strikers when the offices of the Chief Election Commissioner, the Central Vigilance Commissioner and even the President of the Republic were handed out to persons with dubious credentials? If you didn't come out to protest the perversion of these institutions, why are you somehow more likely to turn up to protest when a dubious person is sought to be made the 'Jan Lok Pal'?
But this is us. Given this reality, the solution for corruption and malgovernance should be one that does not rely on the notoriously apathetic middle classes to come out on the streets. The solution is to take away the powers of discretion, the powers of rent-seeking from the Government and restore it back to the people. This is the idea of economic freedom. Societies with greater economic freedom have lower corruption. I have long argued that we are in this mess because we have been denied Reforms 2.0.
How can we have Reforms 2.0 if "those politicians" are unwilling to implement them? The answer is simple: By voting. Economic reforms are not on anyone's political agenda because those who are most likely to benefit from them do not vote, and do not vote strategically. At this point, it is usual to hear loud protests about how voting does not work, most often by those who do not vote. This flies in the face of empirical evidence — when hundreds of millions of people turn up to vote. If it were not working for them, why would they be voting? They might not be demanding Reforms 2.0, but something else, and are getting what they want. Instead of ephemeral displays of outrage — what happened to those post-26/11 candle-light vigils?— it is engagement in the electoral process that is necessary. There are some innovative ideas — like that of voters associations — that can be attempted.
There are no better words than those of BR Ambedkar on the place of satyagraha in India after the Constitution came into force on January 26, 1950: "…we must abandon the bloody methods of revolution. It means that we must abandon the method of civil disobedience, non-cooperation and satyagraha. When there was no way left for constitutional methods for achieving economic and social objectives, there was a great deal of justification for unconstitutional methods. But where constitutional methods are open, there can be no justification for these unconstitutional methods. These methods are nothing but the Grammar of Anarchy and the sooner they are abandoned, the better for us." Ambedkar was speaking in the Constituent Assembly.
In my view civil disobedience in general and hunger strikes in particular must be used in the most exceptional circumstances where constitutional methods are unavailable or denied, and only till the time constitutional methods remain unavailable or denied.
Some contend that the system isn't working, or has been so perverted by the incumbent Government that it is necessary to resort to public agitation. This is a dubious argument. Constitutional democracy is an enlightened way to make policy by reconciling — to the extent possible — the diverse interests, opinions and levels of political empowerments of a diverse population. Any other way amounts to coercion in one form or the other.
If we are to allow that hunger strikes and street protests do better than constitutional methods, then how would you decide issues where there are sharp differences? If two Gandhians go on hunger strike asking for polar opposites, do we settle the issue by seeing who gives up first? What if competing groups escalate the agitation to violence against each other? Should we condone civil war?
The working of those constitutional mechanisms can and must be improved. By us. The anti-defection law must go. India does not have a comprehensive law governing political parties. It needs one. Police reforms have been stalled for decades. There is a substantial reform agenda that must be pursued. By us.
However, the inability to implement these reforms is no excuse for resorting to civil disobedience or, as it happens in other countries, calling in a dictatorship of the proletariat, the military or the priesthood.
The 'Jan Lok Pal Bill' is not a solution to the problem of corruption. It risks making matters worse. Hunger strikes are not the right means to promote a policy agenda in a constitutional democracy like ours. The promoters and supporters of 'Jan Lok Pal' and the public agitation to achieve it are profoundly misguided. Their popularity stems from having struck a vein of middle class outrage against the UPA Government's misdeeds. That does not mean that the solutions they offer are right.
I oppose 'Jan Lok Pal' and the politics of hunger-strikes as much as I oppose corruption and misgovernance.
The writer, a commentator on public policy and security affairs, is editor of Pragati.
ANNA'S CRUSADE FOR INDIA
Though the chatteratti evaluates this week's anti-corruption Woodstock at Jantar Mantar as purely non-partisan, it's unfair to deny that it climaxes a series of unprecedented expressions of frustration, including the Winter Session logjam in Parliament
Just as the channels started beaming the first image of the fast declared by septuagenarian Gandhian warhorse Anna Hazare, an old journalist friend sent me a message text suggesting that had I avoided stepping into politics and taken a similar course as Anna Hazare, I would have been a hero too. With some satisfaction I pointed out to him that Hazare's fast was also a coadjutant of the political movement created by the BJP, the party I joined, and other Opposition parties to force the government on an issue that has been endemic to the Congress rule since the late 1960s.
There is an interesting background to the progression of the demand for a reworked Lokpal Bill even as it is launched in the throes of some of the most damaging examples of graft to have hit our nation, wave after wave over the last few months, taking a toll on our national self-image. It is a fact of life that politics mirrors life, and that civil society movements share an oeuvre with political trends. It cannot be otherwise, and it is reciprocal because many political movements have their roots in civil society initiatives. But it would be myopic for anyone to miss the concomitant circumstances which have given this protest by Hazare the sharpness it has gained.
It could even be argued that Hazare's fast, or campaign as it moves into the final stages, was forced on him and his compatriots by the precise conditions created by the efforts of the national Opposition in taking the issue to the masses. The issue of unaccounted black money stashed in Swiss banks; the lenient attitude towards pilferage in telecom for so long; the bold incursions on public funds whether through scams or through established networks of profiteering contractors in government projects as in the CWG have all played a very major part in causing the conditions that give this fast by Hazare a powerful context.
There is a danger, however, in reading this development in polar terms. For one, it is really not just about the Lokpal Bill but a macabre celebration of the death of probity in national politics and it must be seen by everyone as a clarion call to what this nation demands of itself and its leadership. For another, it must not become a mela, a jamboree or a pilgrimage of floating activism where the young and impressionable, forever looking for a cause, flock for a token kick but must mutate into an army of demanding soldiers who will rest at nothing but the truth from those they elected.
The activists who are managing the mass of visitors to Jantar Mantar must take also the responsibility of ensuring that this movement does not splinter, either of its own hubris or by vested groups unleashed by Government and that it transforms itself into a molecular structure with a DNA of its own that does not allow it to rest easy.
But there is intrigue too. Might it be that some of our friends from civil society who are leading the charge on this issue today have decided to give it back to the NAC — the formal and formidable attempt by the Congress to co-opt civil society space by entangling some key players in a quasi-advisory role in policy hunting? Might it be that the splintering of opinion on Hazare's timing of his fast and the fine print of the final Bill is merely gnashing of teeth by NAC members left in the lurch for pandering too much to the Congress party president's gambit after an equally petulant defiance by a splinter group who wanted to cash in on the moment of heat?
Either way, the interesting thing here is that Congress party honchos and every one authorised to open his or her mouth on behalf of the party on the issue ended up giving Congress baiters a field day. To anyone who is adept at reading political movements it must have been clear that the Congress had overplayed its hand and that someone was going to disallow them the comfort of choosing their time and place to allow the Bill in a compromised avatar. It is alleged in fact that the NAC members were, as part of their co-operation dharma, tasked with dillydallying on the Bill until the Government found a comfortable opportunity to organise some sort of a grand entry on this issue.
Anna Hazare is guilty of stealing their thunder. That explains the quibbling about the manner, timing, style even substance of Hazare's protest by some of the NAC's loyal members as well as the free float activist brigade.
The resentment of the Congress at the manner in which the protest has spiraled out of control to become a national campaign propelled by common folks is also representative of the party's specious reasoning. The Congress' discomfiture is also to do with the echo of the Opposition's campaign against it on account of the sticky scams that cling to them. Where they were hoping for a reprieve from the humiliation of scams after the heady world cup win, and they tried their best to ride the wave we know, this fast unto death by Hazare has hit them like a bolt from the blue and changed the course of public opinion with greater effect than a yorker. No wonder they have fumbled at every step.
Instead of appearing soft, they came across as combative; then when it hit home that this isn't going their way at all, they let out the advance parties who paddled around ungainly and only added to the depth of public ire. Finally, as you will see, the government may give in. I predict however that the satyaghrahis will not have a clean win of their demands, but not because of the obduracy of the political class, but due in major part to the premeditated opposition by honourable NAC members who feel left out in the cold. But that is a story for another day.
There is some merit in a few dissenting notes held out by skeptics on the issue of peppering the selection committee with civil society mandarins or ordinary Joes because that is tantamount to institutionalising a mistrust of the political class. One could argue, that in the present season of dubious standards at the highest levels in Government, as we have seen in the appointment of the last CVC, this is almost a reasonable proposal but it is one that we should, even if painfully, eschew only, just only, to keep the pyramid of political accountability within its pristine isosceles stability. Apart from that essential, but not critical point most other aspects of the draft are workable and within the realm of the possible — after all, how far removed can civil society activism be from logic and fairness than politics, if both were practiced honestly.
All it needs now is that the Prime Minister takes the bait, and agrees to the proposed Bill hook, line and sinker. Anything short of that is almost like trying to row a sinking boat — with much optimism, but not a lot of hope.
-- Sanjay Kaul is a Spokesperson for the BJP in Delhi and can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org
BIGGER THAN THE BIGGEST
This week the people of India launched their biggest ever agitation against corruption. But the agitation against the biggest form of corruption is still light years away
Anna Hazare has gained iconic status among urban Indians for giving the highest expression possible to middle class anger over corruption in governance. Saturday Special, which has always given prominence to whichever corruption issue burst upon the public imagination in recent years, is the first to highlight the area of grossest corruption in India — income tax — which for a variety of reasons escaped the attention of the nation's moral guardians. While Hazare should be congratulated for bringing corruption to the centre stage this week, I would like to inform him that he is only scratching the surface by focusing on only politicians, bureaucrats and judges. The scale of corruption in the nation's private sector is many times larger. There is an evil empire out there which, surprisingly, everybody knows but like the proverbial camel, wishes will disappear just as soon as the netas, babus and lordships (baddies them all) are disciplined. The hard fact of the matter is that private sector corruption feeds on government sector misdemeanor. Unless both are attacked with equal severity nothing will change — a thousand Anna Hazares may come and go.
The treasury scam is at the heart of private sector corruption. It is the bigger than the biggest imaginable, worth at least Rs 10000,00,00,00,000 or Rs 10 lakh crore. This is not less than five times the 2G scam and happens in the form of revenue which never makes it to the government treasury. I have collected evidence of this humungous scale misdemeanor by examining a financial module giving permanent and root solutions which could result in this sum flowing into the economy within a year of application. My efforts have been supported by CA students, engineering graduates, MBAs and other university graduates from Maharashtra, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Chandigarh, Punjab, Rajasthan, Jammu and Kashmir, Delhi, Assam and Orissa.
By no means can this scam flourish if India's chartered accountant community did not participate. An aspirant CA's career begins by receiving on-the-job training in manipulating data and hiding facts. It is the beginning of a career as a white collar criminal. They make out fake balance sheets, audit them and lead the clearance of balance sheets which dumb shareholders, including government representatives, pass as a matter of routine.
Before the Satyam scam broke, and that too accidentally, nobody would have believed that India's auditors could be so professionally dishonest. But yes, hundreds of thousands of Satyam scams are happening around us. For instance, to save income tax payment of Rs 2 crore, what is typically done is this: a firm floats 8 new, sister companies. Each of these shows bogus expense vouchers for making non-existent payments. This progressively leads to fake trial balance, fake balance sheets, fake profit and loss accounts, take balance sheets, fake auditor's report and income tax returns on their basis. The case that I am referring to is that of a renowned pharmaceutical firm which deprived the people of India of Rs 60 lakh in this way.
You might think that this happens only in exceptions, but actually it is something of a rule in India. Some years back, a Bahujan Samaj Party MP tried to bring to the attention of Parliament a report which laid bare how India's number one industry house was cheating the government hundreds of crore in revenue by transferring money between a complicated web of sister companies. The matter was swiftly hushed up and that industrialist's sons now control a large part of the telecom, petroleum and textiles sectors. In any other country they would have been in jail.
In another case, the cash income of a client was not recorded intentionally. It was a tax audit client of a partnership firm with a project of more than two years. The cash income which thus went unrecorded was more than Rs 5 crore. The CA who audited this balance sheet claimed a fee of Rs 25 lakh from his client.There are more than 8 lakh companies registered with the Ministry of Company Affairs. If CAs on an average save Rs 50 lakh in revenue even 1 lakh companies, the resultant quantum of tax evasion Rs 5,000 crore. Now, even we accept that only 1 lakh out of 8 lakh companies evaded tax and ruled out speculation that the majority of them did, then how much has been lost over the last 10 years? Rs 50,000 crore. How much over 20, 30, 40… years?
Again, there are more than 20 lakh partnership firms across India, of whom more than 60 per cent are not even registered with the Registrar of Companies. If we take a modest sum of Rs 15,000 per company's tax evasion, then the quantum comes to Rs 30,000 crore. Now consider how much has been lost over the years.
This is only about direct tax. Actually the loss to the treasury from indirect tax evasion is many times higher. Revenue officials, whether state and central excise, or Customs, or service tax, sales tax and other departmental tax collectors, make mountains of cash for themselves by helping companies evade indirect taxes.
Everybody knows that if the Government of India rakes in the legitimate amount of revenue, there would be considerable improvement in the standard of public services. India's Budget deficit can be curbed and economic growth made truly inclusive. India's poverty is truly man made. There is plenty of money, but the sad part is that it is in too few hands.
Long before Anna Hazare, Jayaprakash Narayan had said: "Tax evasion is India's national sport. The majority of Indians work in the unorganised sector, where cash payments are common and concealment of income is easy." Even 35 years later, India remains enveloped in the darkness of the black economy.
-- The writer is a final year CA student who is leading a mass movement of young professionals intent on exposing corruption in Indian accounting systems
…but isn't the Constitution supreme?
CP Bhambri | Professor Emeritus, JNU
Nothing short of a revolution can take away the lawmakers' right to write and pass laws. Anna Hazare is pushing the envelope too hard and it's time he decided to save himself for another fight, some other day
The first issue is that Anna Hazare and Company is trying to legitimise their fast unto death by misappropriating Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. But Gandhi never shied from entering into negotiations. His moral stature was proved when he offered to talk even to Mohammad Ali Jinnah till the last moment to avoid the partition of India. Gandhi offered Jinnah the prime ministership of united India.
Gandhi's Satyagraha, unlike the circus of Hazare and his friends, was based on solid foundations. The context was very different than the present one. Gandhi led mass movements in stages to make Indians conscious of their right to freedom against oppressive, repressive and racist colonial rule. Not only this, unlike Anna's lieutenants like Arvind Kejriwal, Kiran Bedi or Swami Agnivesh, Gandhi's aides —Nehru, Patel, etc. — spent long terms in prison. Their sacrifices in the cause of freedom can hardly be matched. Anna's comrades cannot occupy that kind of moral space. The right of only Magsaysay awardees to be members of a government-appointed joint committee for deliberating on the Jan Lokpal Bill is most ridiculous. Further, it is not a question of setting up a joint committee with a view to carrying out negotiations on the principle of give and take, Anna has already operationalised the role which would be performed by the Lokpal. In the process, the Lokpal would emerge as a supra State with its own parliament and constitution.
There is nothing wrong in saying that the Lokpal should have jurisdiction over politicians, officials and judges. But Anna is making the astounding suggestion that the probe into allegations of corruption should be completed within one year. Then he demands that trials based on such probes should be completed within one year. This is the crux of the issue. The Indian Constitutional and legal system attaches highest importance to the rule of law and it is the fundamental right of every citizen to file an appeal against any verdict. Anna does not seem to accept this basic principle of innocent till proved guilty. What is the guarantee that the draconian procedure suggested by him will not lead to arbitrary bodies lacking checks and balances? It should be noted that the tone and tenor of the agitators assembled around Anna are creating a climate of hatred towards our democratic profile. A shadow has been cast over democracy. When Anna publicly identified Sharad Pawar as "corrupt minister", what followed resembled the functioning of a kangaroo court. How can anybody be held guilty and make public announcements of this nature?
Further, the media, both audio and visual, as well as political parties which are explicitly or implicitly reveling in Anna's tamasha because the issue is not the Manmohan Singh government, but actually the place of elected parliamentarians in the democratic system. It is the job of the lawmakers to make laws, including the Jan Lokpal Bill, and the Constitution does not make a provision for wannabe Mahatmas to sit at the high table with Ministers and legislators in the writing and passing of laws.
Of course, there is scope for consultation with experts of all hues, including social mobilisers like Anna Hazare. But whatever the corruption situation, there is no "revolution" necessary right now for the purpose of making our anti-corruption law workable. Moreover, expecting the government to give a 'guarantee' even before going to Parliament with the proposal, smacks of mobocracy. No elected government can afford to ignore Parliament.
As much as it is the right of the government to frame laws, so too is the Opposition mandated to seek finetuning and insertion of checks and balances. There are Consultative Committees, Select Committees, Standing Committees and Review Commissions mandated by the Constitution to ensure that the people's right to a clear law is evolved. Granted there is always scope for improvement.
Many laws and passed only to be amended in the following session of Parliament. That is another beauty of the democratic system. Anna Hazare seems to be intent on turning all this upside down just to prove a point that winners of awards presented by foreign governments know better than elected representatives of the Indian people, The young and constantly role-defining TV media of India has played a dangerous role in the whole affair.
They seem to be obsessed so much with Tehrir Square being replicated in India that they have thrown all norms to the winds. They fail to realise that it is impossible to have revolutions of the kind seen in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and even earlier in countries in the former East Bloc in functioning democracies like India. Here, apart from a vibrant — even if corrupt — polity, we have other institutions which can be approached to secure for the common man his basic rights.
Anna Hazare rightly points to corruption in the judiciary. It is nobody's case that all judges are above board. But who can deny that judicial activism has on several occasions brought an arrogant Executive down by a couple of notches. Anna Hazare should therefore save himself for another fight. He has done yeoman's service by rallying national energy around the cause of corruption-free governance. Now that he has set the ball rolling, he should prepare himself for the other struggles for which the people of India desperately need leadership.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
REPENTING AT LEISURE
British PM David Cameron says his country is responsible for the Kashmir imbroglio in the first place. In South Asia or Africa, departing colonisers' cartographical carve-ups have had a troubling legacy. Only, Cameron is no longer a jewel in the crown to apologists for the Raj. Is he replicating, they ask, Obama's "apology tours" which placated the Europeans, Latin Americans, anti-nuke lobbies, etc, angering US hawks? Statesmen, they doubtless feel, should instead emulate Sergius, a character in GB Shaw's play, Arms and The Man: this worthy periodically folds his arms and mulishly declares: "I never apologise..."
But, sorry, nothing heals like a sincere apology. Only, not all apologies heal. Take three common ways of saying sorry. First, pardon's sought when, instead of righting a wrong, you dispense with it. Like, in 2009, when British economists reportedly apologised for not foreseeing the financial crisis to the Queen, who's recession-proof by birthright! Similarly, Cameron won't have Britain help resolve "issues" he says it created. That'll please our netas, who claim India's sovereign right to solve its own problems. Ironically, they also insist on a sovereign right to a colonial hangover. With royal privileges, they feel democracy thrives best in a mai-baap culture where you say "mai baap, pehle aap" in deference to power-wielders. What about the public? Divide-and-fool, unapologetically.
Second, contrition can mean restitution, given the chance. Take Bengal's CPM, which says the Mamata-led opposition campaign is backed by - you guessed it - "imperialist forces". In retaliation, this loyal Bengal tigress pledges to dislodge the state's 35-year Red Raj. Imperious Didi, like Sergius, never apologises. In contrast, CPM cadre are going door-to-door, begging pardon for past omissions. Due to a "rectification campaign", stalwart Biman Bose says the Left can hope to win the assembly polls. Hasn't it publicly admitted its slip-ups, including eminently forgivable ones like turning party workers into armed militia and justice dispensers through kangaroo courts? With Nandigram and Netai forgotten and saat khoon (and goon) maaf, communist paradise can be regained. Along with its redistributive credo: To each party member according to his need, from each voter-taxpayer according to their ability. Full Marx to the Left's Robin hoods.
Third and last, remind politicos that their record of public service is a tragedy of errors and they loudly demand apology - from one another! Courtesy leaked US diplomatic cables, the Congress demanded the BJP say sorry for using Hindutva opportunistically. Equally Wiki-licked, the Congress was told to lament reducing Parliament to a cash-and-carry counter. Then, BJP-wallahs were asked to repent for sinking Parliament's winter session since the PAC, headed by their own man, won't defer to the JPC. In return, saffronites demand that their scam-hit adversary express regrets for making activists go on fasts to rid society of graft.
So, what's the easiest way for netas to rectify lapses? Pass the buck - and muck. No wonder sorry doesn't always make it right.
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THE HIGH ROAD AND THE LOW
For many Indians today, winning is becoming something of a habit: rising GDP, falling poverty, international recognition - and Dhoni's 11 men in blue. It was not, of course, always so. In the week that we celebrate one of our great cricketing victories, i can't help remembering my own traumatic initiation to international cricket. It was the summer of 1974, i was a young schoolboy on holiday in England, and i managed to wangle the ticket money for all five days of India against England at Lord's. Excited, i entered the Mound Stand on Thursday morning. And for the next two days, wilted, as i watched England amass 629. India responded with just over 300 in the first innings; the follow-on was enforced. Surely now India would rise to the occasion (i was still a naive young optimist). The Monday morning reality was more miserable: India were all out before lunch for 42. Never have i felt less desire for a meal.
For cricket-watchers of my vintage, the sense of failure embodied in India's sad parade that damp June morning burned deep. Whether on the cricket pitch, in our economic hopes, or our political fate, there was a sense of uncertainty, always verging on disaster, which we couldn't shake off. If our elders had lived through Partition, for us it was the Emergency, economic constriction, the loss of democratic freedoms - and India's humiliating 42 at the grand temple of cricket. Success, if it should ever come, would be a mysterious bonus, a defiance of the odds.
As i settled down to watch the match last Saturday, my instincts dominated my empirical outlook: India would offer some flashes of brilliance and genuine class, and would then fade into the dark background. The old psychological ghosts would revive. With Sehwag out, Tendulkar gone, i sagely held forth to the youngsters around me: just you watch, India will now collapse under pressure, they always do, trust me i know, i've seen this movie many times before. I was wrong. Okay, so the Sri Lankan bowling - Malinga apart - was lousy, but it was the Indian assurance that felt dramatically new. There was about the team a sense that there was a job to be done - and that's what they rather than flinging themselves into a run chase, going out in cameo blazes of glory as they once might have.
Winning can be a habit, but it can also be a bad habit. We've a reminder of that in Anna Hazare's fast against high corruption at Jantar Mantar. What a kill-joy, after India's victory! Did he really have to choose this feel-good moment to put himself on a zero-calorie diet?
In fact, his protest against corruption helps illuminate a schizophrenic dissonance in how we think about success. The fact is that most of those who are considered victors in our society are those who ignore or subvert rules - in fact, who think rules are for idiots and losers.
Whether it is leaders pushing through their favoured policies, developers racing to put up buildings, corporate leaders cornering natural resources, media stars cultivating celebrity access, or judges convening fast-track courts - we're all in a hurry. We all want a piece of that 9% GDP upwards action. And so, restraints - in the form of laws, rules, procedures - all are irritating impedances, something to swerve around like a sluggish tempo on the road. Within this culture of success, victory depends on defying the rules. And it's a defiance we can justify to ourselves because we tell ourselves we're smarter, more discerning and deserving - better, plain superior - to the stupidities of rules and the rule enforcers.
There are, then, two quite dissonant conceptions of winning that we are living with. The cricket-pitch victory we all celebrated last weekend was a victory of and by the rules. Anyone who imagined that we could have won by any other means would seem to most of us sadly demented: they would have failed to understand that playing by the rules was the very point of why 22 men were confronting each other in the humid Mumbai night. It was a victory of talent, and it is an index of talent to be able to play and win by the rules. But in other domains of our life, the sense that rules matter is absent. When it comes to making money, pursuing power, advancing one's professional career, rules are viewed as an intrusive obstruction to aspiration. Corruption is more efficient.
The true lesson of our World Cup victory is not that we won, but that we won through playing by the rules. Last Saturday, we had the swashbuckling cool of Mahendra Singh Dhoni. Three days later, we had the cantankerous determination of Anna Hazare, who began his hunger strike. Where's the link? The figure that embodies our confused, discrepant self-belief was Sharad Pawar. At the World Cup, as his image flashed onto the screen from the Wankhede Stadium, he was part of India's success story; by Wednesday, as he sent in his resignation from the ministerial group on corruption, he was part of India's collective shame. Men like Pawar will carry on, winning within and outside the rules. But that belief among the elite that rules are merely discretionary is what we Indians need to wonder about - for that's what will delegitimatise our honest victories.
The writer is director-designate of the India Institute, King's College, London.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
A POTENTIAL SOURCE OF NEW IDEAS
The internet is an integral part of our lives. Besides an important research tool, it is a vital medium for interfacing with the world, connecting with friends and expressing opinion. Accessing the World Wide Web is seen as a fundamental requirement. So, the finding of researchers at the University of Copenhagen that net surfing at work enhances productivity is hardly surprising. There are two main reasons for this. First, allowing employees non-work related browsing freedom contributes to creating a congenial work atmosphere. A happy workplace motivates employees to maintain higher standards of quality. On the other hand, enforcing a strict code of conduct can dampen morale and retard productivity. That's why modern human resources management philosophy focusses on motivation rather than a disciplinary approach.
Second, every company today recognises lateral thinking and new ideas as potential game-changers that can profoundly enhance its fortunes. Hence, effort is made to foster creativity at the workplace, including through workshops and team-building exercises. Recreation rooms for employees have the same aim. Remember that creative thinking is a non-linear process. What may appear a waste of time can actually provide inspiration for path-breaking ideas. The internet being a rich source of information, idle browsing can provide the spark for innovative thinking and problem-solving. A YouTube video can be the muse for an excellent boardroom presentation.
While a total laissez faire approach may impact workplace discipline, the aim should be to strive for a middle ground. That means creating a professional organisation that's a fun place where employees feel good working. Given the growing importance of an individual's virtual footprint, allowing internet browsing freedom enhances worker satisfaction and hence performance and inventiveness. The more we invest in employee happiness and creativity, the higher the returns.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
IT'S A COSTLY DISTRACTION
For sometime now, companies across the world have been trying to stem loss of productivity among employees due to internet use during office hours. New research, however, says that browsing the internet makes a person a better worker. It may be asked how academic studies, many of whose credibility and methodology are increasingly being called into question, can arrive at such debatable conclusions. Companies shouldn't heed every new supposedly scholarly pronouncement on employee 'satisfaction', when the core issue concerns raising productivity in the age of the internet.
Earlier, employees often wasted time in innocuous coffee breaks. In today's workplace, online games, social networking and entertainment sites - many of these blurring the line between the interesting and the inappropriate - make for insidious distractions, diverting attention from work. Precious office time and professional energy are expended on social networking or net surfing. Various studies say the average employee spends close to two hours per day using office computers for non-business related activity. When employee productivity is vital to control labour costs and maximise resources, such unprofessionalism is a cause for concern because it means loss of performance as well as revenue.
Even if for argument's sake we accept that surfing the net could increase productivity, are companies prepared for the accompanying hazards? For instance, employees downloading copyrighted materials or software could create potential legal tangles. Then there are bandwidth issues. Non-business internet use by staff, especially to download movies or songs, slows down the server. Worse, viruses from dodgy sites can wreak havoc with companies' computer systems. Given today's grim economic environment and stiff competition, can offices afford these additional risks? Rather, they should monitor how employees use the internet. That's a better way to improve the latter's effectiveness on the job.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
WHEN ANNA GIVES IT TO THOSE ONES
As the support for Anna Hazare's crusade against graft and corruption gains in both volume and velocity, the nation faces two equally problematic choices. One is to seek shelter behind a wall of cynicism until the storm of righteous fury abates. And the other is to welcome it in the hope that it will demolish the fortresses of sleaze in which politicians and bureaucrats thrive at the expense of the citizens.
The cynicism can be justified on several grounds. Attempts to check the assets of the representatives of the people began well before the birth of the republic. Like Manmohan Singh today, India's first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, was widely respected for his squeaky-clean image. Yet, Nehru's conduct in the face of many scandals that rocked his government was, at best, lacklustre and, at worst, evidence of an indulgence of dubious intent.
As early as 1948, his confidant, Krishna Menon, was involved in a scam about the purchase of jeeps for the army. Under pressure from the press and Parliament, he finally agreed that a Congress party sub-committee should investigate the allegations. The sub-committee's report was never published. However, Menon was soon rewarded with a berth in the cabinet.
It was again with extreme reluctance that Nehru accepted the resignation of T T Krishnamachari, his finance minister, following his indictment by the Chagla Commission in the Mundhra affair. In much the same way he resisted to the bitter end an enquiry into the questionable activities of his other colleagues, including K D Malaviya, his minister for mines and fuel, and of Pratap Singh Kairon, the chief minister of Punjab. The reports of these commissions, like those of others headed by such eminent individuals as A D Gorewala, J B Kripalani and Santhanam, never saw the light of day.
In subsequent years, the refusal of the rulers to heed the outcry of the ruled against corrupt politicians became, if anything, even more intransigent. As the sums involved grew by leaps and bounds, their stratagems to protect wayward ministers and bureaucrats turned even more opaque.
Scholars advance two broad theories to explain the phenomenon. One is to focus on the character flaws of individuals. That, as we have seen in the case of Nehru and Manmohan Singh, not to speak of self-styled moralists like Morarji Desai and V P Singh, is a non-starter. The other is to focus on systemic infirmities. The licence-permit raj was seen as the fountainhead of the evil. It created the nexus between venal businessmen, politicians and bureaucrats and led to the progressive criminalisation of politics itself.
However, the alternative proposed to cure these ills - economic reforms - has proved to be worse in some respects. Never has the criminal nexus, also called crony capitalism, been more robust. Never has the money involved been on such a humongous scale. And never has the legislation proposed to combat the menace been so toothless.
In the light of all this, the cynics can afford to sit back and let the hoopla run its course. But is that prospect on the cards? The question suggests itself in the light of several novel elements in the Hazare crusade. It is, to begin with, entirely non-violent. Secondly, unlike the JP movement of the 1970s, it does not seek to topple the elected government, let alone to seek a change of regime. Thirdly, neither a political nor an ideological agenda drives the crusade. The slogans and the speeches are singularly bereft of the self-serving rhetoric of the political class over the past several decades. What you find instead is the emerging narrative of a young generation of Indians who favour competitive politics, economic reforms, schemes that truly benefit the poor, religious tolerance and cultural vitality. And all this without the trappings of sleaze, identity politics and hollow populism.
The support that Anna Hazare has been able to garner has thus served to expose the disconnect between the ruling establishment and a resurgent India. They don't speak the same language nor chase the same dreams. To that extent, Hazare has already scored a major point. But he must learn to tame his anti-politician ardour for otherwise his crusade could well be fraught with dangerous risks for the health of the republic.
RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE
Let's just say that the political class isn't everyone's favourite folks these days. You don't have to be an Anna Hazare or those milling around him to dip into your anti-politician sensibilities and launch forth about the decline and dysfunction of the political class. A simmering distaste against politicians has been sloshing about inside many of us, especially over the past so many months when those entrusted with the job of doing good for the people, have been caught doing good for a much smaller group. So, the rage against the Machine is understandable. But is there any practical purpose of this rage? Apart from airing one's view on the matter of smarmy politicians and conflating their severe shortcomings with the whole profession, is there, by the way of constructive criticism, something that tweeting messages such as 'Mera neta chor hai' (My leader is a thief) and the crowds at Jantar Mantar genuinely address? Yes, they address a need to take the matter of cleaning up the political system a bit more seriously.
Some of Mr Hazare's supporters do state that they are railing against 'the sinning, not against the sinners'. But there is a larger crowd who, using the anti-politician, anti-Lokpal Bill draft agitation, have not seen — or cared to see — any such distinction. For this clubbing off rotten apples with all apples, the political class is singularly to blame. But after identifying the whole lot as scoundrels, then what? It's one thing to make a point by disallowing Opposition political leaders to ride piggyback on an anti-government, anti-political system agitation. It's quite another to want to throw the baby of parliamentary politics out with the scummy bathwater. This has not been the case, but in amorphous, chaotic mass-based protests such as the one on display in Mr Hazare's camp in Delhi, there aren't many signs that agitators want a clean government as opposed to no government. The talk of a citizenry's rule sounds all very revolutionary and Twitter-friendly, but the charms of parliamentary democracy are far from being outdated. And there's a reason why even the mob is suspicious of mob rule.
Mr Hazare's amazing ability to act as a lightning rod is not to be doubted. He himself is clear that his agitation is specific to an agenda — the formation of a representative Lokpal Bill Draft committee — and that it's not a mimsy borogove for Jabberwocks to aimlessly trample about in. And what is being sought is more order in our judicial, executive and legislative systems, not less. Anarchy can certainly provide a temporary thrill. But the 'boring' bits, once cleansed with a purpose, are the ones that provide the best way of serving the people. And the best part is that our political system has been tried and tested and it works. All it needs is a sincere, thorough servicing.
OUR MOMENT OF TRUTH
After 26/11, we had seen protests and candlelight vigils by citizens. But the anger was directed mainly at faceless enemies, and the demand was for an action that fell in the shadowy zone between war and tough diplomacy. This time around, the enemy is clear: corrupt politicians. The immediate goal can be held warm between fingers: revised pages of the Lokpal Bill.
From the gathering avalanche of tweets, Facebook posts, online signatures and even ground support for Anna Hazare, it is evident that the government will concede a lot of ground on the Bill, and soon. Even the unembarrassable — politicians who make money from even the smallest of drain or road contracts in this country — seem embarrassed this time.
The real concern, however, lies in the afterlife of the Bill. Will this spontaneous movement, helped by Twitter, Facebook, news channels and other children of information technology, get washed away when work, kitchen, child's school fees rush in? Is the inert-to-intrepid Middle India prepared for the long haul of revolution?
The Bill will not magically erase corruption. Rivers of rot run deep in this country. If this is to be the watershed moment of our democracy, we need a long, organised and determined citizen's movement that looks beyond the shrill thrill of one protest and its likely success. The process has to begin with the 'I', and go on to three 'I's': involvement, information and implementation.
Involvement: Will you give your democracy an hour every day? In countries like Israel, every citizen spends two years in military service. Even if half of India takes out an hour from its busy day, one has 600 million man hours daily at the service of the nation.
So, get involved. Go to meetings or protests, take the stage to make suggestions or make a point. Also, get others involved. Spread the word.
Information: Find out how you can participate in the movement. Though there is an online petition and a growing Facebook presence, the movement needs a strong and effective website. It can eventually become a place where suggestions and complaints from every corner of India pours in, and central and local citizens' teams take up an issue and fight till it's addressed.
Information has set West Asia and Africa on the boil. India has far more advanced sources of information. Also, hopefully our media will play the kind of brave, determined and responsible role Al Jazeera is playing in that region. And then there is Right To Information. We are only beginning to experience its power. It is our biggest weapon against the corrupt.
Implementation: The movement should evolve into a collective human button. You just need to press it with an issue of a certain weight to activate the process. People from other parts of the country can offer their resources, contacts and even physical support to help citizens of a certain locality solve a problem or nail the corrupt.
Frankly, it is comfortable to be cynical and say all this will fizzle out, Utopia doesn't exist. But if we aim for Utopia, we might end up at least a few miles closer to it. The time has come to make up our minds on how we can contribute beyond our tiny, selfish worlds.
There is a tough job ahead. If we take it up, homemakers, writers, businessmen, policemen, soldiers, marketing professionals, accountants, techies, roadmakers, artists and artistes... will all be needed.
THIS CANNOT BE A ONE-BILL MOVEMENT
Could India go the way of Tunisia and Egypt? The very thought was dismissed during the Jasmine Revolution because India is different. It is a working democracy whose citizens own the nation and can let off steam through protest. And yet, here is our Tunisia moment. India was actually a boiler fit to burst, and Anna Hazare just had to touch the valve to set it off.
We share two crucial features with the citizens of the North African nations — disgust at the careless greed of oligarchies which rule our lives and impatience at being held hostage by a culture of corruption that democracy has failed to address. In fact, illicit funding of elections is one of its sources. So now, 'blackmail' is going to solve a problem that four decades of protest, media activism and legal action could not.
Of course, Hazare's fast amounts to blackmail, as his detractors have said. But in desperate times, when all other options have been exhausted, moral coercion becomes a valid political act. Now, even if the government keeps stonewalling, the movement has gathered the critical mass to keep going and force change.
But the quality of this change remains to be decided, by us. The Jan Lokpal Bill proposed by Hazare and his associates is far better than the government's Lokpal Bill, which is so dazzlingly toothless that you want to hand it some dentures. But it remains a work in progress and the concerned citizen's duty is to read it (at www.annahazare.org) and suggest improvements. This will be a landmark legislation, the first to be publicly debated and drafted by the people, not only their elected representatives. When it is tabled in Parliament, it must set a benchmark in perfection.
Personally, I am uneasy because the Bill jettisons the principle of separation of powers. In the office of the lokpal, it accumulates privileges accorded separately to the judiciary, the police and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). The success of an ombudsman like the lokpal depends largely on the probity and humanity of the person in office. Years later, when the lokpal has grown used to power, I don't want to see some Judge Dredd on steroids becoming a factor in politics, like a super-CBI. The Bill provides for the removal of lokpals, but that's not deterrent enough. The threat of removal has not prevented corruption even in the higher judiciary. We need an arm of government — or many arms — which the lokpal watches over to watch it in turn, if only in an advisory capacity.
My second objection is against the movement, not the Bill. It ignores earlier campaigns for even more fundamental change. Politicians stonewall anti-graft law because they need cash to finance elections. And they are not caught because the police and investigative agencies are their handmaidens. Campaigns for reform in electoral funding and the police system have been stonewalled just like the Lokpal Bill. Hazare's current movement for probity in public life began with his campaign for the right to information, which opened a window on the working of government. Now, he wants greed to be punished. But to eradicate corruption altogether, the movement should absorb pre-existing campaigns which attack the root of the problem.
Pratik Kanjilal is publisher of The Little Magazine n email@example.com .The views expressed by the author are personal
GETTING GOD ON OUR SIDE
We have to be among the world's most insecure people.
Else, how does one explain our praying for victory in the World Cup? Not just wishing for, wanting or hoping for it but actually praying for it. Not one but many Indian newspapers wrote about 1.2 billion people praying for our winning that cricketing title. Not one but many newspapers and TV channels spoke of 'a billion hearts beating for Team India' totaling to one giant cardiac knock on god's tightly shut door. A certain carved figure in Chennai going by the style of 'Cricket Ganesa' was a particular favourite of the praying multitude.
But prayer being a basic instinct, Pakistan and Sri Lanka did not omit the procedure. We saw a picture, actually a rather moving one, of the Pakistani team bent over kneeling on the Mohali grounds offering namaz before the game. I was admiring the even symmetry of that group's genuflection when I realised we could not have made a similar photo because, unlike the visiting team, there would have been more than one form of prayer on our side, with some facing the east, some the west, and an unlikely agnostic in the team free to stare at his toes.
And then one read of Sri Lanka's president visiting Tirupati to pray for the Lankans' victory before heading for Wankhede Stadium. The Tathagata's philosophy is about higher things; life has to be more practical. All these cricketing prayers were unselfish and genuine.
If one believes in appealing to a higher power for succour, I suppose, one could pray for certain national ends no less than for personal ones. We could pray for victory in a just war, or even an unjust one. We could pray for the freeing and coming home of someone abducted by the nation's enemies, for the safety of a hijacked aircraft, the ending of a drought, one could pray for rains, for the recovery from illness of an iconic figure. I know I would.
I can understand at a personal, human level, cricketers' kin praying for the son, brother, husband or father scoring a ton, or bowling, fielding, wicket-keeping brilliantly. And while the match is on, praying for his not being sent back to the pavilion before scoring a decent number of runs.
Do India's millions feel it is their prayers that brought India its victory rather than the brilliant battle of MS Dhoni at the 59th minute in Mumbai? Conversely, do the fewer millions in Pakistan and Sri Lanka feel their prayers were unavailing for some defect in them or for being 'defeated' in head-count terms by the prayers emanating from the world's largest democracy? Seeing, on TV, the two doll-like daughters of the Pakistan skipper in tears at their father's inability to win Mohali was unbearable, accompanied as that scene was by the bursting of crackers on the Indian side by enormous gyrating adults.
I liked Shabana Azmi's thoughtful words when, before Mohali, she said she wanted India to win, but she wanted whoever wins to win with grace. If Pakistan had won, where would our crackers have hid their faces? Or our dancers slid to? If Sri Lanka, thanks to Mahela Jayawardene's stunning century, had lifted the World Cup instead of us, who would have garlanded 'Cricket Ganesa' the next morning ? Equally, will Tirupati now lose its sheen in Colombo?
I doubt if cricket will ever be exorcised of its manias and hysterias, made explicit in the flag-painted faces that twin bygone primitivisms with modern nationalisms. The de-voodooing of cricket, however, has to be part of a larger re-assessment of procedures and practices. I am now talking of India alone, since it would be courteous to let neighbours do their own soul-searching.
Elections, which are upon us in many parts of the country, like cricket, occasion frantic prayers and placatings at places of worship. But there are other sub-plots happening as well. I know of some candidates, dodging the election commission's alert eyes, passing on cash to potential voters with a deity's image slapped onto the wad so as to 'seal' the deal in the presence of divinity. A crasser exploitation of simple folks' piety cannot be imagined. But if these divagations from our secular principles are to be corrected, certain steps will have to be taken at higher levels as well. I think the time has come, for instance, to discontinue offering persons taking oaths of office the choice to 'swear in the name of god' in addition to 'solemnly affirming'. I do not think god should be brought into the picture at office-entering. Not in a secular republic, at least. A solemn affirmation, demanding of the person a truthful commitment to judgmental humans rather than to a forgiving god, will be more binding.
Likewise, I think we must re-visit the practice of lighting lamps at functions. It is moving to see a brass lamp burning quietly at one corner of a stage when a classical dance performance is on. But at conferences and seminars, lectures and book launches, with ranking dignitaries present, the 'ceremonial lighting of the auspicious lamp' becomes a comedy in slow motion with the dignitary trying to look as graceful as possible holding matches or candles that simply refuse to propagate their light.
I can never forget a function in Kolkata when, after many attempts with matchsticks having failed, a brave woman came forward to offer her well-used cigarette lighter to light the stubborn wick. It lit up in a trice. The custom has many awkwardnesses. Some people light the lamp with slippers very pointedly removed in full view of the gathering, making the shod look like savages. Some hold the lighting apparatus elaborately with both hands, while others, innocent of high ritual, light it with the left hand to an audible sneer from the hall. And then there are the invocations. Each one, magnetic in power and ethereal in content, is trivialised in such gatherings with time-tight people waiting for the melodious voice to conclude its labours.
Prayer is not meant to be magic or ritual. Not in our country where the occasions for it, the real ones, are unceasing. But then we are one of the world's most insecure people.
Gopalkrishna Gandhi is a former administrator, diplomat and governor. The views expressed by the author are personal.
T tion c wo Indian scientists -- Ajay Anil Gurjar and Siddhartha A. Ladhake -- are wielding sophisticated mathematics to dissect and analyse the traditional medita- chanting sound `Om'. The `Om team' has published six tion chanting sound `Om'. The `Om team' has published six monographs in academic journals, which plumb certain acoustic subtlety of Om that they say is "the divine sound".
Om has many variations. In a study published in the Inter- national Journal of Computer Science and Network Security, the researchers explain: "It may be very fast, several cycles per second. Or it may be slower, several seconds for each cycling of [the] Om mantra. Or it might become extremely slow, with the mmmmmm sound continuing in the mind for much longer periods but still pulsing at that slow rate." The important technical fact is that no matter what form of Om one chants at whatever speed, there's always a basic `Omness' to it. Both Gurjar, principal at Amravati's Sipna College of Engineering and Technology, and Ladhake, an assistant professor in the same institution, specialise in electronic signal processing. They now sub-specialise in analysing the one very special signal. In the introductoy paper, Gurjar and Ladhake explain that, "Om is a spiritual mantra, out- standing to fetch peace and calm."
No one has explained the biophysi- cal processes that underlie the `fetch- ing of calm' and taking away of thoughts. Gurjar and Ladhake's time-fre- quency analysis is a tiny step along that hitherto little-taken branch of the path of enlightenment. They apply a mathematical tool called wavelet transforms to a digital recording of a person chanting `Om'. Even people with no mathematical back- ground can appreciate, on some level, one of the blue-on- white graphs included in the monograph. This graph, the authors say, "depicts the chanting of `Om' by a normal per- son after some days of chanting". The image looks like a pile of nearly identical, slightly lopsided pancakes held together with a skewer, the whole stack lying sideways on a table. To behold it is to see, if nothing else, repetition.
Much as people chant the sound `Om' over and over again, Gurjar and Ladhake repeat much of the same analy- sis in their other five studies, managing each time to chip away at some slightly different mathematico-acoustical fine point. The Guardian
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
MAKE IT BETTER
By now, it's been compared to Tahrir, to 1968, even to Woodstock. For those who have never experienced the energy of a mass movement, the Anna Hazare-led movement over the Lokpal bill feels like catharsis, like revolution, a tidal wave that will sweep away the entire venal political class and replace it with those who feel their pain. What connects this crowd of ex-servicemen, yoga enthusiasts, autorickshaw unions, candle-light vigilantes, actors and corporate big shots and students? That they all feel let down, in different ways, by the political apparatus, and they are mad as hell. And it is indeed satisfying for them to wrest compromise from the government, force it to correct some flaws in the draft of the Lokpal bill.
There is a clear rationale for tough measures on corruption. And it is difficult to deny that over the years governments have made the rules and made sure that they go unpunished. But this movement dissipates its own case with its thoughtlessness and its vaulting demands. What, after all, is civil society, and what privileges one group over another to speak for the nation? The only irrefutable proof that you represent the people is that they have voted you in, through a free election. If we have an imperfect democracy, popular energies must be directed to making it better, not rejecting it and replacing genuine political representatives with a coalition of self-appointed spokespeople. Of course, this government pretty much planted the seeds of that idea, undervaluing representative democracy with forums like the National Advisory Council, an assortment of "civil society" who imagine they can supplant and speak over the voices of our legislators.
But such generalised invective against the entire political class is both empty and dangerous — our representatives are as we are. Besides, such anti-politics nearly always serves as a cover for politics. As Edmund Burke memorably wrote, this cynicism about politics and, by extension, Parliament only makes you "think ill of that very institution which, do what you will, you must religiously preserve, or you must give over all thoughts of being a free people". Those who seek radical insta-solutions to the tortuous processes of democracy would do well to ponder the alternative. They may see why the solutions to so many of our problems lie in empowering our legislatures and holding them more stringently and transparently to account.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
CASTE & CLEANSING
The Kerala Human Rights Commission has asked the secretary, taxes department, for an explanation on a bizarre incident. After the then inspector-general of registration, A.K. Ramakrishnan, retired on March 31, his office and official car were allegedly washed with cowdung-mixed water. Ramakrishnan complained to the commission that this incident took place the very next day, on April 1, and that to dodge the charge that his office was being specifically "cleansed" because he happened to be a Dalit, the entire office too was sprayed with this mixture. As reported in this newspaper, the office of a panchayat president at Elanthur had been similarly washed with cowdung water after it was vacated by a Dalit.
The commission has sought a reply by May 7, and it would be right to wait till then before passing judgment on the incident. But the very fact of the complaint is a reminder of the demeaning and dehumanising ways in which caste creeps into even those spaces we had thought to have been long liberated from ritual hierarchies. At worst, of course, the slight administered to those perceived to be of a lower caste is deliberate — and in each case that this happens, there must be disciplinary action, to make the point that this amounts to outright discrimination and simply cannot be allowed to pass unchecked. But even the more generous view that often the slight is caused inadvertently is problematic. Administrators have to be conscious of the nuances that consolidate inclusiveness.
Purification rituals that are coded with caste hierarchies do not convey inclusiveness — in any situation their survival is a reminder of our unfinished democratisation. But when they occur in a public space, they are that much more deplorable.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
Ties between India and Pakistan have never been easy, but have always been given a certain sort of attention. Hindustani poetry has been quoted back and forth, even — perhaps especially — during political interactions; singers move across the border, celebrated here and there; the nostalgia and affection that Punjabis on each side of the border have for the towns and villages of the other side informs and pushes efforts to bring the two nations closer. Oddly, with our other large neighbour, with whom even more Indians share a common, tightly held heritage, and with whom relations have improved rather than stagnated, little of this cultural sheen animates our interaction. There could be many reasons for this, but it is definitely true that Delhi's policy establishment's look westward rather than eastward is driven not just by cold realist calculation, but partly by culture. It is necessary, perhaps, to inject into India-Bangladesh ties, too, a reminder of shared civilisational heritage.
The productive meeting this week of India's and Bangladesh's culture secretaries, which resulted in a confirmation that Rabindranath Tagore's 150th birth anniversary would be commemorated this May in a series of joint programmes, is thus welcome. Tagore, the writer of the two countries' anthems, an outspoken internationalist who is beloved in both nations, is the best starting point for reviving cultural exchanges. But this cannot be left to languish in boring sarkari cultural-ghetto hell. The schedule that has been released, for example, focuses on opening ceremonies in New Delhi and Dhaka; West Bengal could justifiably complain that it is being ignored.
Even so, the energising of India's ties with Bangladesh is overdue. Bangladesh has a government that has demonstrated its willingness to engage India in various policy areas; politically, the rhetoric coming out of Dhaka is favourable, too. A friendly, close Bangladesh is vital for stability in India's northeast, and could provide an enormous boost to trade. But New Delhi has been unforgivably lazy in responding to Bangladeshi efforts. Perhaps a little cultural oil will help get the machinery of bilateral relations moving; and perhaps it will remind us, too, how important it is, how rewarding it would be, to get those relations on track.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
CYNICISM VS HOPE
BAIJAYANT 'JAY' PANDA
Anna Hazare's fast has caught the public imagination and is finally forcing politicians out of their comfort zone on the Lokpal bill. That the bill has been pending in Parliament since 1968 should be reason enough to be deeply suspicious about our democracy's ability to deal with corruption. And deeply suspicious many people are, to the point of extreme cynicism.
That should not be surprising. Confidence in public ethics has gradually eroded over the decades, but the past year has been a particular annus horribilis. A series of stunning exposés has shown public malfeasance on an unprecedented scale. A tipping point has been reached where something must give, but from which much good can emerge. And yet, there are two aspects of the public mood that ought to concern us.
First, the cynicism has gone beyond resentment against individual bad apples or even entire classes of culprits, like politicians. There is now a cynicism about democracy itself, or at least some of its basic tenets like checks and balances. Second, this lynch mob mentality is reflected in civil society, which is otherwise the bulwark of democratic principles.
That is particularly ironic in this year of democratic uprisings in the Middle East, where members of civil society have been risking their lives to overthrow despots. It is also ironic not just because
India is the world's largest democracy, but also because only a generation ago we had lost it for a while and cherished its return. Of course, our democracy needs huge improvements. But the cynics should not forget Winston Churchill's classic line that "democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others that have been tried".
Despite all our failings — massive corruption, and the world's largest population of the poor and the malnourished, for instance — India has nevertheless been better off as a democracy than it would otherwise. Large sections of the population have been politically empowered for the first time, and are registering economic improvement as well. Former lost causes like Bihar and Orissa are today at the forefront of economic and literacy turnarounds, both through democratic process.
When confronted with apparently intractable problems like corruption, it can be tempting to think that politics is the root cause, that there are quick solutions in bypassing the politicians. The idea that only a body of honest citizens with overarching powers — a benevolent dictatorship by another name — can tackle the country's problems is seductive. But that is a false hope. Those who seek uncomplicated alternatives to the rough and tumble of politics need not look too far for a dose of reality.
Non-democratic systems foster far more venality than anything India has experienced. The track record of countries like Indonesia and the Philippines under their former dictators Suharto and Marcos respectively speaks for itself. Egypt's Mubarak is alleged to have siphoned off a staggering $70 billion. Even China, which is rightfully admired for its economic miracle, suffers from enormous corruption and income disparities.
On the other hand, all successful democracies have evolved from high levels of corruption to far lower ones. The process takes time, and requires continual engagement by civil society, but does have lasting results. The solution to curbing corruption in India lies not in bypassing politics or politicians, since both are essential to democracy, but in compelling them to change through sustained public pressure.
Most of Anna Hazare's demands are desperately needed and must be implemented, but with two caveats. First, the demand by some activists that Parliament be served a fait accompli, a bill drafted by eminent citizens that it must simply rubber stamp, is non-democratic and would set a dangerous precedent. A better alternative is to allow Parliament to do its job — indeed, force it to do so — by keeping up the pressure on it, the government and opposition parties. This is already happening, with Sonia Gandhi appealing for an end to the fast and Sushma Swaraj calling for an all-party meeting. A little more of this, and a broad agreement is feasible on the bill by co-opting politicians, not bypassing them.
The second caveat is that the activists should accept suggestions by eminent lawyers to ensure delineation of investigative and prosecutorial powers from judicial ones in the proposed bill. That can be achieved without its fundamental premise being compromised. The power of the proposed Lokpal to launch prosecutions without prior governmental sanction is one such key principle that must remain. For far too long, the Republic of India has retained such Raj-era restraints on democracy — essentially to shield the rulers from public scrutiny — which need to go.
Anna Hazare is a Gandhian who has brought the country to the brink of substantive action on tackling corruption. But in order to secure this breakthrough he will have to tap one of Gandhiji's other great qualities, which was a shrewd understanding of realpolitik.
The Jantar Mantar movement is now poised at a crucial juncture. It could get irretrievably hijacked by those of his supporters who have scant respect for politics. If that happens, democracy will be weakened and there won't be any lasting benefit from this stupendous campaign. If wiser heads prevail — those who despise individual politicians, bureaucrats or judges, but respect the institutions of democracy like Parliament and the courts — then we could well be at the cusp of a magical moment when the India we leave behind for future generations will be a better place.
The writer, a member of the Lok Sabha, belongs to the BJD
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
IN DEFENCE OF MAMATA
Mamata Banerjee may win the West Bengal assembly elections, but it will take less than two years for disillusionment to set in — this is a common refrain among sceptics, who are mostly male. They depict the Trinamool Congress chief as unbalanced, shrill and ill-tempered. Banerjee's detractors cite her antecedents to buttress the claim that she will be a hopeless administrator. How can she promise to rebuild Bengal's moribund industry, when it was she who drove away new investment by her irrational protests against Tata's Nano project and spearheading agitations in Singur and Nandigram?
How can she hope to restore law and order when she has given tacit encouragement to the Maoists to get the better of the Left government? Besides, as a Union minister, Didi hardly spends any time in the capital, skips important cabinet meetings, pushes through populist measures in the railway budget and seems unconcerned about the state of railway's finances. Being the only popular leader in the Trinamool, she has also got increasingly autocratic. To survive in the Trinamool you have to pretend that Didi is always right.
Banerjee's baiters forget that for 34 years a succession of Left governments has mismanaged the economy by doggedly clinging to an outdated ideology. The slide in West Bengal was brought out by some startling statistics in the Trinamool's election manifesto. The manufacturing sector accounted for 19 per cent of the state's economy in 1975-76; it is now down to 7.4 per cent. The outstanding liability of the state in 2009-10 was a mind-boggling Rs 1,68,684 crore. West Bengal ranks a lowly 32nd among states and Union territories in terms of education.
The dismal economic performance of the state, which was once at the vanguard, is a poor reflection on the state's last two chief ministers, the suave, statesmanlike Jyoti Basu and the well-intentioned Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. Both were hamstrung by dogmatic party colleagues. But rather than reflect on past errors, the scaremongers prefer to harp on the disaster which they insist looms ahead should Banerjee takes over the reins.
While focusing on her negative traits, the doomsday predictors ignore her political acumen and extraordinary courage and determination in taking on, almost single-handedly, the well-entrenched political machinery of the state for more than two decades. So committed was Banerjee to her cause that she even quit the Congress, realising that the party was more concerned with securing Left support for a Congress-led government at the Centre than opposing the CPM in the state. They are also unimpressed by the fact that Banerjee has attracted a large pool of talent not just from the world of cinema, art and literature, but from across the board, including the corporate world. For instance, FICCI secretary-general Amit Mitra and software entrepreneur Sabeer Bhatia have joined Banerjee's bandwagon. Though the mercurial Banerjee appears to have mellowed somewhat of late, this is glossed over by her critics.
A woman who manages to break into our male-dominated political world on her own is an easy target to be dismissed as an unguided missile. Last Sunday, author Khushwant Singh in his weekly column reinforced the sneering stereotype about women in politics by clubbing J. Jayalalithaa, Uma Bharti, Banerjee, Mayawati, Mehbooba Mufti, Sadhvi Ritambhara and Sadhvi Pragya Thakur in the same bracket. His pop-psychology analysis was that these women have one thing in common: they are all single. He claimed, "You don't have to be a psychologist to infer that they are missing out on something vital in life that accounts for their eccentric behaviour."
Most women who have succeeded on their own steam, whether it is Indira Gandhi, Mayawati, Jayalalithaa or Banerjee, are portrayed as autocratic, self-willed and unreasonable. Had they tried to please all, it is unlikely that they would have got past their back-stabbing male colleagues. It is a mistake to infer that because women leaders talk tough, are intolerant of mistakes by underlings and are sometimes whimsical, they necessarily make for poor administrators.
Tales of Mayawati's high-handedness and megalomania are legion. But, because she is such a hard taskmaster, UP officials have been forced to perform. In UP, the general consensus is that Mayawati as chief minister has certainly outshone Mulayam Singh Yadav and most of her recent predecessors. Jayalalithaa as Tamil Nadu CM sometimes acted arbitrarily and was accused of corruption, but at the same time she presided over one of the best-administered states in the country. She improved law and order, clamped down on terrorist outfits and was surprisingly popular with IAS officers. Indira Gandhi's transformation from a "gungi gudiya" to the iron lady of India is well-chronicled. There is no reason why Banerjee, too, might not follow in the footsteps of other illustrious women leaders who too were once dismissed out of hand at the starting line.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
DEMOCRACY DOESN'T TAKE DICTATION
RAGHUVANSH PRASAD SINGH
Corruption, black money stashed in India and abroad, inflation, unemployment are among the major concerns facing us today. Since Independence, voices have been intermittently raised in protest against these issues. Many steps have been taken in this direction, but they have not been sufficient or successful. It cannot be denied that there needs to be a strong popular mobilisation around these issues, in public interest.
Now, many who believe that the Lokpal bill is an essential measure to combat corruption have raised their voices against certain quarters. This is understandable, because successive governments have kept the bill hanging, citing various differences. Frustrated by this deadlock, unhappiness among the intelligensia is only natural.
The government should take these consultative suggestions seriously. The bill must be introduced in Parliament, but setting a precedent to simply take dictation is dangerous for democracy. Right now, we are witnessing an outpouring of anger against all political parties, politicians and political workers — and the political parties needs to take this seriously as well, because this atmosphere is dangerous for democracy, and will take this large nation towards anarchy. People are convinced that everyone is corrupt — what are political parties, politicians, workers, bureaucrats or civil society, even the relations among people are full of injustice and hopelessness.
It is undeniable that all groups contain good and bad people, and it is also true that the bad outnumber the good, but to call any group bad is to be unjust towards the good in that group, and a defence of corruption. It would be extremely unfair to tar all politicians as corrupt, because the biggest politician in the 20th century was Mahatma Gandhi. There have been individuals like Jayaprakash Narayan, Dr Lohia and Karpoori Thakur, and there are committed party workers as well.
Movements against corruption and other issues are to be welcomed. But if they are directionless, anarchic and short-sighted, they're not suitable for a democracy. After announcing the unworthiness of political parties, they cannot come up with a new, alternative party. If their vision is that of a party-less democracy, then they should examine the several states where there has been a party-less panchayati raj, and see what results they have produced. Where is the certainty that the outcome will be any better, and in the absence of an cogent alternative, we would not slide into slavery?
In 1974, when the JP movement galvanised many students and many political leaders, including the late Karpoori Thakur were stopped from addressing the people. However, they carried on, undeterred. Emergency was declared, and many of these political leaders were thrown in jail. That movement was reduced to a tool for a change in administration and the issues that were raised, languished. Even during the V.P. Singh-led mobilisation, when he spotted Thakur under the dais at a gathering in Muzaffarpur, Singh himself seated him on the dais and honoured him. So, to pillory political parties without an alternative in sight, as is being done now, is an invitation to anarchy and slavery. Who is going to choose the method, the programme, and the politics of the movement? That is a crucial question.
(Translated from Hindi)
The writer is an RJD MP in the Lok Sabha
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
CHINA'S NEW CRACKDOWN
It has taken the arrest of Ai Weiwei, one of China's best-known contemporary artists and an outspoken critic of the Chinese government, for the world to take notice that Beijing is in the midst of the largest crackdown on dissent in over a decade — one that differs ominously in scope, tactics and aims from previous campaigns.
The authorities are casting a wider net over all advocates of "global values"— the code word in China for human rights, the rule of law and freedom of expression. Everyone from veteran dissidents to lawyers, rights activists, NGO coordinators, journalists, writers, artists and netizens are being targeted.
In the past six weeks, Human Rights Watch has logged over 100 cases of detention for advocacy across the country. Eight of China's top human rights lawyers were arrested in mid-February and have not been heard from since. Up to 20 are facing prosecution for the loosely defined crime of "inciting subversion," which includes criticism of the Communist Party. Writers, bloggers and critics have been threatened with arrest.
The authorities' methods are also distinctive this time around. Gone is the reliance on short-term detention and house arrest; instead, the Public Security's Bureau No. 1 branch — the secret police in charge of "domestic security" — have opted for a mix of arrests on state security charges and extrajudicial tactics such as disappearances, physical intimidation or beatings by plain-clothes thugs, threats of torture and retaliation against family members and work associates.
This shift to extrajudicial tactics was tacitly acknowledged by authorities when a government spokesman warned on March 3 that "the law was not a shield" for those "creating trouble for China."
The aims of the repression also differ from previous campaigns. Rattled by the revolts of North Africa and the Middle East, and yielding to the demands of a security apparatus that has been radically empowered since the 2008 Olympic Games, the Chinese leadership has launched an assault against government critics to attempt to reassert control over an increasingly assertive civil society.
The lesson Beijing has taken from the Middle East uprisings is that the Internet can be the starting point of large-scale popular protests and that it has contributed to the spread of "global values," such as freedom of expression and human rights. In the minds of the leadership, these factors generate an urgent need to reassert control.
Over the past few years nothing short of a communication revolution has taken place in China. Social networks and microblogging, a new generation of citizens has had the opportunity to access information and experiment with genuine freedom of expression.
When bloggers see their website "harmonised" — the euphemism for being shut down by the authorities — they simply open another one elsewhere.
Even the Great Firewall is not effective: Blocked in China, Twitter has been widely used to share information and build a sense of community among previously isolated activists.
The transformative dimension of this revolution on the expectations of China's polity is an enormous challenge to the one-party system. It highlights the growing divergence between two visions of China's political future.
One is of a society that Chinese citizens want to build now that their country has emerged as a global power and the second-largest economy in the world — a social order that doesn't necessarily preclude the Communist Party, in some leadership role. The other is the Party's vision of what is necessary to not only secure its leadership, but preclude a split in its own ranks. That view is grounded not in confidence, but in insecurity, distrust of civil society and fear as to the consequences of an embrace of global values.
In this sense, the current crackdown is more than the routine weeding out of critics; it is an effort to redefine the limits of permissible expression and roll back the advances made by Chinese civil society over the past decade.
The voice of the international community is crucial because Beijing will weigh that response before deciding on a course of action. The silence in the early weeks of the crackdown has emboldened the authorities and was probably decisive in the decision to go after someone as prominent as Ai Weiwei.
Unambiguous messages to Beijing that its conduct is unacceptable and illegal may not guarantee this new crackdown will stop, but a failure to speak up will ensure it continues. NICHOLAS BEQUELIN
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
'BACK IN THE 1970S, WE WERE UTTERLY NAIVE'
Holding aloft a mug of green tea, and standing tall in a black outfit set off by a resplendent blonde Afro, ANGELA DAVIS, now 66, is still the icon she was in the '60s and '70s. In Delhi for the Navayana Annual Lecture, she spoke at length to Georgina Maddox about Afro-Asian solidarity, state prisons, class-caste struggles, and being a woman of colour in the heated political activist environment of the US Communist Party and the Black Panthers.
What brings you to India?
I've been trying to come to India since the 1970s, but have only managed to achieve it now. When I was in jail facing charges of murder, kidnapping and conspiracy, I received several supportive letters from
India that expressed Afro-Asian solidarity. I'm humbled to be here, to address the larger issue of struggles for justice, equality and freedom.
What parallels can we draw between caste and race struggles?
There are similarities and differences. Dr Ambedkar's followers were inspired by the Black Panther Party, which is why we have the Dalit Panther movement, but they were different in their approaches. Today, in the US, affirmative action is considered illegal, and is seen to encroach upon the rights of white men. This can be paralleled with reservations, also treated as an encroachment on the "rights" of privileged castes.
In the past, blacks were treated as chattel, and they could not testify in court — but by that logic, how can property commit crimes? So the laws had to make an exception to hold slaves accountable before the law, the process is evident — prison now bears the traces of slavery and civil death.
I've been reading The Persistence of Caste: The Khairlanji Murders and India's Hidden Apartheid by Anand Teltumbde to know what we can learn from the Dalit movement.
Looking back, what was it like to be part of the Black Panthers?
Back in the 1970s, we believed that we would achieve a world without racism and sexism, and erase global capitalism. We were utterly naive. The movement did result in changes, but not in the way we expected. Many victories have been individualised. Today, there are more black people as CEOs of companies, and there is a black man in the White House — but that does not change the fact that there are thousands of black men still in jails.
If we look at the history of the struggle in creating political cohesion and innate solidarity, there were specific individuals like Dr Martin Luther King who were chosen as figureheads of the movement. But during the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott in Alabama, it was the black women working as domestic helps who started the resistance and civil rights movement, by refusing to ride the bus that practised racial segregation.
We know that Dr King had a dream — but what he saw when we reached the top of the mountain was not revealed to us.
But there has been progress...
The current notion is that we are in a post-feminist, post-socialist, post-civil rights era. But race has become embedded more deeply in our systems. Currently, there are fewer black students at universities than in the '60s and '70s — for universities are replicating mechanisms of the prisons with their metal detectors, body searches and juvenile justice systems that target black students.
What are the connections between
feminist struggles and anti-race/caste struggles?
I see feminism as a synergy between the issues in race and caste struggles. It has always been the impulse of feminism to bring together these issues, and gender is not separate from the debate. When we look at amending the way state prisons function, we are also looking at how women and trans-persons are affected in jails.
What are the other issues that concern you today?
I'm concerned with two controversial issues: the right to marriage in the LGBTI community and the right of LGBTIs to join the military. There is a feminist critique of marriage; and we also oppose the military on principle — but these are civil rights. So we can propose a critique of the bourgeois and patriarchal institution of marriage, even while supporting the right of every individual to have access to civil unions. Similarly, for the right to serve in the military. We must make linkages between racial, gender and climate justice and look beyond individual freedom towards community freedom.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
CAMERON IN ISLAMABAD
Cameron in Islamabad
UK Prime Minister David Cameron's visit to Pakistan created a flutter because of his changed stance on Pakistan. Cameron, on his 2010 visit to India, had ruffled many feathers in Pakistan when he spoke emphatically of its role in terrorism.
On April 6, Daily Times reported his arrival in Islamabad: "'Let's make today a fresh start in our relationship,' said Cameron on his first trip to Pakistan as Britain's leader, which he undertook to improve cooperation on counter-terrorism operations and Afghanistan, and set a new pace for bilateral ties by entering enhanced strategic dialogue with Pakistan."
An editorial in Dawn on April 7 decoded the "fresh start": "Last year, during a visit to India, British PM David Cameron labelled Pakistan a terrorist haven. In Islamabad on Tuesday, he tried to allay Pakistani fears. He was lucky to have at hand hosts who had no option but to ignore his uncharitable observations of the past... In diplomacy and politics, it matters how one elaborates one's views... He also sounded a virtual warning to the incumbents at the same time as he sought to explain the situation to the people they were representing: 'Not fair on you, ordinary Pakistanis, who suffer at the sharpest end of this weak government.' And 'my job is made more difficult when people in Britain look at Pakistan, a country that receives millions of pounds of our aid money, and see weaknesses in terms of government capacity and waste.' These are declarations more categorical than earlier ones."
While Cameron was in Pakistan, rumour had it that, before leaving London, he had cleared the handing over of Pervez Musharraf to Pakistan. A report in The News cleared all doubts on that as it quoted Cameron as saying there was no extradition treaty between the UK and Pakistan. He also said: "However, Pakistan has not yet made any request in this regard, and a proper application was needed to proceed further in the matter."
On the occasion of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's 32nd death anniversary, Pakistan's president Asif Ali Zardari filed a reference in the Supreme Court to reopening the case of Bhutto's death sentence, which is termed "judicial murder" by his sympathisers. Daily Times reported on April 5 that the chief justice of Pakistan, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, had set the date for its hearing on April 13. Zardari, of course, is the current co-chair of Bhutto's party, the PPP, and also his son-in-law. Bhutto's daughter-in-law, and he leader of the PPP-Shaheed Bhutto, Ghinwa, however, denounced Zardari's call to reopen the case. On April 5, The News reported her speech before a crowd at the Bhutto graveyard: "If the rulers are sincere with the philosophy of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, they should end the brutal socio-economic exploitation of masses."
Unhappy with America
A recent White House report on Pakistan's inability to control extremism along its border with Afghanistan has rubbed Pakistan's establishment the wrong way. On April 8, Daily Times reported:"'I would like to categorically state that we do not share the assessment of the US,' foreign ministry's spokeswoman Tehmina Janjua told reporters... 'The references to Pakistan are unwarranted... Pakistan should not be held accountable for the failings of coalition strategy in Afghanistan. Pakistan has a clear strategy in dealing with this and other issues and solely be guided by its own national interest'." A separate report stated: "Pakistan spelt out 'concerns' dogging its troubled alliance with the US at talks Thursday with the most senior American to visit since the release of CIA operative Raymond Davis... US commander of the Middle East and Afghanistan, General James Mattis, flew in as relations took a further knock... Mattis was meeting Pakistan's army chief General Ashfaq Kayani and chairman of the joint chiefs of staff committee, General Khalid Shamim Wynne."
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
DODGING THE DRAFTS
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.
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
Less than a week after the six-week-long World Cup ended, another six-week cricket spectacle is upon us. IPL 4 is here. Whether Indian fans are too knackered by the former to get enthusiastic about the latter is the million-dollar question. Experts favouring both ayes or nays are making strong arguments. On one side, we are told that IPL sponsorship is almost sold out and is commanding a premium of 80-100% above the rates at which World Cup sponsorship was sold. Experts ranging on the opposite side say that ticket sales are really lagging as compared to all earlier IPL editions. So far, the most predictable thing about this league has been that it has been unpredictable. To list just a few of the surprises it has sprung upon us, there was the way in which Rajasthan Royals pipped higher-rated teams to victory in the first round, the suddenness and success with which the second round was moved to South Africa right in the middle of the global financial crisis, and the way in which the third round went down amidst a sensational stand-off between IPL godfather Lalit Modi and godmother BCCI. And the second-most predictable thing about the league has been that it has, time after time, proved the sceptics wrong.
While the valuation of the league as a whole has climbed up and up, the profitably of the teams remains unclear and yet two new ones have climbed aboard and are all charged up—the Kochi Tuskers captained by Mahela Jayawardene and the Pune Warriors by a man who really came into his own during the World Cup, Yuvraj Singh. While the field remains thick with challenges of nepotism and opacity (although Modi got ousted and although a couple of teams looked like they would get kicked out for their shadowy ownership structures), the last player auctions saw record bids and the league just hasn't lost its too-big-to-fail momentum. As far as the question of viewer fatigue goes, it's perhaps Harsha Bhogle who has most squarely hit the nail on its head, reminding us that the success of Dabangg didn't come in the way of Band Baaja Baaraat.
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
The increase in foodgrain production by 8.2% to 235.9 million tonnes—the highest output ever, as per the third advance estimates—is comforting, given that rising food prices has been the biggest worry for the government in recent times. The increase in production has been extensive, ranging from 4.4% in wheat—the output has been at an all time high of 84.3 million tonnes—to 5.6% in rice and an impressive 19.1% in coarse cereals. But the real achievement has been in pulses, where production surged by 18.5% to 17.3 million tonnes, which is once again an all time record. Even more impressive have been the gains in some major commercial crops like oil seeds and cotton, where the production touched new records as well. In the case of oil seeds the output surged by 21.3% to 30.3 million tonnes, while in cotton the output went up by 41.7% to 33.9 million bales. In the case of sugar, although production went up by an impressive 22.6% to 340.6 million tonnes, the output was still lower than the levels achieved five years back. The higher-than-expected production in foodgrains and commercial crops is sure to push up the agriculture growth above the 5.4% levels shown in the advance estimates for 2010-11.
The impact of the better-than-expected production on prices is quite visible. The wholesale prices for the last week of March show that prices of rice, wheat, pulses and oil seeds are falling. And year-on-year numbers show that the increase in the price of rice has slowed down to 2.1% while that of wheat is at a still lower 0.3%. In case of pulses, where inflation surged up by more than a quarter in the previous year, the prices are falling by 5.4% now. However, year-on-year numbers for oil seeds—India is a large importer of oil seeds—show that the price increase is still in double digits. The only commodity where the increase in supply seems to have had no impact on prices is cotton. Although the production of cotton increased by around 10 billion bales, pushing up production by more than a third, the trends in the most recent week show that prices are now more than double of the last year's levels, pulling down the prospects of the cotton textile industry. The pick-up in cotton production is especially reassuring because production had fallen or stagnated in the last two years, raising serious questions about the efficacy of the advanced cotton varieties that have gained in popularity in the last few years.
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
JANMAT VERSUS JAN LOKPAL
If the government is being hauled over the coals and doesn't have a clue as to how to respond to the growing support for Anna Hazare's fast-unto-death if his version of the Jan Lokpal Bill is not accepted, it's for a good reason. The Bill, various versions of which are floating around on the Internet, is hugely flawed and virtually seeks to decide how the government will behave. But if the lakhs who are netting (I suppose that's what you would call thronging on the Internet?) to support Hazare are anything to go by, the reason is simple: a vocal set of people are just fed up with the kind of corruption that's going on, and the government's attempts to cover up, they're willing to accept anything.
In the case of the ongoing 2G scam, as has been well-documented, the government did its best to stall the investigation; when the Supreme Court forced the CBI to act, you got a very weak chargesheet; and to top it all, the government is now trying to stall the appointment of a well-regarded public prosecutor in the case. Indeed, as Anna Hazare and some of those around him argued, the composition of the Group of Ministers (GoM) tasked with the job of changing laws to eliminate corruption was itself a bit of a joke. Apart from Sharad Pawar, who has since quit the GoM, it has Kapil Sibal, who can't see a R1,76,000 crore scam, and MK Alagiri, a member of the DMK that has been implicated in the scam in so many ways.
It's not as if the Jan Lokpal Bill won't help reduce corruption, it's the other problems it will cause. The ongoing 2G scam investigations and case is a good example to illustrate all the points.
To begin with, had the Jan Lokpal Bill been a law, the Raja scam may have ended much faster than it has. Section 18 (vi) of the Bill says that "if during the course of investigation or enquiry … the Lokpal feels that the continuance of a public servant (which includes ministers and even judges) in that position could adversely affect the course of investigations or enquiry … the Lokpal may issue appropriate recommendations including transfer of that public servant from that position ..." The government has 15 days to implement the order or the Lokpal can go to the high court to implement it. In the Raja case, that means a Lokpal could have had Raja removed after his scam was unearthed on January 10, 2008—since the actual licences were issued some months later, the scam could have even been nipped in the bud!
Let's assume the Lokpal didn't act so fast, and Raja had issued the licences, what then? Go to the section that deals with the functions of the Lokpal. Section 8(2)(d) is quite clear … after investigation, the Lokpal can "order cancellation or modification of a licence or lease or permission or contract or agreement, which is the subject matter of investigation". And 8(2)(e) says the Jan Lokpal can "blacklist the concerned firm or company or contractor or any other entity involved in that act of corruption".
Section 8(6) and (7) add to this and do away with the powers of the government to delay prosecution of officials by refusing to give permission to the investigating authorities—as those following such cases will tell you, withholding prosecution sanction is not a rare occurrence.
All of this is great news for people who've been trying to stop Raja from perpetuating his scam; who've been trying to get the government to summarily cancel the licences. But pause a while and think of the consequences of the Jan Lokpal's actions.
India does have something called the judicial system, and the Jan Lokpal doesn't seek to supplant that, at least not yet. So let's say someone petitions the Lokpal on the Raja scam and, after holding hearings in the Lokpal courts and getting evidence through issuing search warrants (the Lokpal will also be a deemed police officer), the Lokpal thinks this is a fit case to cancel the licence. So the Lokpal cancels the licence, and the affected party will be fighting to restore it in another court! The Lokpal can order that private firms who've benefited from corruption can be fined five times the loss caused (Section 19A)—since the CAG estimates R1,02,498 crore was lost by giving 122 licences, the penalty can be R5,12,490 crore! What happens if the civil courts have something different to say?
There are several other problems as well. The Jan Lokpal Bill wants the Lokpal to be able to look into complaints about judges as well; but isn't this the subject of the Judicial Accountability Bill? And how does the Lokpal inquire into complaints about judges when the Supreme Court presides over the process to remove the Lokpal and its members?!
Section 18(vi), which allows the Lokpal to suspend a public servant puts the Lokpal in direct conflict with the democratically government which, whether you like it or not, has the ultimate right to decide who serves where. The same section, by the way, also allows the
Lokpal to interfere with the work the courts do in the event there is a complaint about a judge.
Since the definition of a 'public servant' includes PSUs, that's another worry for PSUs that are already slaving under the burden of too many monitors!
None of this is to say the current system is working well—if it was, you wouldn't have the kind of scams you have. But imperfect as it is, the system has several checks and balances, and it does work. A new system that seeks to give overriding powers to one arm (Section 35 of the Jan Lokpal Bill proudly boasts "This Act shall override the provisions of all other laws") is asking for serious trouble.
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
WHY WASTE TIME WITH HAZARE?
However improper it may sound, the fact is that corruption has become the flavour of the season. Although corruption cases have rocked the nation's polity from time to time, what makes the current season different from previous instances in the country's history is the quick succession of such incidents—the CWG, Adarsh and the 2G spectrum scam came in quick succession. Events since then have hardly provided any respite to the government, which is in a firefighting mode trying to adopt all 'Kautiliyan' skills at its disposal. In this backdrop, the crusade of the Gandhian Anna Hazare, who has impeccable credentials, for a Jan Lokpal Bill has naturally touched a chord with most common citizens who anyway bear the brunt of ordinary corruption in their day-to-day life. Be it to procure a driving licence, a ration card, a cooking gas connection, insurance claims to getting a birth or death certificate, an ordinary citizen has got used to paying. So much so that rates have got standardised and a parallel system has taken over the normal, legal one.
It is these very citizens whose emotions have swelled with Hazare's crusade over Lokpal, as they feel frustrated, with every political party making promises of eroding corruption at election times, but the status quo continues. This is what has led to a cynical attitude of the middle-class towards corruption-related matters and politics. The general refrain is: everyone is corrupt and those who get caught didn't cover themselves up properly and eventually nothing will happen to the rich and powerful. While Hazare's version of the Jan Lokpal Bill is riddled with holes and hardly provides a long-term panacea to tackling corruption, as has been highlighted by this newspaper, the need and timing of his movement is certainly well timed.
However, it is time for all well meaning people to not only focus on the kind of corruption that Hazare and the activists are focusing on, but move beyond. As the world gets globalised and complex, it is not the ordinary, day-to-day corruption of the driving licence or ration card types that have the potential to affect us. Rather, it is the complex, economic crimes that are going to increase, and the real focus and movement should be to tackle them. Anyone with a differing view should refer to the global economic crisis of September 2008 and its root causes, or the Satyam scam back home that came to light in early 2009. It is very hard to detect such sophisticated crimes and even more difficult to convict the guilty when such instances come to light. The recent 2G spectrum scam was being highlighted by the media for the last three years but hardly anybody paid attention to it. Even now, the vast majority do not understand its nuances and that's the reason the telecom minister Kapil Sibal confidently tries to fool the people with his zero-loss theory!
If Satyam's Raju had struck a similar deal with some other front company and not his sister firm Maytas, believe me, the scam would have remained buried for years, and analysts and the media would have written tomes on his brilliant strategy. After all, much about the layering and complex web of companies controlling Reliance Industries came to light when the two brothers—Mukesh and Anil—fought over its control, leaking stuff against each other. It was no regulatory body that caught the wrongdoings by either of them. The intelligent structuring done by Vodafone after acquiring Hutch's stake in 2007 to remain within the 74% FDI cap would not have come to light if a rival company that lost out on the bid would not have done systematic leaks. Similarly, much of insider trading information comes to light from corporate rivals rather than the regulatory bodies created by the law to tackle them.
The clever ways in which public-private projects are designed in areas like power, roads, toll bridges and highways and airports often enrich the private parties at the cost of the taxpayer.
With the economy growing, it is the sophisticated economic crimes that would define corruption rather than the kinds we are obsessed with today. It is still much easier to rein in the local panchayat leader, district collector, police inspectors, etc, rather than the finance whiz kids of the corporate world who may take our money and make millions for themselves through methods that neither you or me will be able to understand for years. It is the corruption of this kind that needs to be tackled with greater urgency rather than the variety that the activist kinds are obsessively focused on at present. Tackling sophisticated economic corruption is also important because it threatens to derail the pace of the economic reforms and make us all look like a bunch of crony capitalists.
THE STAND-OFF OVER CORRUPTION
Few could have anticipated that Anna Hazare's movement for a stronger Lokpal bill would generate such an extraordinary groundswell of public support, particularly among the urban middle class. By the fourth day of his indefinite fast, the nationwide protests led by 71-year-old social activist have forced the Centre to drop the anti-corruption bill it had drafted, to agree to prepare a new and stronger draft in consultation with civil society activists, and to desperately seek an agreement to end the crisis. It is imperative that the Manmohan Singh government seeks to resolve the remaining differences — on whether the committee must be formally notified and whether a civil society nominee should head it — by forsaking obstinate stances and respecting the popular mood. With the Centre rejecting the positions staked out by Mr. Hazare on these two issues, he has called for a nationwide jail bharo on April 13. It is not certain how long the deadlock will continue. But in the welter of protests and the general anger about corruption, the key details about what this specific crusade is really about must not be lost.
Essentially, the battle is to formulate a Lokpal bill that will allow for impartial and effective inquiries into complaints against public officials. The civil activist camp is correct in pointing out that the official draft is weak and ineffectual. For instance, rather than allow the Lokpal (or ombudsman) to probe all corruption-related complaints against public officials received from the general public, it restricts such inquires to those forwarded by the Lok Sabha Speaker or the Rajya Sabha Chairman. The reluctance of the Centre to draft a tough Lokpal bill has been coupled with a longstanding reluctance to enact it; one or another version of the bill has been introduced in the Lok Sabha eight times since 1968 only to find the House being dissolved before it could be passed. Mr. Hazare and his supporters have demanded that the Jan Lokpal bill drafted by civil society activists be adopted instead. But this piece of legislation, although having much more teeth, is not without its share of serious flaws. For instance, it stipulates that the selection committee for the Lokpal must include Nobel laureates of Indian origin and recent Magsaysay award winners. It also makes drastic changes in the existing criminal justice system by envisaging the Lokpal as something of a supercop, under whose jurisdiction a good portion of the Central Bureau of Investigation will be subsumed. The challenge is to formulate a Lokpal bill that has the teeth lacking in the government draft and is free from the angularities of the civil society version.
The inter-Ministerial consultation on vulture conservation, convened by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, has sent out a clear message to the State agriculture departments: it is they who hold the key to the fortunes of three critically endangered species in India. After years of research, scientists concluded that the cause for extermination of about 95 per cent of the estimated populations of oriental white-backed, slender-billed, and long-billed vultures in the subcontinent is the painkiller diclofenac. Feeding on carcasses of cattle that had been administered the drug proved fatal to the birds. The Ministry responded positively to that finding by coming up with a multi-pronged strategy. It essentially consists of banning veterinary formulations of diclofenac, popularising the drug meloxicam to eliminate the threat to vultures from contaminated carcasses, and opening breeding centres. The results have been encouraging. There is a declining trend in the use of the toxic drug. The breeding centres at Pinjore in Haryana, Rajabhat Khawa in West Bengal, and the Rani range in Assam now host a good number of birds. Yet, given the scale of the ecological disaster that has struck vultures, much more needs to be done.
The supply of meloxicam, which leaves cattle carcasses safe for vultures, is unable to meet the demand. Such a situation exists in spite of an increase in the number of companies manufacturing the drug, since it became the molecule of choice for veterinary application five years ago. Farmers facing a shortage would naturally opt for alternatives such as diclofenac meant for human use. There is also a case for reviewing the pricing of meloxicam, an issue the Environment Ministry has been pursuing with the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority. A third drug tried for toxicity to vultures, ketoprofen, has failed to pass the test. What makes these issues critically important is the anecdotal evidence of a large number of vultures dying in agricultural areas, depleting the overall numbers. In a recent instance, 21 of these birds were found dead in Assam in a paddy field, reportedly after feeding on a carcass sprinkled with pesticide. The conservation programme should therefore make a systematic, annual count of all nine vulture species found in India, particularly the three species threatened with extinction, and assess all threats. Such a census is part of the Action Plan for Vulture Conservation prepared by the Environment Ministry in 2006; it is important to continue it even after self-sustaining populations have established themselves in the range States. The health of vultures in nature is indicative of the state of the ecosystem.
LEADER PAGE ARTICLES
CONFRONTING FEARS OF RADIOACTIVITY
WHILE THE FEARS OF PEOPLE LIVING IN JAPAN ARE JUSTIFIED, THE LEVEL OF ANXIETY IN THE REST OF THE WORLD HAS BEEN QUITE DISPROPORTIONATE TO THE ACTUAL THREAT.
It is almost a month since multiple disaster struck Japan. Yet not a single member of the public has been reported killed by radioactivity from the nuclear reactor complex in Fukushima. Meanwhile, estimates of the death toll due to the direct onslaught of the tsunami and the earthquake have long crossed 10,000 with many more injured and rendered homeless. Despite this, the radioactivity leaking out from Fukushima has received as much attention from the news media, the public and the governments of the world as the plight of the quake-tsunami victims. Such is the grip of the fear of radioactivity on the public! Is this level of fear warranted by objective facts?
Well, there is no denying that radioactivity can be extremely hazardous. A large dose of 10,000 milli-sieverts or more will kill you in days, and even a tenth of that dose can lead to acute radiation sickness of various ghastly forms. Even much smaller doses can increase the chances of your getting cancer. Therefore, whenever there is any mishap involving things nuclear, one can well understand the public's anxiety.
If the anxiety has often been excessive, one must try to understand why, rather than blame the public. There is a scary mysteriousness to nuclear radiation. It can penetrate the body, destroy internal organs, cause cancer and induce grotesque birth defects. Yet it is invisible, has no smell or colour. There are few immediate signs, apart from skin burns, of the terrible damage done to the interior of the body. The inability to detect nuclear radiation with the human senses, and the possibility of dreadful after-effects developing years later, has created an almost irrational dread in people's minds.
Adding to the mystification is the genuine difficulty in determining, in quantitative scientific terms, how much damage small radiation doses can do. Fatalities due to high doses are less in dispute, although fewer in reactor accidents. In the worst reactor explosion in history, at Chernobyl, altogether 62 people died from high doses in the vicinity. Astonishingly, these 62 (which include 34 workers sent into the reactor to control the damage) were the only fatalities that could be unambiguously attributed to radiation from Chernobyl. Undoubtedly Chernobyl killed many more people, but most would have died of cancer due to smaller doses farther away. The difficulty lies in estimating how many. A U.N. Chernobyl Forum study estimated about 4000 deaths over the years worldwide due to the fallout from Chernobyl. But this has been hotly disputed by others, some with estimates in the lakhs. Such disparities arise because low-dose induced cancers can develop slowly over years, and cannot be empirically distinguished from the much larger background of total cancer deaths due to other factors — various natural causes, tobacco, pesticides etc. Theoretically too, the no-threshold linear model, which would predict a larger death toll, is not universally accepted by all biologists. Unfortunately, this vast uncertainty is a fertile ground for unsubstantiated wild claims.
The response to Fukushima illustrates this. While the fears of people living in Japan about radioactive contamination are well justified, the level of anxiety in the rest of the world has been quite disproportionate to the actual threat. In Delhi, SMS messages were circulated warning people not to go out in the rain lest they be showered by radioactivity coming from Japan. In China, people started consuming iodised salt in large and potentially harmful quantities. Eventually, the WHO was compelled to call for calm on its Twitter page. Much farther away, drug stores in Russia's Far East and British Columbia have reported shortages of iodine pills. Californians, always game for health paranoia, also joined in stocking up with iodine pills. The news media, while reporting traces of fallout at various distant places, typically fail to mention how small those doses are. In fact the fallout from Fukushima in California was minuscule, as could have been predicted in advance. The Chernobyl fallout has been studied extensively and what fell on the U.K. was less dangerous, cancer-wise, than smoking a cigarette a year. In the Fukushima case, the radiation measured even as near as 50 km from the plant was 0.1 to 0.7 micro-seiverts/ hour. Continued exposure to that dosage even for a whole year would be less radiation than one CT scan.
The public is not expected to have expertise in radiation hazards, and cannot be blamed if it fears radiation dangers excessively. But governments and others who shape public opinion can be blamed. Unfortunately, sometimes they too pander to populist fears. For example, the German Foreign Minister described Fukushima, even as it was unfolding, as an "Apocalypse". This was clearly an extreme assessment. Not even the Chernobyl disaster, much worse than Fukushima, could be termed an Apocalypse. The Germans promptly shut down seven of their older reactors despite having earlier decided to extend their lifetimes, which they must have no doubt done after a full review of their condition and safety features. Nothing happened at Fukushima to warrant reversing their own decision.
The Fukushima reactor explosions were caused, not by their age, condition or poor maintenance, but from a failure outside the reactor system — a disruption, due to the quake, of electric supply needed to pump water to cool the fuel rods. In fact the physical structures of all six reactors at Fukushima seem to have survived the direct onslaught of an 8.9 level earthquake followed by a giant Tsunami — a testimony to their sturdiness.
There is also much speculation that the Fukushima disaster will, or should, stop the emerging nuclear renaissance. That again would be a retrograde step. We are not blindly advocating nuclear energy here, as against wind, solar and other renewable sources, nor claiming that it will substantially mitigate global warming. Admittedly, these are all debatable. Public discussion on them has been going on for years. And the pros and cons are well known. Countries like India and China have decided, in the face of those pros and cons, to expand the nuclear sector to meet their energy requirements. The point is that, as we have argued already, the events in Fukushima do not fundamentally alter those arguments and do not call for changing that decision.
This is not to say that there are no lessons to be learnt from Fukushima. Indeed there are several. Criteria for locating reactors in areas prone to natural disasters like earthquakes, tsunamis and hurricanes should be made even more stringent. In designing backup systems, as for instance in cooling the reactor, one should try to ensure that the different layers of back-up are not vulnerable to the same external disaster. Their utility as backups then fails, as happened in Fukushima. The problem of over-pressurisation in containment vessels and the resultant need to vent radioactive gases has to be addressed more stringently.
Turning to India, the Fukushima explosions should be taken as an opportunity to review and tighten up safety measures at all nuclear facilities. This our government is doing. We have to specially double-check the quake-resistance of the Narora plant and perhaps consider shifting the Jaitapur plant to a less earthquake prone zone. We should ensure that in the government's desire to rapidly expand our nuclear capacity, matters of safety are not compromised.
Finally, this is a good opportunity to demand greater transparency from nuclear establishments all over the world. This is overdue. The Fukushima disaster demonstrates the lack of credibility of nuclear agencies in the public's mind, as evidenced by the latter's lack of faith in official assurances. This is not an easy problem to solve. We live in an age where people want the benefits of extremely complex technology, but are also suspicious of it. In India our government as well as social activists must be proactive in educating the public about nuclear hazards, but in a responsible and balanced manner. Neither bland assurances nor the stoking of hysterical fears will serve the public good.
(R. Rajaraman is Emeritus Professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, and Co-Chair, International Panel on Fissile Materials.)
WE NEED ROADS, NOT GUNS
IT WAS ALWAYS DIVIDED, AND IS NOW TRAUMATISED BY WAR. BUT THE AFGHAN NATION CAN BE REBUILT.
There is a traditional, gloating song of Paghman, some 30 km from the Afghan capital, which dates from the British invasions of the 19th century: "Oh foreigner, do not attack Kabul, attacking Kabul is our job!" Today, a decade on from the western invasion that placed him in power, Hamid Karzai is often scornfully referred to as "the mayor of Kabul" because, as in the bad old 19th-century days of bandit tribes, his mandate reaches barely outside the capital.
This year will be make or break for the West's involvement in Afghanistan. President Obama has said that the United States will begin withdrawing forces by July, and control of security is due to be transferred from foreign to Afghan forces by 2014.
Parallel to the argument for military withdrawal, there is growing muttering — particularly from right wing commentators in the U.S. — about the extent to which the West should pour resources into the reconstruction of Afghanistan.
Nation building is expensive and open-ended. Donor countries have pledged $67bn to Afghan development since 2002 (although only a fraction has arrived) and, while there has been some progress, western cash has also brought massive corruption. Last week's brutal killing of UN workers following the burning of a copy of the Qur'an in Florida highlights how much a hostage to fortune any form of western involvement in Afghanistan can be.
A difficult country
Those who want to wash their hands of Afghanistan suggest that it is barely a nation anyway. Its geography is impossible — both a thoroughfare at the crossroads of Asia through which armies have historically trampled and a backwater of near-impassable mountains where the inhabitants of one village rarely meet those of the next.
Its society, too, is fractured — more than 30 languages are spoken, there are scores of ethnic groups and a religious divide that includes a Sunni-Shia split, tiny Hindu and Sikh populations and just one known remaining Jew. Not to mention what seems an incomprehensibly complicated collection of war-like tribes existing in a state of interdependence, rivalry and blood feud. No wonder the bogeyman of the U.S. experience in Somalia is increasingly invoked.
And yet, despite its divisions and contradictions, I would argue passionately that Afghanistan is not like Somalia. It has integrity as a nation state, at least in the minds of its citizens. In 2009, for instance, in an ABC-BBC poll, 72 per cent of the population labelled their identity as Afghan first, before their ethnicity.
Afghanistan's history as a modern state stretches back to 1747, when Ahmad Shah, a 25-year-old from Kandahar, showed his flair for working the tribal system at the loya jirga, the grand council. He was elected as leader of all the tribes. By 1751 his army had conquered the whole of present-day Afghanistan and annexed parts of India and Iran. In the process, he developed the concept of Afghaniyat — "Afghanness" — a kind of super-identity that transcends one's family and tribal affiliations.
Since then nobody, from the British during the Great Game to the Soviet Union, has successfully colonised Afghanistan. And as the ABC News poll shows, the concept of Afghaniyat is as strong as ever. Today, Afghanistan's democratic parliament is based on the jirga system and is open to all ethnic groups. The massive turnout and optimism of the 2004 presidential elections; Abdullah Abdullah's serious challenge to Karzai despite the shameful election fraud in 2009; the brave individuals who use parliament to condemn corruption and war crimes — all these were inconceivable during the dark days of the Taliban.
None of this would be possible without continuing western support. The population is traumatised by more than 30 years of war, which has claimed more than a million lives. People living in these circumstances can't be expected to react moderately at all times, and the killing of the UN workers by anti-western insurgents shows that they do not. Is it then reasonable to expect them to rebuild a civil society without outside help? The move to leave Afghanistan militarily makes it all the more important to support its political, educational, economic and physical infrastructure. Rebuilding Afghanistan will require a firm will, patience beyond belief and a long-term financial investment. But foreigners building roads and schools will always be more welcome than foreigners bearing guns. ( Saira Shah is a documentary film-maker; her films include 'Beneath the Veil.')
© Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011
IN LIBYA, REBELS STRIVE TO BECOME AN ARMY
VOLUNTEERS SET UP A BOOT CAMP FOR REVOLUTIONARIES — 'NO ONE KNOWS HOW TO USE THEIR WEAPON. NO DISCIPLINE.'
Mareh Bejou was a pilot for Emirates when he flew to Tripoli in mid-February. The next day he was a revolutionary who told his airline it had better send another pilot to take the plane back to Dubai.
Now Bejou, after his own crash course in fighting and surviving on the battlefield, is one of those in charge of a military training camp attempting to turn the volunteers of Benghazi into soldiers against Muammar Qadhafi "I came to do my part in a peaceful demonstration but we were met with guns. For four days they were shooting at us, even using anti-aircraft guns. So I learned how to use a Kalashnikov and an RPG on the battlefield," said Bejou, who has been a pilot for 30 years. "I spent three weeks on the battlefield and it wasn't organised at all. No discipline. No one knew how to use their weapons. We set up this camp to change that." At the training ground inside a former Qadhafi military base on the edge of Benghazi on April 7, more than 1,000 young men were gathered for instruction in the use of Kalashnikovs, mortars and rockets.
Some of the recruits put on a show of bravado. They claimed to be on the march to Tripoli to topple Qadhafi. But there was a more sober feeling among the bulk of volunteers, and the men showing them how to shoot, not flee.
A few weeks' training only goes so far against a more experienced and better disciplined force. The volunteers know that mostly they are at the camp to learn how to defend their homes if Qadhafi's troops make a push toward Benghazi.
Sadir Misrati took on the role of sergeant major, strutting around the parade ground barking at people. Short, with a bayonet stuck in his belt and 40 years of experience in Qadhafi's army to draw on, he acknowledged the challenge of trying to create soldiers in less than six weeks.
"They're volunteers and they don't know anything about this. They've never been in the military. They'll get a good idea of how to use their weapon. Maybe it's not enough but it gives them an idea," he said.
Just about everyone recognises that an idea is not enough to create an army that can bring down Qadhafi. On this point the men on the parade ground part ways with the western leaders who say they are equally keen to see Libya rid of its dictator.
Britain is hatching a plan to send experienced soldiers, such as former members of the UK's elite SAS fighting force, to train the rebel army under the cover of private security companies paid for by Arab states.
The revolutionary council's line on the prospect of foreign trainers is diplomatic.
"We will appreciate any friendly nation training our fighters," said Mustafa Gheriani, a council spokesman. "Our preference is for trainers of Arab origin but we appreciate the help from wherever it comes." But at the training base there is suspicion.
"Why do they want to send trainers?" asked Bejou. "If they are talking about just a few weeks' training what's the point? We are doing that. If they are talking about long-term training they are talking about a long war and more people dying. That could turn this into a civil war. We don't want a long war. If NATO, the allies, want us to be in Tripoli we could be there in seven hours."
The talk of training for a longer war only fuels growing suspicion in Benghazi that NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) is abandoning the West's commitment to use air power to protect civilians. It was interpreted by the rebels as meaning western powers would destroy Qadhafi's army and clear the way for them to march into Tripoli.
Saleh Farej is the Kalashnikov instructor. Before he introduces himself he quickly says his long white beard does not mean he is al—Qaeda. It is not a joke. The rebels are disturbed by suggestions their uprising has been infiltrated by Islamist extremists. They fear it will cost them western support.
Farej says more training is not the problem. It is NATO they need. "If NATO is not with us we cannot win. Then we will be in the hands of God.
"But we will still want to be free so we will still fight to defend our city. My sons are on the frontline. I taught them here and they went to fight."
© Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011
ITALY, FRANCE TO WORK TOGETHER TO BLOCK MIGRANTS
Seeking to defuse a tense border crisis, Italy and France have agreed to joint sea-and-air patrols to try to block new Tunisian migrants from sailing to European shores.
The deal was announced on April 8 by Italian Interior Minister Roberto Maroni after meeting with his French counterpart in Milan.
Rome and Paris have been sparring fiercely over what to do about the more than 20,000 Tunisians who sailed across the Mediterranean to Italy in recent weeks after political upheaval in their North African homeland. But some concessions seemed to emerge after the meeting between Maroni and French Interior Minister Claude Gueant.
Only a day earlier, Maroni accused France of harbouring a hostile attitude toward the migrants from Tunisia, a former French colony. Paris, in turn, had vowed to tighten its own border controls in possible violation of EU-wide border rules so that migrants couldn't cross into French territory from northwest Italy.
The two European neighbours also agreed to work out a system under which migrants receiving temporary residency permits from Italian authorities would head back to Tunisia during the permit period on what Maroni called a "voluntary" basis. It was not immediately clear how that would work.
Gueant promised that France would follow the Schengen free-circulation rules for those holding valid documents from member states, border rules followed by many European countries, but he insisted that the Tunisian migrants must have "economic resources."
That appeared to be a concession, for France in recent days has blocked the entry of hundreds of Tunisians who have been trying to cross into France from north-west Italy.
Neither man took questions and details were not immediately available.
Criticism by Italy
Italian officials had criticised other European Union nations for not helping it cope with a flood of migrants in the last few months from the turmoil in North Africa. Maroni tried to ease local tensions on April 8 by saying the matter is "not a French-Italian question but one that must be settled on a European level." After Tunisian migrants on rickety boats overwhelmed the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa, Italy transferred thousands of them to mainland camps. Hundreds of the migrants, however, ran away from the Italian camps and headed straight to the French border, hoping to live with relatives already in France.
The seaborne exodus started after Tunisia's longtime authoritarian leader was overthrown in mid-January.
Premier Silvio Berlusconi's government has appealed for more solidarity by fellow EU nations on accepting the migrants and helping Italy cope with the deluge.
SOMALI PIRATES FREE GREEK SUPERTANKER
Greek authorities said on April 8 that Somali pirates released a Greek-flagged supertanker captured two months ago off the coast of Oman, while the European Union's anti-piracy force say another ship in the same region was hijacked.
The EU Naval Force said that at least 10 pirates boarded the German-owned MV Susan on April 8 off East Africa only 35 miles (55 kilometres) south of Oman's coast in the Arabian Sea. The vessel was heading to Sudan from Mumbai, India. It had a crew of six Filipinos and four Ukrainians.
Meanwhile, Greece's Merchant Marine Ministry said that according to the ship-owning company, the Irene S.L. and its 25-member crew had been released unharmed and the ship was heading to the port of Durban, in South Africa. It did not say whether a ransom had been paid.
Somali pirates had captured the ship and its cargo of 266,000 tons of crude oil on February 9, about 230 miles (370 kilometres) east of Oman, in the Arabian Sea. At the time, Greek authorities had said it had a crew of seven Greeks, 17 Filipinos and one Georgian, and had been heading to the Gulf of Mexico.
Pirates have continued their attacks off East Africa despite the presence of a flotilla of international warships. The average ransom paid for a ship and crew is reported to be nearly $5 million.
NEW ZEALAND, AUSTRALIA DISCUSS ENERGY EFFICIENCY COOPERATION
New Zealand and Australian government officials met in Auckland on April 8 to discuss collaboration in energy efficiency measures for households and businesses.
Talks between New Zealand Acting Energy Minister Hekia Parata and Mark Dreyfus, Australia's Parliamentary Secretary for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, covered the development of legislation for consistent energy standards and labelling for household appliances.
They said in a joint statement after their meeting that the labels would make it easier for shoppers to identify which appliances would lead to the biggest savings on their electricity and gas bills.
"By switching to more energy-efficient white goods and electrical appliances, households can save serious money on their energy bills," Dreyfus said.
Parata said joint standards and labelling would benefit New Zealand consumers.
"In 2009/10 alone, consumers saved an estimated 157 million NZ dollars ($123 million) in energy costs through buying and using more efficient products," she said.
THE ASIAN AGE
GETTING A DIVORCE TO GET A BIT EASIER?
For Indians, marriages are made in heaven. The flip side of this is that divorces too could be secured mostly through divine intervention. And the gods didn't give their nod easily, although annulment of marriage through "mutual consent" had come to be a accepted as sufficient ground in law. In spite of this provision, the courts did what they could to delay divorce in the hope of giving discordant couples an extended opportunity to revive their marriage even after they had filed for ending an unhappy or difficult conjugal partnership sanctioned in custom and law. Sometimes this worked, but quite often not. This was the general state of affairs among Hindus who got into a marriage under the Hindu Marriage Act 1955 (which also covers Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs) and the Special Marriage Act 1954. Muslims might have had it easier, as under Islamic law a marriage is a contract arrived at with due procedures, with rules and circumstances of termination clearly laid out. In practice, however, for most Indians, the idea of divorce carried a social stigma, particularly for women, and ending the married state was not easy to contemplate. As such, unhappy couples simply plodded on, if nothing else then for the sake of their children; while the childless among them continued to live in virtual hell. It is a sign of the times that in contemporary India the idea of divorce — although still not as easy as it is in parts of the West — can be given expression to within the family as well as within the community and society at large. The invisible rider was that the non-functionality of marriage should be evident to all concerned, not just to the married couple in question. Some of this could change if the recommendations of Parliament's standing committee on law and justice — which have recently become available — become law.
Following a decision by the Union Cabinet in June last year to effect amendments to the Hindu Marriage Act and the Special Marriage Act to allow for divorce in the event of an "irretrievable breakdown of marriage", a bill on this was introduced in the Rajya Sabha in August last year. We cannot at this stage anticipate the debate that will follow in the House. But in light of the standing committee's recommendations, there can be reasonable expectation that the question will not be dismissed out of hand. In 1981, a move to introduce "irretrievable breakdown of marriage" as a ground for divorce did not have much traction. The social landscape has obviously changed in the intervening three decades, with fast-paced urbanisation, industrialisation and a communications revolution that has impacted our society no less than other societies around the world.
In this country's altered profile, the autonomy of the individual has expanded in significant ways, although the value of the community is still recognised in crucial spheres. Indeed, the Law Commission had first considered making "irretrievable breakdown" a ground for divorce back in 1979, and then revived the recommendation in 2009. In 2006, the Supreme Court too had favoured inclusion of this factor among the grounds on which divorce could be granted to those individuals who no longer wished to continue their marriage. The general progressive disposition of the nation's highest court in family matters was also evident when in 2008 it permitted live-in relationships, and more recently sanctioned a share in inheritance for children born out of wedlock. Nevertheless, it is the debate in Parliament that will be crucial in amending the marriage law to include a new ground for divorce. Even if Parliament chooses to hasten slowly, it should not throw out the issue. Providing for adequate safeguards — especially from the wife's viewpoint — is, of course, called for.
THE ASIAN AGE
"I cried because I had no shoes
Then I saw a girl with Jimmy Choos..."
From Ballad of an Indian Idiot by Bachchoo
I know very little about cricket, having developed a subconscious fear of the game after being struck in the head while being ordered to bat in the nets under the banyan tree in the front compound of Bishops School Poona (now Pune) when I was, as the Americans say, an alumnus of that august institution.
One dared not make a fuss about that sort of thing in my day. It was all part of the game and dropping the bat to clutch one's forehead and pick up one's specs from the mud was considered unsporting and sissyish and it was enough to get Mr Sewell, our Welsh sports and PE master, to tell me to "get out of it".
As a consequence I have never been enthusiastic about the game and don't know much about it. When someone says "long leg" I think they are speaking of Ethiopian girls and till last week I thought "Silly Midov" was what someone on WikiLeaks called the last Soviet finance minister.
So what happened last week? I was in Mumbai and was compelled to watch the semi-finals and then the finals of the cricket World Cup. Living in Britain, one is always half-conscious of cricket. Like royalty, it stays in the background until there is a death, a wedding or a scandal. Very, very few, apart from some male fogeys at the BBC are bothered about how many innings Worcestershire beat Yorkshire by in the county quarter-finals — if there is such a tournament.
Even when there is a game of British teams at Lords, as there must be on very many days of the season, there is no hoo-haa in London town. Yes, if the Australians are playing the Melbourne Cricket Council for the Ashes, then there is more than usual attention and people casually ask each other the cricket score while watching Arsenal play Manchester United on TV.
British cricket crowds never spill out in celebration as I witnessed Indian crowds do last week. And this has nothing to do with any notion the world may have of British reserve. The reserve is all too non-evident on days when Chelsea is playing Millwall in the Premier League football finals at Wembley. (Incidentally, I am not a football fan either. I watch the World Cup and can, if challenged, define accurately the off-side rule!). British hooligans are proudly the best in the world at creating havoc on the streets of foreign cities when the football World Cup is in play and England is either winning or losing, which in the World Cup which doesn't allow draws, leaves very little to chance.
The atmosphere in Mumbai this last week of the cricket tournament was tense. On the Wednesday of the semi-finals, when we already knew that Sri Lanka had beaten New Zealand in their own semi-final encounter and when India were to play Pakistan in Mohali in the Punjab, Mumbai, a living and traffic-jammed Gaia organism at other times, seemed to hold its breath. The streets were empty, the power-grid overworked as millions of TVs and (millions fewer) air-conditioners were switched on for the afternoon and into the hours of the night.
The Pakistan-India match was, to appreciate its full context, more than a game of cricket. The Indian Prime Minister had invited the Pakistani one over to watch the game. Pakistanis who had never held a prime ministerial position were given easy visas and flooded over the border to watch the game.
The two Prime Ministers were pictured on TV sitting next to each other on sofas, watching. I held my breath, waiting to see if they would, like lovers at the cinema, hold hands. It was that sort of occasion — friendly rivalry on the pitch and the hope of a renewed dialogue in the stands and in the nation. There were girls in the Indian stands holding up posters which said "Pakistanis Indians, Friends Forever".
The match lasted a tense eight hours and India narrowly won. There was an outbreak of celebration in Mumbai, Delhi and I expect in every crook and nanny of the country — and there was no doubt a certain amount of gloom in Karachi and Lahore, but I hoped that both nations would remember that it was a hard-played match and after all, cricket is only a game, not a test of military prowess in which one side may, for instance, take 90,000 prisoners of war and then release them on generous terms.
Then came the final against Sri Lanka in Mumbai. That was pretty close and undecided till the last moments. India won and there followed the ceremony of awarding the Cup and man of the series medals.
The whole purpose of writing about these events, the outcome of which the world already knows, is that I found the Sri Lankan captain's speech at the prize-giving ceremony, a model of the sporting spirit. It was, in the catalogue of acceptance of losing the game, equivalent to the Gettysburg address. He congratulated India and even called it "the better team". There was disappointment in his tone and nobility in his words.
Contrast then the unsporting, paranoid loser's comments of the fellow called Afridi, the Pakistani captain who slinked off to whence he came and had this to say: (My translations from Urdu) "Allah has given the Pakistanis clean hearts, whereas the Indians are small-hearted and small-minded. No good can come out of talks between the two countries because an outside power doesn't want it. The Indian press is filthy, our media are a hundred per cent better..."
I don't suppose anyone, Indian, Pakistani or Icelandic, considers Afridi a valid or insightful commentator on the hearts and minds of nations or indeed on the gifts of the Creator to various populations. And when he says that a foreign hand prevents the dialogue between India and Pakistan, one can only suggest that he read a bit of subcontinental history. As for the press, a free one is better than one that looks over its shoulder to suck up to the dictator or chaotic corrupt party in power.
Former Pakistan skipper Aamir Sohail immediately regretted Afridi's remarks. He said they were "untimely" and "immaturish". This last coinage, an amalgam of "immature" and "amateurish" should be immediately incorporated in the Oxford Dictionary of New Usage.
THE ASIAN AGE
IF I WERE DHONI'S MUMMYJI
India's biggest superstar ever, Mahendra Singh Dhoni (MSD), is 10 years younger than my older son, and almost the same age as one of my daughters. The thought that I could easily be his mother is seriously scary. Why scary? Because, I am certain, I wouldn't know how to handle it. Look at the guy — just look at him. Is he for real? He's so wise, so cool, so mature and so damn successful. And he's all of 29. What did his mother eat when she was carrying this boy in her womb? What were her thoughts? Her emotions? Was she on a special diet (soaked almonds? pure ghee? lassi?) or did she sing the right songs to her unborn child? Read out cricket scores? Make him listen to cricket commentary? Recite from the scriptures? What? I am sure there are countless mothers all over India wondering about the same thing. Especially mothers of toddlers who are aspiring test cricketers (at this point, what's the bet that most little boys who watched the historic World Cup final, and Dhoni's spectacular sixer that clinched it, lisp that they want to grow up and be like him). We now know what it takes to be a champion (guts, talent and the right temperament). But what does it take to be the mother who produces such a champion?
I am sure the lady who gave birth to this extraordinary man must be extraordinary herself. Not in a flamboyant way. Not in the public space her son now occupies, but determinedly, quietly, steadily and surely. It is not often that mothers of male super achievers are given their due.
Even Sachin Tendulkar looks skywards and thank his late father when he hits yet another milestone. We know Sachin has deep regard for his mother but not much is known about the lady who gave birth to this living legend.
Yuvraj Singh's mother is more upfront while claiming her rightful place under the sun. Shabnam Singh doesn't hesitate to speak her mind when she thinks her precious son has not been appreciated enough. She even goes so far as to write a strong letter to an international fashion magazine that had dared to comment on Yuvraj's birth last year (they loved her feisty style, and printed it). After this victory, she has been both visible and audible talking about her ladla beta. But since this is Dhoni's moment as the captain of the victorious team, it's more relevant to track his antecedents. Besides, Dhoni's story is so much more dramatic. In fact, it reads like a TV soap. This young man from Ranchi has scripted one of the most inspiring, real-life stories ever and, like it happens in fiction, we want to know more about the lady who brought him into the world. From the little that is available in the public domain, Devaki married Paan Singh and produced three children, two boys and a girl.
She prefers to stay in the shadows and let her son's success do all the talking. She was admirably discreet even during her celebrity son's modest wedding last year. She has done a bloody good job of raising her kids. Nobody can taunt her by singing, "Maa da ladla bigad gaya".
If I were in her shoes, I would have insisted on getting some exclusive "Mommy-time" with the guy, before the world grabs and monopolises him.
I would even put in a pre-condition — no managers, lackeys, fans, hangers on, endorsement chaps, deal makers, cricket officials, bodyguards, stylists, advisers, chamchas, dieticians, bankers, physical trainers, not even his lovely bride Sakshi. Just me and my boy, bonding over comfort food and conversation that has nothing to do with cricket. Over chai, daal chaaval and his favourite guilty snack, I would make him laugh, even cry and forget he is MSD — the most successful cricket captain in the world right now. I would tell him over and over again that he's a champion, my champion. A permanent hero in a mother's eyes, regardless of wins and losses.
I would restrict my comments to light-hearted banter and remind him of his carefree childhood, running around Ranchi in half-pants and bunking school.
The one thing I wouldn't do is to treat him like a star — a megastar. I would not allow myself to be overawed or overwhelmed by his success. Nor make any references to those dramatic moments that brought so much joy to so many people. Nope. I would treat him like a "normal" son, shower him with love (the same love he has known since birth, nothing "extra" because he is a super-celebrity now), wipe the tears of joy from both our eyes with the corner of my sari and carry on like nothing has happened and, certainly, like nothing has changed and nothing will, regardless of circumstances. That's what moms are there for. To provide a reality check, along with unconditional love, no matter what and no matter whom. Dhoni has more than a billion admirers all over the world. But only one mother. He has the world at his feet, but I am certain his biggest trophy of all time still remains his mom. Well done, Mummyji! India is proud of you.
— Readers can send feedback to www.shobhaade.blogspot.com
Is Anna Hazare-led crusade for Jana Lokpal Bill turning into a mass movement? Call it by whatever name, the fact is that people from all walks of life, irrespective of class, caste and religion are flocking to Jantar Mantar to be part of the nation-wide crusade against corruption. Even in Jammu city, supporters of the crusade came together and lit the candle, a symbol of unity with the movement. Anna is the tallest among social activist of our times, and the cause which he has taken up is to eradicate the biggest of social evils with which the country is faced today. Apart from the euphoria and excitement attached to the event, there are some fundamental issues that must be discussed threadbare. In recent months a number of scams have come to light which are unimaginable in magnitude. The manner in which these scams were masterminded, the persons involved, the reaction of the government to subtly shield some of these misdeeds, motivated handling of enquiry into the scams, and finally making them so much complicated as to let the apex court of the country intervene, is what has fuelled public resentment against the attitude of the government towards the canker eating into he vitals of the nation. Secondly, reluctance or deliberate deferment of appointing the Jana Lokpal, the watchdog mechanism that would hold the ministers, parliamentarians and bureaucrats accountable in cases of corruption has given cause for suspecting government's questionable intentions. Hindsight shows that the country lacks effective mechanism for tackling corruption at higher levels and of far bigger magnitude. The case of A Raja shows that a defaulter with strong political clout can circumvent rules and regulations and even evidence strong enough to indict him. Some of the persons accused of corruption are so powerful and influential as to make the government feel helpless in bringing them to book and then passes on the buck to the Supreme Court. It is not a good symptom for a democratic government to shun its administrative responsibility and surrender its authority to the judiciary or any other organ of the state. This is also the undisclosed reason why people are flocking to a mechanism that is reflecting public resentment. And now that the anti-corruption crusade is assuming the dimensions of a mass movement, the government has begun to discuss the fundamentals. This initiative ought to have come from the government and not from the social activist and immediately when one after another scam wrecked the trust of the people in the government. An unwilling government, forced by circumstances to open a dialogue on the issue of appointment of Jana Lokpal, is trying to gain time by raising what it calls technical issues in the hope that the hunger strike of the social workers and their sympathizers will die down and fizzle out. That is what the government's interlocutors are praying for. They are trying to find an escape route so that corruption remains part of their political philosophy. Why should there be hassles about the appointment of the chairman of the committee when the committee is desired to function in a democratic manner? By what the government stands for, the impression is that the government and the civil society are two entities diametrically opposite to each other. This is diseased thinking, to say the least.
On the other side of the fence, the argument is that should state policy be framed through pressure tactics like hunger strikes and gheraos etc? Furthermore, should the judiciary, including the judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts also come under the jurisdiction of the powers of Jana Lokpal? These are some of the important questions and invite serious debate by jurists and legal experts. As a matter of principle, State policy cannot be dictated by agitating crowds; it is the job of the parliament and the assemblies to debate national issues in cool and sober atmosphere and take decisions keeping in mind the long range interests of the nation. It is the parliament that has to ensure that the constitution is not violated while reformatory measures are taken to cleanse the society of certain impurities. The Committee that would frame the powers and rules of business for the Lokpal will not have the final word. The final word rests with the parliament, and parliament never does something that is not good. One fails to understand why obstructions should be created in the way of constituting the Committee that will frame the powers of the Lokpal. Further delay in finalizing the constituting of the committee will only exacerbate pressure on the government. Even if the government thinks the crusade will fizzle out in next few days, it will not bring any solace. Warding off peoples agitating for eradicating something evil in the society does not mean the evil gets eradicated. Corruption brings defamation to the nation; it creates wedge between the nationalist civil society and the ruling apparatus, it weakens the roots of democratic dispensation and it threatens national sovereignty. We in India are at a stage of our history where we cannot at all afford to be known as a corrupt state. Corruption has to be stamped out lock, stock and barrel.
Medical experts speaking at a seminar organized by the SKIMS, Srinagar, in collaboration with the World Health Organization to commemorate WHO Day on 7th April, expressed alarm at growing habit of self mediation in the valley during recent years. They have noted the tendency of people going in for antibiotics even for a mild bad cold forgetting that over-medication causes many serious side effects. It is good for medical practitioners to bring awareness to people about the dangers of over-medication or self-medication. This also reminds us that there is acute shortage of medical facilities to the growing population in the State which has recorded an increase of 23 per cent since 2001. Medical institutes like SKIMS should regularly organize camps and seminars on population control. Many of our problems are the result of over-population. We are not able to provide proper medical facilities to this burgeoning population. Inaccessibility to medical advice forces people to indulge in self-medication with dire consequences. Thus we find that population control, awareness of basic rules of healthcare, and easy availability of medical support, all go together hand in hand. Equal emphasis has to be laid on the three components of aimed at securing public health.
MEN, MATTERS & MEMORIES
BY ML KOTRU
The ordeal ended last week, at least for me. Age tells you that it is not possible to stay glued to one's chair or couch in one posture for long hours. The question arises but who asked you to stay stuck to your seat, or couch for that long. Stupidity, I confess, because cricket watching has been a life-long passion.
I had given a longish glimpse of that obsession in this space recently. And the good thing is that India thanks mainly to the heroics of skipper Dhoni, Gautam Ghambir, Yuvraj Singh and Raina, not to forget Zaheer Khan, achieved what at one time had appeared to be a distant target. Chasing at Premadasa in Colombo is not the easiest of tasks, that's what the Indians did - and well enough to be counted among the champion sides the game has known.
Welcome to the golden era of Indian cricket. And one hopes that the players and the officials don't squander the glory deservedly earned with that wispy little man, the South African coach of the team, Gary Kirsten unobtrusive yet very much the man of the moment gone. Mahinder Singh Dhoni may not be the greatest batsman to watch at play but there is a certain brutal elegance about the man's batting and his ability to pace his innings in a manner that often makes victory possible. As in the TV ad the helicopter shot is all his own.
You can't think of a Gavaskar, a Vengsarkar, a Vijay Merchant, a Sachin Tendulkar or a Vijay Hazare doing "a helicopter" or the one that he spoons straight over the bowler's head into the distant public stands.
It's good that cricket has become one of the most remunerative sports for aspiring Indians. Anyone of them earn during a month's play much more than most can aspire to in a decade, that's the successful ones.
Add to that the astronomical figures which corporates and admen are willing to throw in to get ten or fifteen second slots with say a Dhoni or Tendulkar. A Rs. 100- crore contract for a year had become a common place. Lucky Dhoni only today signed a Rs. 210 crore contract. A wonderful reward for a bunch of young men endowed with special talents. No such luck, you say, for other sportsmen who must consider themselves lucky if they get a Rs. one lakh award at the end of an Olympics, and Asian Games or the Commonwealth games.
Yes, luckier among the latter might even pick up a job with the railways, police or the airlines. Sorry am wrong, the non-cricketing fellow too can now aspire to a piece of land, nothing comparable to the bigger plots awarded to more PR savvy ones. Don't accuse me of cribbing but how can I forget champions of yester years getting a third class railway fare with the manager travelling second; how can I forget these very able and sincere sportsman making do with Rs. 6 as daily pocket money. It was not unusual to see some of the past first grade players asked to bring their own pair of white flannels and an extra bat. Umrigar's name comes to mind instantly. The bowlers were luckier since the associations were expected to provide the balls.
I remember a particular instance when an inter-university match involving Delhi, the Delhi team was to travel probably to Baroda (this used to be a major event - for the Rohinton Baria trophy) were made to share their daily pittance of six rupees with the manager. Boys from richer families would often help other teammates. No luxury travels, with visits to safari parks and adventure sports. And to have your spouse with you!
And I don't have to mention that the Board of Control for Cricket in India has its coffers over flowing and if I am right they don't even pay taxes. And how would they pay taxes when say, out of some 45,000 seats at Bombay's Wankhede, they have no more than 4000 tickets to sell to the public.
If cricket be a religion for the Indian faithful I wonder when exactly will some cricket fanatic take the BCCI and the government to court for denying him the right to worship. With the spate of new stadia coming up during the last ten years you have any number of seating block reserved for the corporates complete with lounges to stretch your limbs, bars to have the that vivifying tipple and giant TV screens in case you are one of those lazy slobs who wouldn't care to get out of his dining chair or off the bars to take a look at the happenings on the field. You also have any number of fake clubs (vote banks) which every State Association props up in the hope of getting their votes at the annual election. And do remember that politicians and bureaucrats have made it their business to capture most State units.
Would it surprise you if I were to tell you that Kapil Dev has not been able to penetrate the fortified walls of the Haryana cricket association ? Y'see cricket has become big time business and a vehicle to influence the mighty and the powerful. How come the government, the sports Ministry and the All India Council of Sports has not been able to promote other sports. Whatever little progress has been achieved during the past five years is all because of personal initiative.
Left to the sports ministry you would not have a world chess champion, Vishwanathan Anand, no shooters like Abhinav Bindra and the handful of brave women from the North East who have always managed to remain in the fore front of whatever their discipline. Or a few wrestlers and weight-lifters, that is if you are one of those who doesn't think much of kabbadi as a sport.
And back to cricket. And this, I know, will earn me the wrath of many devotees. For several months now I have noticed a sustained campaign for awarding the Bharat Ratna to Sachin Tendulkar. I read someone writing that Carlyle would have changed the parameters of hero worship if he had seen Sachin's achievements.
On the positive side, here is 38-year old who has had a most distinguished cricketing career, next best perhaps only to Don Bradman's. He has given great pleasure to all those interested in the game all over the world. I won't get into statistics here for these indeed are astounding. But it is not as if the game has not given him the rewards he richly deserved. He must undoubtedly be the richest ever Indian sportsman in a team game, his fortunes running into god know how many hundred crores. (If that sounds like an exaggeration he can pass some on to the World Chess champion Vishwanathan Anand.
Personally, I was disappointed with him when he shamelessly sought a tax waiver for his imported cars (his stable sports some of the priciest) and lifting of the FSI caps for his gym equipment. He is not exactly penurious not to be able to pay his taxes. And I am not one of those to buy the theory that lesser men than him have got Bharat Ratna, why not him. Sachin is a great Indian sportsman and there is the Khel Ratna for men or women like him. Mass adulation cannot be the criterion in this matter.
We Indians are a sentimental lot and left to us I wouldn't be surprised if someone suggests offering the Mumbai Raj Bhavan as a gift to him. I recall the story about Don Bradman narrated by himself in the documentary on his life. The Australian great who got a peerage late in his life recalled how a tour of England lasting over seven months or more would earn him no more than 230 pounds. The steamer from Australia to England took nearly months and more to make the journey from and to Australia to play for say six weeks or two months - all of it for 230 pounds. Given the life styles of today's cricketers the world over 230 pounds could well be the tip which a tipsy player could well offer to whichever barmaid caught his fancy. To end on a sombre note how can I forget the pride of Indian football, a short dark little fellow, running bare feet, at the Olympics where we reached the semi final. Probably it was the Helsinki Olympics, and if you ask any of the 1950s vintage he will only have more wonderful tales to retail of the great Bengal forward.
BY MADAN MOHAN SHARMA
Today, our country is facing many probems due to terrorism and naxalism in many parts of the country. To meet this challenge and to make the lives of people safe, CRPF or Central Reserve Police Force is playing an important role. While doing this job many CRPF jawans have laid their precious lives.
The Central Reserve Police Force has its origin on 27th July 1939 at Neemuch Madhya Pradesh as the Crown representative Police. The primary task of the force was to help the Princely States to preserve ''law and order''.
The independence of the country marked an important watershed in the life of the force which was renamed as the Central Reserve Police Force. This act constituted the CRPF as one of the Armed Forces of the Union. The force was presented color on 19th March 1950 by Sardar Patel.
It was the CRPF which bore the brunt of the first onslaught of the Chinese at Hot Spring Ladhak on October 21, 1959 when a small CRPF patrol was ambushed and over-whelmingly out numbered by the Chinese. In the ensuing skirmish, as many as 10 CRPF men laid down their lives for the motherland. Their martyrdom on October 21st is observed throughout the country as the Police Commemoration Day.
A small contingent of 2nd BN CRPF repulsed the 3500 men strong Pakistani Brigade attack on April 9, 1965 at Sardar post in Gujarat in which 34 Pakistani soldiers were killed in the skirmish. Six valiant CRPF men laid down their lives at the call of duty. This day is being observed as Valour Day in the force.
The brave jawans of the force helped foil an attack on Parliament House by militants on December 13, 2001. In exchange of fire between the CRPF and the militants that continued for about 30 minutes, all the five militants were eliminated. Kamlesh Kumari, however, lost her life during the attack.
On 5th July 2005, 5 armed terrorists tried to storm the Ram Janambhoomi/Babri Masjid complex Ayodhya. They had penetrated the outer security rings manned by the UP Police. The CRPF jawans posted at the inner security rings rose to the occasion and thwarted the evil designs of the terrorists, eliminating all of them on the spot.
The Rapid Action Forces formed on October 7, 1992 to deal with communal riot and riot like situations, had made its impact and own confidence of the people from the very beginning. Its mere presence has preventive effects on a riot situation. In recognition of its services the President of India honoured the RAF by presenting it with color on its 11th Anniversary on 7th October, 2003.
Their commendable role in quelling communal tension at Sitamarhi (Bihar) 1992, Coimbutore (TN) 1997-98 and Lucknow 1999 is still alive in mind of the countrymen. During 2002, their contribution in quelling riot and providing rescue and succor to the victims in Gujarat has been applauded by all sections of the people. The nation has seen their humane face in natural calamities like plague in Surat (1994), earthquake in Jabalpur (1997), landslide in Gangtok (1997), cyclone in Kandla (1998), super cyclone in Orissa (1999), and earthquake in Gujarat (2005-06).
From a single battalion in 1939 the force has now grown to more than 200 Bns 45 Group centres, ten training institutions. Three base hospitals and one composite hospital. It is the only Para military in the country which has two Mahila battalions. There are four Central Training colleges. These institutions organize courses for officers and others ranks of CRPF, besides Five Training Centres who organize basic and follow up training for officers and men of the force. CRPF has also established National Police Band Institute to impart training to band personnel of all state police and CPME personnel.
The Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) being the largest para military force is doing a commendable job in the different parts of India and also in abroad. The bulk of CRPF are deployed in Jammu and Kashmir, North-eastern and naxal affected region to quell the terrorist/insurgent activities/anti naxals operation and to maintain law and order. CRPF personnel are discharging their duties with dedication to the utmost satisfaction in an out standing, exemplary way. Over all performances of CRPF have remained praiseworthy.
Besides this, CRPF extends its assistance for socially weaker sections in the form of medical camp, distribution of books and creation of infrastructure facilities in villages. CRPF also plays a significance role in times of natural disasters. The destructive Tsunami waves and J and K earth quake disrupted life in a massive scale. Relief, rescue and rehabilitation efforts were launched by GOI and the State Government on an unprecedented scale. CRPF played a very important role in these efforts.
Mission of the CRPF 'The mission of the CRPF shall be to enable the Government to maintain rule of law, public order and internal security effectively and efficiently, to preserve national and integrity and promote social harmony and development by up holding supremacy of the constitution. In performing these tasks with utmost regard for human dignity and freedom of the citizen of India, the force shall endeavour to achieve excellence in management of internal security and national calamities by placing service and loyalty above self.'
Many a bright star has shown on the sports firmament of the CRPF during last few decades. Names of Arjuna Award winner like G S Randhawa, Hari Singh, R S Bal, Khajan Singh, Kunjrani Devi and Geeta Rani who are CRPF gifts to the world of sports shall always be remembered with pride, not only by the officers and the men of the CRPF but by all sports lovers in the country.
However, the force feels that it is being given a step-motherly treatment in respect of martyrs status and different benefits accruing out of that to the CRPF who laid down their lives at the altar of mother India while defending internal/external security. In order to boost morale of CRPF, it is highly imperative to confer the status of martyrs to CRPF who sacrifice even their lives for the sake of the country. This will be a solace and engagement to the families of martyrs. Beside it will inspire the serving Jawans/Officers of CRPF to serve a country in a much better way it.
(The author is former Deputy Commandant CRPF)
JASWANT SINGH RANA
As a visionary the Mahatma Gandhi is without a peer. History has spectacularly vindicated him. In order to survive, the world must heed his advice. Gandhi's most cherished prescriptions for mankind that were ignored are now threatening the very existence of this planet.
Three of Gandhi's cardinal beliefs that he reiterated throughout his life immediately come to mind. These are, first, his stress on a vegetarian diet and the need for self-restraint, even in sex; secondly his commitment to non-violence; thirdly, his advocacy of a self-sufficient pastoral life with minimal reliance on the machine.
I don't think that Gandhi concerned himself much with the future of humanity or that he consciously outlined an agenda for the world.
His primary concern was the study of Man. He delved deep into his own consciousness to become acquainted with his desires, instincts, will power and mental serenity. After such contemplation he arrived at his conclusions about how men should live their lives. His concept of man therefore was of an organic entity in perfect harmony with nature. And such harmony in Gandhi's view resulted in human happiness and serenity. Gandhi's prescriptions for society therefore radiated to the outside world from inner needs of man that were in perpetual conflict with the greed of man.
Gandhi despised the machine. At the same time he praised the Singer sewing machine. Why? On reflection is it not because he instinctively recognized that the sewing machine like the bicycle is manual? It expends no artificial energy, nor emits waste. It is the emissions from gigantic machines that have led to global warming. Gandhi's concept of a self-sufficient, decentralized pastoral life made for minimal conflict. Gandhi's small book, Self-restraint versus Self-indulgence, outlined among other things a sensible diet. Is it not a fact that the meat industry required to feed modern society has led to such deforestation that even the mighty Amazon forests are now threatened? Is it not a fact that despite contraceptives population continues to gallop in a permissive society? Is it not a fact that nuclear weapons have rendered non-violence not merely a moral but also a survival imperative? Is it not a fact that people living in need-based comfort even in small towns and villages spend happier times than those living in highly developed consumerist metropolises... ?
As the governments of the world discuss climate change,the people of the world also need to reflect. To meet the challenge of climate change humanity must reappraise its current lifestyle. This is as good a time as any to fundamentally reappraise our notions of progress. Somewhere along the way we have lost the plot. As the world's existence stands threatened by climate change and by terrorist violence humanity should go back to the basics. If happiness is humanity's prime objective the world must take a fresh look at all of Gandhi's prescriptions that evolved from spiritual insight rather than intellectual analysis.
NO BUGGING ISSUE, THIS
DELHI NEEDS SAFE DRINKING WATER
A team of researchers led by Prof Tim Walsh of Cardiff University in the UK has discovered new strains of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in water samples taken from Delhi. The European Union-funded study claims the bacteria, also called the water bug, are not confined to hospitals and are found in the wider environment. The study was done after the discovery that most patients found carrying the bacteria had spent time in hospitals in India. Last year the researchers angered Indians when they named the bacteria, NDM-1, after New Delhi. In essence, the new findings say Delhi's water and environment are unsafe. Certain species of the bacteria, which cause dysentery and cholera, are untreatable.
The Indian Health Ministry says the findings are not backed by clinical and epidemiological evidence, the bacteria exist naturally everywhere, patients respond to treatment and it is illegal to take "biological materials" outside the country without permission. While the Cardiff University researchers insist it is a matter of public health and more environmental studies are needed in cities in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, the Health Ministry has questioned their motives. The implication is since India is emerging as a destination of medical tourism, the Westerner medical fraternity perhaps sees a potential loss of business. Such studies deter foreigners from visiting India.
There is no denying the fact that water-borne diseases are common in India, particularly during the monsoon, because drinking water in many parts of the country is unfit for human consumption. The Municipal Corporation of Delhi itself admits that 12 per cent of the drinking water in the Capital is contaminated. Many Indians lack access to toilets and sewerage. The growing cancer cases in Punjab's Malwa region are attributed to chemical-laden drinking water. The excessive use of chemical fertilisers has polluted groundwater in Punjab and Haryana. The continuous discharge of untreated municipal and industrial waste into rivers and canals exposes people in nearby areas to diseases. While the Health Ministry's concern is understandable, it cannot shut its eyes to the ground reality. What is worrying now is some of the common infections may no longer have a cure as antibiotics may become ineffective due to persistent use.
SECURE THE VEHICLES
IMPLEMENT HIGH-SECURITY REGISTRATION PLATES
The Supreme Court is, indeed, right in pulling up officials from Punjab, Delhi and Uttar Pradesh for failing to comply with its 2001 order to ensure that all vehicles have high- security registration plates (HSRP) which had become mandatory for new and in-use motor vehicles throughout the country after the Central Government amended the rule 50 of the Central Motor Vehicles Rules, 1989 in 2001. The reason for the introduction of the HSRP scheme was simply to ensure citizens' safety and to facilitate police investigations if the vehicle was stolen or used for criminal activities. Now that Meghalaya, Sikkim and Goa have successfully implemented the HSRP scheme and Tripura, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Kerala have done so partially, there is no reason for non-compliance of this order.
Unlike some other countries where vehicle registration plates are issued by government agencies, in India the numbers for these plates are issued by the Regional Transport Office of each district. Thereafter, the vehicle owners go to private shops to have the plates made. Since there is no check on who can make such places, there is no control over fake number plates. The HSRP scheme would make it difficult to forge number plates, but it would have to be implemented in the entire nation for it to be effective.
It must, however, be remembered that the HSRP scheme is only the first step in setting up a comprehensive police control system. Besides highly trained individuals, it would also need hi-tech devices, high-speed networks and comprehensive as well as easily accessible data bases to work in a synchronised manner. Only then would the system be really effective. The number of vehicles is increasing exponentially in the nation. There is a great need to check their misuse. The state governments must ensure that they remove whatever roadblocks exist to expeditiously provide this service and comply with the Supreme Court order.
A TROUBLED NOBEL LAUREATE
"POOR MAN'S BANKER" A VICTIM OF POLITICS
Bangladesh Grameen Bank founder Professor Muhammad Yunus, who won the 2006 Nobel Prize for Peace, has been in trouble ever since he announced that he was entering politics and formed a party in 2007 to fight elections. His decision to take a plunge into politics to save his country from the clutches of the two squabbling begums — Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of the Awami League and Begum Khaleda Zia of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party — was frowned upon by both woman leaders. Soon stories began to appear in sections of the media that his image as the "poor man's banker" was not based on reality. He was sacked by the Sheikh Hasina government as the Managing Director of Grameen Bank on March 2, describing his reappointment as the chief executive of the historic micro-finance institution in 2000, after he completed 60 years of age, as faulty. He approached the Dhaka High Court against the government's order, but his appeal was rejected. He then challenged the lower court's order in the Bangladesh Supreme Court, but in vain.
Surprisingly, all the negative stories about Prof Yunus being the "blood-sucker of the poor" started appearing after Sheikh Hasina and Begum Zia described him as the cause for the bankruptcy of a large number of people. The pioneering micro-lending financial institution that he set up in 1983 was now accused of charging a 40-70 per cent rate of interest from those who got loans from it. As against this, his Grameen Bank got funds from international sources at a very nominal interest rate. His troubles multiplied after a Norwegian TV channel came out with a documentary levelling serious charges against him. Later on, the Norwegian government gave him a clean chit, but this had little impact on his detractors.
His reputation was tarnished further with a magazine, Weekly Blitz, publishing a series of investigative reports exposing all his claims of having transformed the lives of thousands of poor Bangladeshis. The international community has finally reacted with efforts to save the hard-earned reputation of Professor Yunus. The US is putting considerable pressure on the Bangladesh government to mend fences with the Nobel Laureate. So far, however, Dhaka remains unmoved.
INDIA'S KNOWLEDGE DEFICIT
ENCOURAGE OPENNESS AND MERIT
BY N.S. SISODIA
With a 9 per cent growth rate, a number of Indian-origin CEOs in multinational companies, thousands of engineering and business graduates passing out each year and the Indian IT industry's outstanding success story, many already see India as an emerging knowledge power. But this euphoria needs a reality check.
A recent University of Pennsylvania survey ranked the world's leading think tanks from a universe of 6,480. Amongst those named, there is one from China and none from India. Among Asia's top five, China has two and India just one. The Times World University Rankings 2010 includes six universities from China among top 200, but none from India. The Financial Times Global MBA ranking places among the top ten one business school from China and none from India.
How crucial is knowledge for economic growth? A look at recent history is instructive. Between 1950 and 1990, Japan's growth rate was much higher than America's as cheap labour gave its manufacturing sector a competitive edge vis-a-vis the U.S. But once that advantage ceased, Japan's economy began to stagnate.
China and India have the advantage of cheap labour for a couple of decades more. But in the 21st century, it is ultimately technology and innovation which will provide the enduring edge. Knowledge, innovation and technology enabled the United States to race ahead of Japan over the last two decades. America's success, till the recession of 2008 at least, is attributable more to its knowledge industry, including Microsoft, Apple, Google and Netscape, rather than traditional manufacturing.
China's leaders recognised long ago that education and knowledge would propel their nation ahead of others. In a speech at Peking University's 100th anniversary in 1998, Jiang Zemin emphasised the need for higher education. Over the next one decade the number of institutions of higher education in China increased more than twice – from 1,022 to 2,263; its university enrolment increased from one million in 1997 to more than 5.5 million in 2007. Its post-secondary gross enrolment rate is 23 per cent, while India lags behind at 12 per cent.
Great centres of learning and research are built by providing high-quality infrastructure, generous investments in research and, above all, by attracting the finest talent from across the world. While India continues to be inward looking, the Chinese have consciously encouraged openness and merit. During the 1990s, 10 per cent of Chinese Ph.D. scholars returned to their country. China has been able to lure back global leaders in their field from the US and the U.K. With world-class working conditions and an opportunity to participate in China's rise, they are trying to develop a system in which only the best research secures funding, not the one proposed by the politically influential or senior-most researchers.
The Chinese authorities are making determined efforts to attract the best global scholars, Chinese or others, to their universities. Universities like Beijing, Tsinghua, Fudan and Denmin are expected to figure among the top-ranking institutions of higher learning in a few years' time. China is focusing on developing its own lvy League universities, the C-9, by investing significant resources and efforts. For countries of the region, China will soon be performing the role of a magnet for higher learning just as it has done so far for economic development.
As a percentage of the Gross Domestic Product, China's R & D spending has increased from 0.6 per cent in 1995 to 1.30 per cent in 2005; and it is projected at 2.5 per cent by 2020. In 1995, Chinese publications in top ranking journals were about half of those published by Indians. From 1995 to 2005, the number of articles published by Chinese scholars in the leading journals has increased by four times.
In China, more than 20 per cent of the 18-23 years' age group enroll in higher education institutions; in contrast, the percentage of such youngsters in India is less than ten. In India, most institutions of higher education are dysfunctional. They are over-regulated, cash starved, hopelessly politicised and their research productivity is low.
China also outperforms India in the number of patents taken out and it is expected to have already left the U.S. and Japan behind in applications for new patents in the field of chemical engineering, computers, data transmission and communication.
In the chaotic years following the Cultural Revolution, the two-thirds of Chinese people were literate or semi-
literate, when nearly half of India's population was literate. Now, the percentage of illiterate women in India exceeds 50 whereas in China female illiteracy has fallen to around 10 per cent. The number of Chinese illiterate in the 25-29 age group is negligible; in contrast, the number in India is close to 30 per cent.
China also has a long and vibrant tradition of think tanks in foreign policy, international relations and strategic affairs. Chinese think tanks provide information, analysis and advice to the leadership, conduct academic research, provide public education and influence foreign public opinion. Unlike in India, they are intimately connected to the government. The Chinese People's Institute of Foreign Affairs was founded in 1949, on the initiative of the late Premier Zhou Enlai, who also served as its Honorary President till his death. Prominent Chinese think tanks have institutional arrangements to access classified documents and their researchers regularly read diplomatic cables, presidential letters and reports of summit meetings. The China Institute of Contemporary International Relations has a staff of 380, whereas the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences has professional researchers numbering 2,975. The People's Liberation Army's Academy of Military Sciences has 500 full-time researchers. There is not a single comparable think tank in India.
Before long, India will exhaust its cheap labour advantage. What will sustain the momentum of its growth is knowledge and innovation and an educated workforce. This will require much greater attention and resources for education, an overhaul of the university system and centres of research and, above all, much greater openness. The foundation for that wholesale reform needs to be laid now.
The writer is the Director General of the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
SURPRISE IN THE LOVE OF LIFE
BY SANJEEV SINGH BARIANA
I was shocked to hear that Ruby (Vandana Sharma) was dead. I remembered hearing pleasant anecdotes of uncommon love she shared with birds, during the days she studied in the Hindi Department of Panjab University. In fact, the balcony of the house that she was residing in Sector 21, during those days, was called 'chidian da chamba' (an abode of birds).
The more shocking part of the news was that she had died because of Allergic Bronchopulmonary Aspergillosis (ABPA) which was caused by an allergy to bird droppings. These droppings harbour the particular fungus that causes the infection.
I got a call from Ruby's brother, Prof Neeraj Sharma, head of the Department of Philosophy at the Baring Union Christian College, Batala. A friend of mine during my student days at PU, we used to talk to each other about her rare bonding with her winged friends. He used to say: "She talked with the birds and the birds too responded with their innocent sounds. Her day was incomplete without her interaction with her friends".
The strong bonding she shared with the avian population, near her residence in Patiala, was well known in the entire neighbourhood. The birds waited for their games with the kind maiden when she came to the balcony in the morning. Some birds would be waiting for their daily feed while others would be screaming to get her attention. Sometimes, a friendly bird would even perch on her shoulders.
Her balcony became a closed boundary for her, after the doctors told her that it had been her love that had proved to be her failing. The birds would still come outside her room at the fixed hour in the mornings and evenings. She continued to steal a private moment with the visitors from the sky. I remember one day she had said: "Call me a martyr because I too have kissed the noose that would hang me".
Life is full of contradictions. Another name that I am reminded of, in the instant case, is that of Stephen Robert Irwin, a legendary Australian wildlife expert and conservationist, who died after his heart was pierced by a barb from the stingray. The stingrays are a kind of ray fish related to sharks.
Irwin was the man behind the legendary television series 'The Crocodile Hunter. Irwin spent his entire life introducing the dangerous wild to a common man. His adventures and corresponding findings commanded the standard of an encyclopaedia in wildlife records.
He was shooting the wild when a barb entered his heart and he died in the fields where he spent his entire life.
As God would have it, Ruby passed away on March 20, which also happens to be World Sparrow Day. That was the last day the birds had come calling on her in the particular balcony of her house. She had been shifted to the PGI. However, the birds had continued to come there till the last day.
GENNEXT CAN HELP TO BANISH CORRUPTION
CORRUPTION IS NOT NEW TO THIS COUNTRY. HOWEVER, THE WAY NEW SCAMS AND SCANDALS ARE COMING TO LIGHT IS INDEED ALARMING.ANNA HAZARE HAS STARTED A NEW MOVEMENT AGAINST THIS SORRY STATE OF AFFAIRS AND HAS BEEN JOINED BY PEOPLE FROM ALL WALKS OF LIFE. THE QUESTION REMAINS AS TO WHAT ROLE MUST THE YOUTH OF INDIA TO PLAY IN IT
A silent revolution has been brewing in the hearts of the Indians for quite some time. The World Cup win was a welcome detour but the anger remained there, somewhere deep within. Finally, the septuagenarian social activist Anna Hazare has acted as the catalyst for the young and the old to vent out their angst against the system in a true Gandhian way. The incessant revelations of scams and scandals which have rocked this nation in the recent past have only added to our frustration against the system.
We do not need the rankings of organisations like Transparency International to realise how grim the situation is. A slanting glance through any newspaper's cover page or a brief view of any news channel while browsing the television is enough for a person to realise its gravity. Every day, there is a new damning revelation that floods the nation, from our homes to parliament and from the coffee table discussions to the news channel debates.
And despite all these discussions and deliberations, there is always a new scandal waiting to be revealed- telecom spectrum allocation, commonwealth games, Adarsh society, cash-for-vote, CVC appointment, black money - that it's becoming difficult to keep a count.So when India Against Corruption led by Anna made a call to the nation, the people poured out in thousands all across the nation, demanding the government strengthen the anti-corruption mechanisms, symbolised by the Lokpal Bill which has been pending for more than four decades. For a nation, which is thriving on its young population and aspires to tap this favourable demographic dividend, it becomes important to know, what the youth feel about all the scams and the unholy mess they have created. Shashaank Shekhar Singhal, 25, a Gurgaon-based entrepreneur has a candid admission to make, "Well honestly, I haven't thought through a lot about these scams." However, in case one puts a little thought in deciphering the causes behind corruption, they can be reduced to just two rhyming words - need and greed.
When an underpaid traffic constable or an office peon with a large family to support demands a bribe, one can justify their greed to some extent in the terms of their need. However, what kind of justification can we have for the greed being shown by the well-fed politicians and rich businessmen?
As Shashaank adds exasperated upon a little contemplation, "I'm surprised how people can be so greedy and unethical. At the end of the day they cannot even use that large amount of money."
The dystopian society of George Orwell's conception in his novel '1984' borrowed its stability from three basic tenets; one of these being - 'Ignorance is Strength'. It will be far-fetched to compare today's India with that society. However, the way the things are going, one tends to question oneself if it's worth getting frustrated at this sorry state of affairs? According to Ankit Sakhuja, a 26-year-old MBA student from Chandigarh, "The extent and frequency with which we get to hear about these scams makes the youth wonder that is it really worth being honest any more. A majority of them may feel that it is now a common thing and it does not matter even if they indulge in corruption as long as their own greed is satisfied." Just when, such doubts were creeping in many minds, this anti-corruption movement has come as a new beacon of light.
In the recent past the media, judiciary and certain autonomous authorities like CAG have demonstrated remarkable activism in bringing to light various scams and scandals. However, now it is the time for the civil society to take up these issues. A recently released tagline of an Indian business group reads, "There are those who accept things as they are and those who rise to change."
When it comes to change, rise is an over-rated word. The first step towards change is to just realise. It's the realisation of one's basic rights and the realisation about what's right and what's wrong. Ignorance can never be strength. To feign ignorance is to shirk responsibility.
Despite all its shortcomings, the Indian polity has been supplying certain tools to the citizens for raising their
voice against corruption. Right to Information, Public Interest Litigations, Lokayuktas and social audits are just some of these mechanisms. While demanding new and stronger mechanisms as enumerated in the Jan Lokpal Bill, it is important that the civil society realise the importance of spreading awareness about the existing mechanisms among the masses too.
In this context, one can't ignore the fact that after all, it's the youth of India that forms the largest chunk of our nation's civil society.. Rajeshwari Reddy, 35, a Hyderabad-based sociologist notes that, "The way youth has responded to Anna Hazare's call not just across the country but in other parts of the world too, by being physically present at the marches and the gatherings or extending their support through social networking sites is unprecedented." We can only hope that this zeal and commitment is there to stay and will not wither away with the maneouvrings and manipulations of the politicians, inside and outside the Parliament.
Vipul Grover is a popular blogger and a soft skills trainer based in Chandigarh
SECOND BATTLE FOR RTI WARRIORS
MANY FACES IN AZAD MAIDAN AND JANTAR MANTAR ARE BATTLE-WEARY FROM THE DECADE-OLD BATTLE FOR RTI, WHICH THEY WON
They call this the second war of Independence. This time it is not war for Independence from colonial rulers, but from the cancer of corruption. Corruption has probably always existed, but was not so visible, blatant and widespread. The reason it has become visible is thanks largely to a sunshine law that was passed during the tenure of UPA-1. That law called the Right to Information, passed in 2005, itself was the culmination of many years of struggle by RTI activists for more than a decade prior to 2005. That battle for passage of an RTI Act, was fought in many states, with mini victories in states like Delhi, Goa, Rajasthan and even Maharashtra. But each state's version of RTI had some inadequacy, and there was no all-India law. Eventually all the various state laws were amalgamated into one, and a national RTI was passed and became operational in October 2005. It was historic, because for the first time it gave the same access to all files, to an ordinary citizen as to VIPs like Members of Parliament. Anyone could summon a file from any government department, just like the privilege political bosses had always enjoyed. Of course, you couldn't ask for it at a moment's notice, nor could you ask a file at midnight, like politicians! But every citizen, nevertheless, had now this same right. This right could no longer be denied behind the smokescreen of Official Secrets Act (an old British legacy). If there was a delay, then individual government officers were to be penalised, and the penalty would be cut from their salaries.
Most of the warriors who fought for RTI are the same ones hanging out at Azad Maidan or Jantar Mantar. Their General Hazare is 15 years older, but is still looking fit enough for another battle. His many lieutenants have now been joined by a generation which was mostly crawling babies, when the old RTI battle bugle was blown, in the early 1990s. Thus this new younger brigade is summoned by tweets and facebooks, and probably has no background on the previous Panipat battle (for RTI).
The importance of RTI cannot be over-emphasised. In its seven-year existence, it has shone the light on many ugly worms of corruption. Many warriors have been killed for using RTI. It is because of RTI that Adarsh scam came to light, and a Chief Minister lost his job. In fact the present CM of Maharashtra is on record of having said that he is quite optimistic about the impact of RTI and uncovering of so many scams. What he meant was that when bureaucrats and politicians in the past made file notings, or took decisions, they never thought that their signature and comment trail would be made public. Hence many decisions were reckless, some were downright corrupt. But thanks to RTI, each decision, each file noting would now be under thorough scrutiny, and hence less likely to be arbitrary or counter to public interest.
The present (second Panipat battle for Hazare and his troops), is the logical next step after RTI. If RTI exposes corrupt practices and people, how do we hold them accountable? Many people in government (politicians and bureaucrats) have a generalised immunity from prosecution. To prosecute a government official, you need the permission of the government itself, even if there is ample evidence!
The Lokpal Bill that ex-RTI warriors are fighting for, may also sound as abstract and abstruse as the proposed RTI Bill sounded back in 1995, or 2005. It will have naysayers and skeptics. But the impact of a constitutionally empowered ombudsman or Lokpal would be tremendous. RTI exposes corruption, and now the institution of Lokpal with be the necessary chemotherapy.
OUR TAHRIR SQUARE
T N NINAN
To say that no one has elected Anna Hazare, Arvind Kejriwal and the rest to speak for ordinary citizens is to say the obvious. The mostly middle-class people and the chatteratti (film stars, celebrity cops and so on) who have rallied to Mr Hazare's cause remind one of the people who held hands and lit candles after the November 2008 terrorist attack on Mumbai, saying, "Enough is enough". TV stations lionised them then, as now, and it bears pointing out those holding hands in November 2008 did not bother to vote in the Lok Sabha elections six months later.
But to point to all this would be to miss the point, which is that the government has alienated the public through months of scandal on a scale not seen till now. The loss of credibility has become obvious — consider the response to the Prime Minister's comments to TV editors. If a personally honest Prime Minister is seen as an umbrella that protects ministers who indulge in loot (and everyone can name half a dozen such in the Cabinet), the stage comes when the umbrella no longer offers protection.
Ordinarily, this situation would cause people to embrace the Opposition. However, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is also tainted (think Mr Yeddyurappa, the mining lords of Bellary, and now the land gift to the Khushabhau Thakre Trust in Madhya Pradesh). The CPI(M) has Mr Pinarayi in Kerala, and institutionalised goondagiri to answer for in West Bengal. In Tamil Nadu, we have the "Karuleone" family. It has not helped that the Central Bureau of Investigation is compromised, the appointment of the Chief Vigilance Commissioner struck down, and even former Supreme Court Chief Justices hit by the corruption taint.
Faced with widespread charges of corruption in the past, with no systemic solution available, the people turned to Jayaprakash Narayan (J P) in 1973 and V P Singh in 1988. J P called for "total revolution" but had no credible action plan, and his Navnirman movement was fizzling out when the Allahabad High Court unseated Indira Gandhi in 1975, setting off a chain of events that led to the Emergency. V P Singh focused on the Bofors scandal, and on unseating Rajiv Gandhi. But he could not offer a credible alternative.
This time round, Anna Hazare is a determined Gandhian figure whose simplicity contrasts with the image of corrupt ministers in private jets and parliamentarians in SUVs. He also has a record of effecting change, in his village through community action and in his state for booking the corrupt. His methods can be rough and ready (stories are told of how he used to hang erring officials upside down, by their feet!). His demand is simple: place before Parliament an effective Lok Pal Bill. Such a Bill will not be a panacea for the widespread corruption that exists; but it has focused attention on a problem that has hogged the headlines, and exposed the sham legislation that the government had been planning.
Fortunately, unlike Indira Gandhi in the 1970s (who tried to pack the Supreme Court) and Rajiv Gandhi in the 1980s (who tried to gag the press), the government and the Congress today have avoided confrontation. This is wise because the growing middle class makes for a more articulate and voluble urban citizenry than existed a quarter century ago. Also a factor is the prominence gained by civil society activists. A third development is the reach of private TV channels, which magnify the voice of protestors in a way that print cannot do. So it is futile arguing that elected legislators have a monopoly on representing the people. They do, technically. But reality has moved on.
WEST BENGAL VS TAMIL NADU
Chennai and Kolkata, where I equally divided my school days, are two of my favourite places. I like to recall them as Madras and Calcutta, with their unique cultures, habits, beliefs and practices. Calcutta's Park Street lined up Peking, Waldorf, Skyroom, Flurys, Kwality and others where we would be hauled once a month; the adults also had the option of Mocambo and Trincas, made famous by novelist Sarat Chandra Chatterjee's Parineeta. Hollywood, (Calcutta's) Tollywood and Bollywood films were aplenty, shown in numerous cinema halls at three, six and nine p m with 10 a m Western movies on Sundays. There were many pujas and gala weddings that extended through the evening, sometimes into the wee hours of the morning. Cousins and friends would regularly visit from elsewhere for education or medical purposes. At Hindi High School, we sang Saraswati Vandana every morning. The intricacies of yoga, arts and crafts, music and dance – and not just traditional mathematics, history or erudite English – were taught by famous personalities of the teaching profession.
Arriving in Madras in 1960, Kwality was the only restaurant. Pal and Savera came years later, where I discovered Usha Iyer, who later became famous as Usha Uthup. Weddings took place in the morning, putting my mother in a quandary over how much to dress my sisters and herself. Accompanying evening receptions tended to serve Coca Cola, betel nut, beerha, kumkumam, chandanam, vibhuti and jasmine. My father explained that the best meal was breakfast and that dinner should be light. Gestures were new: a rapid fist movement as a generic inquiry from domestic help would have my mother reeling. Slowly, she learnt some Tamil words, though she was eventually sent a domestic aid from Calcutta after word about a crisis travelled back.
I joined Don Bosco school. I recited Our father who art in heaven every morning as did every Tamil-Brahmin or Dalit classmate. We were taught by Czech, Indian, Irish and Italian priests. They also taught us to cycle, play tennis and table tennis, and swim – sometimes in their cassocks – at scout camps. Though I could sense my nationalist father's unease about his children going to missionary schools, my mother's responsibility to her children easily allowed her to put us in "English medium" schools given my father's transferable service. (Click here for detail table)
My reading and music interests broadened to include Jules Verne, the Beatles and Beethoven. Films were few and far between. There were Beau Geste and Seven Days in May, but I went with classmates to watch Parthal Pasithirum, Nenjil Oar Alayam or Kadalikkai Nerum Illai. My parents were perplexed, though my father was distinctly happy at my "national integration". Much to the chagrin of my mother, who had to help me make up for lost lessons, my father would take us out of school willy-nilly when he went on a trip to the interiors in an air-conditioned bus or train for his work. He believed that it would give us superior education. He could not have done better in exposing us to temple sculptures and ablutions, taut ethnic food, dresses (veshti for me and pawarai for my sisters), bharatanatyam arangetrams, music, kachheri season and temple festivals, when a platform boat would float round the temple tank with Carnatic vocalists and instrumentalists.
My attachment to both places continues intact. Over the last two decades, however, the impression is that there has been a decline of West Bengal and a rise of Tamil Nadu. I would want them to be on a par, partial as I am to both. Tables 1, 2 and 3 (from the Reserve Bank of India, Central Statistical Organisation, Planning Commission and Economic Survey) compare the two states.
In the 1990s, economic growth of Tamil Nadu and West Bengal was higher than all the other states but fell below them in the 2000s. It's heartening that per capita growth in West Bengal has almost caught up with Tamil Nadu, but the issues remain. West Bengal's revenue expenditure as a percentage of gross state domestic product (GSDP) increased more rapidly and its capital outlay as a percentage of GSDP declined, while the latter for Tamil Nadu increased significantly. West Bengal's development expenditure as a percentage of GSDP and social-sector expenditure as a percentage of GSDP are quite below all states while those of Tamil Nadu are far above. West Bengal's per capita development expenditure has improved but is far below that of Tamil Nadu.
West Bengal's fiscal situation is worse. Deficit as a percentage of GSDP has improved but remains double that of Tamil Nadu. Also, the public debt is nearly double. On both indices, West Bengal is far worse than the national average while Tamil Nadu is far superior. It is safe to conclude that West Bengal's growth and per capita growth have been more on the back of posterity than Tamil Nadu's.
Also, a comparison of social indicators reveals certain facts. In both states, infant mortality and literacy rates have remained better than the rest, though West Bengal has lagged behind Tamil Nadu. But it's inexplicable how between 2001 and 2008 West Bengal's school enrolment ratio fell below all states. Finally, the percentage of population below poverty line improved in both states. Both states were ahead of the rest up to the 1980s. But Tamil Nadu improved above all states in the next two decades, while West Bengal just managed to reach that level. The next government will have a harder time in West Bengal than in Tamil Nadu. It should increase school enrolment and, more widely, reduce the inter-generational burden.
The writer is Director and Chief Executive, Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations
All opinions are exclusively of the author
Karan Singh assisted in generating the numbers
PERVERSE INCENTIVES IN GENDER BIAS
POLICY MAKERS CAN PUSH HARDER FOR FEMALE EDUCATION AND TRY TO GET MORE WOMEN INTO THE WORKFORCE. A WOMAN WHO BRINGS IN 'PERMANENT DOWRY' IS VALUABLE
Recently we learnt Bristol Palin was paid $330,000 for promoting an (anti) teen pregnancy charity, Candie's Foundation. The 20-year-old daughter of Sarah was a teen mother, as anybody who followed the last US presidential campaign will recall.
It's difficult to see Bristol as a role model and using her as an ambassador for this cause may, in fact, offer a perverse incentive for other not-so-bright teens. After all, there's this young under-educated girl. She gets knocked up and therefore, makes big bucks.
It is difficult, though, to define a perverse incentive when it comes to tweaking social norms. The skewed gender ratios in the 2011 Census suggest there are some extremely perverse incentives at play across all of India. Yet, the legislative record indicates successive governments have diligently and consistently worked to change this.
In the zero-to-six year age cohort, boys outnumber girls by 1,000:914 across all India and this ratio has dropped in most states. It's down all-India from 1,000: 927 since 2001. The ratio is especially bad in North India — J&K, Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh all have dreadful ratios. But Punjab and Haryana show some improvement. In Punjab, the ratio is 846 (up from 796 in 2001) and in Haryana, it's 830 (up from 819).
What is a "normal" gender ratio? At birth, about 1,050 to 1,070 boys every 1,000 girls. One explanation for the natural skew (it's much higher with cats and dogs) is that young males have higher mortality rates, due to greater exposure to accidents.
Since medical science and healthcare have improved, there may be a tendency for males to gradually outnumber women. However, in most countries, (not India), women have longer life-expectancy and that balances ratios off.
For global populations, "normal" gender ratio is tough to assess. Decent population statistics exist only for the last 150-odd years, a period featuring many massive wars. Wars disproportionately kill off males. Eastern Europe and Japan had huge excesses of women over men for decades after World War II.
However, when talking about the zero-to-six population, we know two things. One, fewer Indian girls are born. And two, young girls die in larger numbers — though infant and early child mortality has dropped overall.
The perverse socio-economic incentive cited is the dowry system. Indians don't want girl children. Female literacy may, however, be increasing for precisely this reason. Parents encourage daughters to earn their own dowries. There's been legislation against dowry as well as major social campaigns. Nothing has worked. Dowry remains a persistent evil and dowry death remains a major cause of adult female mortality.
Another problem is misuse of medical technology. There have been anti-sex determination laws in force since 1994. These obviously haven't worked and they won't — due to higher literacy and better access to information.
Sonography, foetoscopy, chorionic villus biopsy and especially amniocentesis are pre-natal tests used to assess the health of mother and unborn child. These also automatically determine gender. The doctor "may" be unwilling to state the gender but "Wiki-Googling" is enough to enable a highly educated guess, given a medical report. The baby's "equipment" is also often visible. What is more, do-it-yourself sex-determination kits are available online.
What can policy makers do? Nothing much on the legislative front, I'd guess. They can, however, push harder for female education and try to get more women into the workforce. A woman who brings in "permanent dowry" is a more valuable commodity and has more choices.
There is also hope hidden in the census statistics. Why did ratios turn around in Punjab and Haryana? Maybe at the 1,000:800 level, the laws of supply and demand kick in. There are so few girls available; they can pick and choose their husbands and hence the dowry demands ease off.
INVASION FROM THE NORTH EAST
Choto Babu – the special name by which I call my little grand-nephew, not so little considering he is in class two going on to three – cannot decide what was greater fun: India winning the cricket World Cup or his father taking the impromptu decision to take the family out to M G Road to celebrate right after Dhoni hit the six.
There was a traffic jam, with hundreds of cars inching forward, not really desiring to cross over and be gone but to be simply there. And there were people, of course, thousands of them. Choto Babu wished he was on the roof of their car, dancing like some of the dadas, but his father drew the line there. This was one visit to the area when he didn't demand popcorn; it was huge fun to be simply there and eventually crawl out with the rest of the crawling traffic. Fun as it was listening to the fun they had, what was serious was the news of what happened in Guwahati and Shillong. They, in their own ways, did their version of what any visitor to Bangalore's M G Road witnessed. You couldn't believe it, said my long-time journalist friend from the north east. Guwahati had a traffic jam and Shillong had whistling joyous crowds on the streets. It was as much their victory as the rest of India's!
I wish someone in Kohima could confirm to me that the Nagaland capital was no different from the rest. Then I could have put that picture in my mind next to the one I have carried for long: of Kohima in the early eighties when the bleakness created by the wind that picked up as evening descended made everyone go indoors and rendered the streets virtually empty. To the physical chill was added the thought that insurgency lurked round the corner.
The blast that was had on Victory Night was, of course, the icing on the multi-layered cake, like the fireworks that made the night sky explode. The cake has been coming up, tier by tier, for a few years now, the fireworks carefully stored away to script a bit of history in the making — the saga of a new migration, a little people's army of invasion from the north east to the rest of India, quite unlike the other kind of invasion from the north west that has disturbed the peace on the subcontinent for millennia. The icing and the foot soldiers, the migration and the celebration make up an unscripted unification of this diverse land. India is getting all knitted together, as ordinary people leave home to seek a livelihood wherever it will be on offer.
I first spotted an early scout in a furniture store. The young man was obviously from the north east. Where precisely are you from, I asked. Manipur, he said. Meitei, I offered, keen to show off my knowledge of the region. No, he replied and added, Naga. In a flash I realised he was a Thangkul, the Naga outsiders in the hills of Manipur, which itself thinks it is an outsider to the rest of India. What a long way to come, to Bangalore. Now I see the little army every day, early morning and late evening, as groups of young people from the north east go to and return from the bus stand from where they commute. And I have seen their numbers grow at retail counters and hairdressers and Chinese restaurants; the last two merrily fooling you into imagining that their staff, too, is Chinese and not from Meghalaya or Mizoram.
A fascinating marriage is taking place, widely reported but worth repeating on special occasions. Mainstream India has discovered that youngsters from the north east are educated, well behaved and well turned out. And the youngsters have discovered that New India has jobs to offer. The name of any migratory process is: someone goes, drops anchor, others follow and soon you have people sharing rooms, seeking a piece of the action that nine per cent growth generates.
What this can do in a decade or two is revolutionary. People on both sides will develop stakes in the other. Resentments will remain. The new migrants will remain keenly conscious of the many downsides of having to maintain a low profile in an alien environment, of landlords' unfairness and the language barrier. But as the money order economy gains volume, speeded up by core banking, debit cards and ATMs, each will develop a stake in the other. You will not start loving your neighbour from across the country but will begin to tolerate him. And he will know that he will keep grumbling but the roots will grow deeper since this is where the jobs are.
As this army of invaders grows, another army, that of insurgency, will find it more and more difficult to raise or even maintain its numbers. The economic phenomenon will form the foundations of a cake whose climax will be the icing and suddenly the realisation that, oh heck, if we are going crazy over the Indian victory then what are we, if not Indians too. In this process, there will be one loser. Journalists like me who launched their careers covering insurgencies in the north east, which offered excitement and visits to exotic locales as bonuses, will become museum pieces — with newer generations not treading in their footsteps because there is no insurgency worth the name to report.
TO MOUNT KAILAS AND BEYOND....
If there has been an explosion of travel writing in the past few decades, it is because its most obvious attraction is in what it represents: escape. It is an escape from the monoculture of consumerism, packaged holidays in five star hotels and the extraordinary imperialism of fast food joints. Those of us who had a little money to throw around have been there and done that — and found there was nothing in it. So we want to go back to a world uncontaminated by the manifestations of modernity. It isn't surprising then that all great travel writing is an attempt to "discover the past" before it is bulldozed off the planet. Colin Thubron, one of the great travel writers of our times, has done it again with his latest book on the solitary outposts of the world, To a Mountain in Tibet (Random House reprint, Rs 499), like his earlier books on central Asia, Siberia, West Asia and others
Travel writing is a beggar of literary forms: it borrows from the memoir, reportage and, most importantly, from the novel. Like the novel, it is a literary genre without rules, free from precept or precedent; it describes a journey but is also a philosophy expressed in images. Thubron is just that: he describes the physical journey to Mount Kailas that rises from Lake Manasarovar in western Tibet. It is the holiest mountain to Hindus, Buddhists and Jains, because according to the Puranas it is the abode of Shiva, a place where gods, humans and spirits meet to discuss the meaning and purpose of life.
Yet, at another and deeper level it is a long meditation on how different individuals and different cultures cope with the fact of mortality. At one level, it is that familiar story of how travellers from the West find spiritual consolation from eastern religions. But there is a personal touch to Thubron's search for peace and solace: he had undertaken the journey to mourn his mother's recent death, the last surviving member of the family and throughout the journey he is haunted by memories of her death and his dead sister and father. Along the high road, every rock seems to have a story, every view is bound with a visionary experience, "a forced field of intensified holiness".
Over the years, Thubron, who has travelled to places beyond his own history and culture to write about them and about the journey, has perfected a technique in which historical reportage and social analysis flow into and out of his travel memoir. It is a mixed mode in which there is a little of everything for everyone: history and philosophy, laced with anthropology and local customs and, of course, contemporary politics.
But what distinguishes one travel memoir from another is language and style: Thubron writes with great elegiac precision as he negotiates the blurry line between personal memoir and vivid descriptions of one of the most spectacular mountain journeys of the world. And it is not just the sheer scale of the mountains and deep gorges that the traveller has to negotiate, they are also the most dangerous: over 50 percent of the pilgrims who are allowed in by the government quota every year to perform the parikrama around the lake fail to do so — and that after a rigorous medical fitness test and other facilities offered by the government and Chinese authorities.
In good travel writing, it is said, you can go on a world tour without leaving home. And you can do this because of the way language moves to describe those far off places, off the beaten track of tourists. Manasarovar lake, "created by the mind of Brahma is a full-blown paradise … alive with bathing celestials and seraphic music. Hindu pilgrims (the few who can make it on government quotas) pouring out libations to the shades of their ancestors, easing their souls into eternity". Most travellers to Mount Kailas undertake the arduous trek "on account of the dead" because such rituals, it is believed, gives some solace to the bereaved. "But the tarpan's truth is not my own."
The centrepiece of the pilgrimage is the parikarma, or the ritual circumambulation around the lake. This practice, Thubron says, pre-dates Buddhism which is the reason why no mountain in Tibet matches the sanctity of Kailas. "Saturated with the mana of miracle-working saints", the story goes that in the 12th century a great lama "searching the hearthstones on which to brew his tea, found none that he could use for all the stones around him were the self-manifest images of the Buddha, or inscribed with their speech". The greatest strength of Thubron's account is that he has researched all the myths and mythologies associated with the Mount and weave them in with descriptions of his travelogue.
Like his earlier books, this is a haunting and beautiful work, a rare mix of travel writing imbued with a philosophy on the simple art of living. In its evocation of landscape and variety of hill people, mystic and spiritual traditions of the east, it offers insights that many of us gloss over in our humdrum lives.
THE LEANING PILLARS OF DEMOCRACY
THE MEDIA AND THE JUDICIARY NEED TO REFORM THEMSELVES TO CHANGE THE SOCIETY
SUNANDA K DATTA-RAY
Seeing my astonishment at the judge's peon who rushed up to ask for baksheesh because my family had won a property suit, my lawyer said loudly for everyone to hear, "In a few years the judge sahib himself will come running for a tip!" I recounted this anecdote at a recent meeting in a high court to enthusiastic applause while senior advocates and judges on the platform sat in stony disapproval.
The occasion was a discussion on the role of the judiciary and media in the reformation of society organised by the Society for Justice, Peace and Protection of Human Rights. While most of the judges and lawyers quoted eminent British luminaries to pat themselves on the back for the judiciary's glorious record, I threw a spanner in the works by highlighting the gulf between theory and practice and, warning that the grand edifice of the highest judiciary rests on the rotting foundations of under-staffed, lazy and corrupt lower courts.
I tried to make my observations less unpalatable to the judges by including the media in my strictures. Lee Kuan Yew once told the International Press Institute that it was unrealistic to expect the media to curb governmental corruption when media institutions were themselves corrupt. Not so long ago, I stumbled into a meeting where the Press Council's 37,000-word report "How corruption in the Indian media undermines democracy" was being discussed. It was just as well I had another engagement and couldn't accept the invitation to speak, for had I opened my mouth I would have given grave offence.
The journalists in the meeting were waxing indignant about the money paid to other journalists by political parties and business houses. No other source of corruption mattered. Describing that occasion to my legal audience, I mentioned the six British World War I correspondents who were requested in the name of patriotism not to report some blunder by the commanding officer. Not one did, living up to the rhyme, "You cannot hope to bribe or twist/ Thank God, the British journalist./But seeing what the man will do/ Unbribed, there's no occasion to".
All six correspondents ended up as peers of the realm. In India, they would have been nominated to the Rajya Sabha, made ambassadors or sent on foreign missions. Patronage is as persuasive as money power. The Press Council report cites censoriously a newspaper proprietor being made a Rajya Sabha member at the behest of a corrupt politician, but nothing about the government that enabled the businessman to oblige the newspaper proprietor!
Nikhil Chakrabortty who refused a Padma Shri saying that for a journalist to accept official honours and claim to be independent is like wearing a chastity belt in a brothel must be laughing wherever good Communists go when they die.
Watching unsubstantiated allegations against the Karmapa Lama reported as facts, Norma Levine, a British journalist who writes in the Guardian and the Observer, commented that "suing a newspaper for libel and winning is well-nigh impossible" in India. "Journalists can be bought for fairly small amounts of money. Freedom of the press has created irresponsible journalism. A journalist in India holds a licence to kill — by character assassination". She noted that the Himachal Pradesh High Court's reprimand of police officers for detaining the Karmapa Lama's accountant without evidence was not reported.
When Britain passed the Race Relations Act, I asked Home Secretary David Ennals if it would open the floodgates to lawsuits. No, he replied, the British were a law-abiding people and would not practise discrimination once they knew it was illegal. If laws forbidding discrimination on the basis of caste, child marriage, dowry and other social ills have not had the same deterrent effect, it's partly because the legal position is not widely known (blame the media), partly because the law is not enforced (blame the police and administration) and partly because no law commands respect if its authors do not (blame the judiciary).
We have eminent upright jurists of whom any nation can be proud. But systems live or die because of their worst performers. As with the debate between the parliamentary and presidential systems, fault lies in the singer, not the song. The burden of my song was that in reforming themselves, the media and the judiciary would reform the society of which they are a part.
Afterwards, the advocate-general who hadn't said a word to me until then asked for my notes. Perhaps he was really interested in my arguments. But since it's the job of advocates-generals to advise governments on prosecutions, I shall keep the notes to myself.
BHOPAL GAS TRAGEDY - JUSTICE AT OUR COST
DORAB R SOPARIWALA
It is our duty to compensate those we have wronged. Let us pay the money to the victims of the Bhopal gas tragedy and drop the 'curative' petition
On the night of December 2 and 3, 1984, the world's worst industrial accident occurred at the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal. The reverberations of that horrific incident continue in public memory because successive governments have dealt callously with the victims.
Three questions that have recently come up concern the adequacy of the compensation paid to the victims of the Bhopal tragedy, the extradition of Warren Anderson, then chief executive officer (CEO) of Union Carbide, from the US and the sentencing of Indian officials of Union Carbide.
In February 1989, the government of India and Union Carbide reached a comprehensive agreement. The compensation to the victims – a full, final and complete settlement – was to be $473 million, which at that time amounted to around Rs 615 crore. In addition, shorn of legalese, all charges/claims, civil and criminal, present and future, were dropped against Union Carbide and its group companies. This agreement and the compensation amount were blessed by the Supreme Court.
An attempt to reopen the compensation issue was rejected by the Supreme Court in 1991. This was to indicate to the government that if the compensation was inadequate, it was for the government to make up the difference. A similar response was given by the Supreme Court in 2007.
Twenty years after the settlement, the government wakes up again and says many more people were affected and has put up a "curative" petition before the Supreme Court asking for another Rs 7,844 crore from Dow Chemicals, which is not even the successor of Union Carbide — McLeod Russel is. The Supreme Court, in its infinite wisdom, has decided to admit the petition.
Let us first look at the compensation amount of Rs 615 crore that was paid in 1989. The wholesale price index in December 2010 was 5.4 times that of 1989. So, currently Rs 615 crore is worth around Rs 3,300 crore.
But many people may take the entirely reasonable view that the compensation was inadequate. However, it was a solemn agreement reached between the company, the elected government of the day and the nation's highest court. What kind of a message does a "want-to-globalise" India send to the rest of the world by asking for a solemn agreement to be revisited? And what would stop a government in 2015 from asking for another "curative" petition? And yet another one in 2020? Will there ever be a final "cure"?
Would anyone trust a banana republic-like government and a judicial system that is so capricious? As a nation, we would be the laughing stock of the civilised world and disgrace ourselves if we went back on a solemn agreement.
To top this we also want the 90-year-old Warren Anderson extradited. We need to ask ourselves whether the US would extradite him if we went to the court to rewrite the compensation judgement. Senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley's written opinion is that the request would fail. Moreover, Anderson could go to the US courts and plead for the request to be turned down because it comes from a country whose government wishes to overturn its own agreement reached in concert with its highest court. He could very well question the possibility of getting justice from such a system? It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that the Indian government's case would be tossed right into the waste-paper basket, a humiliation we could do without. Would we, India, extradite one of our own to face such a whimsical system?
On the extradition of Anderson, G E Vahanvati, the attorney general, inter alia, has opined: "the omission to take any rectification action despite such knowledge would constitute an offence under Section 304 Part II (of the IPC)."
The government has also appealed against the two-year sentence to officials of Union Carbide, including its non-executive chairman. Incidentally, in the BP case analogy, so beloved of our politicians, the BP CEO at that time has not been personally charged and Robert Dudley, who then headed BP's US operations, has now become the CEO of BP! In that context, the persecution, yes persecution, of Keshub Mahindra is truly incomprehensible. Is it correct to charge a person who attends six meetings a year with such a serious offence?
Now let us look at an analogy — the Indian Railways. The Mumbai Mirror reported on June 12, 2010*, that "around 3,500 people die on the Mumbai suburban network every year" (emphasis added). The World Bank Team Leader wrote to the Mumbai Railway Vikas Corporation (MRVC) asking him to specify the action they were taking. The MRVC Chairman responded, in true bureaucratese, that he had written to IIT, Bombay and the JJ School of Art for suggestions – and people continue to die – as they have been for years. Now, does this not fit into Vahnvati's interpretation of "the omission to take any rectification action despite such knowledge would constitute an offence under Section 304 Part II (of the IPC)"? Should the Chairmen of the MRVC and the Railway Board and the Minister of Railways not be charged under the same provision as Anderson? Or under the same provision as Mahindra? Or, is it that the government has the right to kill with impunity?
If we as a nation have perpetrated a wrong, then let us set it right — at our cost and without bringing disgrace and dishonour upon the nation. Surely we can afford Rs 7,844 crore. Even if we could not, it is our duty to spend the money on those we have wronged.
So, let us pay the money and drop the "curative" petition. It is a debasement of our legal-political system. The word of the government and the Supreme Court should not be so cheap. It is a matter of honour for India.
NAVIGATING MACRO PITFALLS
GROWTH CAN'T BE IGNORED EVEN AS INFLATION WILL BE HIGHER FOR LONGER DESPITE AGGRESSIVE TIGHTENING
Tracking the risks to the Indian macro is like monitoring a shifting wall of worries. Late last year, the risks centred on the adverse impact of rising crude oil prices and capital outflows, and the potential fallout from a combination of India-specific factors such as corruption-related scandals, policy paralysis, high inflation, worsening current account (CA) deficit, a spending-heavy fiscal policy and monetary tightening. Some of the outcomes, such as those for the CA deficit, portfolio flows, fiscal consolidation and the rupee's resilience, have been better than expected although in some cases the initial concerns themselves had been played up. However, others, such as rising crude oil prices and high inflation, remain worrying.
Encouragingly, the government was able to wake up to introduce some reform-oriented legislation but much more needs to be done. Overall, none of the concerns have totally disappeared, but the magnitude of the growth slowdown in 2011-12 and the outcome of this year's monsoon season rainfall will emerge as new worries. These will add to the existing anxiety over higher crude oil prices and the pesky inflation.
Higher crude prices exacerbate the existing inflationary pressure in an economy already suffering from several supply bottlenecks that amplify the inflationary pressures. The lack of clarity on the timing and magnitude of the increase in local fuel prices creates uncertainty about the pass through and its impact on inflation, and forces the expected inflation trajectory to go off course. Still, fuel prices will have to be raised or the government has to live with a higher subsidy burden (or, more likely, a combination of the two). Some adjustment is likely after the state elections.
India's inflationary pressures are a complex mix of demand- and supply-side factors, and cover food and non-food categories. However, inflation is often incorrectly presented as being fuelled mainly by excess demand that can be fully checked via higher rates. Higher food inflation has been due mainly to domestic supply shocks and favourable structural changes that have enhanced demand for protein-rich food items (meat, fish, eggs and milk) without a meaningful increase in supply (yet another supply constraint). However, foodgrains like wheat, rice and pulses are not showing any distress.
India is not the first country that is undergoing economic transition that is pushing up incomes and demand for food. But there is no convincing empirical evidence from any country of an increase in demand for protein-rich food being a source of sustained upward inflationary pressure.
Food inflation has come off substantially although the impact of this year's monsoon could be a relevant emerging risk. Growth is already moderating, which in turn will marginally ease the pressure from demand-driven factors. However, the pass through of higher commodity prices continues to be a key worry, especially since India also has "suppressed" inflationary pressures.
The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) – incorrectly, in my humble opinion – uses non-food manufactured goods in the wholesale price index (WPI) as an indicator of demand-side pressures (RBI's latest policy statement). Actually, that measure captures inflationary pressure from input prices rather than final consumer goods that central banks everywhere else normally target. How come core inflation was largely stable for much of calendar 2010 and then jumped towards year-end when there was – ironically – greater evidence of growth moderation? Increase in the prices of retail fuels, which add to core inflation, have little to do with demand, nor does the increase in prices by cement companies. Firms are partially passing on higher input costs to offset the increased pressure on their margins and not because demand is strengthening.
India (like most other countries in the region) is moving into a new higher inflation trajectory that has nothing to do with RBI. Inflation will remain higher for longer for two key reasons: (1) policymakers do not want to dramatically slow down growth; and (2) there is a new higher global normal for commodity prices. These factors suggest that inflation in India (and in other economies) will be higher than what we have been used to. Thus, a much greater loss in near-term growth will be needed if the old inflation trend has to be achieved — an option that most countries will shun.
It is often overlooked that India's inflationary pressures are not because of rapid pace of monetary expansion. As India's economic cycle enters a more advanced phase, growth is likely to roll over — precisely what monetary tightening policy is meant to achieve. The Reserve Bank of India will stay with its anti-inflation bias, but it should avoid over-tightening as monetary policy operates with a lag. Ironically, faster momentum of reforms by the government will actually help lower some of the structural impediments than keep inflation high.
The composition of the growth drivers is different from what would have been expected previously. Thus, the pace of the investment upturn has been weak, but owing mainly to the government's poor execution, including the road blocks that were created by a destructively assertive environment ministry. The export recovery arrived early and has been unexpectedly strong. Also, private consumption remains robust and the increase in the importance of rural demand in recent years should partly cushion the impact of higher interest rates on overall consumer spending. India's aggregate private consumption is still not too sensitive to higher interest rates, although that sensitivity has increased over the years.
Economic activity is softening but the magnitude hinted by year-on-year change in the industrial production index overstates it. Seasonally-adjusted IIP and the related details for consumer durables, capital goods and intermediate goods, and the Project Management Institute (PMI) surveys suggest a less pessimistic assessment.
All eyes are now on a "major" cabinet reshuffle that has been hinted by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and the long overdue reform-oriented initiatives. The PM has a choice before him: He can choose to be remembered by posterity as the man who unshackled the economy following the 1991 crisis and answered the calls for an encore this year. Or as a shackled man on whose watch 20 years later India's economic rise sputtered. He should just do a Dhoni — for himself and for the people, and to silence his critics.
Rajeev Malik is senior economist at CLSA, Singapore. The views expressed are personal
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
THE TASK IS TO EFFECT A CHANGE IN POLITICS; IT'S NOT ANNA VERSUS THE GOVERNMENT
There is no denying that activism and civil society at large has a role, a duty, to prod and pressurise the government into better formulation and implementation of policy and law. That role extends to critiquing and opposing the government whenever policy or law threatens to impinge on the rights of citizens, as well as on issues that concern the foundational principles of the social contract. That contract also necessitates that the government takes on board the concerns and demands of civil society. That is the essence of representative democracy. But to envisage a situation where activists seek to negate the right of the executive to make laws, and instead abrogate that right to themselves would be nothing short of disrupting the Constitutional framework. The appeal of the symbolism of Anna Hazare's fast to pressurise the government to accept his version of the Lokpal Bill rests on widespread resentment against pervasive corruption. It is also clear that the framing and passing into law of the Lokpal Bill will be a big step towards combating corruption in public life. But it is patently undemocratic to try and coerce the government into accepting wholesale demands. The government's version of the Bill was open to criticism: that draft would create a weak, toothless ombudsman. But the activist's version also seems to envision some sort of Napoleonic, supra-Constitutional authority. The point, pragmatically, is to have a debate between the parties to the social contract on the composition, structure and purview of the Lokpal.
On that score, patently unseemly rhetoric against the political class ill-behoves a collection of individuals and groups that is seeking to represent broader civil society. True, our political class remains the bedrock of prevalent corruption. Changing that will be a wider, slow, gradual process, whereby politics is recast in the mould of a participatory, emancipatory project not a patronage network or identity management project. Corruption isn't embodied by any particular party or government, it is a wider malaise and tackling it certainly doesn't mean speaking of hanging a few individuals. It's not Anna vs the government; it's about better governance for all.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
THE ECB SHOWS IT MEANS BUSINESS WHEN IT COMES TO FIGHTING INFLATION
The European Central Bank (ECB), it has long been argued, is cast in the mould of the tough-talking and tougher-walking German Bundesbank. On Thursday it reinforced that impression. It raised interest rates by 25 basis points to 1.25% even as Portugal, one of the sick PIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain) was forced to bite dust. After the turn of Greece and Ireland, on Thursday it was Portugal's turn to announce it would be seeking the support of the European Union to tide over its looming debt crisis. With three members in the sick bay and many others barely managing to stay out, the Euro zone is a long way from recovery. So, a rate hike is not what a faint-at-heart doctor might order. But then the ECB has never been lily-livered. In the rarefied circles of central banking, it is known both for its nerves of steel and its ability to resist political pressure, thanks to the economic-sans-politics union that characterises the Euro zone. In this aspect it is far more advantageously placed than our own Reserve Bank that is forced to frame monetary policy, always looking over its shoulder at North Block. And that explains why the ECB can declare that acting against inflation is 'in the interests of all members and partners of the single [European] market and single currency' and then walk the talk while the RBI is often forced to flap its hands and do nothing.
The hike, the first since the crisis of 2008, was widely anticipated as the ECB had made no bones about its increasing discomfort at rising inflation rates in the Euro zone. However it is unlikely to be the last. Euro zone inflation was 2.6% last month, above the ECB's target of below two per cent, and likely to rise further in view of hardening oil prices. The ECB has long been an inflation hawk and under President Claude Trichet, whose term comes to an end later this year, has played true to tradition. Whether its tighter monetary policy will scupper recovery in the Euro zone minus Germany and, to a lesser extent, France remains to be seen. For now the ECB has decided to get back to what it knows best — fighting inflation, confident in the knowledge that low inflation is the only way to sustain growth. If only the RBI were equally sure.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
JANTAR MANTAR VS IPL
THE ANNA SHOW HAD A GREAT RUN. TOO BAD, THE IPL GORILLA'S HERE
From the evening of April 2, when the cricket World Cup got over, Indian television started gasping for eyeballs and oxygen. Help came soon afterwards in the form of a reality show, starring an unlikely 71-year old activist called Anna Hazare. Beginning April 5, when Hazare began his fast with some, well, breathtaking proposals to curb graft, the Anna Show has been a big hit on live TV. News channels — which at last count numbered more than 120 — are beaming it continuously; some have erected sets at or near the venue. Channel crews swamp visitors and hangers on at Jantar Mantar. Youngsters are a-twitter about the Anna Show, talking heads have talked themselves hoarse, assorted godmen and do-gooders are jostling to appear on Anna's platform. Bollywood types, always game for some celebrity action, are queuing up at Jantar Mantar. Funnyman Jaspal Bhatti provides comic relief from the breathless do-gooding on stage. It's been a great run for the Anna Show.
But competition is here, in the form of the Indian Premier League (IPL), the phenomenally popular cricket event where city-themed teams play each other. The IPL is now in its fourth season and it now has 10 teams, against eight that squared off in its previous three avatars. From April 8, the IPL show will run 50 days in the heat of an Indian summer. Apart from its second season which was played overseas, each IPL tournament has been a blockbuster on TV, and there's no reason to believe that this time things will be different. For a few days, as the IPL gathers momentum, the Anna Show will run. But from Sunday, when two games will be played beginning at 3PM and ending close to midnight, the Anna Show might get knocked off primetime to daytime-only telecasts.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
BREATHING NEW LIFE INTO MFIS
HERE ARE A FEW STEPS MICROFINANCE INSTITUTIONS NEED TO TAKE TO BE A GLIMMER OF HOPE FOR THE POOR IN INDIA
Today, microfinance institutions (MFIs) finds itself on a sticky wicket when faced with the charge of levying high and opaque interest rates from borrowers, employment of goons to recover money from defaulters and of being responsible driving some borrowers to suicide. It appears that their latest strategy is to ask to just be allowed to coexist along with self-help groups (SHGs) and even moneylenders. But this attitude misses the main point: that MFIs needs to reinvent itself to be able to stay as a hope for the poor. This article discusses a few important steps that need to be taken in this direction.
Banks must reduce their rates drastically: Banks lend to MFIs at around 12% while MFIs lent to borrowers at around 30% before the Andhra Pradesh ordinance and at about 24% after it.
As for administrative costs, these are much lower for banks and much higher for MFIs. For example, a bank may lend . 100 crore to an MFI while the MFI will lend an average of . 50,000 to no less than 20,000 borrowers; or 2,000 borrower groups if each group consists of 10 persons. It is, therefore, clear that the MFI has to work very hard to administer 20,000 or even 2,000 contracts.
The bank, on the other hand, has to maintain just one contract with the MFI. Before the AP ordinance, MFIs used to recoup a portion of their costs by charging 30% from borrowers. Why don't banks consider lending to MFIs at a rate that reflects their actual costs and to charge no interest at all? This practice is followed by the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development that lends, contrary to what its name suggests, to all Third World countries. No doubt, there are many other institutions in the world that follow this practice.
Banks can make up their loss, if any, by charging their corporate and other borrowers fractionally higher interest rates, though it would be ideal to have an across-theboard zero interest framework for all borrowers.
Give only productive and constructive loans: Banks must simultaneously bar MFIs from lending consumer goods loans. It might be best to give loans only for small businesses in a cooperative matrix like the Grameen Bank of Bangladesh (GBB) does. Loans could be given to individual borrowers for education and medical treatment as well. It may be tempting to include loans for marriage in the list - it may be better, however, to give such loans to group marriages which have an in-built economy of scale.
Turn MFIs to become a conduit for philanthrophy: MFIs can contemplate if they can convince philanthropist individuals and institutions in the country to give them a part of their charity for a fixed period. As poor a group as the Muslim community in India gives away a minimum of . 10,500 crore in obligatory charity every year, mostly during the month of Ramzan. This year's Ramzan, corresponding to early August 2011, will be a good time to start working on this effort. An equal amount is spent by Muslim charitable trusts all over the country.
Having said that, caveat is required here: most people think that this obligatory charity is meant only for poor Muslims but there are jurists who think that it can be given to non-Muslims as well as one of the eight heads of expenditure specified in the Qur'an is 'for changing the hearts'. So, it would be better if MFIs seek the support of such jurists when exploring the viability of this suggestion. A far bigger amount will be available from the rest of the middle class and rich Indians.
Make a bold step in zero interest microfinance: The Jamat-e-Islami Hind recently decided to open at least 500 zero-interest coop credit societies in India by 2016 under its social service vehicle called Vision 2016. This effort will have as its pilot the Al-Khair Cooperative Credit Society of Patna, which has managed to disburse 4 crore last year to the poor in the city and suburbs. Should the plan succeed, they would be lending about . 2,000 crore by 2016 throughout the country on a zero interest basis. There is every reason to believe that the whole operation will be run on secular, and not communal, lines.
Invite Grameen Bank to operate in India: The Union government can consider inviting the GBB to begin operating in India. GBB has some salient features. One, it lends only to women in a group of eight to 10 persons. Two, it asks the group to submit details and feasibility of its project for which it is seeking a loan.
Three, if GBB approves the project after own study, it grants them a loan of no more than Taka 8,000-10,000 per member and thus, no more than Taka 64,000-1,00,000 per group. It charges an interest rate of 24%. Four, instead of any mortgage, GBB binds each woman to a code of 'responsible and ethical' living such as keeping her house clean, sending her children regularly to school, ensure no bad habits like drinking in the household, leading a balanced and frugal life, etc. Five, default by a member automatically bars the whole group from getting another loan. And six, the loan repayment rate is a very healthy 98%.
The Indian microfinance institutions must compete with the GBB in 'doing good by the poor', rather than continuing to justify what they had been doing till recently.
(The views expressed are personal)
ADVISOR TO A KUWAIT-BASED CONSULTANCY
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
THE 'MUSLIM DEBATE' IN FRANCE
STEVEN ERLANGER & MAIA DE LA BAUME
France's governing party pressed ahead on Tuesday with a controversial debate on the nature of secularism and the challenges of Islam, an exercise criticised by some in the government and numerous religious leaders and ridiculed as cynical by both the socialist opposition and the far-right National Front. Held at a Paris hotel, the debate was shunned by prominent members of the government, and its title was altered to remove any reference to Islam, resulting in the anodyne "Secularism: To Live Better Together."
It was three hours of debate after two months of fierce political squabbling. Initiated by President Nicolas Sarkozy, the debate was organised by Jean-Francois Cope, leader of Sarkozy's party, the Union for a Popular Movement. But the Prime Minister, Francois Fillon, refused to take part, fearing it would push the party too far to the right and might lead to "a stigmatisation of Muslims," he said, leading Cope to accuse him of "not being a team player." The concern is to help along a westernised version of Islam that fits within French behavioural and cultural norms, which accept gender equality and the private nature of religious belief. Cope said the debate was "controversial but necessary", saying that "the values of France are like the Three Musketeers: liberty, equality, fraternity." He would add a fourth, he said — secularism. But critics, including Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois, expressed doubts, saying "the risks are not small," not only in feeding demagogy but also in "leading to a refusal of all religious expression in our society." The Council of Bishops did not take part, and the leaders of six major religions — Roman Catholics, Protestants, Orthodox Christians, Jews, Muslims and Buddhists — issued a joint statement expressing concern that it could "add to the confusion in the troubled period we are traversing." There are estimated to be 5 million to 6 million Muslims in France, about 10% of the population, the second-largest religion after Roman Catholicism. But there is a fierce political undercurrent. Sarkozy is trying to reunite the right by defending "French values" and talking tough on crime. With his poll ratings so low, the possibility that he will fail to win re-election next year haunts the party, and it is already causing cleavages between different camps and leading figures like Fillon and Cope, who might compete to succeed Sarkozy down the road. In that sense, the debate is asignpost to the party's future. The party is also haunted by the surge in popularity of the National Front behind Marine Le Pen, the daughter of the party's founder, Jean-Marie Le Pen. Sarkozy's party is trying to develop a strategy for 2012 and the National Front, competing with it on issues like Islam and immigration. Polls show that up to twothirds of the French believe that "multiculturalism" and the integration of Muslims into society have failed, a main issue for the National Front. A month after Le Pen compared crowds of Muslims praying in the streets outside stuffed mosques to the Nazi occupation, Sarkozy told legislators, "I don't want any minarets, any calls for prayer in the public space, or street prayers."
Arguing that certain religious practices were challenging secularism — the religious neutrality of the state and public life in France — Sarkozy also introduced and won passage for a law, which goes into effect next Monday, banning the full-facial veil from public spaces. Issues debated include whether to add Islam to a 1905 law separating church and state, but allowing indirect subsidies to churches and synagogues, which are maintained with state funds. Mosques have no such benefit, and some Muslim leaders want government aid to build new mosques.
Claude Gueant, a Sarkozy confidant who is now interior minister, caused more controversy on Monday when he said of Islam: "It's true that this growth in the number of faithful in this religion and a certain number of behaviours poses a problem." Cope discussed some 26 proposals to preserve secularism, including a law to forbid citizens rejecting a public service employee because of their sex or religion. The idea, he said, was to prevent cases where "women, often under pressure from their husbands, refuse to be treated by a male doctor."
© 2011 New York Times News Service
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
AN ARAB AWAKENING, AFTER ALL
The Arab uprisings look great on TV and so far toppled, in a matter of weeks, two once-unassailable regimes. Yet, as they left the Egyptian border and hit the Libyan wall, the risks of collectively terming them the 'Arab revolution' were evident. Aren't they something between a 'revolution' and a 'spring'?
Of course, Tunisia and Egypt were easy — regimes that provoked fear and revulsion alike, US diplomatic leverage that came through generous aid, strong militaries that ditched the presidents when their continuation in office became absolutely untenable, and a few cries of Allahu Akbar on the streets. Then came Libya, the West's current target du jour. But the current situation there suggests that the tyrant and his horrible regime will fight to the last drop of blood. The regimes in Syria, Yemen and Bahrain also struggle to contain their inner convulsions, but in an altogether reactive manner: brute force, punctuated with promises of constitutional changes.
Which takes us back to question: is this an 'Arab revolution'? As the initial euphoria wears off, it's clear that one can't apply the term 'revolution' with a broad brush. We are not witnessing anything like an encore of East Europe, 1989. And, of course not, when revolution just touches the rim and bypasses areas where the history of the Arabic language, culture and religion runs deep. Further, think again: one's revolution can easily become another's bloody sectarian conflict. Also, consider the double-standards being applied as protests spread far beyond Egypt: one set of rules for a 'vital' ally that hosts the US Navy's Fifth Fleet and another for a country presided over by a lunatic whom President Ronald Reagan famously called, exactly 25 years ago to this month, "the mad dog of Tripoli".
Is it an Arab spring? Any connotation of 'spring' with freedom movements continues to haunt us emotionally since the 'Prague Spring' of 1968 —short-lived and brutally crushed (wasn't Saudi Arabia's military intervention in Bahrain last month any different in spirit and intent?). There is the problem of overpitching the term, too. Politically, culturally, economically and in strategic terms, Libya is as different from Yemen as Syria is from Bahrain. In Bahrain, for instance, one can still find rudimentary civil society institutions, but in Syria they are tightly controlled by the House of Assad for four decades. In Bahrain, there is also an opposition, which, just as the regime there, is divided along moderate and ultraradical lines. Throw into that volatile mix the fact that the oil market is on the edge ever since the Libyan armed uprising, and the very thought of a spring is enough to strike the dread of high oil price-inspired stagflation in many G20 capitals.
So, don't the events unfolding now collectively represent an Arab awakening? Here we are, and this description would be closer to reality. It's fairly known the whys and wherefores of Arab nations getting deep into the mire of political inertia, dither, sclerosis and intolerance. Or into the lack of scientific, technological or philosophical progress — in those places without oil, not even material. But one trigger, and all that we have in the Arab street are heroes. That point is now known as the Mohamed Bouazizi moment, whose selfimmolation in December in Tunisia sparked it all.
What's also known is that the West's paranoia: corrupt national security dictatorships need to be propped up because the alternative — Islamists — is even worse. In one stroke, Egypt has unmistakably proved that there is a huge, latent third force that is separate from the dictator and the Islamist class — an educated, tech savvy, middle class that can engage in dialogue, discussion and debate, all peacefully. Since 9/11 particularly, one always hears about the 'silent' majority of moderate Muslims, but never had an opportunity to size it up. Who envisioned the sudden emergence of this force even in early January this year, when the conventional wisdom among all Middle East experts in the world was that Hosni Mubarak was on the way to reelection this September, maybe with 96% of the votes?
But then, an awakening, like a revolution, won't put food on your table. For that, you need to create more private sector and knowledge economy jobs. Which, in turn, depends on education, investment, some degree of openness, justice, rule of law, transparency and accountability. The unemployment in Tunisia at the time of the uprising was 30% among under age 35. For every Arab nation having an education system that produces globally aware citizens, there's another whose system creates legions of semi-literate or ignorant jihadi sympathisers. In a closed place like Saudi Arabia, even the difference in educational institutions doesn't really matter.
But we are lucky. The youth in the Arab world has new heroes to look up to — and they are not of the Al-Qaeda variety. Tunisia and Egypt are now the bellwether: building and running democracy and civil institutions will be a long, tortuous process. Where they go in the coming months will determine the course of the Arab awakening as well as its spring and summer.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
SUCCESS IS SWEAT PLUS
VITHAL C NADKARNI
At the recent release of his biography, music maestro A R Rahman spoke about how to stop procrastinating. "Get a deadline," he said, echoing what Cyril Northcote Parkinson wrote in the very first sentence of his humorous essay, The Pursuit of Progress: work expands so as to fill time available for its completion. A shorter deadline supposedly starves such expansion of 'non-work'. Bradley Cooper in the movie Limitless resorts to a fictional, albeit chemical, copout: The catch-line, which could well have been scripted by Big Pharma, says it all: "A tablet a day and what I could do was limitless." The protagonist-writer confesses slyly that he does not have delusions of grandeur; only "a recipe for grandeur"! Needless to add, what was initially just a writer's dreamrun to El Dorado soon turns into a nightmare of sideeffects, withdrawal and worse. Limitless thus comes off as more of a cautionary tale than an easy endorsement for chemical enhancement. A similar denouement comes from Goethe's Dr Faustus, which chronicles the rise and fall of the powerhungry alchemist who dares to sup with the Devil himself with a short spoon! The moral of both stories is simple: read the fine print before signing away your soul! Alternatively, deadline or not, there is no short-cut to success, except through lots of hard-work, some talent and a bit of luck all in that order. For as the Wizard of Menlo Park famously said, genius is 99% perspiration. That is not to discount the role played by the remaining 1%; which also separates men from chimps!
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
BREAKTHROUGH: EIGHT STEPS TO WELLNESS
What makes us age? What makes us sick? Aging brings about loss of function, loss of organ reserve. A number of factors contribute to the deterioration of the body—nutritional deficiencies are at the top of the list. We patients still have not connected the dots relative to good diet, that the food we eat is responsible for building us up or taking us down. It is truly that simple. Imbalances of hormones accelerate aging; toxins and poor-quality food accelerate the aging process at a cellular level. Simple measures such as changing from omega-6 oils (safflower, sunflower, corn, soybean, cottonseed, perilla, walnut, and others) to omega-3 oils (flax, fish oil supplementation, and others) can drastically improve the elasticity of each cell membrane to allow for hydration and oxygen to flow in and out freely.
Cells that are hydrated and oxygenated work optimally and reverse the aging process to create a smooth-functioning, healthy body. As human beings we are "cells reproducing." In order to live long and healthy, this process must continue. On the other hand, cell dysfunction eventually culminates in disease as the body deteriorates. A simple step, like changing the oils you consume, can positively impact the health of your cells; there is no drug that can do that. Antiaging takes free radicals seriously, knowing that free radicals damage cells, which causes the body's organs and systems to lose function capacity.
DRAGS ITS FEET ON 2G CHARGE-SHEET
NOTWITHSTANDING the Supreme Court supervising investigation of the 2G spectrum case, the CBI has shown its true colours by going out of its way to absolve Dr Manmohan Singh of any culpability in the allocation of 2G spectrum, although former Telecom Minister, Andimuthu Raja, maintains that he kept the Prime Minister informed of all his decisions. The correspondence between the two, now in the public domain, confirms Raja's stand. The job of the CBI is to find out the criminality of those involved and not to give a clean chit to the Prime Minister. Nor was there any need for the CBI to take cognizance of the election to the Tamil Nadu Assembly scheduled for 13 April and spare members of the family of Chief Minister and DMK president Muthuvel Karunanidhi from the charge-sheet filed on 2 April. Investigation into the scam money trail led to Kalaigner TV owned by them. Shahid Balwa and Vivek Goenka of DB Realty, source of the money funneled to Kalaigner TV, figure in the charge-sheet and are already behind bars. To say that the CBI was working under a time constraint is not true. The case was registered by it on 21 October 2009, but it was under tremendous pressure from the UPA government not to pursue the investigation vigorously. Much of the findings of the CBI seem to have been culled out of the report of the Comptroller and Auditor-General of India except for the quantum of loss caused to the exchequer which, according to CAG, is Rs. 1.76 crore. The CBI had put it as Rs 30,984 crore. It is surprising that in a scandal of this magnitude, which could not have been pulled off by a lone politician, the CBI so far has no clue about Raja's co-conspirators.
The CBI is not yet fully liberated from the political executive. It has taken into custody Asif Balwa and Rajiv Aggarwal, directors of Kusegaon Fruits and Vegetables which is a part of Shahid Balwa's DB Realty empire and was used to transfer Rs 214 crore to Kalaignar TV in which Karunanidhi's wife Dayaluammal and daughter Kanimozhi hold 80 per cent stake. Though the TV premises, located in the DMK headquarters, were raided by the CBI and Dayaluammal and Kanimozhi were interrogated, they were neither arrested nor figure in the charge-sheet. The Kalaignar TV managing director reportedly told the CBI the amount in question was a loan and it was repaid with interest. But he had no documents to show to the CBI to substantiate the claim. Similarly, Kusegaon Fruits and Vegetables could not produce its minute book authorising such a loan before the CBI. Why would a vegetable company in Mumbai unknown to the owners of Kalaigner TV, suddenly come forward with a loan of Rs 200 crore without any collateral? Obviously it was a quid pro quo. The Congress desperately needs the full support and cooperation of the DMK for the 13 April election to the Tamil Nadu Assembly. It is clear that the CBI functions under the firm grip of the Congress; unless that changes, it can never be an effective investigation agency.
Jawans are not cheap labour
COMMENDATION is due to the Army Chief for not being flattered into making his troops freely available for missions under the United Nations flag; and, instead, calling for clear mandates, capable of being implemented, for all soldiers donning the light-blue beret. For far too long have two factors had a skewed influence on both the foreign office and Army headquarters: the belief that being a key contributor to UN forces would enhance India's "voice" in the world body, and that the substantially higher pay packets when seconded to UN forces were something the Indian soldier craved. The first did not "deliver", the second reflected a craven mindset. It is true that India's role in UN peace-keeping missions has been second to none, the track record is commendable both in terms of numbers and the quality of leadership the Indian Army has brought to bear. At least a couple of Indian generals virtually "moved on" to the UN and distinguished themselves. But that was in a different era, when responsibilities were equally shared, and the missions were straightforward. Sadly, it is now necessary to raise undiplomatic and politically incorrect queries as to why the subcontinent ~ Bangladesh, Pakistan and India, in that order ~ provide the bulk of UN forces the world over, why they are deployed on the most dirty duties in Africa and West Asia, but why they were relegated to the sidelines of the last UN task in Europe, the aftermath of the crumbling of Yugoslavia? And to recall that when an Indian unit had to fight its way out of trouble in Sierra Leone, troops from a western nation (also wearing the light-blue beret) offered less than token support? Is it now a case of Third World soldiers for Third World conflicts? And given the reality that the Army is so heavily committed to domestic duties can it really afford to send 8,000 men chasing somebody else's dream?
Peacekeeping has long moved on to peacemaking, and General VK Singh has not pulled his punches about the complexities of countering non-state actors, and mandates that are "nebulous". These are ground realities, they must "register" in the context of a senior UN official gratuitously talking of "strengthening the partnership with India to meet growing challenges around the world…" commensurate with the country's emerging stature. Fantasies over a permanent place on a reformed Security Council must not be entertained to the detriment of our uncomplaining jawans.
SOUL OF IRRESPONSIBILITY
BENGAL'S MID-DAY MEAL SCHEME
THE tokenism would have seemed ridiculous were it not for the profound implications for the child's nutritional needs. The West Bengal government has decided to withhold Sarva Siksha Abhiyan grants to schools that have not implemented the mid-day meal scheme. That firmness would have raised no cavil were it not for two factors. First, the official response is horribly belated, so delayed indeed that the initiative is unlikely to yield dividend at the hustings. Second, it is a testament to the almost deliberate failure to monitor the scheme, a critical facet of primary education. In terms of administration, the state finds itself in the clear; an initiative on food for children doesn't contravene the model code of conduct. But even the child will see through the bluff. To stop the SSA grant will inevitably impede learning not least under the Universal Compulsory Education Act. Once again, it is the child who stands to suffer on account of adult negligence.
The school education department's argument that school authorities have misused funds earmarked for the mid-day meal scheme may be well taken. Equally, it was the department's responsibility to ascertain whether every school child was being provided with meals at mid-day; nutrition and learning are directly interlinked in any formulation of responsible public policy. Less than a week before the first phase of the Assembly elections, it would be less than honest for the school education department to claim injured innocence. The mid-day meal scheme has foundered on the twin rocks of governmental apathy and the almost criminal negligence of the school authorities. Minister Partha De has been denied nomination ostensibly because of intra-party bickering in Bankura; truth to tell, he has been one of several non-performers in the Cabinet. Electorally though he may not be directly answerable for the mess. The midday meal scheme in West Bengal underscores the soul of irresponsibility.
THE MOTHER'S VISION AND PRACTICE OF EDUCATION
MIRRA Alfassa is pre-eminent among those who have reshaped education in India. She is generally known to Indians and the world at large as The Mother. She was Sri Aurobindo's spiritual collaborator and the lodestar of Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry for well over five decades. She first arrived in Pondicherry on 19 March 1914. Her stay was shortlived and she had to leave during World War I, only to return again on 24 April 1920 and then become a permanent resident of the city.
The Mother's activities within the spiritual community in Pondicherry were multifaceted. She founded the Ashram with a handful of disciples of Sri Aurobindo after the latter retired into seclusion on 24 November 1926. She registered the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust to run the affairs of the Ashram after Sri Aurobindo passed away. She headed the trust till she died on 17 November 1973, serving as an anchor for most of its activities and guiding its affairs with a rare blend of spirituality and management skills.
Her vision of universal coexistence is manifest in the foundation of Auroville near Pondicherry in 1968 ~ an international community living in peace and harmony with the purpose of realising a common humanity that transcends religion and nationality. Today, the township is home to over 2000 people from as many as 44 nations.
Perhaps the most visible contribution of The Mother is the opening of a school on 2 December 1943 at Pondicherry. Established initially to cater to the educational needs of the children of visitors to the Ashram, Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education (SAICE) soon developed to became a major centre for research in education and continues its glorious journey to this day. Education at SAICE ranges from kindergarten to higher levels, covering disciplines as diverse as languages, science and technology, Indian and Western dance, dramatics, art and craft, and various other vocational courses.
Sri Aurobindo envisioned an evolutionary course for mankind ~ a course that would elevate man spiritually. He considered education as one of the means to hasten the evolutionary process, and in this context, the foundation of SAICE can be regarded as one of the practical aspects of Sri Aurobindo's vision.
As the name suggests, the centre is international in character and its outlook transcends the differences in class, culture and nationality. When our educationists are struggling to lessen the burden on children, The Mother, since the foundation of SAICE, had emphasised what she called the "free-progress system" of education ~ a system that takes the child's psyche and mentality into account while educating him. Such a system takes care of a child's inherent capabilities and educates him/her in a way that suits his/her abilities without exerting the pressure of unrealistic targets and the burden of the syllabus.
Indeed, education at this centre showcases a process of free growth and not a rigid structure. This is "integral" to nature; education involves not merely the intellect, but also the emotions and the physical self. Its basis is neither dry philosophy nor abstract ideas and nor for that matter heartless materialism.
Education at SAICE is an extension of Sri Aurobindo's vision for mankind ~ to set up classrooms for the citizens of tomorrow. The Mother once remarked: "Free progress is progress guided by the soul and not subject to habits, conventions and preconceived ideas." A child in a conventional classroom would envy the burden-free atmosphere in which his friend at SAICE would be educating himself.
True to its vision, SAICE does not award degrees or diplomas in the conventional sense ~ a revolutionary practice started by the Mother far ahead of her time. The "integral" education, as envisioned and implemented by The Mother in Pondicherry, eminently suits our culture and socio-economic background. There is no demand for expensive educational infrastructure or teaching aids.
What is merely required are teachers who have an adequate knowledge of the system of "integral" education and a national outlook that absorbs the tenets of this system and take them to our classrooms, irrespective of place or level of education. What is perhaps required more urgently than anything else is the universal faith of our policy-makers and guardians in this system.
Interestingly, many schools in the country and elsewhere have absorbed The Mother's system of "integral education" and are implementing the precepts of the free-progress system with dedication and faith. Their success ought to inspire our educators and policy-planners and convince them that the potential of a viable and ideal system of education is lying untapped and unused in our curriculum.
It would not be an exaggeration to suggest that The Mother's final arrival at Pondicherry on 24 April 1920 was destined to expose our country to a path-breaking system of education that is universal and reassuringly prophetic. We can only neglect her vision of education at our own peril.
The writer is Assistant Professor of English, Raiganj B Ed College, Uttar Dinajpur in West Bengal
I have informed the Prime Minister in writing about my decision to quit the GoM on corruption. I have let him know that I don't want to remain with the panel any more. I don't want to be associated with it. The chapter is closed from my side.
Union agriculture minister Mr Sharad Pawar after resigning from the group of ministers on corruption
Couldn't have asked for more. This is the ultimate! It is the proudest moment of my life... I thank the team for putting up a fabulous performance and playing consistent cricket.
Sachin Tendulkar, after India beat Sri Lanka to win the cricket World Cup
I've tried to remain honest throughout my career. Whatever responsibility is thrust on me, I try to fulfil it to the best of my ability. It's a pleasure that Sachin enjoys playing with me. I am also trying to serve the nation the way he does.
Indian cricket captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni after batting maestro Sachin Tendulkar described him as the best captain he had played under
I really don't know how to paint. But if people like what I come up with, that is overwhelming. I'm all for state funding of elections. I would not have to raise election money in this fashion if that happens.
Trinamul Congress chief Miss Mamata Banerjee when all of her 95 paintings were sold at Galerie 88
How can somebody pray for the death of a senior politician like Mamata Banerjee? She was termed brain dead by Gautam Deb. The days of CPI-M leaders are numbered and therefore they have lost mental balance.
Trinamul leader Mr Partha Chatterjee
We will infuse fresh blood into the party. The average age of party members and functionaries, right from local committees to the state committee, will come down. The process has already begun.
Left Front chairman Mr Biman Bose
We have learnt lessons from our mistakes and voters have taught us a lesson. They took us to task us during successive elections in 2009 and 2010. If we can form the eighth Left Front government, the work done by us will be remembered by the world for many years.
West Bengal housing minister Mr Gautam Deb at a Press conference
We would strive to solve the Hills crisis just as Rajiv Gandhi had with Subash Ghisingh. We want a permanent solution and believe that the problems can be sorted out through dialogues and negotiations.
Union finance minister Mr Pranab Mukherjee
'CORRUPT MANDARINS DON'T TAKE CVC SERIOUSLY'
A former vigilance commissioner at the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC), Mr Sudhir Kumar, is probably one of the few IPS officers who had spent almost his entire career in the Intelligence Bureau (IB). Whether it was the Punjab militancy or the 2002 Godhra train killings and the subsequent Gujarat carnage, his contribution to investigations into these episodes was remarkable. Mr Kumar, a 1968 Maharashtra cadre IPS officer, rose to the rank of special director in the IB and then was made secretary (security) at the Cabinet Secretariat in 2004. After he retired in 2005, he got another challenging assignment ~ a stint with the country's top anti-corruption watchdog ~ the CVC. On 30 December 2005, he was appointed a vigilance commissioner at the CVC. At a time when the country is reeling under a surfeit of corruption and scams, Mr Kumar spoke to VIJAY THAKUR on the changing role of the CVC and the challenges it faces.
The CVC had been conceived as the country's apex vigilance institution, free from control of any executive authority. However, the common perception is that it is nothing more than a toothless tiger.
It is a fact that the CVC is considered a paper tiger. But we have to look into why the CVC, despite having some of the best officials serving there, is perceived as one. The CVC was set up by the government in February 1964 on the recommendations of the Committee on Prevention of Corruption. Initially it was a one-member body, but in 1998, it became a multi-member panel with statutory status. Initially, it was just a department created out of a memorandum. Later, the CVC Act was passed in 2003 and it came into effect from September 2003.
The problem is that the CVC's observations are mainly advisory and recommendatory in nature. As a result, thick-skinned, shameless and corrupt officials get away with ignoring and manipulating the CVC's recommendations. It is only those who still have some respect for the system who take them seriously. Therefore, despite the remarkable work done by the agency, it is known as a paper tiger. But it is not that the CVC has not done anything ~ one only needs to peruse the reports and actions recommended by it to know that. In a lighter vein, I often tell my friends that during my stint at the CVC, I had written more reports than I had in my 35-year policing career.
Do you not think that the CVC should be given more powers to get rid of its "toothless tiger" image?
The problem is not with power or the lack of it, it is something else. Some of the powers delegated to the CVC are not even properly defined. The CVC has been empowered to exercise superintendence over the functioning of the Delhi Special Police Establishment (DPSE) with respect to investigation under the Prevention of Corruption Act or offences under the Code of Criminal Procedure for certain categories of public servants and to give directions to the DSPE on how best to discharge their responsibilities.
This means the CVC can supervise the investigations being conducted by Central investigating agencies, including the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). However, it is not clear whether it can do the qualitative analysis of evidence collected by the investigating agencies. There is still some ambiguity in this regard that needs to be cleared. The CVC has to be told clearly how far it can go.
There is an ambivalence over whether the CVC can have an effective say or can give direction to an investigation or if the CBI is obliged to share its findings and course of investigation with the CVC. If we want to make CVC fully effective, all these gray areas need to be defined.
There is now a demand for bringing political bosses other than Central government employees under the CVC's purview…
It will be good if that's done, but we have to understand that political bosses do not come into the picture directly and normally operate through civil servants. It is for the political parties to decide who should be leading them.
Just ask party insider about Mr Suresh Kalmadi ~ the common view is that he is a highly undesirable element to have in any political party. But for obvious reasons, he became the Commonwealth Games Organising Committee chief. Such people are there in every party and they manage to survive irrespective of the political party in power. It is for the political leadership to decide whether to allow, if at all, such people to get away with the wrongdoings that they commit.
In the present scenario, what do you think the CVC should do to improve its image?
In the present scenario, the CVC's remit is restricted to probing criminal misconduct of bureaucrats and advising criminal investigating agencies accordingly. What we are emphasising on is that all cases probed by the CVC should be brought to a logical conclusion. We have urged the government to make the CVC's jurisdiction clear a number of times. In some areas, there is an overlap of authority. For example, if the CVC recommends disciplinary action against a government servant, the UPSC turns it down. There are many such examples.
What other problems are preventing the CVC from making itself more effective? Is it shortage of staff or insufficient power to conduct probes?
One, as I said, the CVC's recommendations are not taken seriously by thick-skinned, corrupt bureaucrats. Two, the commission is overburdened and is suffering from an acute shortage of staff. This is not just about filling vacancies but also about selecting and appointing efficient staff. We are not getting good people. While selecting officials for the CVC, it must be ensured that the candidates have 10-12 years of experience, have impeccable integrity, are professionally competent as well as hard working to be considered. Unfortunately, we don't find many who fit the bill.
Also, attempts are made, on one ground or the other, to obstruct probes we conduct/facilitate. When the government initiated projects for the Commonwealth Games, the CVC was never asked to conduct inspections. Representatives of the Delhi government, including the then chief secretary of Delhi, had met me around 2006. They urged the CVC not to inspect any CWG project insisting that vigilance of this nature would be considered obstructive. They went to the extent of demanding from the CVC that the agency give some sort of blanket assurance for not instituting vigilance enquiries then or in future into their acts of omission and commission in the course of implementing the Games projects. Imagine, they were seeking a "no-action assurance" for criminal misconduct ~ this is nothing short of daylight robbery of public funds.
THE INDIAN MUSEUM AND INDIAN CRAFTS
It is to be hoped that the change in the management of the Indian Museum, which has now come into operation, will result in a still more efficient development and utilisation of the valuable treasures which the Museum contains. With Dr Vogel in charge of the Archaeological collection, Dr Annandale as the superintendent of the Ethnological section, and Mr Percy Brown as director of the Art Department, each of these branches ought to receive sympathetic and expert attention. There is no reason why the Museum, instead of being the playground of the Bengali rustie, should not be a centre of instruction in the Sciences and Arts. Even in England, which is not especially enterprising in such matters, the Municipal Committees who have charge of the Museums in Liverpool, Manchester and other large towns, have arranged for popular lectures by way of enabling the public to gain some intelligent appreciation of the contents of the various collections. Museums are, of course, established mainly for the benefit of those who have knowledge enough to make use of them without assistance. But these students are a small minority of the community, and the large expenditure of public money which the creation and maintenance of a Museum involve is at least more abundantly justified if efforts are made to render the collections interesting and instructive to the general public. In this country, where the European finds himself confronted with novelties which baffle and amateurish knowledge that he may possess, and where the educated Indian townsman is scarcely and better off, efforts at popular instruction are even more necessary than in England. The question of supplying this need is at any rate worthy of consideration. We are convinced that Mr Percy Brown, for instance, would command very considerable audiences if he were to deliver informal lectures upon the various branches of the beautiful collection representing the arts and crafts of India. What is more, we are satisfied that this collection could be made the means of affording substantial encouragement to the craftsmen whose work is exhibited. A vast number of people buy every cold weather what they fondly imagine to be typical products of the Indian crafts. These wares do not display any great variety. Their design is not unfrequently Western, and the East is chiefly represented in the poor workmanship and a want of exactness and finish. Most of these conventional Indian curios are obviously produced for the delectation of tourists. Yet, while the spurious and debased Indian industries which turn out ~ this is the only fit expression ~ these goods obtain a fair amount of custom, there are scores of artistic crafts, many of them of a distinctively Indian type, which are languishing for want of support.
BEHIND STONE WALLS
It is easy for poets to wax lyrical over the power of love to overcome all earthly barriers. They do not have to administer real prisons with convicted murderers falling in love with each other. By doing so, Sudarshan Bera and Rukshana Khatun of Behrampore jail have sent lawyers and officials into a fine tizzy. Buddhadeb Mete and Runa Bibi have done it too, while serving life sentences for murder. The West Bengal Correctional Services Act not only envisions prisons as correctional centres aimed at returning prisoners to society by making them confident, self-sufficient, socially adjusted human beings, but it also assures their enjoyment of fundamental rights "in so far as they do not become incapable of enjoyment as an indent of confinement". Not that love is a fundamental right, it is just an irresistible feeling. But does marriage, often the desired outcome of love, become "incapable of enjoyment as an indent of confinement"? It is not solely a question of practicality — although there is that too — but one of the notion of punishment. To put it rudely, can happiness in marriage be granted a prisoner when he has caused loss, grief and maybe irredeemable hurt to others?
No one is quite comfortable about this. Although the supreme court in the United States of America ruled that marriage is a constitutional right, the US department of corrections is rather secretive about its policies regarding marriages in prisons. It is less troublesome when one of the partners is from the outside world: last year, for example, Bijayalaxmi Pradhan married her beloved Dilip Nayak, sentenced to life for murder, inside the jail complex and went home with her husband's parents. Authorities in India also have a reputation for manipulating marriages that are advantageous to offenders against women. A rapist is sometimes promised freedom if he is willing to marry the woman he has raped. In the most damagingly regressive way conceivable, such a solution is considered good for everybody, especially the girl, whom no one else is expected to marry.
But there is nothing regressive about the two couples in love; they have put in their pleas for permission to marry. One has asked why they cannot be allowed to live in the open prison, where prisoners are given a certain amount of freedom to earn their livelihood and bring in members of the family after a few years. There is a peculiar irony in the situation. The two couples met and fell in love during their rehearsals for and performances of a play as part of the cultural activities introduced among new correctional methods. Since these aim to help return prisoners to life's mainstream, authorities should be absolutely clear about how they apply to lifers. Especially since life sentences tend to mean exactly that nowadays. Preventing a union would be inhuman, and a violation of rights. But would the idea of a confined, hence actually protected, conjugal life satisfy society's ideas of justice?
TWO MEN WHO IDENTIFY WITH ALL OF INDIA POLITICS AND PLAY: RAMACHANDRA GUHA
Some years ago, I coined the term 'Nehruvian Indian' to describe those who, in their professional and personal lives, "transcended the divisions of race and religion, caste and class, gender and geography". Viewed cynically, the term was a cloak and cover for my own confusions. Born in Dehra Dun of Tamil parents, with a Bengali name and now domiciled in Bangalore, it may have appeared that I was promoting a grand-sounding inclusiveness merely to mask my own lack of roots.
Two recent memoirs by Indians of far greater distinction than myself suggest that the term may still have its uses. George Verghese and Jagat Mehta both reached the pinnacle of their respective professions; the former as the editor of two major newspapers, the latter as foreign secretary of the government of India. Their writing, like their life, is marked by a conspicuous lack of parochialism; they identify with all of India, as befitting two men who came of age, intellectually speaking, when Jawaharlal Nehru was prime minister of this country.
Mehta's book is entitled The Tryst Betrayed: Reflections on Diplomacy and Development. Verghese's is called First Draft: Witness to the Making of Modern India. These books provide detached, informative analyses of the inner workings of two major institutions — the diplomatic corps and the fourth estate respectively. But it is not aspiring journalists or diplomats alone who would benefit from a close reading of these books.
Now in their eighties, Jagat Mehta and George Verghese retain the idealism and patriotism of their youth. A love of their country suffuses their work. They both admired Nehru, yet, as men of independence of mind, never let this come in the way of a critical understanding of his style of leadership. "While accompanying Nehru on an election tour," writes Mehta, "I realized India's good fortune in having a man of humanity, education and dedication at the helm, but also that hero-worshipping is not always democratic; it still requires to be supplemented by the courage of dissent, which was shown by the people of Kerala" — when they elected a communist government in 1957.
For his part, Verghese notes that Nehru "bestrode the scene like a colossus. Others were all too prone to defer to him. Jagat Mehta, who worked with him in the formative years of the new Foreign Office… called it the Panditji-knows-best syndrome.… Indeed, after Sardar Patel's passing, Nehru was increasingly unchallenged, though his admitted services, vision and liberal qualities undoubtedly endeared him to his countrymen".
Verghese continues: "By 1958-9, Nehru was in decline. He was tired and though still a charismatic figure, greatly beloved of the people, was increasingly unable to impart anything of the old dynamism to governance. … Sycophancy had, however, become the order of the day, and there was a chorus that the nation needed Nehru and he must remain at his post. I thought differently and wrote in The Times [of India] urging him to follow his instinct and retire, perhaps to become President of India, if he so desired. The reins of governance could then pass to younger and more dynamic hands within his own lifetime, so as to ensure a smooth political transition. This was very much a minority view…."
Both men write with insight about that most important and sometimes most exasperating set of Indians, the bureaucrats. Mehta observes that "officers fall into three categories: the first consists of those with ultimate concern for national interest and who say so whether asked or not; the second category is of those who worry about their careers or, at best, follow orders or answer questions. The third, a largish group, falls in between: they give of their best if leadership or directions so demand but in the absence of a positive atmosphere, coast along and pass the buck without taking risks."
The slow, super-cautious, obstructionist attitude of the typical Indian bureaucrat leads Verghese to term them the "Abominable No-Men". In a telling criticism of the civil service, he writes that "the ICS/IAS was something of a closed shop, zealous of its turf and wary of interlopers, be they technocrats or lateral-entry recruits to the 'system'".
Both Verghese and Mehta are critical of India's overbearing attitude to its smaller neighbours. The editor writes that "Nehru was imperious in his attitude towards Nepal". The diplomat argues that "Nehru did not fully recognize, and the Ministry failed to advise him, that in the twentieth century nothing was as difficult as diplomacy between unequal neighbours". Mehta goes so far as to say that "there is no greater example of the squandering of permanent and beneficial interdependence in all history .as between India and Nepal.… India's relations with its [smaller] neighbours is its greatest failure in foreign policy".
Both Verghese and Mehta spent many years in the field of rural development. Verghese worked with Gandhian institutions interested in village renewal and political decentralization. After retirement from the foreign service, Mehta worked with a pioneering NGO in Rajasthan, Seva Mandir. Products (like Nehru himself) of the University of Cambridge, obliged (by their profession) to spend much of their time in national capitals, they yet made it their business to roam as widely as they could. Unlike other editors and ambassadors, Verghese and Mehta have been as comfortable, and as keen to engage with, peasants as with prime ministers.
Verghese's lack of insularity is also manifest in his long-standing interest in states such as Assam and Nagaland, this sparked by "the Government of India's poor understanding of the needs and aspirations of the North-east". He has also long advocated a just resolution of the Kashmir dispute. As far back as the 1960s, he chastised the hawks in New Delhi for not realizing that "the Kashmir factor every day exacts a heavy price and that India's own self-interest demands an honourable settlement".
Being a 'Nehruvian Indian' does not mean that one cannot, when reason and evidence demand, be critical, even sharply critical, of the policies of India's first prime minister. But it certainly means that one recognizes the clear differences between the generally democratic Nehru and the instinctively authoritarian Indira Gandhi. When, unlike many of his fellow officers, Mehta refused to mortgage his mind to the personality of Mrs Gandhi, it was said in North and South Blocks that "Jagat's independence is dangerous".
As for Verghese, in 1969 he wrote with prescience of "the permanent interference of the [Congress] High Command in the States". On June 25, 1975, with Indira Gandhi's election petition being heard in the Supreme Court, he urged the prime minister to resign "with grace and dignity". Instead, she imposed the Emergency, one of whose victims was Verghese himself, who lost his job for not being a pliant editor. He wryly notes that in those days Nehru's daughter "saw herself as a latter-day Joan of Arc sent to save India by doing whatever her inner voices dictated".
In the early pages of his book, Verghese recalls what the headmaster of his old school told his students: "Do you hope your education will enable you to get more from your country or give more to it? Will the monument you leave behind (for you cannot take it with you) be a palace on Malabar Hill or will it be one built in the hearts of the people you have served?"
Having been to the same school, I can testify that most of its products have sought to exploit India rather than give back to it. Many have built palaces — in Rajasthan, South Delhi, London, California, and not least, Malabar Hill. By contrast, George Verghese and Jagat Mehta have led lives that combined dignity with distinction, service with sacrifice. Of the Nehruvian Indians alive they are among the most honourable. It is a privilege to have known them, and now, to have read their books.
'IT IS FOR THE ELECTION PANEL TO STEP UP VIGILANCE.'
Alarming reports about largescale attempts to bribe voters during the forthcoming assembly elections in Tamil Nadu have again drawn attention to this dubious tradition in the state. A recent WikiLeaks revelation had recorded frank admissions by leaders of all political parties of the widespread practice of buying votes with cash. While all parties are guilty, the DMK has perfected the art of bribing voters and being the ruling party it has an advantage over others. Almost every day there are reports of cash seizures by officials of the Election Commission (EC) and the income tax department from various parts of the state. A few days ago Rs 5.11 crore kept in bags on the roof a bus was seized in Tiruchirapalli. The bus is said to belong to the relative of a minister. About Rs 35 crore worth of cash, gold and other gifts for voters has been seized till now and this must be only the tip of the iceberg.
The EC has taken stringent steps and Chief Election Commissioner S Y Quraishi has said the flow of money in Tamil Nadu during elections is a big challenge. Money is flowing in the state, being transported through bicycles, ambulances, police vehicles and what not, and distributed in the most unconventional ways. Unfortunately, the practice has become entrenched and some voters have become so used to it that they are said to be demanding more and more with every election. The EC's steps may have had some impact because the DMK leaders have now started a campaign against the commission, with chief minister M Karunanidhi even charging that it has imposed an emergency in the state. No one except Tamil Nadu's parties should be unhappy with this emergency. It is for the commission to step up vigilance and efforts now as the next few days will see hectic activity by parties in reaching out to the voters with cash and other gifts.
Reports of cash seizures have come from other poll-bound states too. The EC recently took action against IT officials in the Delhi airport who let off a Trinamool Congress MP found carrying Rs 57 lakh. But the situation in Tamil Nadu is the worst and most serious. Free and fair elections there are in danger because of the use of gargantuan and unabashed use of money power and the cynicism with which parties resort to it.
'YUNUS' EXIT WILL NOT MEAN THE END OF GRAMEEN BANK.'
There is concern that the exit of Mohammed Yunus as Grameen Bank's managing director will severely undermine the micro-credit movement in Bangladesh. With the Bangladesh supreme court upholding the government's decision to sack Yunus, it is the end of the legal road for the Nobel laureate to seek redress. Yunus has been synonymous with the micro-credit movement, giving it a reputation and influence that goes well beyond Bangladesh's borders. His absence at the helm can be expected to diminish the stature of the bank and the credibility of the micro-credit movement. Worse, allegations of financial malpractice against Yunus will erode the integrity of the hitherto respected bank.
There is reason to suspect that Yunus' removal is politically motivated. Yunus' plan to set up a political party in 2007 apparently did not go down well with the Awami League. Although the plan remained stillborn, Sheikh Hasina's government seems to have neither forgotten nor forgiven Yunus for even contemplating that move — one that would have eroded the League's support base had it taken concrete shape. It is believed that the decision to oust Yunus is aimed at clipping his wings and denying him the micro-credit platform that has made him popular in rural Bangladesh. Hasina's government has sacked him on a technical issue. The central bank has charged the 71-year-old Yunus of overstaying as the bank's managing director; the age of retirement being 65 years. But Yunus claims the rule does not apply to the Grameen Bank. Yunus' leadership and his contribution to fighting poverty through micro-credit is immense. It is therefore unfortunate that he has had to be forced out of an institution that he built through much hard work. Surely the spat could have been resolved through dialogue.
The US' backing of Yunus has complicated the matter. The spat between him and the Bangladesh government is a domestic issue. Yet middle-level American officials have been issuing statements warning of negative consequences for US-Bangladesh relations if Yunus is ousted. They have reportedly been telling Bangladeshi officials that only a solution that is 'personally agreeable' to Yunus will do. Such meddling is rather excessive. It is true that the Grameen Bank will suffer without Yunus' leadership. But his exit will not mean the end of the institution. If Yunus was indeed a great leader he would have developed a second-rung leadership.
BONANZAS GO BUST
BY GAYATHRI NIVAS
The power of the executive to bestow largesse on its favourites is legion. But more often than not these 'gifts' never materialise.
There's many a slip twixt the cup and the lip, goes the old English proverb and it aptly applies to our World Cup winning Indian cricketers and their coach Gary Kirsten, who missed the chance of making Bangalore their future home just like a missed catch in a game of cricket. Or should we compare the missed opportunity to the 100th international century that eluded Sachin Tendulkar in the same World Cup final match last Saturday? Either way, Karnataka chief minister B S Yeddyurappa's quixotic decision to confer residential sites in Bangalore on not just Team India but also their South African coach, denied the haloed 16 this most elusive gift. Quixotic because Yeddyurappa declared the players would be housed in an exclusive layout, the location of which would be made known within a fortnight, but then changed his mind just as quickly as he had announced it soon after the Cup win. A third announcement, replacing the offer of sites with cash gifts of Rs 25 lakh each, followed as swiftly as the previous two decisions.
Perhaps the chief minister was well advised to change the land offer because getting government approved and allotted sites in Bangalore has proved as much, or more, elusive than winning the World Cup for India since 1983 — a reality that lakhs of site applicants-in-waiting would swear by in this burgeoning city whose galloping population (set to hit the one-crore mark) and worsening infrastructure have done nothing to blot its escutcheon of epithets such as the silicon valley of India, pensioners' paradise, garden city and so on and so forth.
Bungalows for the asking
A few of Yeddyurappa's predecessors too, like Ramakrishna Hegde, and even former Prime Minister H D Deve Gowda have demonstrated the power of the executive to bestow largesse on their favourites. Hegde invited former president of India, the late Neelam Sanjiva Reddy, to settle down in Bangalore once he demitted office. Reddy subsequently retired to his home turf Illur in Andhra Pradesh.
Deve Gowda apparently believed in winning friends by distributing state favours. First, he allotted a palatial bungalow on Safdarjung Road in Delhi to former president, the late Ramaswamy Venkataraman, who decided to live in the capital after the DMK's return to power in Tamil Nadu.
Venkataraman lived in a state-owned bungalow in Chennai while two of his houses in Delhi were rented out, much to the DMK's chagrin.
Deve Gowda then allotted a type-V bungalow to Sanjeeva Reddy's widow, who had expressed a desire to stay in Bangalore. The Karnataka government was instructed to allot the bungalow to Nagaratnamma Reddy. The Centre was to exchange with the Karnataka government two smaller houses in lieu of the large bungalow for Nagaratnamma Reddy.
The Deve Gowda government also decided to allot type-V bungalows to the surviving spouses of former presidents, vice-presidents and prime ministers. The widows of former presidents Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed and Giani Zail Singh, and former prime minister Lal Bahadur Shastri and Rajiv Gandhi became beneficiaries of government bungalows in the capital.
On the contrary, not just in Bangalore, across Karnataka, award winners, victims of natural calamities awaiting rehabilitation after losing home and hearth, and poor beneficiaries of government-sponsored housing schemes have had to wait alike to receive the "gift of kindness".
Quite often than not the 'gift' never materialises. The state government's constant refrain is that there is no land left to distribute. Scores of genuine causes and investment proposals, such as research facilities and premier educational institutions, have been shelved for want of land. An eyecare institution seeking to establish a state-of-the-art laboratory to facilitate pathbreaking research for the benefit of the visually impaired is still waiting with no land in sight.
Stars vs heroes
While hailing the World Cup win, an Army colonel, in an open letter, has urged some introspection as to how the country views its war heroes and what the government/state offers them for sacrificing their lives in the line of duty. Here are some excerpts: "The team partied at the same Taj Hotel, which was the battle ground on 26/11 and witness to many a soldier giving up his life. Major Unnikrishnan who died while fighting the terrorists is yet to receive his complete NOK entitlements. He gave his today for the tomorrow of others so that they can party all night without any threat. The world Cup finals at Mumbai was held under safe environment with the army, navy, coast guard, NSG and what not to ensure the conduct of the match without a hitch. Remove the men in uniform and see if the events pass smoothly, be it CWG games or cricket match. The Kargil War has still its shadows on the number of officers/jawans who laid down their lives to protect the nation and its territorial integrity. What the recipients of Param Vir Chakras/Mahavir and Vir Chakras got in comparison to the cricket boys is known to all (peanuts). What the families of the dead go through can only be experienced by them.
The railways is not prepared to honour the percentage concession given to the war heroes in stark comparison to a lifetime First AC free pass throughout the country along with an aide to the cricket stars. Let us not forget the Kabul blast in which a Brigadier was also blown up with a bureaucrat. The babu got all the cake and the icing, the Brig was treated as a casualty. The PM went and paid homage to the babu and his family, the Brig got the traditional 'Shok Shashtra'."
BY KHUSHWANT SINGH
The last week of March will go down in India's history because it saw the decline in the status of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to its lowest ebb in seven years.
But I can still reaffirm that he has emerged as India's fearless leader and the wisest prime minister India has ever had. I am sure that Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi were privy to his decision to invite the prime minister of Pakistan to witness the cricket match between the two countries at Mohali.
There are good reasons for Mohali being chosen as the venue for the match. It is closest to Pakistan than any other Indian city where test matches are played. It also witnessed the world's worst communal conflicts when Punjab was divided into two in August 1947 — over a million people were murdered in cold blood and ten million uprooted from their homes.
Though the wounds inflicted in 1947 have healed, bitter memories of what happened 64 years ago still rankle in the minds of Punjabis on both sides. Mohali also has more space than other possible venues. There was no language problem, our guest from Pakistan spoke the same language as the citizens of Mohali.
Like most Indians I watched the first half of the match on my TV before retiring for the night. An eerie silence enveloped the country. It was broken by bursting of crackers and I concluded that India had won.
I was happy that India had won. I would have been equally happy if Pakistan had won. They will go back hurt and their team chided for having lost to India. Perhaps once again it will be Manmohan Singh's acceptance of the invitation to visit Pakistan that will bring the two countries closer.
Dance as soporific
As my vision and hearing decline and I do not welcome visitors, I rely on papers, magazines and TV channels to keep abreast of what is going on in the world. I switch on my TV at 5 pm and I get a gist of the news in a few minutes and get my favourite programme — Doordarshan programme devoted to classical music and dancing.
Despite my hearing aids, I am unable to get much out of the music and hope they will put on classical dancing. I can tell which form of dancing it is. My top favourite is Odissi because it is sensuous and closest to stone sculptures on temple walls. Only one form of dancing eludes me — Kathakali from Kerala. I don't understand why dancers wear weird masks. Why so much quivering of fingers and strong foot movements. I find it grotesque.
Almost all dancers after their decline become teachers of dancing and manage to get government aid to run them. I find the teaching lessons most attractive because I also learn something from them. My top favourite is Swapna Sundri and her two girl disciples. She demonstrates new movements and asks the girls to repeat them which beats time with a clapper.
I have never met Swapna Sundri but feel I have known her all my life. I switch off at 8 pm convinced that my sleep will be full of sweet dreams.
A Gujarati, a Madrasi and a Sardar were doing construction works on scaffolding on the 20th floor of a building. They were having lunch. Gujju said: "Dhokla! If I get dhokla one more time for lunch, I'm going to jump off this building."
The Madrasi opened his lunch box and exclaimed, "Idli sambhar again! If I get idli sambhar one more I'm going to jump off too".
The Sardar opened his lunch box and said, "Parantha again! If I get a parantha one more time, I'm jumping too."
The next day the Gujju opened his lunch box, saw dhokla, and jumped to his death. The Madrasi opened his lunch, same idli-sambhar, and jumped too. The Sardar opened his lunch, saw the parantha and jumped to his death as well.
At the funeral Gujju's wife was weeping. She said, "If I'd known how really tired he was of dhokla, I never would have given it to him again!" The Madrasi's wife also wept and said, "I could have given him dosa! I didn't realise he hated idli sambhar so much."
Everyone turned and stared at the Sardar's wife.
The Sardar's wife said, "Don't look at me. He makes his own lunch."
(Contributed by Vipin Buckshey, Delhi)
IN RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE
LUCKY FOR SOME
BY PADMA GANAPATI
In Scotland, no airport has gate 13. There is 12, then 12B, thus avoiding 13.
According to Norse myth, 12 gods were having a grand feast. The god of mischief, Loki, joined in as the uninvited 13th guest. It was bad enough to gate crash. He caused further discord by getting Hod, the blind god, to shoot Baldur, the god of joy. This resulted in the earth being plunged into darkness and sadness. Ever since, 13 has come to be associated with trouble. Quite a few people are unhappy with the number 13.
The fear of Friday stems from the fact that Christ was crucified on this day. There is also the belief that Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit on Friday. When the 13th falls on a Friday, the combination strikes terror in the heart of even the bravest. It dates back to the 14th century when King Philip IV of France arrested Jacques de Molay, the grand master of the Knights Templar.
Numerous other knights were captured and killed on the same day. So Friday, the 13th, began to have an evil connotation.
Even in this day and age, there are several instances of by-passing the number 13. In Scotland, no airport has gate 13. There is 12, then 12B, thus avoiding 13. Lufthansa seating in airplanes goes from 12 to 14, skipping 13. Formula One has no car numbered 13.
Some feel Apollo 13 had to return to earth due to malfunction because it was launched at 13.13. Though other spacecraft have met with problems though they were numbered differently!
Certain socialites in France who called themselves Quatorziens (fourteeners) made themselves the 14th guest at dinner parties to ward off evil or bad luck.
Bill Gates of Microsoft lost the distinction of being the richest man in the world in the 13th year, according to some. The popular online game, Kingdom of Loathing is very particular about excluding the number 13 in all their programming.
Though there are many superstitions about the number 13, the beliefs have no logical explanations. I know a person who was born on Friday the 13th. He had led an exceptionally happy life. In fact, he if really fortune's favourite. Incidentally, the fear of number 13 is known as triskaidekaphobia.
THE NEWYORK TIMES
THREE MEN IN A ROOM
That's right. The rules for a more open government are being negotiated secretly by Mr. Cuomo; Dean Skelos, the Senate majority leader; and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.
Mr. Skelos and Mr. Silver have helped pass a few modest reform efforts over the years, but they always manage to avoid fundamental change. One of the biggest gaps is the weak disclosure requirements for legislators' outside businesses. Outside income is listed, but only in wide ranges, and even that isn't disclosed to the public. The 45 members who are lawyers are not required to reveal clients even if they do business with the state. That includes Mr. Skelos and Mr. Silver, both of whom are affiliated with high-powered law firms.
Newsday reported that Senator Skelos's firm has $1.75 billion in contracts with state agencies and public authorities. Mr. Skelos denies any conflict, but how can we know? We have no idea whether Mr. Silver's firm has business with the state. We hope in his tête-à-têtes, Mr. Cuomo is pushing disclosure hard.
Campaign finance laws need to be a lot tougher (no more $500 fines) and they need to be enforced. The state needs public campaign financing, starting with the comptroller's office. The reform law should also create an independent ethics commission — not an in-house cop — to oversee both the governor's office and the Legislature. As Mr. Cuomo is fond of saying, self-policing is an oxymoron. We hope he's making that case in his private meetings.
Reform must also include the creation of a nonpartisan redistricting commission to end the gerrymandering that all but ensures re-election for nearly every legislative incumbent, no matter how incompetent or venal.
State Senator Michael Gianaris and Mr. Silver — both Democrats — are pushing a sensible law proposed by the governor last month. Mr. Skelos and his Republican caucus are trying to slither out of their campaign promises on redistricting reform by pushing for one that could not possibly take effect until 2022. Talk about a fake.
There is no time to waste. The 2010 census numbers are in and the 2012 election is just 19 months away.
Mr. Cuomo could move things forward if he reminded legislators of his campaign vow to veto any politically skewed maps. That would send the redistricting to the courts and a special master. With an independent commission the Legislature would still have input — choosing some members and voting on the commission's maps.
Mr. Cuomo has also vowed that if the Legislature fails to adopt real reform, he will take matters into his own hands and create a Moreland Act Commission to investigate legislative abuses. Some Albany hands suggest that this 104-year-old law doesn't allow the governor to investigate the Legislature, but Mr. Cuomo could still threaten to hold hearings, subpoena witnesses and generally embarrass legislators for their wayward or even illegal ways.
It may come to that. But Mr. Cuomo could increase his chances of success if all New Yorkers — not just three men in a room — could see working drafts of an ethics bill. Voters are rightly fed up with Albany. They are the governor's best allies for real reform.
THE NEWYORK TIMES
CUE THE OBAMA MONEY BUNDLERS
President Obama's campaign machine is telling its chief money raisers to go all out in the big-dollar political art called bundling. The goal is to enlist 400 or more bundlers — specialists in packaging contributions from deep-pocketed supporters — to pledge to raise $700,000 each for the 2012 campaign.
The high-stakes preparation reported by Politico is not surprising as Republicans bolster their war chests. But the president's bid for hundreds of millions in private support should make voters wonder whatever happened to his 2008 pledge — after he spurned public financing — to repair the less-corrupting and less-expensive public system created in the wake of Watergate.
There is no question that the 1976 subsidy formula needs updating to reflect inflation and the higher cost of campaigning. The White House has not pushed Congress to tackle the problem. But some House Democrats have a good proposal and there are plans for one by Senate Democrats. They dearly need the president's vocal support. Meanwhile, Congressional Republicans are determined to kill off public financing. While the White House has issued statements of opposition, there's been no ringing promise of a veto, should the G.O.P. prevail.
In the 2008 campaign, Mr. Obama reaped a windfall in small Internet donations, declaring, "We have created a parallel public financing system" to challenge "the wealthy and the powerful" who buy political influence. This time around, the president clearly wants to have it both ways by galvanizing bundlers and their wealthy and powerful friends as much as small Internet donors.
This is not surprising considering the Republicans' expected edge in unlimited corporate donations that the Supreme Court has now invited with the Citizens United decision. Mr. Obama rightly denounced that ruling. His convictions would be a lot more credible if he were also pushing to reform and revive the public financing option.
THE NEWYORK TIMES
THE VOCAL STYLINGS OF NEW YORK CITY TRANSIT
New York City is a very up close and personal sort of place. But we've been struck recently by the number of automated voices we hear. Commuters, in particular, travel to the backdrop of those voices. The accents often sound homegrown. But there is often something just slightly, deliciously off.
Some of the voices, speaking from on high, are computer-created, grafting individually spoken words together. This is the kind you hear on the West 86th Street subway platform. "There IS ... a DOWNtown ONE train apPROACHing the STAtion" — a recognizably human, male voice speaking with decidedly nonhuman articulation.
Catch the shuttle at 42nd Street, and you hear a male voice speaking an entire sentence instead of patched-together words. The voice is deep, almost Barry White in pitch, and rich in personality. "The next train arrives on track three ... baby," it seems to say, as if to assure you that this is the big time, so why not be cool about it?
At Grand Central a voice descends from the ceiling zodiac offering self-guided tours of the station: "You may be surprised at what you learn." This is the antithesis of the shuttle voice, higher in pitch, with a Wouldn't-it-be-swell? lilt. Listen closely, and you realize it is the voice of a young New York father explaining to his daughter, on Christmas morning, why a bicycle is much more practical than a pony.
Then comes the long ride up the Harlem Line on Metro-North, the train saying at each station, "THIS is the TRAIN to Southeast," as if it were saying, "MY name is BOB." The stations pass one after another, each one announced with professional assurance. All but one, that is. After Croton Falls comes "BREWster!!," which the train says as if in gleeful answer to the question, "What goes cock-a-doodle do?"
TIMES FREE PRESS
Whatever Congress did or didn't do by midnight last night in either facing or dodging its financial responsibilities, the threat of a government shutdown was proof that many lawmakers are disgustingly irresponsible.
The Constitution says in Article I, Section 8, "The Congress shall have Power to lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States ... ."
That Congress has not always been responsible in its duty is indicated by the fact that it has run up a national debt of more than $14 trillion!
That's the long-range view.
But the short-range view is that while Congress has the responsibility of providing the finances for the delegated functions of the U.S. government — in both domestic and foreign affairs — it has not done so in a wise and timely fashion.
With some big decisions by Congress required by midnight last night, there were no legal options but for lawmakers to rush through some new appropriations to keep governmental functions going or to shut down some federal operations — though vital services were to continue regardless.
While Washington clearly does many things never authorized by the Constitution, Congress' constitutional obligations are so important that federal lawmakers should never have waited until a last-minute deadline to do their financial duty.
Members of Congress, Democrats and Republicans, may argue about how much should be appropriated and for what purposes — making their decisions wisely and intelligently or foolishly and carelessly. In the current showdown over spending, for example, it should be noted that one of the key obstacles has been Democrats' reprehensible rejection of GOP demands to cut unconstitutional funding for abortion provider Planned Parenthood — and Democrats' desire for higher spending overall than what Republicans are willing to accept in a time of crippling debt.
But such disputes should not have caused the legislative branch to fail to provide for governmental operations.
An understanding of that basic responsibility was lost on too many members of Congress, who wanted to play a game of budgetary "chicken" instead of perform their duties.
With members of both parties having sworn to uphold the Constitution, it is appalling that many refused to put the national interest first.
There unfortunately have been several shutdowns in the past, the most recent ones in 1995 and 1996. Solutions were worked out on those occasions. But that adult men and women failed in their duty, then and now, is outrageous.
This morning, we should know whether a government shutdown was averted at the last minute.
But either way, Congress has not behaved responsibly.
TIMES FREE PRESS
BOB BERNHARDT'S NEW CHAPTER
Robert "Bob" Bernhardt has been a treasure in Chattanooga for the past 19 years as music director and conductor of the Chattanooga Symphony & Opera. But he has chosen to end that fine run. He will become music director emeritus, though he'll still conduct concerts and operas here in the future.
His skill and colorful wit have enriched the Chattanooga artistic scene in a way that will be greatly missed.
Bob, a native of Rochester, N.Y., earned a master's degree at the University of Southern California School of Music and was a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Union College in New York.
It was a distinct blessing to the music world — and particularly to Chattanoogans — that Bob's early desire to be a baseball player was altered when he put down the bat to lift the baton.
He has a long list of musical triumphs, ranging from his Carnegie Hall debut in 1978 to his appearances as a guest conductor in many cities.
Maestro Bernhardt made the Chattanooga Symphony & Opera, its musicians and its audiences a vital part of our artistic community, and he also earned distinction far and wide.
He has added delightful, colorful and cheerful musical whole notes to our community, for which we are most appreciative.
TIMES FREE PRESS
AN EDUCATION REFORMER
Tennessee's new education commissioner faces a big challenge as he seeks to improve public schools. But in a visit to the Times Free Press recently, Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman, who was appointed by Gov. Bill Haslam, proposed some sensible ways to pursue that goal.
• Encourage innovative charter schools. Charter schools, which have less bureaucracy than ordinary public schools, are not perfect, Huffman noted, but many of the best public schools are charter schools.
• Find out what good schools are doing and replicate it elsewhere.
• Compensate good teachers well.
• At least consider the use of vouchers. Vouchers let children in failing public schools attend private schools. A voucher program in Florida proved highly economical. Huffman said vouchers are not a "cure-all," but he added, "I don't think we should take things off the table."
• Promote parental involvement, but also recognize that children from difficult family circumstances can learn — as evidenced by the fact that many teachers of children from poor and broken families still manage to get good academic results.
We wish the commissioner success in his tough, often thankless task.
TIMES FREE PRESS
KEEP U.S. TROOPS OUT OF LIBYA
It was alarming when President Barack Obama, acting on the basis of a U.N. resolution, ordered U.S. airstrikes on forces controlled by dictator Moammar Gadhafi in Libya.
Gadhafi's departure would be welcome, but the president had not gotten constitutionally required authorization from Congress for a war on Libya. And it's unclear just what Obama hopes to accomplish — Gadhafi's removal, a stalemate between Gadhafi and the rebels, or something else. In addition, we do not yet really know whether the rebels would be a definite improvement over Gadhafi's despotism.
But with the United States' and other nations' attacks on Libya having failed to stop Gadhafi decisively, there is now unwise talk of expanding U.S. involvement by putting our troops on the ground there.
Testifying at a Senate hearing, U.S. Army Gen. Carter Ham, who until recently directed the U.S. attacks on Libya, was asked whether the United States would make U.S. soldiers part of a NATO-led force in Libya.
"I suspect there might be some consideration of that," he said.
There shouldn't be!
Americans are horrified by Gadhafi's treatment of his own people. But we cannot halt all human rights abuses around the world. And there is neither a vital U.S. interest nor an imminent threat to the United States from Libya that would justify greater U.S. military intervention.
Involving American soldiers in Libya's civil war would be a horrible idea!
Fortunately, the president has said — so far — that he doesn't plan to do that. But if he later considers U.S. intervention on the ground in Libya, he should get congressional approval to do so.
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
A BOOK ON THE PRESIDENTIAL SYSTEM
For the first time in its limping democracy, Turkey will have a historic opportunity to debate its future social contract through the new constitution. Alas, a new obstacle lies ahead: The debate on a presidential system.
The debate is coming to the country's agenda more and more frequently. We briefly discussed the issue last year and the case closed within days. More recently it was about to appear again on the agenda but President Abdullah Gül, Parliament Speaker Mehmet Ali Şahin, Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç and party spokesman Hüseyin Çelik poured cold water on it the same day. And this week Gül cooled it down again, saying, "My personal opinion remains distant to the presidential system."
In the meantime, the book "Presidential System in All Aspects," by constitutional law professor and Parliamentary Constitution Commission Chairman Burhan Kuzu appeared on bookshelves. It is actually a renewed version of a book he wrote in 1997. Kuzu has been involved in the subject for some time. Obviously, however, the book was prepared in haste to be a reference point for the discussion. For instance, don't be surprised when you read, on page 112, "The Presidential System model has made it onto Turkey's agenda. Our party officials, our prime minister and our president have started work in favor of this regime." The claims are from the earlier version of the book. The prime minister mentioned there is Tansu Çiller and the president is Süleyman Demirel. Only Footnote 256 on the same page refers to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
'Governance' not 'government'
The leading motive of those who defend the presidential system in Turkey is political stability. They seem confident that the presidential system can be brought forth only by strong governments. Their doctrine is about "government" of the 19th century, not "governance" of the 21st century. And the guises they come up with are simply odd.
Here are a bunch of assertions from the book: "Actually, it is a fact that the U.S. was influenced by the Ottomans as they established the presidential system," (pg. 112). The late 18th century referred to corresponds to the beginning of the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire! But never mind.
"The parliamentary system has emerged and developed in Britain and its characteristics have been shaped according to the British tradition. It is a de facto model. … Since the parliamentarian model has the characteristics of British history, it could only be successful in another country up to a certain degree. However, the presidential system is a model developed by human intelligence [sic]. Therefore, when the wise men of a given country get together; a presidential system based on country's own situation, by preserving local characteristics and without making any compromises in common features can be established," (pg. 13). No comment!
"The overall trend in the world is toward the individualization of power [not individual power]. It's been observed that citizens sympathize with this model of government, believing that things run smoothly and responsibilities are better determined in such way. In fact, for all types of governments there is a tendency to shift to the presidential system. Even Russia [sic] inclines toward this system," (pg. 127).
"Let me say that a federal or provincial structure is not a sine quo non for the presidential system," (pg. 14). "In the model we propose, the unitary structure of the French system merges with the presidential powers in the U.S.," (pg. 139). Kuzu plainly gives the description of autocracy!
'Power sharing' not 'power'
In almost every section of Kuzu's book, the need for a strong legislative power is mentioned. How could we believe this? We know that to date, the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, certainly did nothing to improve the existing parliamentary system, thereby strengthening the legislative power. Not a single step has been taken for the reinforcement of political parties and in representational fairness, which are both founding blocks of the parliamentary system. One of the world's highest and most unfair election thresholds exists in this country. The voting system does not allow small parties to have a say, yet it helps big parties get bigger. Prime ministers lead parties in order not to let go of control. Political parties are closed down regularly. Intra-party democracy does not exist. In this "one man" system, legislative power consists of backbenchers on automatic-pilot.
Therefore, the problem is not the weakness of the executive power, but the lack of a system to check, balance and, therefore, share the power with a powerful legislative branch and judiciary, as well as international legal and regional bodies.
The sustainability and stability of political systems, as put forward in the debate on the presidential system, are based on adequate checks and balances and utmost political representation and participation, not on the supremacy of one man and a powerful parliamentary majority.
Kuzu's book is vital for one point: It guarantees that the system Mr. Prime Minister dreams about cannot be built on such unserious foundations.
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
HOW TO DISMANTLE A BAD CONSTITUTION
Turkey is heading towards general elections, which are to be held on June 12. There is some excitement in the air, but everybody is pretty certain that the winner will be the Justice and Development Party, or AKP. The only question is how great the AKP victory will be. Some polls show that the party's votes are around 45 percent, others suggest even higher figures fluctuating around 50 percent.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, therefore, must be feeling like one the securest leaders in the world. He is also walking towards becoming "historic." On the morning of June 13, he will probably wake up as the second prime minister in Turkish history who was able to win three elections in a row. (The one before, Adnan Menderes, was executed in 1961 by thugs in uniform — a junta — before his fourth victory.)
One of Erdoğan's important tasks, as he has been promising, will be to make a new and "civilian" constitution. The latter term is much emphasized here, for the past two constitutions in Turkey, the 1961 and 1982 documents, were made under the auspices of military juntas. (The ones before, those of 1921 and 1924, were more democratic in nature and less authoritarian in content.)
I have been among the supporters of the "civilian constitution" cause, for the current one is not just drafted by generals but also is a very illiberal text, despite all the amendments. I still am a supporter of that cause. But I also feel that it might be a very messy and challenging task.
Here is the basic problem: The 1961 and 1982 constitutions were designed for a regime with an official ideology, which is none than Kemalism. Therefore, Kemalist principles were inserted into these documents as "unamendable articles."
The 1982 Constitution, for example, refers to "Atatürk's nationalism" as one of those untouchable foundations of the Turkish Republic. That nationalism is best expressed in Atatürk's famous motto, "How happy is the one who says 'I am a Turk'," and Article 66 of the Constitution, which declares that every citizen of Turkey "is a Turk."
Being a Turk, I am not terribly offended by these concepts, but other citizens of Turkey, such as the Kurds, feel understandably different. They simply don't want a constitution that dictates "Turkishness" on them, and I think they are absolutely right to feel so. So, can we just abandon "Atatürk's nationalism" as a constitutional principle, and instead accept an ethnically neutral definition of citizenship?
That would have been a common sense solution for many people, but not for many Turks. First of all, Turkish nationalists, represented by the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, are very passionate about keeping "Turkishness" intact. Moreover, the the main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, also has a nationalist side and a very firm attachment to "Atatürk's principles."
That's why a "civilian constitution" which skips the every-citizen-is-a-Turk credo will probably face a lot reaction from the opposition parties — and perhaps even some of the more nationalist elements within the AKP. But a constitution which still keeps that credo would be illiberal, because of the imposition it brings onto Kurds and other citizens who do not define themselves as Turks. What shall we do?
Bones of contention
There are many bones of contention like this. The constitutional principle of secularism ("laiklik") is another one. Currently, the Constitution say Turkey is "laik," but it doesn't explain what this means. Traditionally, it has been the generals' and the judges' job to make that explanation, and make it according to their anti-religious biases. Many others, including me, would prefer a constitution that defines what "laiklik" is, and defines it in a way that respects religious freedom as well. But I am sure millions of die-hard secularists would rise up in anger then, and denounce this move which would "help religion creep into public life."
That's why I am afraid that a truly liberal-democratic constitution, that the AKP has been promising, would face fierce reactions both in Parliament and in the society. If the AKP wins more than 367 seats (two-thirds of Parliament) they can still pass the new document, or bring it to a referendum if they have between 330 and 367 seats. In either case, the opposition would denounce the new constitution as "an AKP Constitution," and Turkey's never-ending political wars would only get more intense.
Besides, we have reason to be concerned with the AKP's own motives. Erdoğan is obviously the leader who carried Turkey to a post-military (and thus more democratic) phase. But this gave him a lot of power, and too much power is good for no one. He just hinted that he wants a "presidential system"— and you don't have to be a rocket scientist to understand that his candidate for presidency is none but himself. But without the checks and balances present in the U.S., such a one-man system might reinforce Turkey's traditional patrimonialism, rather than making it evolve into an advanced democracy.
So, although I still fancy the "new constitution" idea, I just don't know how we will be able to pull that off in a way which will strengthen our democracy and relieve our nation. If you have good ideas, please let me know.
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
ARINÇ'S WASHINGTON VISIT AND LIMITS FOR TOLERANCE
"Why did you ask this [question]?" Bülent Arınç, Turkish deputy prime minister, who is known as the number two figure in the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, dressed down a reporter following a question on "whether he met with Fethullah Gülen," a leader of Turkey's largest Muslim movement, while he was in the United States.
Apart from the fact that the question appeared to be well-justified, since Gülen is one of the most discussed names in Turkey recently and the minister's visit to New York and Washington was in close proximity to Pennsylvania, where Gülen resides, I happened to witness an unusual exchange, or more of an interrogation of a minister in front of cameras.
Arınç visited Washington this week for two days after signing a cooperation protocol between Turkish state-run TRT radio & television and the United Nations Television in New York. Arınç did not request to meet with U.S. officials before the Washington leg of the visit, but only talked with several think tanks and newspapers editors.
The AKP, and its democracy advocate top officials, for years came to Washington to talk about their freedom-oriented vision for Turkey while drawing their differences with other Turkish parties. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, in his first years in office, was promising during his Washington visits that his party was serious and very decisive in moving from top-down hierarchical leadership and process to bottom-up participation as well as bringing better democratic standards as a whole package to Turkey.
When we look at today's Washington and how the AKP delegations are greeted, we see that the narrative has greatly changed and the suspicion about the AKP's ability or sincerity to fulfill those promises is greatly increased. Arınç, while he himself admitted that he is unsure in which city his candidacy can be submitted in coming general elections of June, if at all, had a hard time satisfying cynical questions about the rapidly deteriorating democratic standards of Turkey. After all, what sort of a standard is he defending, as one sharp Turkey observer in Washington stated, when even his candidacy for the elections is a mystery to himself, a decision that is absolutely tied to a word that will be uttered by the lips of the absolute ruler in the party, Erdoğan.
Arınç, one of the AKP's most soft-spoken voices, spent much of his precious Washington time as a statesman not discussing how Turkey can contribute best to what is taking place around the globe, but simply digging deeper to shield Turkey's worsening record on freedom-related issues over and again. Therefore, the visit proved once more that the latest arrests of the journalists and raids to confiscate a draft book not only stain Turkey's image in Western capitals, but these developments also greatly impede Turkey's ability to present itself and its foreign policy vision as an effective player in such significant meetings with policy analysts and observers.
At the German Marshall Fund, too, nobody in the audience appeared to be very much interested in listening to Turkey's potential role related to changing world history; the majority of that audience, some of whom I had a chance to chat with, was already very much aware of the reports like the Economist's Intelligence Unit's latest bit on "democracy index," which classifies Turkey as a "hybrid" democracy, one level above "authoritarian regimes," and behind "flawed democracies" along with Uganda, Pakistan or Tanzania.
On his second and last day in Washington, Arınç invited Turkish press to the Turkish embassy where he held the press conference. Arınç first refused to give any information about what kind of questions he was asked by various places he had meetings with, a simple and basic question about the nature of any visit.
And when the second question came which was whether he met with Gülen, then an annoyed Arınç started contra follow-up questions, just like an aggressive journalist. Arınç appeared to be very much determined to reveal the intention behind that question. Arınç, who was a lawyer for 25 years in the past, justified his follow-up questions by asking more questions to the same reporter: "Do I ask you whom you met with, which streets you traveled or whose tea you drank today? I don't. Because I don't feel such a need. I, more or less, can understand why you are asking this question to me."
Even though these angry exchanges were somewhat scary, I felt brave enough to do a follow-up question related to Gülen once more and asked Arınç to comment on co-president of the EU-Turkey Joint Parliamentary Committee, Hélène Flautre's reported statement, in which she claims that there is big pressure from the Gülen movement on the Turkish judiciary, but especially on the media. I asked him if, as a seasoned politician, he had such a feeling that Gülen indeed exerted such pressure on such bodies. Arınç said he didn't hear about the statement, then said: "... if someone who is so high an official at the EU gives such a statement about Gülen's pressure on the judiciary so easily..., then if there is such a worry over the issue, there things should be done to satisfy those worries," without responding whether he, himself had any experience or impression to share about the effect of the movement after decades of experience in politics.
After a couple of questions, Arınç once more picked another fight with another reporter who started a question with the acronym of the ruling party, AKP. Arınç did not let the reporter ask the question until he made sure that the reporter got the wording right, before the question could be completed.
I, nevertheless, felt lucky to find a chance to ask Arınç why Turkey had not fulfilled its obligation to freeze the assets of members of the Moammar Gadhafi regime, as United Nations Security Council's 1973 resolution foresees, and if he could kindly comment on it. It proved that it wasn't that easy. Arınç briskly and coldly rejected to answer my question and said a plain "no," then moved to the next. No other explanation or reason was given for the rejection of answering my question.
Arınç, who, just a day ago at the GMF was defending his party's record on the freedom of the press and trying to prove how perceptions about it have been misplaced, was interrogating a day later about the ulterior motives of a reporter, then snubbing another one by simply rejecting to answer, then not permitting another reporter to ask a question until his wording was in order. It was a telling exhibit for the limit of tolerance in terms of which questions can be asked and how by an AKP official.
After several other attempts, Arınç finally and unwillingly admitted that the matters surrounding the OdaTV raids and the confiscation of a book were questioned during his other meetings and that they had provided necessary information.
While history is being written in the greater Middle East region, where Turkey has a lot to be concerned about and must use every instrument to make its arguments heard, one of its top official's visit to Washington was mostly exhausted by defending Turkey's press freedom record before dressing down those Turkish reporters the next day, in the same city.
Many, including myself, wished to listen to Arınç, as a cofounder of the ruling pro-Islamic and conservative party in a vastly secular system, talk about, for instance, whether Islam, historically and culturally, can offer the best prospects for Western-style democracy among the non-Western-style civilizations in the world.
Instead, Washington witnessed a wasted visit by a Turkish top official who spent his time to vindicate Turkey's now-shameful democracy records which is recognized by many reputable reports and classifications around the globe.
What a waste indeed it was for Turkey's reputation that was spent. And what a telling story of an top AKP official's tolerance to "annoying" press questions, given that he was someone who was supposed talk and convince the Washington audience precisely otherwise.
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
THE CORRIDOR - CODES OF THE KURDISH QUESTION IN CANDIDATE LISTS
Deputies of the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, had long faces when they left a group meeting Tuesday. Without doubt, most were deputies of Kurdish origin.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has not been happy with the performances of AKP deputies from Southeast Anatolia and discussed this with his legislators from the region in no uncertain terms during Tuesday's closed-door session. In fact, Erdoğan's warning was like that of a message of a "Kurdish fight" that will be given in the region not only by the AKP but by the other political parties as well.
Following the 2007 general elections, Erdoğan said the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, did not represent Kurds and often suffixed the comments, saying, "We have 75 deputies of Kurdish descent." Considering the fact that BDP entered Parliament with 20-something deputies, Erdoğan was effectively giving the message that "we represent Kurds in the region."
Time has passed, and Erdoğan clearly expressed his disappointment over AKP deputies from the region despite their efforts on the Kurdish initiative. Opinion polls must have deepened his disappointment, and this could go against the Kurdish deputies when the candidate lists come out. Erdoğan, referring to BDP officials, said: "They are always in the Southeast, in the terror region. But our deputies did not go there and used the excuse of 'threats.' I don't accept this excuse. Seeing that you were to be afraid, why did you become candidates then?"
Erdoğan's remarks reflected his dissatisfaction with the performances of Kurdish deputies despite their efforts on the Kurdish initiative, so it is likely to substantially renew the candidate lists. Mr. Prime Minister was also letting everyone know that he will have new names on the lists; names who could be both influential in the region and give direction to the AKP's Kurdish policy in the new term.
Apparently, the BDP's efforts to increase number of deputies to 30 will also increase the dosage of the AKP's preventive measures. His challenge shows that Erdoğan "does not want policies and actors that could fall behind the BDP in the region." The AKP's candidate lists in the east and southeast also create the impression that they will bring some new data to shape the governing party's Kurdish policy in the post-election period.
A popular name in the southeast province of Diyarbakır and chairman of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Galip Ensarioğlu, ranks number one in some polls made in the city. This makes sense for the region because Ensarioğlu supported the Kurdish initiative while the AKP deputies didn't come back to the region, citing the "threat." The party grassroots' interest in him is interpreted
Behind the scenes among the AKP's regional grassroots, some are saying that the interest in Ensarioğlu is a suggestion that many want the initiative to continue with new faces and new policies after the opening came to a halt with the Habur border gate incident. The results of the tendency survey will have an impact on Erdoğan's campaign, it has been said.
Two key names for the AKP's Kurdish policies have registered for candidacy in provinces that are a surprise to all. Adana Deputy Dengir Mir Mehmet Fırat applied from Istanbul and Diyarbakır Deputy İhsan Arslan from Ankara.
Erdoğan, who feels undoubtedly proud to have 75 Kurdish deputies, does not want to do politics under the BDP's shadow in the region. And we will see the first concrete signs of it in the candidate lists that are expected at the beginning of next week. Did the Kurdish initiative come to an end in Habur? Or will it resume in the new term? The AKP's candidate lists will give us some clue.
On the other side, the leader of the opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, is looking to make inroads in the region. Under Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu's leadership, the CHP is trying to introduce a different angle in the Kurdish initiative. As a first step in this direction, Sezgin Tanrıkulu, a leading figure among human rights advocates in the region, was recently appointed deputy leader and this time, the CHP will show determination via its candidate lists. The claim is that the CHP will have deputies in Diyarbakır and that the party will incline toward nominating Tanrıkulu from Istanbul.
Without doubt, Istanbul has a serious Kurdish population. On the other hand, the candidacies of Tanrıkulu and others in southeast provinces would be a test of sincerity for them. The CHP's candidate lists in the region will be a good factor in analyzing the party's Kurdish perspective.
The codes of the Kurdish issue in the deputy candidate lists will be deciphered at the beginning of next week. It seems that the candidates in the region will give a critical message on the solution to the Kurdish question.
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
A BIRD'S EYE VIEW - A NOBEL PEACE PRIZE THAT MUST BE RETURNED
In our column on Oct.17, 2009, we expressed our disappointment that the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to U.S. President Obama. President Obama had been in office for just 11 days when nominations for the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize were disclosed. And we said then, "This is like giving a golden medal to a sprinter in the Olympic games before he runs or wins the race."
In the presentation speech made by the chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee on Dec. 10, 2009, among the many things he said was the following:
"Obama has achieved a great deal. Multilateral diplomacy has regained a central position, with emphasis on the role that the United Nations and other International Institutions can play ... The U.S. is now paying its bills to the U.N. It is joining various committees and acceding to important conventions. International standards are again respected. Torture is forbidden; the president is doing what he can to close Guantanamo. Human rights and international law are guiding principles ... Regarding the fight against climate change, we can see the same underlying idea; the U.S. cannot be indifferent to global challenges; Obama has presented concrete proposals for what the U.S. will do. This has improved chances of reaching an effective global agreement, if not this year, then we hope, at least next year."
So, what has happened since then? On March 9, 2011, Obama said in a statement that he remained committed to closing Guantanamo someday. That's a good one. Webster's encyclopedic dictionary defines someday "at some indefinite, usually distant, future time." In other words, never. In the WikiLeaks cables we saw the respect for human rights under the Obama administration. There was the Clinton circular to U.S. embassies abroad instructing them to monitor almost everyone in the countries where they are accredited by providing credit card information, bank accounts, etc. or the blatant intervention in the everyday affairs of third countries. The constant accidental killing of innocent civilians in Afghanistan by erroneous bombings, or the use of CIA agents in Pakistan, one of whom, after killing three Pakistanis, was taken away to the U.S. after buying off their families. This was the case of Raymond Davis. Not to say anything about the war in Libya where innocent civilians are being killed by NATO airstrikes and allegations have surfaced that the country is being filled with depleted uranium shells. Finally as far as climate change is concerned, no agreement was signed and nothing has been accomplished.
The only respectable thing that President Obama can now do is to return the Nobel Peace Prize along with its benefits. He may however get an Oscar for original screenplay, in compensation.
Ponder our thoughts, dear humans, for your benefit.
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
LIBERATING TURKISH CYPRUS FROM ITS SAVIOR
As is demonstrated with the nasty demonstration in northern Cyprus this week, again Turkish Cypriots are rather angry with some undertakings of the Turkish government regarding Cyprus. Worse, Turkish Cypriots are enraged with some insolent remarks of the Turkish prime minister belittling the Turks of Cyprus, portraying them as parasites of Turkey. Turkish people just cannot understand the developments. Foreigners are dazzled. Greek Cypriots are enthusiastically following what they regard as signs of a "rebellion" of the Turkish Cypriot people against their savior and motherland Turkey.
There is indeed total confusion. Are Turkish Cypriots trying to save themselves from their savior Turkey? Why is there tension between Turkish Cypriots and their motherland Turkey? Is Turkey pushing Turkish Cypriots to accept something that they did not want? Why is this frustration in northern Cyprus against the Justice and development Party, or AKP, administration in Turkey?
The problem at hand is indeed a very complicated one with many aspects.
The first dimension of the problem is of course the crooked economic setup of northern Cyprus and Ankara's wish to see some reforms aimed at moving the Turkish Cypriot section of the island toward self-sufficient governance.
From the 1963 events to the 1974 Turkish intervention, Turkish Cypriots were perhaps living in the first and only "full equality of all" administration in the world. After they were expelled from the government, parliament and public offices by their Greek Cypriot partners and forced to live in hamlets scattered all around the island, irrespective what duty Turkish Cypriots were undertaking, this way or the other one member of every family was getting a salary of 18 Cyprus pounds a month, provided by Turkey. After the 1974 Turkish intervention and creation of a Turkish Cypriot-administered territory gradually an economy started to prosper in northern Cyprus. Salaries started to differ, depending on position and duty performed. The "equality of all" mentality, however, did not change. Perhaps living on an island with strong feelings of togetherness and solidarity as well as because the community was so small and everyone knew each other with almost most discreet individual details, the Turkish Cypriot society remained a society of "equals" but in a way "class" was rediscovered.
As Greek Cypriots get away with the internationally recognized Cyprus government and the Turkish Cypriot state remains unrecognized and thus cut off from the international community of nations, after the first few boom years of the post-1974 period frustration and isolation, feelings started to sink in deep in Turkish Cypriot people, encouraging them to seek a future somewhere else. To avoid massive migration, consecutive Ankara and Turkish Cypriot governments applied a systematic policy of enrolling the northern Cypriot population in state offices, eventually converting the small state into a territory with an incredibly high publicly employed population. Worse, to provide room for fresh recruitments, early retirement programs were introduced and people in their late 30s or early 40s were retired with full pensions. With some exaggeration, of course, one may easily say that almost everyone in northern Cyprus is either working in a public office or retired from public work.
Furthermore, political incentives – trying to avoid the "political bribes" term out of courtesy to my people – provided before each and every election over the past almost 40 years produced some awkward results. For example it is perhaps not possible anywhere else on the world for a person to receive four different pension checks every month. Of course not all pensioners receive more than one check a month, but it is a fact that there are many such people.
Still, with around $300 million in subsidies every year from Turkey, the Turkish Cypriot economy was able to fund the budget of the government. After the 2001 crisis in Turkey, which naturally had a very serious spillover into the northern economy, the public-financing deficit in the north started to increase, reaching an annual $850 million.
Over the past 20 years, indeed, various programs were initiated to boost the Turkish Cypriot economy, which was hit hard by international isolation and exclusion from international commercial interaction. Each time either because of peace talks or parliamentary or local elections in northern Cyprus, those programs were all shelved.
Now, Ankara is saying whatever happens at the peace talks or elections and such domestic political developments in northern Cyprus it wants its aid to the island be used for the restructuring of Turkish Cypriot economy.
So far, so good, but there is more to it and we shall continue writing on it next week.
I. THE NEWS
The man once picked by the PPP top brass, and particularly his pal, the president, to act as a trouble-shooter in Karachi, has left the city after making more trouble than could ever have been imagined. Sindh Home Minister, Dr Zulfikar Mirza, seems to have succeeded in stirring up one crisis after another. His use of some rather ill-chosen language meant that he incited anger, notably from the MQM, again and again. His departure on 'indefinite leave,' on grounds of ill-health and the assumption of his office by Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah, may bring some possibility of calm in the provincial capital where nerves have been pulled taut by all that has happened in the last few months. It is understood that the strike by traders against extortion and a new MQM ultimatum had proved the factors that finally decided Dr Mirza's fate. His exit will leave many heaving a long sigh of relief.
But it would perhaps be unwise to predict that this brings an end to Karachi's problems. The ouster of the heavy-handed ex-home minister seems to have been motivated simply because the PPP desperately needs the MQM to keep its own government intact in the centre. There is no evidence that good intentions, such as a true desire to bring peace to Karachi and establish better ties with other parties, were involved. Indeed, the ghost of Zulfikar Mirza may linger on in the Sindh government, given that the new Provincial Information Minister, Sharjeel Memon, is regarded as one of his closest aides. It is also a fact that things in Karachi can be sorted out only through wisdom and a consistent display of good sense. All parties need to be pulled into the peace-building process. Mere appeasement is not enough. The MQM too needs to be persuaded to play a positive role in the local body elections. The departure of one minister may not be enough to achieve this, in the absence of a wider policy aimed at sorting out the multiple issues of Karachi and the complexities that have arisen as a result of the bitter rivalry between its major parties. Dr Mirza's efforts aggravated these tensions. We have yet to see if they will fade away in his absence.
I. THE NEWS
BACK ON CALL
The strike by young doctors in the Punjab is finally over. Chaos that lasted over a month comes to an end as the medics return to duty. Tragically, during the weeks they remained off work, at least 22 patients died; others are sicker now than they should be, and many have suffered greatly as a result of the action called by the Young Doctor's Association, which claims to have over 8,000 members. In this situation, both the doctors and the Punjab government have acted sensibly in working out what is essentially a face-saving arrangement. The dismissal notices issued to some 70 doctors have been cancelled. A committee has been set up, headed by senior advisor Zulifikar Khusa to look into the demands of the doctors for better pay and other privileges. For now things have returned to normal.
But there are matters that need to be explored. In the wake of the strike and the problems it created in public-sector hospitals across Punjab, there have been reports that some senior doctors played a part in encouraging the YDA to begin the action in the wards, even though this put lives at risk. The allegations made are grave ones and will need to be followed up on. The question of why doctors who serve the provincial government should be paid less than those who work for the central administration is also one that is not easy to understand. The discrepancy in salaries was one of the key reasons for the strike. The issue needs to be resolved. But for now, we can be glad about the relief this brings to the poor patients who depend upon government hospitals for care. Every effort must be made to ensure that promises made during the process of negotiation are kept and that dialogue is kept going until a formula acceptable to both parties is reached and implemented.
Sometimes, context is everything. The context in which a report to the US Congress is critical of the role that we play in fighting extremism is that of a superpower with its back effectively against the wall in Afghanistan. It is not possible to separate ourselves and Afghanistan when considering the fight we now fight within our own borders and using our own resources. Currently, America is moving ever closer to withdrawing its combat troops from Afghanistan, and other countries which are part of the coalition would dearly love to do the same. More countries want out of Afghanistan than want into it (with the possible exceptions of India and Iran). Much of the south and east of Afghanistan is under the de-facto rule of the Taliban and we may expect that to become a harder reality once the Americans leave as the Afghan central government simply does not have a writ in areas under Taliban control. Even with America and its allies gone from Afghanistan there will still be a war for us to fight, because those who currently seek the overthrow of the state will be able to concentrate their efforts in a single direction – Islamabad – rather than Islamabad and Kabul.
We are right in saying that we should not be held responsible for the failings of coalition strategy in Afghanistan. Indeed, if there is a failure of strategy to be discussed, it is that of America and its allies rather than us, who are a small corner of the bigger picture of American foreign policy. We have become a part of the collateral damage, the fallout from the 9/11 attacks, that is going to poison the atmosphere for generations to come. Pillorying us for not doing enough once again when we have lost 2,800 soldiers with another 8,000 wounded and about 4,200 civilians who have died across the country as a result of post 9/11 terrorist action, is egregious and patronising. The US Congress needs to be hearing a lot more about why the US government strategy in both countries – Afghanistan and Pakistan – has failed and what the consequences of that are going to be.
I. THE NEWS
LEARNING FROM FUKUSHIMA
What do Indian social scientists Romila Thapar and Ramachandra Guha, dancers Leela Samson and Malavika Sarukkai, former bureaucrats and diplomats SP Shukla and Nirupam Sen, retired Navy chief L Ramdas, writers Arundhati Roy and Nayantara Sahgal, scientists MV Ramana and PM Bhargava, artists Krishen Khanna and Vivan Sundaram, and former vice-chancellors Mushirul Hasan and Deepak Nayyar, have in common?
The answer is, concern about the safety of nuclear power, highlighted by the still-unfolding disaster at Fukushima in Japan. This impelled these eminent individuals to sign a statement demanding a thorough, independent review of India's nuclear power programme, and pending it, a moratorium on further nuclear projects.
The statement (available at www.cndpindia.org, www.sacw.net) saw people of different ideological persuasion coming together, including former Atomic Energy Regulatory Board chairman A Gopalakrishnan and Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace activists (including myself). Even P Balaram, director of the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore - one of India's world-class science institutions – signed up, a rare thing for a top scientist to do.
This appeal comes just as two workers at Fukushima station have died. Nuclear power zealots had predicted that the Fukushima accidents would not harm plant employees or the larger public.
The operator Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) admits that at least three other employees have suffered severe radiation burns. The public is at risk in Fukushima and nearby. Radiation levels at the plant are 1,000 millisieverts an hour, whereas the annual highest permissible dose for employees is 30 millisieverts. Large quantities of water and steam have been released, containing iodine-131, caesium-137 and strontium-90.
Their presence has been detected on the US West Coast, in Europe and all over Asia. Although their concentration decreases with distance, it's high enough to warrant evacuation in a 30-km or longer radius. Radionuclides have contaminated milk, vegetables and fish. Iodine-31 concentrates rapidly in the thyroid, caesium-137 in many other tissues, and strontium-90 in bones.
Fukushima's health damage will be revealed not through early deaths, but through slow, virtually endless low-radiation exposure, which produces cancers and other illnesses. Thanks to early evacuation, the Fukushima toll won't be as high as Chernobyl (estimated at 34,00o to 70,000 deaths).
However, the reactors contain 40 times the caesium inventory of Chernobyl. If only a tenth of this is released, its impact would be four times greater than Chernobyl's.
According to estimates, Fukushima has already released iodine-131 equal to 20 percent of that released from Chernobyl and half as much caesium-137.
Fukushima happened not because of the earthquake and tsunami, but because these triggered mishaps in reactors already vulnerable to a catastrophe. All reactor designs can undergo core meltdowns. Natural calamities only make them more likely.
Fukushima's reactors weren't designed for high-magnitude earthquakes and tsunamis. The primary containment around the reactor was considered weak by many, including the US government's Sandia National Laboratories.
Besides, spent fuel was stored in the reactor building. Unlike reactors, spent-fuel pools don't have reinforced structures. The roof of the Reactor 4 spent-fuel pool was blown off by hydrogen explosions. The spent-fuel got heated and the water boiled off, releasing radioactivity. India's Tarapur reactors have the same spent-fuel storage design.
The Fukushima crisis is still out of control. Three reactors suffered a partial core meltdown, estimated by US Energy Secretary Steve Chu at 70 percent for Reactor 1. Four of the six reactors, poisoned by seawater, must be scrapped.
TEPCO is planning to entomb these in concrete. But unless the reactor cores are sufficiently cooled in advance and heat-generating spent-fuel is removed, internal heat will crack the concrete shell/dome, releasing radioactivity uncontrollably.
The immediate challenge is to keep the reactors cool and seal the cracks that water is leaking through. TEPCO claims that its sealing efforts have succeeded after repeated failures. Their stability remains unproved.
Seawater radiation intensity near Fukushima reached levels millions of times higher than permissible ones. If the Fukushima staff is evacuated because of high radiation, the reactors could undergo a full meltdown.
Caesium-137 levels even 40 km away from Fukushima are 3.7 megabecquerels per square metre, more than double the level of 1.48 units set as evacuation trigger for Chernobyl.
The lessons from Fukushima stand out grimly and starkly. If industrially advanced Japan couldn't handle a nuclear crisis, it defies credulity that India's Department of Atomic Energy (DAE), with its poor safety record, can do so – its claims notwithstanding.
The DAE has been in denial of the gravity of the Fukushima disaster and claims that serious accidents cannot happen in its own reactors.
The Pakistani nuclear establishment takes a similar line, but the Pakistan Nuclear Regulatory Authority has recommended a review of the Karachi and Chashma power plants. This should be done immediately.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has ordered a thorough review of India's nuclear installations, especially on their capacity to withstand earthquakes and tsunamis. But Nuclear Power Corporation of India chairman SK Jain boasts: "We have got total knowledge and design of the seismic activities. [The] worst seismic activities and tsunamis have been taken into consideration [while designing DAE reactors]...."
However, Singh said on March 29: "The people of India have to be convinced about the safety and security of our own nuclear power plants. We should bring greater openness and transparency in ... decision-making ... and improve our capacity to respond to the public desire to be kept informed about ... issues ... of concern to them. I would like to see accountability and transparency in the functioning of our nuclear power plants."
This was a slap in the face of the DAE, which has become the laughing-stock of the global scientific community. But what we need is even more serious – a radical review of India's nuclear power policy and safety audit by a high-level committee which includes non-DAE experts and civil society representatives.
Second, India must abandon plans for multiple-reactor 'nuclear power parks'. A crisis in one reactor can produce 'common mode failure' and affect other reactors. Third, India must certainly not import untested designs, such as Areva's European Pressurised Reactors, planned for Jaitapur in Maharashtra.
Finally, countries like ours must build capacity to evaluate reactor designs for safety by evolving stringent norms for materials, structural strength and multiple emergency-control systems. This cannot be done by India's Atomic Energy Regulatory Board, which former chairman Gopalakrishnan says, is the DAE's 'toothless poodle'.
The AERB must be separated from the DAE and strengthened with non-DAE personnel, an independent budget and equipment. Singh must hold broad-based consultations with independent experts with experience of safety design, disaster management, evacuation and rehabilitation.
Most important, pending a review and safety audit, India must impose a moratorium on future nuclear construction and revoke recent clearances to projects like Jaitapur. These were based on sloppy, incompetent Environmental Impact Assessment reports, in violation of public hearing norms, and with all manner of vacuous conditions.
The Jaitapur project was cleared for political reasons six days before French President Nicolas Sarkozy's visit last December, with 35 conditions.
A 'pause-and-review' approach to nuclear power isn't extreme. If Germany, China and Switzerland can adopt it and suspend nuclear expansion plans, so can India and Pakistan. Safety is too precious to be sacrificed to appease our nuclear lobbies.
The writer, a former newspaper editor, is a researcher and peace and human-rights activist based in Delhi. Email: email@example.com
I. THE NEWS
THE REAL QUESTION
NAWAB MUMTAZ ALI BHUTTO
We have just witnessed another festival on Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's death anniversary. I use the word festival deliberately because what transpires at the family graveyard of this branch of the Bhutto family, at Garhi Khuda Buksh, is nothing short of a political mela which most of the visitors celebrate rather than mourn the occasion with the solemnity and dignity that it deserves. This is not surprising since 90 percent of ministers, senators, MNAs and MPAs who flock to the graveyard are those who opposed Shaheed Bhutto in his lifetime and some even rejoiced at his murder.
However, this time around, Zardari and his team have out done themselves in submerging into the Bhutto ethos by filing a petition in the Supreme Court for reopening the Bhutto murder case. The whole world already treats Bhutto's hanging as judicial murder. This includes one of the judges who passed the death sentence.
Nevertheless, 32 years later while his sons, daughters and posthumous son-in-law, did not feel the need to take this step even though they were in power twice before, Zardari has now deemed it expedient to open the case, which is likely to open up a Pandora's box of some forgotten and concealed truths.
A strong view is that the case is being reopened to divert attention from the fact that three years have gone by and no convincing action has been taken against Shaheed Benazir Bhutto's killers even though Zardari had, earlier on, professed to know who they were. The UN Commission, after a two-year investigation, has named ministers closest to Zardari, who need to be interrogated. There is also the disclosure of a phone call asking Benazir to appear out of the sunroof of the car and so on.
Zardari declaring in his petition that in Islam no one is above the law has also been noted as negating his presidential immunity from facing the variety of murder and corruption cases against him. But the real question Zardari is running away from is: After three years of his rule, what have the people got?
He may run but he cannot hide from the answer that, the people have got nothing but uncontrolled lawlessness, rampant corruption, non availability of basic amenities, a shattered economy, no foreign policy except total submission to US suzerainty and hollow claims of reforms which break down on scrutiny.
The essence of the current governmental strategy is to rule by spreading corruption and keep the people entangled in chasing a buck while the ship of the state is sinking. Even the fate of the Benazir Income Support Scheme is dismal: Transparency International disclosed that in the first year, out of the Rs 90 billion earmarked for distribution, only Rs 17 billion reached the people while the rest disappeared into deep pockets. Similarly, the first installment on the Watan Card got worn down from Rs 20,000 to Rs 10,000 by the time it got to the intended beneficiaries.
The politicians, who are well entrenched at the banquet of Reconciliation, are of course parties to the state of affairs and too full to complain. Then there are those who are left out but living on hope. This is a totally foreign made, backed and run government, they say, which has been put in place by removing Shaheed Benazir from the scene.
The sponsoring powers will give full protection to this government and not allow any change. Others say that any political upheaval now will bring in the armed forces and another 10 years of military rule so we must endure the remaining two years of the current agony until elections, with the hope that it will be fair and free (fat chance).
There are even those who feel that the country is beyond redemption as Zardari has conclusively destroyed all state institutions and replaced honest and efficient officials with his jail mates and notoriously corrupt bureaucrats to the extent that even NAB has been turned into a venue of protection rather than punishment of the corrupt. So much so that it is now the task of the Supreme Court to take suo moto notice and initiate action.
In such circumstances, to take on the gargantuan task of cleaning up the mess is an unfathomable challenge. But history records many situations of a similar nature where unknown leaders have sprung up from the masses and led them to victory over the evil forces of corruption and chaos. All great revolutions in history such as the French, Russian and Chinese came about in this manner.
Recently, people have risen in Kyrgyzstan, Georgia and the Ukraine and of course there are the ongoing Arab revolts. Who knew Danton and Robespierre, Lenin and Mao, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and Colonel Nasar, Ahmed Sukarno and Fidel Castro before they rose to recognition? Who is leading the Arab revolts? At home, an unknown Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto also emerged from a military dictatorship and defeated the same.
This raises the inevitable question – have we become such a dead nation as to stand by and allow a bunch of hoodlums to devour the country? Surely not.
The writer is chairman of the Sindh National Front.
I. THE NEWS
YEMEN: THE NEXUS OF ARABIA
all the Arab uprisings the one in Yemen will be the most complicated and difficult to resolve. Just about every factor is involved. It's part tribal, religious/sectarian, political, economic, military and generational. The revolt is not exclusively about democracy even though it does involve a yearning for freedom. Of course, the selfishness of one man, his family and the fact the goodies the state has to offer only benefit his coterie offends many. But whether under the Ottomans, imams or presidents it has always been like that in Yemen, the land of incense, myrrh and spices. The spices came from Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and India to which the sea faring Yemenis had discovered a passage much before Vasco de Gama. But, wanting to keep it a secret, they claimed the provenance of these much sought after items was Yemen itself.
Developments in Yemen, the dark hole of Arabia, have seldom bothered the outside world. Yemen is a backwater state; it has no oil or at least none that is left; very little money to buy anything; and absolutely nothing of value to export. In many respects Yemen is like what Afghanistan used to be, so far off the beaten track, so inhospitable the terrain and so fractious a people that in times of peace nobody really bothered about what happened there. But just as Afghanistan when in ferment aroused concern in the capitals of empires so does instability in Yemen in the Arab world. And just as Afghanistan is the gateway to the sub continent so is Yemen to Saudi Arabia – through its soft underbelly in the south.
No wonder then turbulence in Yemen has the senior most geriatrics of the ruling Saudi family – Abdullah, Sultan and Naif – riveted and apprehensive. Yemen is their backyard. Collectively and individually they are deeply concerned by what is happening. Each has his own favourites among Yemen's leaders and tribes; and each also has his own opinion of how to deal with Yemen, and these differ considerably. Naif and Sultan, for example, have little time for Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh. King Abdullah, on the other hand, has a good working relationship with him. But what all find insufferable is the endemic hostility of the ordinary Yemeni and his traditional contempt for Saudis.
Yemenis look down on their Saudi neighbours and their unsophisticated desert culture. They believe Yemen is the cradle of Arab civilisation and the birthplace of the Arabic language. They proudly claim Yemen to be the first country to convert to Islam and allude to a mosque in Sana whose construction Hazrat Ali reportedly supervised. Hence, they have little time for Saudi pretensions about being the font of Islam.
To complicate the situation they consider their neighbours effete, lazy, even cowardly and insufferably conceited. The al Houthi tribe of the (Shia) Zaidi sect have incessantly raided Saudi territories. Their links with the shias in the southern Saudi provinces of Najran and Jizan are strong and were they to emerge more powerful as a result of the current unrest in Yemen this would embolden the shia in Saudi Arabia's oil rich Eastern Province bordering Bahrain to step up their agitation against Riyadh, backed possibly by Iran. Such a scenario deeply worries the Saudis as it would threaten Saudi Arabia and provide the use of Yemen as a base for staging attacks on the Kingdom. To make matters worse, armour and sophisticated Saudi weaponry is useless in the mountainous terrain of north Yemen where the al Houthis, like the Taliban, are masters of mountainous guerrilla warfare.
Needless to say, not all tribes which are members of the Hasid and Bakil confederation of tribes of north Yemen feel the same. The influential al Ahmer clan of the Hashid tribe is staunchly pro Saudi. However, most other clans and tribes, especially those of south Yemen, are at best indifferent; and it is only a small step from indifference to outright hostility.
Latest reports suggest Saleh, seeing the writing on the wall, is prepared to quit. Washington has belatedly come to the same conclusion and has conveyed to Saleh that he is no longer a part of a solution. The two Saudi princes and the king also seem to have finally concluded Saleh's ship wrecked presidency is beyond salvaging. But all of them and especially the Americans are understandably apprehensive as to what will happen and who will follow him.
Saleh wants to be succeeded by his vice president who is a nonentity and an acolyte, but to the protestors anyone associated with the Saleh regime is unacceptable. Jihadists, Islamists and conservative tribesmen, who prevailed in the civil war against Marxist south Yemen, feel power should rightly devolve on them and specifically Saleh's brother- in- law, Mohsen al Ahmar, under whose command they fought and who has deserted Saleh. However, according to one American sponsored publication, the US feels otherwise. It lays the blame for the largely unsuccessful US backed counter terrorist campaign against al Qaeda in Yemen on their inclusion in the security apparatus.
Hamid al Ahmar, a Saudi backed candidate from the influential Al Ahmer clan has trumpeted his Saudi connections and proffered it as a reason to succeed Saleh. But he is hardly the ideal successor being considered too much of a Saudi pawn; nor does he speak for the other tribes.
As confabulations continue paranoia about 'al Qaeda rushing in to fill the vacuum in Yemen' deepens in Washington. The International Herald Tribune reports that the 'anti al Qeada operations have ground to a halt in the wake of the political tumult'. It also quotes a US expert on Yemen as saying the narrow focus on combating al Qaeda through military operations overseen by the Saleh family 'has had the disadvantage of tying the US counter terrorism effort to one family'.
Speculation abounds that Yemen will again break up following Saleh's departure. Southerners gained nothing from unity and memories subsist of the bitter civil war in which they were defeated by the north. A fairly strong southern secessionist movement is gaining traction. The more educated and secular Marxist south have little respect for their unsophisticated northern tribal brethren.
The stakes are high for the Saudis and the Americans and with all the fluidity still in the Middle East, the Yemeni situation acquires acute importance, not least because of the al Qaeda aspect and Yemen's strategic location in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden which puts it in close proximity to the Suez Canal, the Horn of Africa and also underscores Yemen's strategic importance in the wider Indian Ocean context.
Why does the fast changing scenario in Yemen affect Pakistan? Because of the possibility our Saudi nexus will be exploited by Riyadh to summon our help if the tumult in Yemen leads to a war in which Saudi Arabia feels it must intervene. Defending Saudi Arabia against unprovoked aggression is one thing and perhaps even an honourable step, but helping the Kingdom to assert control over the territory of a neighbouring state is quite another. In the past our forces stationed in Saudi Arabia came close to being asked to play such a role, today it must surely be out of the question both for external and internal reasons.
The writer is a former ambassador. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
I. THE NEWS
CHAKWAL'S DEBT OF GRATITUDE
With a literacy rate of 73 percent, Chakwal is the second-most literate district in Punjab, after Rawalpindi, with its literacy rate of 75 percent. Pakistan's literacy rate, which is said to be 57 percent today, was 11 percent at the time of Partition. It was probably less than one percent back in 1910. On Oct 17, that year, Harbans Singh Seestani, one of the five top students of Munshi Sardar Sant Singh, laid the foundation stone of Sant Singh Khalsa School in Chakwal.
In 1949, a degree college was established in the building of the town's Government High School. Rather than moving the high school to another building, the authorities thought it more convenient to merge it with Sant Singh Khalsa School. In the process the historical institution lost its original name and went by the name of the school that had been merged with it, Government High School, Chakwal.
In 1992, the institution was to undergo another name change. After a Government High School No 2 was established in Chakwal that year, the first school merely became School No 1. The degraded name is symbolic of one fact, though: that it is, as it had always been, the number-one school of Chakwal district.
However, rather than go out of existence the original name of Sant Singh Khalsa School resurfaced in New Delhi. There is a Sant Singh Khalsa School Chakwal Senior Secondary School in the Indian capital's area of Lajpat Nagar. It is built on 40 kanals, or more than 70 acres, allotted by the Indian government after the five devoted students of Munshi Sardar Sant Singh filed a claim for compensation for the schoolhouse they had left behind in Pakistan.
When School No 1 in Chakwal held a ceremony last Oct 17 in celebration of the centenary of Sant Singh Khalsa School, a grandson of Sardar Harbans Singh Seestani, its founder, was the chief guest. Sardar Lakhandar Singh Bahal is a retired air vice marshal of the Indian air force.
The ceremony was held in the main hall of the school, with its high ceiling, which was a hallmark of the fine architecture of that time and which lent stateliness to the memorable occasion.
The other invitees included a number of former students and teachers of the beloved old school, both Indian and Pakistani. Retired general Abdul Majeed Malik, a former federal minister, and the director general of the Rangers, Maj Gen Mohammad Yaqub, were among the latter group.
There were tears in his eyes when Sardar Lakhandar Singh Bahal read out the inscription on the school's original plaque in the Gurmukhi script, in which Punjabi is still written in India.
Ratan Deep Singh Kohli, who is chairman of Sant Singh Khalsa School Chakwal Senior Secondary School, said his speech: "The name of Chakwal will always live in India. The people of Chakwal hold a special place in the hearts of the thousands of students who enter and have entered the gate of the building of Sant Singh Khalsa School Khalsa Secondary School in New Delhi." (The headmaster of the original school in Chakwal is Dr Mohammad Abid Hussain Kiyani.)
Beginning his speech with the recitation of "Bismillah-ir-Rehman-ir-Raheem," he expressed his sympathies with those who had been killed in Pakistan's devastating floods of July and August in 2010, and with the victims of the wars of 1965 and 1971.
The speaker related this incident about the great Sufi saint Khwaja Nizamuddin Aulia (1238-1325), of whom the most famous disciple was Hazrat Amir Khusrau (b. 1253), who died the same year as his patron.
A Hindu temple near the home of Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia stopped ringing its bells so that the sound will not disturb the revered figure in his prayers. After a few days, the saint enquired why the bells of the temple did not ring anymore. On being told the reason by Hazrat Amir Khusrau, Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia responded with these words: "For ye your own faith; for me, mine." The great man asked that the bells must go on ringing.
Happily, so many institutions retain their old names in our different cities and towns, including Gulab Daiwi Hospital, Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, Dayal Singh College, Gordon College, Holy Family Hospital, and King Edward Medical College. Then there is the town of Toba Tek Singh, whose residents strongly opposed the proposal for its name to be changed. In Sindh, the residents of Jacobabad (named after Brig Gen Sir John Jacob of the East India Company, who enjoys enduring admiration for his services to the people of the area and has a mausoleum there) similarly opposed the renaming of the city to Khangarh. Among the many Hindu and Sikh place-names in Karachi are Ramswami, Bhempura, Gurumandar and Nanakwara. The city of Chakwal itself has an area named Kot Ganesh Singh, just as Rawalpindi has an area called Mukha Singh State.
Therefore there is no reason why School No 1 should not revert to its original name of Sant Singh Khalsa School Chakwal, and upgraded to higher secondary level.
That would be the finest tribute the people of Chakwal can pay to a great benefactor, Munshi Sardar Sant Singh and the best way of repaying their debt of gratitude to him.
The writer is a business entrepreneur.
I. THE NEWS
REOPENING THE BHUTTO CASE
The writer is a lawyer based in Islamabad.
President Zardari has sought an advisory opinion from the Supreme Court under Article 186 of the Constitution that is being seen as an effort to reopen the Bhutto murder case. This article authorises the federal government to seek the apex court's opinion on a question of law that has public importance. The text of the presidential reference has not been made public and thus it is unclear how the question of law has been framed.
Many in Pakistan believe that Bhutto's hanging amounted to judicial murder and something ought to be done to correct the wrong. Others argue that under Bhutto's watch the Federal Security Force instituted a reign of terror and our first elected prime minister brutalised his opponents at will. The reopening of the Bhutto case is thus an emotive issue for many.
In rendering an opinion under Article 186, the Supreme Court will be limited to addressing the question of law raised by the Zardari regime and hence unable to take into account the factual controversies peculiar to the Bhutto murder case. Critics argue that the Zardari regime's mala fide intent is apparent in this choice of means, as it is incapable of serving the desired end. Given that the Bhutto case cannot be reopened pursuant to a reference under Article 186, this course of action has been deliberately selected to undermine the credibility of the apex court, argue that the judicial branch harbours an ethnic bias, and present the NRO decision and other rulings against the Zardari regime as a manifestation of such bias.
Notwithstanding the vile intent attributed to explain this move (backed by evidence of the Zardari regime's readiness to play victim and use the Sindh card every time it gets in trouble), there can be no principled objection to finding legal ways to reopen the Bhutto case.
Bhutto might be a terrible man who couldn't stand dissent, had a feudal mindset and unleashed ruffians upon his critics. But Bhutto was not tried for creating the FSF, getting his opponents molested or launching an operation in Baluchistan. He was tried and hanged for the murder of one man. The demand for reopening the Bhutto case rests on the argument that his conviction was based on evidence insufficient to establish his connection to the murder and the death sentence was disproportionate to the alleged wrong he had committed.
If this contention is correct and there is evidence to establish that he was wrongfully convicted, his legal heirs and supporters have a right to wash the stigma of criminality attached to his name.
As Justice Jackson of the US Supreme Court explained (with due apologies for citing his words repeatedly), that the apex court is not final because it is infallible, but it is infallible because it is final. There is also nothing to gainsay that courts make mistakes. The problem of wrongful convictions and miscarriage of justice plagues legal systems around the world.
But it is not the courts alone that can ensure that the outcomes produced by a legal system are just. The statutory provisions providing for procedural and substantive justice, the law enforcement agencies and state attorneys in charge of prosecution and the judges overseeing adjudication, all contribute to the quality of justice produced. And thus, all three branches of government - the executive, the judiciary and the legislature - are responsible for judicial outcomes.
Every legal system strikes a balance between demands for swiftness, accuracy, finality and fairness. Ours provides for a trial and then an appeal process all the way up to the Supreme Court. It provides for a review of the appellate decision. And once the judicial remedies have been exhausted, it allows the head of the state to issue a pardon in exceptional circumstances under Article 45 of the Constitution.
But the law at present allows the Supreme Court to review its decision only once. In Mr Bhutto's case such review was granted and the conviction upheld. Now the court cannot bend the law to undertake a second review of the Bhutto case merely because he was a popular leader and the party that he founded, now led by his son-in-law, is currently in power.
The claims of innocence of others who believe that they might have been wrongfully convicted are no less worthy. What we therefore need is an institutionalised mechanism to address the problem of inadvertent miscarriage of justice that readjusts the existing balance between the safety and finality of judicial outcomes.
The standards of fairness employed by societies evolve over time and new scientific methodologies result in the emergence of fresh evidence. Other common law jurisdictions have employed ways to transfer the benefit of such developments to individuals who are wrongfully convicted.
In the United States some 266 individuals convicted of serious crimes have been exonerated due to DNA testing, some even rescued from the death row. Most US states now have legislations in place that allow consideration of such scientific evidence. The United Kingdom created the Criminal Cases Review Commission in 1997, in response to outrage generated by several notorious wrongful conviction cases. Since its creation, this commission has referred almost 400 cases to the UK Court of Appeal, which has reversed convictions in almost two-thirds of such cases and modified nine out of 10 sentences.
The presidential reference need not be approached as a conflict between the Zardari regime and the Supreme Court. That courts reach wrong conclusions at times is a fact of life. That is why we have an appeal process. And every time a ruling is set aside during appeal, one such error is corrected. Now despite the safety valves created through the appeal and the review process, some mistakes remain uncorrected. But just as a judge is not required to apologise every time his ruling is overturned in appeal, demands that judges of the apex court should seek forgiveness for a wrongful conviction that might have been handed down by their predecessors three decades ago, make no sense.
In his memoirs, Dr Nasim Hassan Shah (one of the four judges of the Supreme Court who upheld Bhutto's conviction and the death sentence), states that "no accused ever had more favourable judges, and but for the retirement of one and sickness of the other, the panel was in his favour". But then almost contradicts himself in the very next sentence by asserting that, "if Mr Bhutto was convicted by a majority, it was because it was impossible to acquit him without offering the grossest outrage to justice and common sense." Did the justice system send Bhutto to the gallows merely because General Ziaul-Haq desired so? Was Nawaz Sharif initially awarded a death sentence in the plane hijacking case because General Musharraf desired so? If true, can such vulnerability of the justice system be plugged by beating on judges and letting the dictators off scott free?
The desire of the Zardari regime to reopen the Bhutto case can actually be an opportunity to introduce a criminal cases review commission in Pakistan through proper legislation, which can then be tasked to reassess the Bhutto verdict and hundreds of others to determine if they caused miscarriage of justice.
The Supreme Court, in response to the presidential reference, can educate the federal government on the available legislative and institutional options to introduce such a safety valve within our justice system without impinging on the separation of powers and judicial independence. The Zardari regime also has an opportunity to prove its critics wrong and use the Article 186 process constructively, as a means to strengthen our criminal justice system, as opposed to vilifying the judiciary.
I. THE NEWS
THE AFGHAN ARMY
The United States will start withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan in July this year, but there is no clear end in sight to the turmoil sweeping across Afghanistan. For too long, the Afghan National Army (ANA) has been considered the cornerstone of NATO's counterinsurgency efforts in Afghanistan. The long-term strategy to stabilise Afghanistan rests also on the Afghan army's ability to take control of the situation. But the Afghan army remains a highly unprofessional and fragmented force, pushing the country to the brink of another civil war. It is divided into four main factions; Pashtuns, Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras who consider each other enemies.
Viewed historically, it should come as no surprise that the Afghan army has remained unskilled – political rulers have invariably tried to use it as an instrument for personal aggrandisement. Sardar Daud used the army, with Russian assistance, as a means to take over the government. After the Russian withdrawal, the army was divided along tribal lines. And during the mujahideen years, political rifts blighted its performance.
Since 2001, the US has spent more than $25 billion in an attempt to rebuild the Afghan military but the result has been very poor. At the London Conference in January 2010, NATO countries and the Afghan government agreed that troop levels would be raised to 240,000 by 2014, but no attention was paid to improving the quality of the armed forces.
The Afghan army is beset by a host of problems including poor combat effectiveness because of the factionalisation of the ANA through the early domination of the Ministry of Defence by the Tajik community. Northern Alliance warlords still continue to monopolise resources causing widespread discontent among other ethnic groups.
All appointments to the defence and interior ministries are made on a sectarian basis. For instance, amongst the 100 generals appointed in 2002, almost 90 belonged to the Northern Alliance. The result is that troops are often more loyal to a group led by a local commander than national goals. This policy has fundamentally upended the old slogan of the Afghan Army, "Khuda, Watan, Wazifa" (God, country, responsibility).
Drug addiction is another major impediment to improving the army's capacity and cohesion. Some analysts believe that the percentage of Afghan soldiers who are drug addicts is very high. Additionally, almost 90 percent of the force is illiterate. ISAF Commander, General Stanley A McChrystal, in 2009, identified the under-resourcing of the Afghan army as one of the chief obstacles to a successful 'population-centric' counterinsurgency campaign. Chronic shortfalls in training personnel and poor logistics have seriously jeopardised the 'army's quality and long-term viability'.
Additional problems include crippling attrition rates, a weak chain of command, and the fact that many army officers have been involved in drug trade, illegal contracting practices, and killings.
The Indian military's presence in Afghanistan, in an attempt to deny Pakistan 'strategic depth' and expand India's power projection in Central Asia, has also played the role of a spoiler and has badly affected the unity of the Afghan military.
Members of the factionalised Afghan army are often found fighting alongside militants against the US and NATO forces, playing the role of 10 to 50 dollars-a-day Taliban. They are also known to use army vehicles and helicopters for commercial purposes and sell arms to the Taliban. With such poor management and infrastructure, the Afghan army can hardly be expected to be able to prove effective in the war against militants.
Email: rizwanasghar7@yahoo. Com
GOVERNMENT'S TOTAL INSENSITIVITY TO HEC
ALMOST all stakeholders have strongly resented the decision of the Government to devolve one of the most prestigious organizations — the Higher Education Commission (HEC) — to provinces and handing over of its functions to several other federal ministries and entities. The Government claims that it was doing this as per provisions of the 18th constitutional amendment yet experts say the higher education is protected under the amendment and the Government was dismembering the organization in vengeance.
The most vocal opposition has come from teachers and students community that rightly believes that the retrogressive step would push back the country by decades in the realm of higher education. It is also legitimately argued that the destruction of the HEC is victory of the lobbies who had always been critical of the enhanced allocations for higher education and wanted instead more funding for primary sector forgetting that the real progress and prosperity cannot be attained without research and development that comes with higher education. On Thursday, Vice Chancellors of 133 public and private sectors universities came out with unanimous demand that the government should abandon its plan of devolution of HEC as the institution is playing an important role in providing leadership, vision and credibility to the higher education sector in the country and it should continue to function as a central coordinating body for the purpose. VCs are not ordinary people as they are highly qualified, experienced and relevant personalities to give their sound opinion on the issue and therefore, their views must be heard and respected. Mian Raza Rabbani might be a principled and honest politicians but issues of such far reaching importance cannot be left to the whims of leaders who have no vision to do long term planning for future of the country and our coming generations. Raza Rabbani and other spokesmen of the Government take refuge behind the plea that the destructive step is being taken under the 18th amendment, which was unanimously approved but even if the higher education is not protected under the amendment, the episode clearly proved that collective wisdom can also be wrong. And if a wrong decision was taken collectively then it should also be appreciated that almost all concerned have now realized the blunder and are agreeable to take corrective steps in the larger interests of the country. We would, therefore, urge the President and the Prime Minister that it is right time to intervene before a massive harm is inflicted on education sector.
PARADISE QUETTA TURNING INTO A HELL
A FEW decades back, Quetta and some other areas of Balochistan like Ziarat were considered to be jewels of the sub-continent and people flock to these hill stations and health resorts. In good old days privileged people who had the means used to move to Quetta valley from Sibi-Kachhi plains or adjoining areas of Sindh and Dera Ghazi Khan during the hot summer days. The beautiful city was razed to ground in 1935 earthquake and was rebuilt on the pattern of western cities with straight roads in the heart of the city, and trees lining the streets and roads of residential and commercial areas, and provision for proper civic services and amenities.
But now this famous health resort is in the grip of insecurity, lawlessness and is perhaps one of the most insecure cities of the country. The security environment of the city has undergone such a tremendous change that, according to Government's own estimation, about one hundred thousand people, ironically dubbed as settlers, have already moved to other safer places in the country and rest of them are also winding their businesses and selling their properties at throw away prices for the sake of their own lives. Thursday's suicide attack on DIG Quetta Wazir Khan Nasar, whose residence is located in the high security cantonment area and police lines, speaks volumes about deterioration in law & order situation and living conditions in the city. The incident has further ingrained the impression that the erstwhile paradise was turning into a hell. People ask question and rightly so that if police high ups living in supposedly safest parts of the city are not secure then what about ordinary citizens who are living under constant threats of kidnappings for ransom, target killings and attacks on their businesses and houses. We believe that the situation can definitely improve if the Government agencies work in a coordinated manner and criminals are dealt with sternly irrespective of their political affiliations or influence. The Government should also launch much-talked-about political initiatives to resolve the issues involved so that normalcy is restored, which is crucial for progress and welfare of the people of the province, otherwise it would remain backward even after transfer of huge resources under devolution plan and NFC.
RETURN OF AL-QAEDA IN AFGHANISTAN
THE latest White House report conveys the impression that the US administration is extremely concerned over return of Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and growing activities of Taliban there. The report has accused Pakistan of not extending sincere cooperation in weeding out the threat and also acknowledged that progress cannot be made without Pakistan.
The United States is finding fault with Pakistan but the fact remains that from day one the American strategy to tackle and contain the menace of terrorism was not only flawed but also prone to give birth to more terrorism. There is universal consensus that addressing the underlying causes was the only long term solution to the problem and the world will have to take steps to resolve political and economic issues that fuel militancy, extremism and terrorism out of frustration and feeling of injustice. Instead of doing so, the United States is creating more political and economic problems because of its jaundiced policies towards Islamic Ummah and the issues involving the fate of 1.5 billion believers. There is need to seek permanent and immediate solution to longstanding issues like those of Palestine and Kashmir but the United States and its coteries are creating more troubled spot as we are witnessing in Iraq, Afghanistan and now Libya and other Middle-East countries. Again, the war on terror is compounding the sense of economic deprivation of not only people in Islamic world but also other third world countries where consumers have to pay multiplied prices of oil and other products mainly because of jingoistic pursuits of the United States. As for the tribal regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan, the United States promised over six years back establishment of Reconstruction Opportunity Zones but there is not an iota of progress since then. FATA and other militancy hit areas of KPK have seen large-scale destruction and are in dire need of reconstruction to sustain military gains yet the United States has failed to provide any assistance but also not reimbursing the already incurred amount by Pakistan on expeditious basis. Drone attacks are also creating a lot of resentment and as a consequence militancy and extremism is growing in the region. Instead of accusing Pakistan, the United States needs to look inwardly and review its own faulty policy with a view to producing positive results.
BRITAIN OWES IT TO HELP RESOLVE INDO-PAK ISSUES
M ASHRAF MIRZA
British Prime Minister David Cameroon has seemingly succeeded in mending his country's ties with Islamabad that were strained as a result of his disparaging remarks during his visit to India in July last year. He had riled Pakistan by accusing the elements within the country of 'exporting terror' besides administering warning that Pakistan should not be allowed to 'look both ways' on terrorism. Although he didn't formally express regret for his remarks, yet he did say that tensions of the past should not hold back the two countries. He also strived to clear the misunderstanding by calling in his speech at the COMSATS University in Islamabad for making 'fresh start in our relationship', besides signing a document titled "Enhanced Strategic Dialogue' designed to deepen ties between the two countries and offering substantial financial assistance in education and other sectors. He also equated Pakistan with India in a bid to dispel the impression that Britain has tilt towards New Delhi by saying 'If India is very important to the UK… Pakistan is very important to us too'. He also acknowledged the sacrifices rendered by the people and security forces of Pakistan in what he called the 'huge fight' against terrorism. Prime Minister Gilani also parried a question if Pakistan has forgotten the British premier's comments about Pakistan in India last year obviously to convey that Islamabad has also turned the page.
Mr Cameroon had come to Islamabad after bids to visit Pakistan to remove the 'misunderstanding' since the last July episode. At one stage, the Government had expressed its inability to receive him in deference to the strong public reaction against his uncalled for remarks. It was, however, only after President Zardari's recent meeting with him in London that his visit to Islamabad became possible. Irrespective of Mr Cameroon's 'soft and sweet' posture in Islamabad, the truth is that Pakistan has never been treated fairly or at par with India by the British government. Its discrimination against Pakistan, in fact, goes back to the Indian partition in August 1947 when it was truncated by Britain by awarding certain strategic towns in Punjab to India to provide her ground access to Kashmir. Britain had colluded with India to deprive Pakistan of Kashmir, which by all principles of partition belonged to her. Subsequently too, It has miserably failed to undo the wrong done to Pakistan and help resolve the Kashmir issue because of its tilt towards New Delhi although it owed responsibility to ensure judicious implementation of the Partition Plan. It silently watched the usurpation of Muslim States including Hyderabad, Junagarh, Mongrol etc., by India. Lord Mountbatten also played no practical role to make India provide the rightful share to Pakistan in funds and military equipment out of the United India assets as per the Partition Plan. Britain's conduct has thus remained partisan right from the beginning. Time will only show the truth of Mr Cameroon's assertion that both Pakistan and India are equally important to Britain. What's, however, important is that he has realized the folly of his statement in India.
Mr Cameroon has also stated that he believed 'time is ripe for India and Pakistan to look even further beyond what divides them and embrace what unites them'. He obviously suggests that the two countries should ignore Kashmir and compromise the Kashmiri people's inalienable right of freedom, who are groaning under the heels of Indian military. By implication, he wants Pakistan to set aside the core issue of Kashmir since India is in military occupation of the valley and, therefore, has nothing to compromise by looking beyond what divides the two countries. It's Pakistan that will be discriminated against by this statement. And ironically, he has also ignored the legitimate struggle of the Kashmiri people, who have laid down hundreds of thousands lives in pursuit of their cherished goal of emancipation from the Indian subjugation. It's totally unfair on his part not only to undermine the Kahsmiris' right to self determination as recognized by the United Nations Security Council, but also to seek Pakistan to silently watch the moving spectacle of death and destruction let loose by the Indian forces in occupied Kashmir by brutalizing the Kashmiri people. Instead, he should undo the wrong done to Pakistan and the Kashmiri people as a result of the British collusion with India to subject them to the Indian yoke. By making this statement, he also wants Pakistan to quietly accept India's 'water aggression' by which New Delhi is continuously usurping Pakistan's rightful share of water of the rivers flowing down from Kashmir. India is usurping water of even those rivers that were exclusively designated to Pakistan under the Water Treaty of 1960 signed by the two countries under the auspices of the World Bank. This is not just Mr Cameron. You rather owe it to the people of the south asian region to contribute towards resolution of issues that divide them since Britain has a substantial role in creating them.
It's, however, a matter of satisfaction that Prime Minister Gilani and his British counterpart have recognized the huge potential for transformation and innovation in education sector as well as the social and economic fields. Cameroon announced financial assistance to get over four million Pakistan children into school. He promised that Britain will also explore cooperation with Pakistan in its plan to upgrade the school system nationwide and utilize information and communication technologies. He also announced that Britain will also increase the number of Chevening Scholarships for post graduate Pakistani students by 50 per cent. The two leaders agreed that extremism and terrorism are global issues and need to be tackled by intensifying cooperation at the global and regional levels.
It's good that a realization has emerged in the West in general and in Britain in particular that mutual cooperation in multifarious fields is essential in not only dealing with the menace of terrorism, but also to promote socio-economic well being of the people of Pakistan. It's, however, hoped that the offers of cooperation made by Mr Cameroon shall be motivated by the imperative need to improve the lot of the poor and needy in Pakistan and shall not be attached with the conditions of 'do more' in the fight against terror.
US REPORT IS DETESTABLE
NEWS & VIEWS
Pakistan's Foreign Office spokesperson Tehmina Janjua has rejected a report submitted by Obama Administration to the Congress stating that Pakistan government has no clear path and strategy to triumph over insurgents. The American administration report said that despite deployment of 147000 troops, there has been a deteriorating of the situation in FATA alongside the Afghan border between January and March this year. A senior official of Pakistan army talking to BBC said that Pakistani security institutions have taken effective steps against terrorism and rooted out their hideouts. In this connection he referred to operations in Swat and tribal areas and said that Pakistan army has been successful in decimating terrorists' strongholds. The problem is that our foreign office is often apologetic or keeps mum when it should open its mouth. For example when the US had refused to supply parts for helicopters on the pretext that the law and rules do not permit it, Pakistan should have pointed out rather raised hell at that time that if law and rules can be bent to conclude nuclear agreement with India, why it can't be done for supply of spare parts for helicopters?
Pakistan always wished to maintain long-term, multi faceted and durable strategic ties with the US for the realization of shared objectives. But mutual respect and co-operation at military, intelligence and diplomatic levels should be the hallmark of relations between the two countries. There is already general perception about America's dubious role of propping India through civil nuclear agreement, and its refusal to sign similar agreement with Pakistan. Pak-US relations were strained during Raymond Davis episode, and Pakistan had taken the position that the matter would be decided by the court. Anyhow, Raymond Davis was released after subjecting him to due course of law and payment of diyat. By conducting trial for 45 days, a loud and clear message was given that Pakistan would not buckle under pressure and follow the diktats of the US. Perhaps this was the reason that the US organized British Prime Minister David Cameron's trip to Pakistan, who was all praise for Pakistan's counter-terrorism role. It has to be mentioned that while on India trip he had launched a blistering attack against Pakistan on the same count.
From debunking Pakistan as a duplicitous partner in the global anti-terrorism campaign and an exporter of terrorism worldwide, Prime Minister David Cameron now has eulogised Pakistan for playing commendable role in fighting terrorism, acknowledging as well the tremendous cost in precious human lives it has paid on this account. Not just that. He has also spoken of a "fresh start" in the two countries' relationship and signed up, too, with his Pakistani counterpart an enhanced strategic dialogue covenant to deepen this relationship. Pakistan has indeed paid a colossal price since the time it joined the war on terror. More than two thousand soldiers have lost their precious lives and limbs in fighting out this terrorism. Thousands of our innocent civilians have been tragically slaughtered in suicide bombing, bomb blasts and terrorist attacks. Numerous of our innocent tribal compatriots, including children and women, have been massacred in CIA's drone incursions that kill only a few militants but many civilians in the process. There is a perception that Indian caucus in America is instrumental in international campaign that the Pakistani military establishment is hand-in-glove with Afghan Taliban, particularly the Haqqani faction to safeguard Pakistan's interests.
On the other side, Afghans in general are tired of continued foreign troops' presence on Afghan soil. They have suffered death and destruction since 1970s when Soviet forces had invaded followed by civil war and then pounding by US and allied forces at the time of ouster of the Taliban, which till today continues. Anyhow, Afghans vent out their anger in different ways. They came on the streets in droves to protest Qur'an's desecration by Pastor Terry Jones. What seemingly is upsetting for the NATO forces is that the protests broke out in places like Mazar-i-Sharif, Herat and Kabul - three of the seven regions that President Hamid Karzai identified for the first transfer of security from the coalition forces to the Afghan army and police. Their contention, that these demonstrations have been incited by Taliban, is tantamount to a self-confession that Taliban are yet a force to reckon with and not on the run, as have their military commanders been projecting ever since their troop surge. Mazar-i-Sharif is a warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum's stronghold; Herat is another warlord Ismail Khan's redoubt, and violent demonstrations in those areas bespeak greatly of Taliban's persistent influence.
Meanwhile, the debate is raging in the US over troops' withdrawal from Afghanistan this summer. But military leaders and President Barack Obama's civilian advisers are at odds so far as the size and pace of the planned pullout of U.S. troops from Afghanistan is concerned. Pentagon stands for a token drawdown, say five thousand of combat forces, whereas Obama administration is pressing for a massive withdrawal as promised at the time of surge. One of the officials who attended the last month's meeting of President Obama's war cabinet is reported to have said: "Obama has made it clear that he wants a meaningful drawdown to start in July," as such President Obama would like to see withdrawal of 30000 additional troops that were sent on military commanders' demand. In fact, American public is wary of the war's cost which is around $120 billion this year. According to recent opinion polls, 75 per cent of the people want quick withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, as they feel that they will have to bear the brunt of the prolonged war.
Seeing the public mood, even Republicans, who till February 2011 were against the drawdown, have changed their stance, because they have to go to the people for vote next year. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's about-face is quite obvious. She has been talking about three preconditions for starting negotiations with the Taliban vis-à-vis a) they renounce violence and dissociate from Al Qaeda, b) lay down arms and c) accept the existing constitution. Now more recently, she said those were 'not preconditions' but 'negotiable objectives'. There have been rumours about talks being held, courtesy Saudi Arabia, but Taliban have always refuted such news and said that they would not enter into any negotiations unless the foreign troops are withdrawn. After surge in troops and operations in Marjah and Helmand, ISAF commanders seem to be satisfied with the progress, but to independent observers and analysts, there isn't much to write home about. On the face of it, the process of drawdown on foreign occupation forces and transfer of security responsibility to the Afghan army and police has been set in motion to start by mid-this year and to complete by 2014. The question is that the US, NATO and Afghan forces have failed to achieve their objectives, how would they can achieve during the next three years.
The writer is Lahore-based senior journalist.
ALI ASHRAF KHAN
Education is being used as a tool to exploit nations by the Western powers some time in the name of enlightenment of societies and some time with political motives without noticing that such countries had a much better standard of education, better social and community values till the exploiters came with their agenda to divide the social fabric into pieces. It was a wrong decision of Bhutto government to nationalize our schools and colleges and give free hand to missionary schools to flourish in the name of English medium schools, when Hafeez Pirzada was the education minister. We had protested that this will create two cultures in our future generations and the standard of nationalized schools will be compromised with corruption seeping into educational institutions. Today these regulatory bodies are patronizing all sorts of mal practices to destroy educational standard in Pakistan and make room for foreign institutions.
Still we saw a much better standard of education at our colleges and university levels, I have graduated from Government College Lahore then went to University Law College, I adore my teachers, principles and vice chancellors who had a direct role in personality grooming of students by imparting sound education and engaging them in extra curricular activities. Pakistani graduates in Medical, Engineering and Commerce and Arts degrees equivalence was accepted in the West but American specialization degree were not acceptable in Pakistan due to their lower rating, when our degrees were considered much superior as compared to their own degrees. In late sixties we saw University Grants Commission playing its positive role in regulating academic and financial needs of higher education in Pakistan where masters and doctorate level of education was imparted even in those days. It is an interesting fact that India was the first country in South Asia to establish UGC. The University Grants Commission (UGC) of India was set up in 1956 as a statutory body, for the coordination, determination and maintenance of standards of university education.
The Higher Education Commission (HEC), formerly the University Grant Commission, which has been functioning under the force of an ordinance is the primary regulator of higher education in Pakistan, UGC in Pakistan had done a yeomen job during its existence like the ones in India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. It also facilitated the development of higher educational system in Pakistan. Its main purpose was to upgrade the Universities to become centers of excellence in education, research and development, while the education at primary and secondary level was neglected in certain parts and could not be organized to cater for the domestic needs of research & development rather commercialization of education was started since the abolition of UGC in Pakistan and we saw a rat race to acquire BBA, MBA, Medical, Engineering and Dental education degrees from such private commercial organization following there own curricula without any check. HEC never stepped in to check & regulate them or address the large scale unemployment issue of these graduates.
The current HEC administration, which has politicized its devolution plan, faces several allegations made by a number of MS/ PhD students sent abroad on government scholarship, who claim that HEC, without a legal permission from the court, has placed their names on the Exit Control List (ECL) and has declared them 'Defaulters', which is totally against the rule of law. This claim was challenged by HEC in the Supreme Court of Pakistan but was not perhaps upheld by the Chief Justice of Pakistan and the other two members of the Supreme Court The panel issued directions to the authorities concerned to initiate legal action against the HEC director for placing the names of students on the Exit Control List (ECL) with the help of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA). The Bench comprising Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, Justice Ch Ijaz Ahmed and Justice Ghulam Rabbani issued the directions after taking up HEC's appeals against a verdict of the Lahore High Court (LHC) Rawalpindi bench in favour of Sajid Anwar and Shaireen Khan.
The court directed the HEC counsel to present any rules and regulations that enabled HEC authorities to make requests for placing the names of students on the ECL. When the counsel could not cite any such rules, the CJP remarked that if there is rule of law in the country, then you have done wrong and if there is the rule of jungle in Pakistan, then you have done right. Freedom of movement: The court observed that HEC action was against articles 14 and 15 of the constitution, which pertained to the freedom of movement. Justice Ijaz observed that, if you do not give employment opportunities to the highest degree holders, they will leave the country. It is because of the treatment you accorded to them that the cream of the country prefers to go abroad for work?
The HEC had filed appeals against the LHC Rawalpindi bench verdict, in which the court had ordered the removal of students names from the ECL. The court had observed that when the HEC refused to provide employment opportunities to students, it had no right to impose restrictions upon their movement. Sajid Anwar, a student of MS in Engineering, had gone to South Korea to pursue an M Phil degree after entering into an agreement with the HEC to return within a specific time period, his counsel said. After two years, the HEC asked him to return without completing practical training there and refused to give him employment here, he said. The counsel told the court that Anwar was surprised when he was told that his name was placed on the ECL and he could not travel abroad for completing his education. The court will also take up identical cases of five other students. So one fails to understand if the high ups in HEC know that its devolution was agreed to be completed in 10 years in the concurrent list of 1973 constitution, which has been agitated by provinces for last 27 years, then why all this hue and cry to further damage the educational atmosphere in the country by staging demonstrations and rallies when the fundamental role has already been compromised by HEC. This again seems to me a vested interest inspired game.
MALIK M ASHRAF
The revival of the dialogue process between India and Pakistan in itself is a significant breakthrough in the context of normalization of relations between Pakistan and India, notwithstanding the pessimistic appraisals and well orchestrated discourses by some intellectuals, former ambassadors and certain elements within the media to belittle the success of the diplomatic offensive of the present government. India had suspended the composite dialogue in the wake of November 2008 Mumbai attacks and adopted an ossified stance that it would not resume the dialogue until and unless Pakistan punished those who were involved in the incident and those who masterminded the whole affair. But as we have seen the resumption of the dialogue happened without meeting the Indian pre-conditions by Pakistan and that in a way represents a climb down from its hard line position by India.
The dialogue process re- started with a meeting between the Interior Secretaries as a consequence of the interaction between the two Prime Ministers in Sharm El-Shaikh in July 2009 and Thimpu in April 2010 and the follow up on those negotiations by the foreign ministries of the two countries. As a result of the parleys, both the countries have agreed to exchange commissions from each other in regards to the investigations concerning Mumbai attacks. The Indian side also shared information with the Pakistani delegation about the probe into the 2007 Samjhota Express bombing by Hindu extremists. That indeed is a considerable headway in view of the prolonged stalemate in talks between the two sides. Pakistan needs the continuation of dialogue between the two countries more than India, in view of the Indian involvement in the acts of terrorism and sabotage in Balochistan.
The Mohali Moot between the two premiers, coming in the backdrop of the revived formal contacts, has certainly added a new dimension and vitality to the peace process. The resolve and determination expressed by both sides to pursue the peaceful course to settle disputes between them is also In line with the Simla Agreement between the two countries. Pakistan is now in a better position to confront its Indian interlocutors with the evidence regarding Indian hand in the insurgency in Balochistan and urge them to show their sincerity for normalization of relations with Pakistan by backing off from this sinister undertaking in line with the Mohali spirit. In fact both India and Pakistan need to remove the ambience of mutual mistrust through concrete, sincere and verifiable efforts to prove that they are not involved in acts of sabotage in each other's territory. The resolution of Siachin and Sir Creek issue on the basis of the already morphed understanding can also impart the much required impetus to the process of normalization of relations between the two countries for which the leadership of both the countries will have to exhibit unflinching commitment and make resolute efforts to remove all the stumbling blocs in the way of their settlement. Their resolution can certainly generate the momentum and the environment conducive to resolving the core issue of Kashmir.
It will be naïve on the part of any one to entertain the thought that relations between India and Pakistan can be normalized on sustainable basis without the resolution of the Kashmir dispute. However it will also be equally naïve to expect a major breakthrough towards its resolution at this particular juncture of time. Those who accuse the government of failing to internationalize the Kashmir issue or raising it at the UN are sadly ignorant of the dynamics of the international diplomacy and the obtaining world environment which is hardly encouraging to make such a bid.
Bilateralism presents the best chance to proceed and Prime Minister Gilani was on spot to declare that India and Pakistan must take ownership of their affairs. The declaration is also in consonance with the spirit of the Simla Agreement that stipulates the resolution of all disputes between the two countries, including the Kashmir dispute through bilateral negotiations. The success of the resumed talks will however depend on the sincerity of purpose and the ability of the leaders of the two countries in making sure that the peace process stays on course and is not allowed to be derailed by the past legacies.
The signing of the Simla Agreement and the attempts to resolve issues between India and Pakistan through bilateral talks— contrary to the Indian stance and some of the critics of this approach in Pakistan—— do not preclude the right of Pakistan to take the issue back to the UN in case no solution is perceived to be possible through this mechanism. Article 103 of the UN Charter says "In the event of a conflict between the obligation of the members of the UN under the present Charter and their obligations under any other international agreement, their obligations under the present Charter shall prevail" What it means is that the UN resolutions on Kashmir will take precedence over all other international agreements on the same issue.
The UN resolutions on Kashmir adopted under Chapter VII of the UN Charter are legally binding on the parties. Article 25 also reiterates their obligatory nature. The Security Council, under the UN charter has the power to enforce its decisions and resolutions militarily or by any other means necessary, the powers that it has used during the Korean War in 1950 and in Iraq and Kuwait in 1991. It is abundantly clear from the foregoing that the legal status and obligations of the parties to the dispute under UN resolutions and that of the Security Council to have its resolutions implemented, remain un-affected.
WANTED: CLEAN, SAFE POWER
If China and other Asian nations shy away from atomic power following Japan's nuclear crisis, would it intensify the impact of climate change on the region? The question is no longer hypothetical. Many governments have already announced reviews or delays of programs to use nuclear reactors to generate electricity. Whether warranted or not, each new report of radiation leakage from the stricken Fukushima plant in Japan is increasing public and political opposition to expansion of nuclear power.
One of the attractions of this technology is its ability to produce large amounts of electricity over long periods of time without emitting the huge quantities of carbon dioxide (CO2) from burning fossil fuels, especially coal for power and heavy industry, and oil for transport. CO2 is the main man-made global-warming gas. Asia is at the epicentre of both nuclear power expansion and vulnerability to climate change. This is a key reason is why governments in the region, especially China, made commitments to invest in nuclear power. The World Bank group and the Australian government's Overseas Aid Program (AusAid) warned in a joint report last year that "sustaining economic growth without compromising the environment is the greatest energy challenge facing East Asia over the next two decades." Its survey covered China, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.
Echoing an earlier study by the Asian Development Bank, it described the Asia-Pacific zone as among the world's most vulnerable regions to climate change threats, including sea level rise. Huge numbers of people live on low-lying coastal land and islands. They would be threatened by seawater inundation and displacement. There are 130 million in China alone and another 40 million in Vietnam, about half the total population.Another major vulnerability listed by the World Bank and AusAid is food crop yields, which are projected to decline in Asian countries due to rising temperatures and more extreme weather. East Asia's turbo-charged economic growth has lifted millions out of poverty. It is the best hope of reviving growth in the United States and Europe. However, Asia's dynamism has come at a heavy cost in terms of damage to the environment and quality of life. Choked by toxic emissions from coal and oil burning, East Asia has many of the world's most polluted cities.
The region's GDP, after adjustment for inflation, is up by nearly 400 percent since 1990. But in the same period, energy use has risen by 150 percent and harmful sulfur dioxide emissions by 150 percent. East Asia's CO2 emissions have more than tripled in the last 20 years — led by China, which relies heavily on coal for energy. China accounts for 80 percent of the region's energy consumption and 85 percent of its carbon dioxide emissions. If East Asia continues business as usual, its air pollution and CO2 emissions will double in next two decades.
"East Asia will contribute hugely to climate change and hurt its own citizens," Andrew Steer, the World Bank's special envoy for climate change wrote in a recent blog. "In the process, the region would severely compromise its energy security as almost all its major countries become highly dependent on imported energy." Yet the World Bank-AusAid report said that it was technically and economically feasible for East Asia to take a greener path, with local air pollution half that of the business as usual scenario by 2015 and CO2 emissions 40 percent less.
Under such a program, the CO2 emissions of China and the five Southeast Asian economies could peak in 2025 and decline slightly thereafter. Half the gain would come from improved energy efficiency. But power generation would also need to shift dramatically from coal to renewable energy (chiefly hydro, geothermal, wind, biomass and later solar power), nuclear energy and natural gas. The latter is the least carbon-intensive of the fossil fuels. If East Asian governments put the right policies and incentives in place, the share of low-carbon technologies in meeting East Asia's power demand would triple to around 50 percent, from just 17 percent now. However to achieve this target, the World Bank-AusAid report said that nuclear power would need to contribute about 15 percent of the region's power generation by 2030. Almost all of this nuclear energy expansion would come from China, "because of the government's aggressive plans to boost nuclear power."
—The writer is a visiting senior research fellow at the Institute of South East Asian Studies in Singapore.
THE CHALLENGES CONTINUE IN MULTI-LEVEL ECONOMY
ALMOST three years after avoiding the global financial crisis, the nation is facing complex economic challenges that must be addressed if we are to ensure prosperity for all Australians.
As this newspaper reported this week, it's a mixed world out there, with the mining boom masking a real economy that exhibits weaknesses in sectors such as tourism, retail and housing.
None of these contradictions is news to the millions of Australians who, despite tightening their belts and paying down their mortgages since the GFC struck the northern hemisphere in 2008, are still feeling cost-of-living pressures.
Nor is it news to the Reserve Bank of Australia, which has been signalling for several quarters now that managing this economy is not just a simple matter of adjusting interest rates. Yet Labor has failed to advance the kinds of deep structural reforms needed to take the pressure off the non-resource sectors. Indeed, two-speed is an over-simplification, given that even the minerals-rich state of Western Australia is in a technical spending recession with successive quarters of negative growth in state spending.
The contradictions in the economy are matched only by the contradictions in the Gillard government's stance on a whole range of related issues. The government talks of the need to tackle a skills shortage yet spruiks a small-Australia policy, eschewing the robust immigration approach that has always underpinned national growth. It talks about pulling people off the disability and unemployment benefits list at a time when more workers are needed and unemployment is below 5 per cent, yet at the same time endorses rigidities in a labour market that is increasingly seen to favour hard-core union bosses rather than assisting Australian employers and entrepreneurs who want to expand their businesses and develop new ones. It talks about reform while pursuing three new taxes -- the flood levy, the mining tax and the carbon tax -- that have more to do with ideology than with sound economic thinking. Finally, this is a government that is committed to returning the budget to surplus on the one hand and committed to huge spending projects, such as the Building the Education Revolution and the National Broadband Network, on the other.
This loose fiscal policy is undermining efforts by the RBA to manage the economy through interest rates and the floating dollar, and it is compounding the differences between mining and the rest of the economy.
There can be no excuses for Labor's failure to come to grips with the nation's economic challenges. After almost 12 years in opposition and 3 1/2 years in power, the party should have a clearer appreciation of the need for policies that aid rather than inhibit the market and business.
Indeed, if Wayne Swan had a surer command of his portfolio, he would have been arguing the case well before now for some policy U-turns to address some of these challenges. He and Julia Gillard must urgently reverse the reregulation of the labour market; they must look at genuine tax reform; they must address infrastructure problems; and they must reverse the move to a "small" Australia. They talk of problems in the economy, but too many of the policies they are pursuing simply add to those pressures.
SPIES, LIES AND LIFE LESSONS
THE cache of M15 files released in London last weekend are more than half a century old but have lost none of their power to shock and enlighten.
As our European correspondent, Peter Wilson, scours the documents, extraordinary information -- as fascinating as any WikiLeaks dump -- continues to emerge about a period of our history that is only now beginning to be fully understood.
Today we reveal how the then prime minister, Robert Menzies, so distrusted Labor leader Herbert Evatt that he secretly ordered ASIO to hand top-secret files to Britain and the US for safe keeping ahead of the 1958 election that he feared Labor would win. It is a vital reminder of the fears of communist infiltration at the highest levels in Canberra in this volatile Cold War period. Some, like security expert Des Ball, believe the M15 files suggest Evatt was not just erratic but almost certainly a Soviet agent. Others give the Labor leader the benefit of the doubt. But the material, along with other revelations that ASIO chief Charles Spry warned M15 during the 1954 Petrov affair that Britain should consider withholding intelligence information from a Labor government, confirm the complete breakdown of the normal bonds of trust between political leaders and bureaucrats in this period.
That it had come to this says much about the passion with which some of the nation's best and brightest had pursued the communist dream of delivering a better life for the working man. Dismayed by what they saw as the excesses of capitalism as it was developing in the US and with the trauma of the Great Depression still fresh, many Australians, and others in the West, who followed broad social-democratic principles, flirted with Soviet communism. They were blind to the monstrousness of a regime that caused the death of 25 million of its citizens. The death toll under Mao was even higher, at 70 million; the total under communist regimes, 105 million.
It is clear that those who allied themselves to the communist cause were desperately misled. Energy, talent and resources were wasted in support of a distorted political creed. Some who find themselves on the wrong side of history cling to the notion that Petrov was a beat-up and Evatt a hero. The M15 files tell a different story.
Their value in the search for historical truth and as a lesson in the dangers of being consumed by a bad idea is invaluable.
RED-TAPE OVERKILL IS NO SOLUTION
IF the Gillard administration is determined to qualify for what ANZ chief executive Mike Smith yesterday called "the weak government club", its national occupational health and safety strategy is a step in the right direction.
It looks every bit like short-term, populist policy that is against the nation's long-term interest.
It fails to live up to the promise of the Council of Australian Governments agreement in July 2008 to standardise workplace safety laws inspired by Kevin Rudd's vision for a more effective federalism, one that boosts productivity by reducing red tape across different jurisdictions. The reverse will be the case if the government's workplace health and safety agency, Safe Work Australia, proceeds with many of the excessively prescriptive proposals detailed in 550 pages of draft regulations, as well as 12 codes of practice covering issues such as preventing hearing loss in noisy environments, labelling hazardous chemicals, removing asbestos and preventing falls in the workplace.
Business is rightly concerned that the government's approach will increase compliance costs, hand excessive powers to employee representatives and divert resources away from frontline safety to paper compliance. As the Business Council of Australia argues, safety regulations should be simple, clear and sensibly enforced. They should not attempt to provide for all possible eventualities but establish a flexible framework to ensure workers are safe on the job.
Unfortunately, such heavy-handed, process-driven solutions are typical of the bureaucratic approach favoured by the Rudd and Gillard governments, from prescribing fines for use of the "naughty corner" in childcare centres to Health Minister Nicola Roxon's investigating the ugliest colour for cigarette packets as a supposed deterrent for smokers. Kevin Rudd's health changes were also more about bureaucratic changes than directly improving outcomes for patients.
Labor's approach to Aboriginal art fraud is another example: rather than directing police to track down and prosecute carpetbaggers forging Aboriginal art and profiteering, the government adopted a bureaucratic approach, including a voluntary code of conduct. Such micro-management wastes resources and is not the best solution to most issues.
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
ARMED GUARDS WON'T MAKE STATIONS SAFER
WHEN the Victorian Coalition regained government in last year's election, this newspaper applauded its plans to overhaul public transport, with one exception. The proposal to place two armed protective service officers on every metropolitan railway station after dark seemed to us neither a wise use of public money nor an effective safety precaution. Indeed, the fact that the officers would carry guns could well pose a safety risk that does not exist at present. We still hold that view, and as senior crime writer John Sylvester notes in his ''Naked City'' column today, so do virtually all senior Victoria Police officers. It is a proposal driven by a populist desire to win votes, not by sensible policymaking.
As the 2009 crime statistics indicate, more than 45 per cent of assaults took place at just 10 of about 200 stations in the metropolitan network: Flinders Street, Dandenong, Broadmeadows, Footscray, StAlbans, Ringwood, Bayswater, Frankston, Southern Cross and Thomastown. At 116 stations, however, there were no assaults at all. Protective service officers assigned to these stations will probably be idle, battling no more than boredom each night. But if they are not, it may very well be their presence and their weaponry that provokes the crime.
The officers are to be issued with Smith & Wesson semi-automatic pistols, and will receive only eight weeks' training in how to use them. There are already concerns about how the police, who are better trained, use firearms, sometimes leading to avoidable loss of life. The risk that station guards might use their guns unnecessarily must be at least as great. The guards will also be vulnerable to attack by criminal gangs seeking weapons to add to their armouries.
The Coalition placed such great emphasis on the station-guards plan during last year's campaign that Premier Ted Baillieu may feel the government cannot abandon it now. But he should heed the advice of senior police, who understand the dangers: if ever there was an election pledge worth breaking, it is this one.
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
THE OPPOSITE OF REASSURING
THE words that an embattled prime minister finds most ominous are those of a rival ruling out the possibility of a challenge. Julia Gillard knows that well enough: when Kevin Rudd was the embattled one, she declared there was more chance of her playing full forward for the Bulldogs than there was of change in the Labor leadership. That was last May. She took over the prime ministership the following month.
Now Rudd has returned the favour, ruling out a comeback attempt: ''That is not a faint prospect of a possibility,'' he says. Rudd has been touring Queensland marginal seats, just helping to shore up support for MPs, as ministers are all required to do. So they are. How convenient, though, for a man who has not lost the ambition to lead the party that rejected him. How convenient too, to be able to correct the record, as he put it, about his government's dropping of an emissions trading scheme, and to raise questions over Gillard's role in that decision.
Rudd's shambolic record in office, his lack of factional support, his martinet management style and his unpopularity within the parliamentary party make a comeback seem impossible. But who, given modern Labor's trigger-happy response to struggling leaders, would rule it out?
Certainly Gillard is embattled. This week's attempt by the independent MP Andrew Wilkie to lever the government he shores up into action on the issue of poker machines shows how precarious is her position. Wilkie wants a law requiring poker-machine players to set themselves a limit on how much they are willing to lose each time they start playing. He has threatened to end his support for the government if it does not get the legislation passed. It is a well-intentioned stand - poker machines and gambling have become a curse - but it is also self-defeating. The clubs and pubs which profit from gambling hate the idea. They are formidable lobbyists and dangerous enemies, as politicians on both sides in NSW know well. To act against their interests would require careful preparation over a long time. This government has already bitten off far more than it can chew, and Wilkie wants it to bite off a great deal more. It is too much to expect at present. And if Wilkie ever carried out his threat, and voted the Coalition into power, he would see an election quickly called at which, if he retained his seat, any chance of him ever influencing policy again would disappear.
Gillard's strategy must be to wait out the weeks until June 30, when the composition of the Senate will change, and her allies the Greens will hold the balance of power. Only then will she be able to achieve significant parts of her program - or rather, their program. Her climate change agenda, which has become the centrepiece of this term of government, depends on it. While she waits, though, she looks powerless and overambitious at the same time. The carbon tax is coming under savage attack from the Coalition. Though the tax is supported by many large businesses, including the superannuation sector, she has not succeeded in turning public opinion back to where it was for Kevin Rudd on this issue before his backdown. The national broadband network looks beset by problems including cost blowouts and the resignation of senior staff. Her health reforms are encountering opposition from the states. And to add to the sense of impotence, she and the Treasurer, Wayne Swan, are also preparing for a tough budget in May, which will no doubt make her government even more unpopular. Tony Abbott, not one to flinch at breaking conventions, may be wondering already if an excuse can be found to block the budget and force an election.
Yet probably the best thing Gillard has going for her at the moment is Abbott. Despite the Coalition's commanding lead in the polls, he has not convinced voters he is a sound alternative prime minister. Though they prefer the Coalition to Labor overwhelmingly, voters show a distinct nervousness in opinion surveys when asked to compare Abbott directly with Gillard as best prime minister. Is he the Coalition's Mark Latham? Malcolm Turnbull is acting as if he thinks so, mirroring Rudd in trailing his coat. Turnbull has been speaking out with authority on several areas outside his portfolio, communications, in the past week. That is his right, and nothing he has said or done implies disloyalty of any kind to his leader. It is only that, as with Rudd, any independent action on his part automatically raises the issue.
At a time of momentous challenges, the authority of Australia's political leaders has rarely been less solid or predictable.
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
LONGEVITY ON SPECIAL - THIS WEEK ONLY
THIS can't be right. According to Taiwanese and Australian researchers, shopping every day lengthens your life. A study they conducted found older people who shopped frequently tended to outlive those who didn't. The Herald's view of shopping cannot be adequately expressed in a family newspaper. Let us say that as a life-enhancing activity it rates somewhere below trips to the dentist and cleaning the guttering. We accept, though, that this may be a minority view. We are overjoyed that merely entering the Woolworths car park will give most seniors an added spring in their step and glint in their eye. We concede, too, that steering a shopping trolley with the inevitable bung wheel is a whole exercise regime in itself and by getting the blood pounding and the teeth gnashing could indeed have life-lengthening aerobic benefits. Maybe. Perhaps. However we should point out that the research in question was not carried out in Australia. Those who want to prolong their lives may have to fly to Taiwan each day to pick up the groceries. Good luck to them. We'll stay here, thanks, and pump out the grease trap. We know who'll be having a better time.
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
SACRED COW HERD TRAMPLES TAX SENSE
IT WOULD be nice to have a sensible debate about tax. Opposition Treasury spokesman Joe Hockey thought so, for all of one day this week, when he suggested taxing Australia's 663,000 trusts at the company rate. In 2001, then treasurer Peter Costello took aim at trusts, only for John Howard, political antennae twitching, to pull the reform rug out from under him. Mr Hockey got the same treatment.
In the past decade, Australians were promised a ''new tax system'' - the Howard government's GST selling point - and a ''root and branch review'' to deliver a simpler, fairer tax system - the Rudd government's Henry review. As Mr Hockey says, the complexity is worse than ever (he also likes the Henry review recommendation of a two-tier personal tax system). High-income earners use trusts to minimise tax by distributing earnings to family members on low incomes. The 1999 Ralph review put the tax lost at $700 million a year (about $2 billion today), but Assistant Treasurer Bill Shorten's purely political response to Mr Hockey was to defend trusts as a ''legitimate tax tool''.
That response is consistent with Labor's handling of the Henry review. Of 138 recommendations, it adopted four. The mining tax battle sapped the government of any remaining ambition after it killed 27 recommendations at birth, including a long-overdue restoration of fuel excise indexation, worth at least $3 billion a year. A spinoff from the mining tax, to be legislated before October's tax summit, is a cut in company tax from 30 to 28 per cent (the review suggested 25 per cent).
Six months out from the summit, neither side of politics appears willing to act on the tax system's glaring imbalances and inconsistencies. Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Treasurer Wayne Swan are haggling with the states over $50 billion in GST revenue, but that's not on the summit agenda. Budget papers, though, show that a decade-long shift in the tax base exposes the Commonwealth to a structural deficit made worse by countless loopholes and electoral bribes. Revenue from indirect taxes is down from 29.1 per cent in 2002-03 to a projected 24.5 per cent in 2012-13. The share from income tax is up from 65 per cent to 69.3 per cent, but less is from personal tax and more is from company tax. That commodity boom had better keep booming. The proliferation of levies - one idea this week was to slug well-off parents to boost school funding - can't paper over the cracks.
While Opposition Leader Tony Abbott targets the jobless, despite an unemployment rate of only 4.9 per cent, he and Ms Gillard seem deaf to the Henry review's critique of the two-tier family tax benefits. Effective marginal tax rates of more than 60 per cent punish people who return to work or increase hours. Nor do they want to hear about the money-in-money-out churn of uncapped middle-class welfare such as private health rebates. Debate on negative gearing, which distorts housing prices and the tax base, is also taboo. Sensible ideas are treated as political madness or, in Malcolm Turnbull's case, as tilts at the leadership. The Coalition communications spokesman is almost alone in pushing for a sovereign wealth fund, which is widely supported outside Parliament. He says he ran the idea past Mr Hockey first, but Ms Gillard and Mr Abbott appear to have no appetite for comprehensive reform. This week's fleeting ''tax debate'' confirms that policy conviction and consistency are vanishingly scarce commodities.
BENEFITS: DEPARTMENT OF WOEFUL PRACTICES
The message being sent through the benefit system is that the government is intensely relaxed about making the poor poorer
The distinction is reminiscent of Yes Minister. For government policy to involve setting arbitrary targets for jobcentres to push people below the breadline is quite inconceivable – it would be like requiring a magistrate to jail a quota of suspects, regardless of what they had done. Government practice, however, turns out to be another matter.
A week ago, a Department for Work and Pensions whistleblower told the Guardian that he and his colleagues were being leant on to refer a fixed tally of meagre benefit payments for docking, which they can end up doing by rigging the assessment of how hard people are looking for work. The welfare secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, popped up in front of the cameras to dismiss the suggestion as "claptrap". Now the DWP has conceded that certain offices were indeed interpreting political talk about getting tough on the workshy in precisely this way.
Other insiders have come forward to the Guardian to detail the discriminatory and very likely unlawful manner in which benefit sanctions were being applied. We must take it on trust that such practices were the exception as opposed to the rule, and were never intended by Whitehall. It now promises they have been stamped out. Although on-the-ground confirmation is awaited, alarmed government lawyers will surely demand no less. The message being sent through the whole system is that its masters are intensely relaxed about making the poor poorer. The consequences will reach far and wide.
Besides embarking on an unprecedented programme of cuts to benefit rates, the government is hastily tightening eligibility criteria. For example, all sick and disabled benefit claimants are about to be forced through a stringent new medical test, even though a pilot study which the government itself commissioned found all sorts of problems, and even though there are vast numbers of cases where withdrawn cash ends up being restored on appeal. Vulnerable people caught out by this test will be shunted on to jobseeker's allowance, which pays just £65.45 and which will continue to be aggressively administered to maximise statistical "off-flow", even if the sanctions quotas mess is satisfactorily cleaned up.
In this new world of rough justice, most claimants will receive no real justice at all. The government has proposed abolishing legal aid in social security cases, even though these naturally involve people in no position to foot their own legal bill. The coalition's creed is looking less like the liberalism that it proclaims, and more like a desiccated libertarianism – which talks up the freedoms of people with means, and hurls those with none to the dogs.
PHONE HACKING: AN APOLOGY – BUT NO ANSWERS
One imagines there to have been limited joy in heaven after News International's qualified statement of repentance
One imagines there to have been limited joy in heaven yesterday afternoon as the news broke of News International's qualified statement of repentance. Yes, the company has expressed "genuine regret" for its past behaviour over phone hacking. It has offered an unreserved apology and damages to some, but not all, of those who have launched legal actions. And it has admitted that the company's previous inquiries had failed to be remotely searching enough. This is a massive move from the company's original stance in July 2009, when News International's chief executive wrote to MPs claiming that this newspaper had "substantially and likely deliberately misled the British public". Of course the statement, qualified as it is, should be welcomed. It is a substantial concession from a company which has hitherto not only denied a pattern of criminal behaviour, but spent large sums of money covering it up.
But with the overall welcome come questions. The move is a clear attempt to stop the multiple civil actions in their track before the torrent of discovered documents and emails is exposed to the public eye. The high court has been resolutely demanding that claimants are given access to police files, phone records, notebooks and internal emails. Next Thursday, for example, the police are due to hand over unredacted copies of the material raided from the home of the private investigator Glenn Mulcaire. No wonder the company is desperate to draw some kind of line in the sand. And no doubt many claimants will wish to wait and see what documentary evidence emerges – together with who was responsible – before deciding on whether to settle.
But the more that information has been dragged out of News International and a disgracefully unco-operative Metropolitan police, the more disturbing the picture has become. This week the police arrested Neville Thurlbeck, the current chief reporter of the News of the World, as well as its former news editor Ian Edmondson. Both the director of public prosecutions and the four leading mobile phone companies have called into question the evidence to parliament of John Yates, the police officer who until recently was leading the inquiry. Mr Thurlbeck has not been suspended by News International, which continues to pay the legal fees of Mr Mulcaire, as he resists attempts to reveal what he knows.
The police inquiry must, of course, continue. There are searching questions under section 79 of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act about the governance and responsibility of the company and its directors for criminal acts. Who is going to hold the police to account for – until recently – their lamentable performance over this case? MPs who previously backed down from calling News International witnesses will doubtless feel more emboldened now. And there are very uncomfortable questions over the performance of the Press Complaints Commission under its chair, Baroness Buscombe, who had the remarkable distinction of being forced to pay libel damages to one of the claimants' solicitors, in her apparent keenness to pour cold water on the allegations.
But the biggest question is for the culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt, who was poised to wave through News Corporation's bid for full ownership and control of BSkyB, thereby creating the largest and most powerful media company Britain has ever seen. It is now apparent his predecessor as culture secretary, Tessa Jowell, had her phone hacked. Imagine if a bank had hired investigators to hack the chancellor of the exchequer's phone. It is difficult to imagine that Mr Hunt could possibly allow the bid to go through in the circumstances when so many unanswered questions hang over the company and where so many documents have yet to be revealed. Only a full judicial inquiry can now answer the many unresolved issues.
UNTHINKABLE? BANISHING TYRANTS TO EXILE
A formal system of exile to lure tyrannical has-beens away from their nations is needed
Wanted: a small island, cut off from the world, prepared to revive the ancient practice of banishment. St Helena would do, still funded by the British, unreachable except by sea and accustomed to housing military-minded former national leaders with delusions about their stature. What worked for Napoleon in 1815 is necessary once again: the world is awash with prime ministers, presidents and dictatorial colonels-for-life who are refusing to quit because they have nowhere to run. The likes of Laurent Gbagbo, Robert Mugabe, Kim Jong-il and Colonel Gaddafi are clinging on to their wrecked national economies and bombed-out palaces, destroying their countries and confounding international diplomats as they do so. What is needed is a formal system of exile to lure tyrannical has-beens away from their nations to everyone's benefit. The process would, it must be admitted, limit the opportunity of trying them for war crimes, but for the exiles that would have to be part of the deal. In time this island of the dammed would no doubt become crowded, and perhaps some of its inmates tamed, as happened to Napoleon when he turned to gardening in the stony St Helena soil – so much healthier than invading his neighbours. Squabbles could be expected and some residents might hope for the possibility of returning to power, as Napoleon did from Elba. But it's a long swim in any direction from St Helena; a shelter for the corrupt and the cruel that would formalise the removal of tyrants.
THE JAPAN TIMES
NEW FOOD CONTAMINATION RULES
With fears, sometimes unfounded, mounting that food and water might be contaminated by radiation, the government has established a new rule governing bans on contaminated agricultural products.
Until now, a shipping ban was applied to an entire prefecture if agricultural products were found to be contaminated with radiation at levels above legal limits in any part of the prefecture. Under the new rule, designed to reduce the infliction of financial damage on farmers whose products are not contaminated, shipping bans will apply only to municipalities where the contaminated agricultural products originated and bans will be lifted when no contamination is detected for three consecutive weeks.
As the rice-planting season nears, the government should also issue guidelines on areas where rice can be safely planted to avoid unnecessary troubles and expenditures.
The government has also decided to restrict the drinking of city water only if the average concentration of radioactive substances for three consecutive days is above the legal limit. The restriction will be lifted when the three-day average is below the limit and on a declining trend.
It is important to prevent panic among consumers, which could lead them to stop buying products whose concentration of radioactive substances falls within legal limits. The authorities should thoroughly vet agricultural products for radiation contamination and make the data public in a timely manner so consumers can make proper judgments.
The same measure should be applied to fishery products. The Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant contain some 60,000 tons of highly radioactive water and until Wednesday some of it was leaking into the sea. In addition, on April 4, Tepco started releasing 10,000 tons of low-level radioactive water into the sea. Radioactive iodine and cesium have been detected in small fish caught off Ibaraki Prefecture recently, and sales are plummeting even for fish caught in unaffected waters.
Ultimately the situation will not improve until internal cooling functions are restored in the stricken reactors and they cease emitting radioactive substances into the environment. The government and Tokyo Electric Power Co. must keep striving to achieve this goal.
THE JAPAN TIMES
SUMO MUST CLEAN UP ITS ACT
The Japan Sumo Association on April 1 took disciplinary action against 21 wrestlers and two stable masters for their involvement in match-fixing. Nineteen wrestlers — six in the elite makuuchi division, eight in the second-tire juryo division and five in lower divisions — and one stable master were called on to retire, while one stable master and two wrestlers were banned from sumo activities for two years.
By April 5, 21 wrestlers and one stable master retired. Stable master Tanigawa refused to retire, saying he never fixed matches during his 14 years' career as a wrestler. He was fired April 6.
It is significant that the JSA, which had long denied charges of match-fixing, has finally admitted that it exists and has taken disciplinary actions against wrestlers and stable masters. Ultimately it had no choice as long-standing contention that match-fixing does not exist in the sumo world has been undermined by the investigation.
The match-fixing scandal surfaced about two months ago when text messages suggesting such activities were found on mobile phones by chance during a police investigation into illegal betting on pro baseball games by sumo wrestlers. A special investigation committee questioned wrestlers who played a central role in match-fixing and wrestlers who fought them on the ring. But it did not question all wrestlers, particularly those in the higher ranks. In this sense, the committee failed to unravel the whole picture of the scandal and its investigation remains incomplete.
Having seen the mass media reports, especially in weekly magazines, fans and others harbor strong suspicions that match-fixing is not a short-term problem involving only a few wrestlers, but rather a cancer that has been eating away at the sumo world for a long time.
Match-fixing is a betrayal to diligent wrestlers who devote themselves to fierce training every day, and to fans who expect to watch fact, not fiction. The JSA must strive to strengthen professionalism among wrestlers and adopt concrete measures that will help to prevent them from being lured into match-fixing.
THE JAPAN TIMES
WITH THE WORLD LOOKING IN, JAPAN NEEDS TO SPEAK OUT
BY KUMI SATO AND MICHAEL J. ALFANT
SPECIAL TO THE JAPAN TIMES
Japan is known as having some the world's most developed earthquake- and tsunami-detection systems. However, the destruction caused on March 11 amply illustrated what can happen even when it is well prepared for crises.
Imagine what happens in a crisis when you are not well prepared. We believe that this disaster has illustrated Japan's lack of preparedness in a different sense: crisis communication.
While it must be said that DPJ politicians have been a constant fixture on TV since the earthquake and tsunami hit, overall Japan has not done a good job of communicating the situation on the ground (especially that of Tokyo) to the rest of the world.
The lack of preparedness and the lack of a holistic strategy to disseminate accurate information to outside audiences — who watched in horror as the pictures of towns being reduced to rubble and explosions at Fukushima's nuclear power plant were beamed across the world — quickly resulted in a chaotic blur of misinformation and half truths being spread across rolling news channels and the Internet.
The rest of the world therefore assumed the worst, which resulted in a number of governments relocating their embassies outside of Tokyo (or closing them indefinitely) and many foreigners being pressured by their loved ones to leave the region, if not the country. If you were to believe some of the foreign reporting, Tokyo had now become a "ghost town."
The truth of the matter is, according to a March 29 poll of foreign companies by the American Chamber of Commerce in Tokyo, 87 percent of the 210 respondents are running either "business as usual" or at a "slightly reduced service level."
The same poll asked the question of foreign firms, "What is your primary concern arising from the quake/tsunami in terms of business over the next three months?" Most firms answered that "availability of electrical power" was their main concern (35 percent), as this was already a reality with rolling blackouts enforced in parts of Tokyo and surrounding areas, but this was followed by "airborne radiological risk" (24 percent) and "food/water safety" (23 percent) — the true threat of which has yet to be clearly spelled out by the government in a credible way.
When asked, "What was the biggest challenge you confronted during the crisis?" time and time again, the same messages came back: "misinformed and sensationalized rumors"; "lack of consistent and accurate information about nuclear risk and rolling blackouts"; and "obtaining accurate, complete and timely information to make prudent business decisions" were typical of the responses.
This illustrates that the government's crisis communication response was inadequate, especially from the perspective of the international community.
Japan and its politicians ignore foreign media at their peril. By not taking the reigns on communicating to the foreign broadcast media (many of whom of course do not speak Japanese), it was easy for the misinformation to spiral out of control, whether the source be false messages claiming to be from Tepco spread via social networks or sensationalist foreign reporting that has even led to members of the public naming and shaming the worst offenders*.
In actual fact, the foreign broadcast media are one of the most critical communication channels for Japan, and this is a fact that the government needs to recognize. When a disaster such as this occurs, the audience that needs to be addressed does not just consist of Japanese people domestically, but also foreign residents and the entire global community. Not addressing these audiences in a consistent, timely and accurate fashion will ultimately be to Japan's detriment.
There are already a number of lessons can be learned from the current crisis that can be addressed immediately. * First, crisis preparedness. Japan is already challenged by the greatly reduced number of foreign correspondents stationed here compared to a few years ago. This makes it even more important that there be a plan in place of how to get the right message out in a crisis: Who do we call on to speak, to which audiences, and at what intervals? This plan was not in place. The response was largely ad hoc and, as such, inadequate. * Second: risk communication. There are plenty of English-speaking scientists, medical doctors and business people available to speak to the media, but they were not prepared in advance in case of a disaster. Risk communication should be carried out through the proactive dissemination of information by a prearranged group of media-trained experts that are able to discuss science and facts, without leaving this responsibility to TV reporters who are not specialists. * Third: the lack of a government spokesperson for foreign audiences. During the aftermath of the Great Hanshin Earthquake that struck Kobe and the surrounding areas in 1995, the minister for foreign affairs was actually part of the crisis team. This time around, there was no information made available by an English-speaker directly from the government. Although the government did start using simultaneous interpreters, as anyone who has had contact with both languages will know, the inherent vagueness of Japanese creates many challenges in translation, which risks confusing the audience further. Therefore, it is imperative that the government have an English-speaking minister or spokesman available and visible to provide credibility and leadership during such times.
These challenges are of course also opportunities for us to better ready ourselves in case of any future incidents, and at the same time will help to make the bonds between Japan and its many overseas friends stronger.
When Japan has the attention of the entire globe, it must not ignore the outside world.
Kumi Sato is president and CEO of COSMO Public Relations Corp., and chair of the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan. Michael J. Alfant is president and CEO of Fusion Systems Japan Co., Ltd., and president of the ACCJ. *jpquake.wikispaces.com/Journalist+
THE JAKARTA POST
AGONIZING OVER UMAR PATEK
If the man reportedly arrested in Pakistan is indeed Umar Patek, Southeast Asia's most wanted terrorist suspect, Indonesia will have to decide soon whether to try to extradite or repatriate him.
The Pakistan authorities appear to have given Indonesia the first choice over other countries to take back Umar, presumably because of his Indonesian citizenship. One would have thought the US government, which had offered a US$1 million reward for his head, should get a first crack. One suggestion was that given the strained relations with Washington, Pakistan had decided not to claim the prize money and turned to Jakarta instead.
The 40-year-old Patek is wanted in connection with the deadly bombing attacks in Bali in 2002 and a series of other terrorist activities in Indonesia and the Philippines since. Australia wants him for the death of many Australians in the Bali bombing, and the United States wants him for his links to the al-Qaeda organization that is blamed for the 9/11 terrorist attack in 2001.
Indonesia, however, will face a dilemma if Patek is brought back to face charges here. The law on terrorism was only enacted in 2003 and cannot be applied retroactively to punish Patek for the Bali bombing which took place in October 2002. The court applied it once to three chief protagonists, who were tried, convicted and executed in 2008. That retroactivity clause has since been repealed by the Constitutional Court and cannot be applied in Patek's case if he were to face charges now.
Even if some other laws are used to prosecute Patek for his alleged crimes here in Indonesia, there is the prospect of a long and drawn-out investigation and a court hearing afterward. There is then the prospect of his interrogation and trial being turned into a media circus.
We may recall how the three Bali bombers turned their investigations, trial and execution into a huge media spectacle. They were giving press interviews from their death row cells, right until the final hours before they faced the firing squad. Their behavior, not showing any remorse and constantly making a mockery of the Indonesian justice system, was enough to lead many people who normally opposed capital punishment to make an exception. In everyone's interests, including the relatives of the victims of their heinous crimes, they were better off dead.
Bringing Patek back carries major political risks that Indonesia could do without. As a matter of policy, the government is obliged to provide legal protection to all of its citizens abroad, and that means anyone entangled with a foreign law should ideally be brought to face charges at home whenever it is possible. The government could make an exception in Patek's case. If it does, it wouldn't be the
Patek's alleged co-conspirator in the Bali bombing, Riduan Isamuddin alias Hambali, is believed to be lingering in the US-run terrorist detention offshore facility in Guantanamo Bay, along with hundreds of other terrorist suspects linked to the al-Qaeda. Both Hambali and Patek allegedly received their military training in Afghanistan with the al- Qaeda, and are said to have been involved in plans to launch the 2002 Bali bombing that killed more than 200 people.
The Indonesian government did make a formal representation on Hambali's behalf, but never seriously, knowing that bringing him back to Indonesia would only lead to legal complications that could also lead to him walking free. There was never any serious attempt to extradite him, and given the secrecy with which Guantanamo is run, there was never any serious attempt to find out whether Hambali's civil rights were observed under US detention.
Indonesia takes pride that it is one of the few countries in the world that observes due process of law, even when dealing with terrorist suspects. The country's law does not allow unlimited detention, and a person arrested on any criminal charges must be brought before a court of law within a specified period of time. Beyond that time, they should be released.
Bringing Patek to Indonesia would severely test the limits of Indonesian law in dealing with terrorist suspects. There are two possible outcomes of his return to Indonesia: His freedom, or even if he were to face charges, like the three Bali bombers executed before him, he would likely make a complete mockery of the law.
THE JAKARTA POST
DEFORESTATION – ALWAYS SILENT YET DEVASTATING
Amid news about a massive 9.0 Richter scale earthquake and a powerful tsunami that have hit Japan, there was little reporting about a flash flood that struck Pidie Regency in Aceh. Scores of people died, hundreds of homes were devastated and many residents were displaced (The Jakarta Post, March 14). Torrential rain around Halimon Mountain, a place where Hasan Tiro proclaimed the free Aceh movement in 1976, created an inland tsunami which washed away several villages in Tangse district.
When the governor of Aceh, Irwandi Yusuf, visited the location, he insisted that illegal logging was the main cause of the flooding. Illegal logging is truly a kind of forestry-related crime that has significant economic and ecological impacts. Thousands of hectares of forests have been damaged by this activity. As a result, environmental destruction has become worse and natural disasters such as flooding have become commonplace.
Aceh is repeatedly affected by flash flooding due to illegal logging. At the end of 2010, several areas in South Aceh were besieged by flooding. In 2006, this inland tsunami resulted in huge losses in Aceh Tamiang. Flash flooding due to deforestation is much scarier since logs are swept up by the water. Consequently, loss of life and properties is unavoidable.
Lowland areas are really in danger if forests in hilly areas are cleared. It is no wonder therefore that flash flooding has become a common phenomenon in Bukit Barisan Range in Sumatra. We also have not forgotten the catastrophic flooding in Wasior, Papua, due to similar circumstances as those in Pidie.
Illegal logging remains widespread and rampant in Indonesia. According to Luca Tacconi et al. (2003), it is possible that illegal logging is being carried out by legal forest companies. They may be illegally harvesting forests by abusing their legal concessions and forest management regulations and cutting forests outside of their concessions. Logging may even be occurring in protected areas. Aceh, home to the much of Sumatra's rain forests, has been suffering massive forest destruction due to long-term forest concession exploitation.
However, illegal occupations by common people are also terrible. Some of the villagers are utilized by industries in order to get cheap wood. Others are cutting down protected and conservation areas for agriculture. The Pidie local government, for example, has been desperate to stop illegal logging by its people. In fact, a lot of illegally occupied forest areas were actually ecologically important for the ecosystem in Halimon Mountain.
The potential disasters that may happen due to illegal logging cannot be under estimated. In the last six months we have witnessed significant losses of human's life because deforestation related flash flooding in Papua and Aceh. Will we let more casualties to occur in future?
Unfortunately, deforestation-related flooding frequently attracts less attention and is not properly addressed. In the case of the Pidie disaster, we have not heard about any response from the central government despite that the local government has said it is not able to provide all necessary funds to handle the disaster. In many cases, the handling of similar disasters, such as the one is Wasior, the only visible government response was a ceremonial visit.
Given the fact that deforestation and illegal logging rates are still high, it can be assumed that flash floods due to deforestation will continue to occur. The change in climate pattern will complicate the problem. The prolonged wet season with higher intensity of rain makes disasters to be possible to occur at any time all over the country.
Ironically, more often than not disasters do not prompt preventative measures. Even, natural disasters are often perceived as routine events. As one incident is usually followed by another and then forgotten, reaction to disasters has become banal, thus reducing our sense of the need to anticipate and to manage their effects. Contrarily, because disasters are common, we need institutions and social resilience to face them.
Alternative ways to anticipate more complicated problems regarding illegal logging and deforestation are also not well appreciated. A forest logging moratorium, which is hoped to be an effective way to reduce forest degradation, is just a dead concept. The plan to apply the forest logging moratorium, for example, as of January 2011 as part of the REDD+ (reducing emission from deforestation and forest degradation) scheme has still not been implemented.
On the other hand, the lack of ecological literacy in our society and the need for land for agriculture has left community living around forest areas with no choice but to occupy forests. Local governments seem to be desperate to stop illegal occupation of forests.
Regrettably, governmental programs to reduce such illegal settling, as well as improving community welfare, such as community forestry, are not well implemented. We understand the people's need for land to sustain their lives. However, allowing illegal occupation and logging in flood prone areas does not save their lives; quite the opposite.
We need to seriously address illegal logging and occupation by companies as well as by the people by implementing proposed programs such as the logging moratorium and community forestry. We do not want the frequent events of natural disasters to create negligence and lack of awareness. The combination of state negligence in managing environmental resources and the society's lacking awareness of ecological consequences will only produce more disasters in the future.
The writer is an ecologist at the University of Bengkulu and an Australian Leadership Awards fellow.
THE JAKARTA POST
INDONESIA: A WORLD CLASS GOLF DESTINATION IN WAITING
DENNIS G. KLOETH
Indonesia truly is a world class golf destination in waiting. In the past 20 years, I have seen golf in Indonesia grown from a mere 60 courses to more than 130 today.
In the early 1990s, a wide variety of courses were planned and built and it seemed that, as far as building golf courses was concerned, in Indonesia the sky was the limit.
Today, in and around Jakarta alone some 38 golf courses can be played and the majority of those courses are of absolute world class quality. Further to that, Surabaya and Bali are legitimate golf destinations and there too we can find courses of world class quality.
Memberships in those early days were pretty expensive, ranging from US$50,000 to over $100,000 for the more prestigious and exclusive golf and country clubs. Here too, the sky seemed to be the limit and many golfers often bought and/or owned more than one membership.
Due to a lack of sustainable growth in membership takers, over the years most golf courses rapidly had to surrender their "strictly membership" policy and gradually non-members were allowed to buy so called weekday "green fees" enabling golf course owners to cash in on their initial investment.
Today, memberships are "out of fashion". "Member's Guests" are now even allowed to play the strictly membership courses during weekends hence golfers, today, clearly are opting for paying of a "walk-in" green fee rather than buying a membership.
This change of heart surely played in the hands of the domestic (golf) travel industry. One after the other, travel business owners that were golfers themselves saw a hole in the market and branched out and added "golf travel" to their range of services. They started to cater to a clientele that predominantly came from Indonesia's neighboring countries such as Singapore and Malaysia. The majority of these golfers were business men who frequently came over to Indonesia for business reasons.
Soon, it appeared that the Malaysians and Singaporeans in particular, found their own way to the courses as they often were assisted in booking of tee-off times by their local business contacts and/or "golf buddies". Moreover, their local contacts and buddies were also able to get them cheap deals at local hotels while transportation was provided by their Indonesian golf kakis causing inbound golf travel business from the immediate region to grow.
Early on, in 1998, I saw a market for "inbound" golf travel. But, to convince foreign golfers to come and play golf in Indonesia, obviously I first needed to promote Indonesia as a valid golf destination. In 1999 I got a team together and we started www.indogolf.com, a website that aims at giving foreign golfers comprehensive information on Indonesia golf.
Indonesia is home to a wide variety of fabulous courses and facilities that are run by very capable and professional people. Over the past decade they have created a golf product of which we can be truly proud. The majority of our golf facilities are equally good, if not better than in some of our neighboring countries, including Thailand and China. Our caddies are in a class of their own. They're pretty, friendly, but most of all very knowledgeable and fun to be with. They are proficient in English.
The Jagorawi Toll road gives easy access to 17 fabulous courses. In actual fact, it is our own "Mission Hills" (China) that holds the world record with 12 courses in one and the same area.
Weekday golf in Indonesia is rather inexpensive while golf in this country perfectly can be combined with Indonesia's incredible world of art and culture. The perfect blend, I would say and truly unbeatable.
Promoting Indonesia golf, therefore, is a no-brainer. However, when we compare Indonesia Golf Tourism promotion with golf tourism promotion in countries such as Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and China, then we have to come to a sad conclusion; Indonesia is legging way behind.
Thailand, annually, attracts more than 200,000 foreign golfers, raking in a staggering $500 million in the process. If you know that the global golf travel business is worth an estimated $15 billion, then you realize the significance of Thailand's inbound golf travel business as a true money spinner for the country.
In golf, China is a relative newcomer. Yet, annually it already attracts close to 100,000 foreign golfers who spend an average of 7 days in the country and about $200 to $250 a day. To put things in perspective; Indonesia, attracts not even 10,000 golfers annually and the sole reason for this is simply poor promotion and more than often, the total lack of it.
In the field of promotion, in the past decade Thailand and China have done extremely well.
Lately, even emerging golf destinations such as Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia are coming up strong with professional and sustainable global promotion campaigns.
They all have employed professional marketing companies to promote their golf product to the world, unlike in Indonesia.
Again, promoting Indonesia Golf is a no-brainer and now is the time that Indonesia's golf industry comes together with the Ministry of Tourism and the local tourism boards of Jakarta, Surabaya and Bali to create a sustainable golf tourism strategy that will secure Indonesia's position as one of Asia's most attractive golf destinations.
Inbound golf tourism could act as a spring board in the revival of our ailing (general) tourism industry, something that is direly needed. If we fail to that, then Indonesia simply will forever remain "a world class golf destination in waiting."
The writer is the founder of Golf Promo Indonesia and www.indogolf.com as well as the publisher of Golfer's Guide Indonesia.
THE JAKARTA POST
BULLETIZATION OF EDUCATION
ANITA LIE, SURABAYA
In the past decade, the technology race in education has reached its tipping point and turned into an epidemic. Many schools have jumped on the bandwagon of placing a computer and LCD screen in each classroom.
Instead of course books, board markers and a thick binder of transparency sheets, teachers now bring their flash disks to teach. Lessons are delivered in PowerPoint presentations. Learning processes are shrunk into bullet-point phrases.
The Pandora's Box has been opened with all its magic and traps. Internet technology has made it easy for teachers to prepare materials with visual and sound effects. Texts, pictures and movies are downloaded in seconds, ready for use in the classrooms. In this tech frenzy, one question remains: How has technology enhanced student learning? Before this epidemic spreads out of control in Indonesia, this question needs to be addressed.
"The root problem of PowerPoint presentations is not the power or the point, but the presentation," laments Marc Isseks in his recent article "How PowerPoint is Killing Education", in the February, 2011 edition of Education Leadership. When teachers reduce curriculum content to bullet points, student learning suffers. Three problems are prevailing in this tech race among educators.
First, the euphoria of using technology in classroom practices has been contained and reduced into PowerPoint presentations to deliver the lessons. Teachers are trapped in this self-delusion of being techno-savvy in front of their students. Some teachers are even more preoccupied with garnishing their PowerPoint slides with various distracting multimedia effects rather than with ensuring the quality of the curriculum content.
Second, through their PowerPoint presentations, teachers make themselves models of poor learning. At best, thoughts are reduced into fragments – phrases and clauses. Students seldom get to read correct models of complete sentences slide after slide. At worst, as students engage in surfing the Internet themselves, they will sooner or later find out that many of their teachers copy and paste their materials from the Internet.
Students, too, will eventually model after their teachers' behavior. Plagiarism then becomes the backbone of technology use in schools. In my experience as a teacher, students are very good at polishing their presentation skills to earn brownie points for their work. If teachers do not have clear focus, they will be easily misled to confuse form for content.
Third, presentation, in its very nature, is one-sided. When teachers operate their presentation, students sit quietly and swallow the materials passively. Teacher-student and student-student interactions are jeopardized when teachers do not use the technology wisely. The LCD screens are no different from the conventional chalkboards or whiteboards.
In spite of the prevailing concerns, it is not wise to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Technology certainly has its merits and should be incorporated into the teaching and learning process. To overcome the misuse of technology in education practices, I suggest the following solutions.
Professional development programs should include sessions on technology use. Teachers should learn not only the technicalities of information technology and the skills of using it but also more importantly the rationale behind its use. Before schools decide to furnish their classrooms with computers and LCD screens, they should assess their teachers' capacity and engage in continuous professional development.
Part of teacher performance appraisal may then include their mastery of information technology. A highly competent and effective teacher uses the computer and internet skillfully as a tool to improve learning and make impact on students' lives rather than as a cover-up of an inability to engage students' minds and hearts.
Consequently, sessions on technology use and its rationale should also be provided to school supervisors. An initial step to developing effective teachers is to set up clear expectations. Included in these expectations should be proper technology-use methods to enhance learning in schools. During classroom observations, school supervisors and principals should not be so easily impressed by colorful slides with cutting-edge sound and visual effects, but should focus more on the essentials of learning such as time-on-task, interaction, communication, critical thinking and problem solving skills and creativity. Furthermore, monitoring teacher performance may also be conducted in part by students at the secondary school levels. Involving students in evaluating their teachers may be a learning process of autonomy and place students as learning subjects.
As the old saying goes, technology is a good servant but a poor master. Keeping the focus rightly on people as opposed to technology will help schools smoothly integrate information technology and make use of technological advances to enhance student learning. As with any other tool, PowerPoint may be obsolete one day and be replaced with some other product.
No matter how advanced and sophisticated that tool is, let us not confuse its use as a tool for the purpose and content it is supposed to deliver.
The writer is professor of education at Widya Mandala Catholic University, Surabaya, and a member of the Indonesian Community for Democracy (KID).
Chennai based Hindu quoted India's Congress party President Sonia Gandhi as saying in Chennai on Tuesday that India was pressing Sri Lanka to amend the Constitution to 'guarantee and ensure equal rights and equal status' to Sri Lankan Tamils.
Addressing an election rally on Island Ground along with Dravida Munetra Kazhagam president and Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi she had said "In our neighbourhood, there is no issue closer to our heart than the rights of the Sri Lankan Tamil people. A similar news item was published in the Daily Mirror on March 31 which quoted a Tamil National Alliance (TNA) front-liner, Mavai Senathirajah as saying that India has advised his party to go beyond the 13th Amendment when it holds discussions with the Sri Lanka government on power devolution.
One may argue that remarks by the leader of the Indias ruling party and that of Mr. Senathirajah points to a meddling move by the Indian leaders in Sri Lankas internal politics. And also it can be argued that amending the Sri Lankan Constitution is solely a responsibility of the Sri Lankan Parliament and it has got nothing to do with any other country. Even to suggest amending the Constitution, leave alone suggesting how to amend it, would be tantamount to fingering into the internal affairs of the country.
However, India's suggestions or advises to Sri Lanka have been so normal in the eyes of the people that such occasional moves by the giant neighbour do not seem now to be treated as a violation of the country's sovereignty even by the country's nationalist forces such as the JVP, NFF and the JHU and they are being simply ignored.
One reason for this sluggishness on the part of the Sri Lankans might be that India has been exerting influence on Sri Lanka in respect of the ethnic problem in the island since 1980's and thereby it has been normalized in the minds of the people of both the countries. Also there seems to be a subconscious recognition by the Sri Lankans that India has a stake in Sri Lankan ethnic issue as the politics of the Southern parts of India is in most cases affected by the goings on in the Tamil dominated parts of Sri Lanka.
One may also contend that Sri Lankan leaders have been submissive to the hegemonic actions of the Indian leaders in the name of diplomacy since 1980s. President JR Jayewardene in eighties was adamant that Sri Lanka should be allowed to decide on its destiny and opposed Indian moves to influence his government on the Tamil issue. However, he was later compelled to accept the proposals by India under Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to hold talks with the Sri Lankan Tamil armed groups such as the LTTE in 1985 in Bhutanese capital Thimpu. And it was former Indian diplomats Gopalaswamy Parthasarathy and Romesh Bandari who made the Sri Lankan leaders such as JR Jayewardene to accept the concept of power sharing.
President R Premadasa was the only leader after India began to interfere in Sri Lanka's internal affairs who refused to submit to those pressures. However, he had to pay a huge price with his life for compromising Indian relationship for the highly unreliable relationship of the LTTE.
Presidents Chandrika Kumaratunga and Mahinda Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe during their terms in office had taken steps to apprise Indian leaders on the peace moves with and the war efforts against the LTTE. One can recall that the controversial Norwegian peace envoy Erik Solheim was always shuttling between Oslo and Colombo via New Delhi.
Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa in an interview with an Indian media bluntly put the reason for this situation. He said "We knew that only India influences us militarily. …. We knew that while other countries could or would resort to economic sanctions, only India had the power to militarily influence the course of our war operations."
Despite the fact that the advises and the pressures by the Indian leaders may amount to fingering in Sri Lanka's internal affairs, one cannot ignore the concerns of the Indian leaders on the happenings in the neighbouring island nation as unnecessary, given the impact that the Sri Lanka's ethnic issue has had so far on the law and order situation in the southern Indian State of Tamilnadu. Sri Lankan ethnic strife has been a major issue in Indian national elections and some Central Governments had been toppled by this issue in nineties. Hence, Indias concerns are natural. Also India has not meddled in Sri Lankas affair in a serious way after its IPKF fiasco. However, wordings used in electoral platforms and remarks made to one's own audiences might hurt others.
British Prime Minister David Cameron on his first visit to Pakistan since assuming office, has spoken of wanting a fresh start in relations. Armed with a $650 million aid package for Pakistans education sector and an offer to further security cooperation between Britain and Pakistan, Cameron obviously came with an olive branch.
His comments about Pakistans security agencies in India last year had created significant upset across the border. This is why the British leader now sought to enact damage control by pledging a new era in relations and clearing past misunderstandings. While acknowledging Pakistans efforts in counter-terrorism, Cameron also emphasised the need to challenge extremist ideology feeding such activities.
Even as Cameron sought to ease tensions with Pakistan, Washington has come out with a rejoinder. A new White House report states that Pakistan still lacks a clear strategy on how to defeat militancy. According to US authorities, Pakistan's lack of a "clear path" in integrating "hold" and "build" planning, despite heavy deployment of security forces has frustrated any progress made in clearing operations aimed at wresting control from militants. The ongoing security operations in some tribal agencies stand testimony to this problem, thus impacting counter-insurgency efforts. Moreover, Pakistan and Afghanistan have to work towards greater cooperation to destroy insurgent havens on either side of the border.
While insurgents may not have eliminated in Pakistans tribal belt bordering Afghanistan, their control is largely reduced. At the same time their capability to launch suicide attacks in affiliation with other like-minded groups remains a challenge. The use of young boys in many of these terror attacks is also a significant reminder of how vital it is for the government to bolster its education system and provide employment opportunities for millions such who are the target of extremists. It is positive therefore to see how Britain has prioritised education in getting the lion's share in the recent aid package.
The pressure on the US/NATO Coalition is growing as a highly intensive phase of conflict is anticipated. Besides, the exit deadline for the start of the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan looming ahead in July will also play a key role. It is thus understandable that Washington will apply greater pressure on Pakistan to facilitate its efforts by waging operations in contentious hotspots like North Waziristan and consolidating hold in other key areas.
The issue is not whether the US concerns are valid but the lack of an implementable strategy and time plan that is in consonance with Pakistan's environmental dynamics. Unless both allies sit together and jointly decide on how and when to go about it, little will be achieved in terms of the success, hoped for.
The recent price increase in fuel and gas came in the eve of the World Cup
final. Now that the cloud settles and its effects are felt amongst the public we spoke to some of the economic experts to weigh in on the Sri Lankan situation.
'The crisis in the Middle East is affecting fuel prices'
Former Director at the Central Bank, Author and Senior Professor at the Open University of Sri Lanka Sirimevan Colombage
The crisis in the Middle East is affecting fuel prices. It will have an adverse impact on the domestic economy. Passenger and goods transport cost will rise. This will have an impact on the industrial sector which is already facing problems to compete in the world economy since our productivity is low. Labour laws and on top of that the increase in fuel prices only increased the cost of production. Also the Ceylon Electricity Board will increase their prices triggered by further increase in fuel prices and inflation. The hedging agreement was done for the purpose of stabilizing prices but it turned a blunder. The downward rigidity of fuel prices is due to this.
Transport of vegetables from the producing areas to the market will definitely push up the prices of vegetables and food in general. Although it will not have an immediate effect on the rice prices due to the stocks stores.
'When the international prices increase every country is forced to increase its fuel prices'
Economist and Executive Director at the Institute of Policy Studies Dr. Saman Kalegama
When the international prices increase every country is forced to increase its fuel prices. Since Sri Lanka has a highly integrated economy we are left with no option but to pass it on to the public. The Government has made the right move.
'The Government should have a mechanism to increase the consumption level of the public'
Senior Economic Lecturer at the Open University of Sri Lanka Dr. Chandrabose
Oil prices have a big impact on a developing country like Sri Lanka. India and Sri Lanka back in the day in the 1980's made a decision on what it would do to face a major crisis in terms of an increase in the world market fuel prices from affecting the public and ultimately the performance of the economy. The decision was that they would not reduce the prices when the world market prices fell but instead they will use that money to set off the increase in the future world market fuel prices.
Although it was practised in the 1980's I don't know what happened to that decision. It is unknown whether the Government deviated from that policy or not. Now what is clear is that they simply transfer the burden to the consumers. Why isn't the government safeguarding the public true to that agreement?
Therefore according to the current trend of action by the Government any changes in the international price will be borne by the public. We know that the changes in the prices can be fluctuating. The Government should have a mechanism to increase the consumption level of the public, increase the economic opportunities as new avenues of income generation and job employment. The fuel and gas prices along with the kerosene prices have been drastically increased. Gas price affects the middle and upper class people. But the increase in the price of kerosene oil affects 65 percent of the population living in villages who use kerosene oil not only as an alternative source to electricity but also for cooking.
This will lead to widespread poverty. Nearly 65 percent of the population can't bear the increasing cost of living which leaves a bare minimum of the high class people who feel the pinch. The situation is also worsening although they do not see it coming now.
'It has a lot of implications on the cost of living'
Senior Lecturer in Economics and Author Dr. N. Morais
It has a lot of implications on the cost of living. Production to supply chain everything is dependant on fuel. This will have wider repercussions on the supply chain. So it is not just a fuel price increase but also the wide spread inflation in the economy. The competitiveness of the economy is lost and bank credit functions and loan borrowing capabilities of the people will come down. This trend will come to play in the next few months.
Certainly it's going to rise. The slight reduction in the food prices since Jaffna was sending food stocks helped the recovery a bit after floods.
'This time the world market prices were affected by the Libyan war understandably'
Senior Lecturer of the Department of Economics, University of Colombo Dr. M. Ganeshamoorthy
The Government said the petroleum price was revised according to the market principles. Which means that when prices are increased it is passed and when prices are decreased then it should be also passed on to the public. However the benefit of the decreasing prices of fuel in the world market is not passed on to the public. One of the IMF instructions to the Government is that they cannot give long term subsidies to the public whilst reducing their commitment towards subsidies. So when the opposition questioned the Government as to why they didn't reduce the fuel prices when it came down in the world market the answer the Government gave was that the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) was making huge losses and it was used to set off them.
Further increase of fuel prices is expected with the elections out of the picture. Whenever the crude oil prices came down in the world market the reduction given was not to the market level. This time the world market prices were affected by the Libyan war understandably. The problem is that whenever the prices fall the benefit is not passed on to the public.
Because of the hedging the Government had to incur heavy losses. Since they had not kept a provision for a situation if the oil prices fell they didn't have a safeguarding mechanism. Hedging was done with a good intention but not looked into the downward trend in prices. Some one who has been advising the government on that had not considered the possibility of a downward trend on the oil prices at the expense of the valuable tax payers' money.
BY REV. FR. S. GUY DE FONTGALLAND
Cont. from yesterday
Family Based System of Wage Determination
Unlike any other 'organized' industry, plantations consider family as the unit of the wage determination. At the beginning of the plantation industry, workers were settled in plantations as family units and not as individual workers. All members of the family – men, women and children – were made to work on the basis of differential wages. This is true till 1980s. With the abolition of the child labour and the reduction of labour force and also it is a universally recognized principle that wages must be determined by considering an employee as a unit and not the family as a unit. Stagnating Real Wages
Throughout history, the plantation companies resisted and delayed any recommendations by way of increasing emoluments of the workers. The tea and rubber plantations, being a labour industry, the planters resisted any suggestions of an increase wages as it may affect their profit margins. The real wages for the plantation workers has remained stagnant over the years. The money wage increases have not neutralized in the galloping consumer price index. The Employers Federation has decided the wage increment for the plantation sector of a 5 % of rupees 285 is equal to rupees 12 and cost of living allowance rupees 600divided by 30 is equal to rupees 20. That is, the workers have to work tirelessly for a pittance. If this is the pattern of thinking of the Employers Federation, this will invariably lead to a general strike in the plantation which was not there for the last three years. In the last agreement, the wages were increased by 30 %. This time the wage has to be increased by 50 %. The budget increment is for the public sector who have the monthly minimum wage of Rs.16 980/-. They have a number of monthly holidays and also more than 40 statutory holidays. They are not daily wage earners depending on changes of the climate or works offered for a month. In real terms, in the year 2005, money valued at Rs.23 780/- is equal to Rs.40 000/- in the year 2010.
Wage Increase Related to Productivity
The management takes recourse to hackneyed worn-out principles of "capacity of the industry to pay". The major inputs in the plantation industry – land and labour – are neither as abandoned nor as cheap as they were when the plantations were established more than 150 years ago by the British. Every time that there was a demand for increase of wages by the workers, the Planters Association refused to meet the demand and they relate wage increase to productivity. But, productivity does not only link with wages. Increase productivity is defined in the classical sense, that is, as obtaining more output for the same input. The fundamentals of economy remains that good productivity is the only way to prosperity. Improving the productivity of the capital by way of adding value to the product and the cost effectiveness of the capital expenditures is also to be seen as part of the productive approach. The factors affecting productivity in the plantation are manifold and include capital input, productivity – variety of tea planted and the age of the bush, field maintenance of land under tea cultivation and yield per hectare.
The workers productivity alone would not increase the production and this includes all the above. Tea is fast moving from commodity market to brand market. That is, differentiation of the products and branding is given highest priority in the export sector and also for local consumption. The branded tea is sold to the consumer at very high prices both locally and abroad. For example: one plantation group has come out with a Green Tea for local and foreign consumption; 50g of which is sold in Sri Lanka for Rs.135/-, accordingly a kg of this tea is sold locally for Rs.2700/-. Same thing will be sold abroad for about more than five times. Another innovator in the Sri Lankan tea market, has launched out green tea adding 'Gotukola'.
A packet of 40g of this tea is sold locally for Rs.150/-, accordingly a kg of this tea is sold for Rs.3750/-. Like this, all the value added tea are sold for very high prices locally and abroad. Therefore, we can conclude without any hesitation that both tea and rubber are moving forward in the right direction. This will enable the Planters Association to pay a real wage without justifying the wage increase in the budget 2011. Therefore, the Employers' Federation should determine to give more benefits to the workers in the agreement than taxing them. It is important that the workers who face the elections also should highlight their demands unanimously and vote for those who give guarantee to fulfil their demands.
In the wake of its resounding victory at the March 17 local council election, the government is reported to have decided to set up a powerful Metropolitan Corporation to oversee the work of Colombo Municipal Council, the Dehiwela-Mount Lavinia Municipal Council, the Kotte Municipal Council and others in the greater Colombo area. Questions are raised if this go against the principles of de-centralization.
We in Sri Lanka today seem to be lacking in historical perspectives. That means we do not seem to have learnt our lessons from the war which ended in May 2009. The concern is that one of the root causes of this was the failure to de-centralize or devolve power especially to the ethnic minorities in the Northern and Eastern Provinces.
About 20 years ago, Dr. Shelton Wanasinghe a well known public servant turned international civil servant, at a forum to discuss the concept of the Constitution and de-centralization said that within Sri Lanka much could be done at grassroots level in local areas by the people there and for the people there.
We need to ascertain if this will help in making economic development people-centered or service-centered and help or hinder the process of finding a solution to the crisis that led to the southern and northern youth insurrection from the late 1960s. Thankfully, in recent times the divisions are not so much minority versus the majority as it has been for decades, but more so to divisions between the haves and have-nots.In 1994 the Chandrika Kumaratunga administration said it would have an open economy with a human face, which meant effective steps for a more equitable distribution of wealth and resources.
In the context of the wide and growing gap between the rich and the poor, can centralizing economic development really help the poor?
GULF DAILY NEWS
A TIME TO CELEBRATE
BY JENNIFER GNANA
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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