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media watch with peoples input an organization of rastriya abhyudaya
month april 11, edition 000803, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul
Editorial is syndication of all daily- published newspaper Editorial at one place.
For ENGLISH EDITORIAL http://editorialsamarth.blogspot.com
- AUTHORITY DIMINISHED
- PRESIDENT VS PRESIDENT
- OUTBURST OF OUTRAGE - BALBIR PUNJ
- A MOMENT THAT SHOULD HAVE BEEN BJP'S - SHASHI SHEKHAR
- MEXICO DECLARES WAR ON DRUGS - GWYNNE DYER
- THE CULTURE OF BUYING VOTES WITH FREEBIES
THE TIMES OF INDIA
- ALL HANDS ON DECK
- THE PARTY CONTINUES
- THE REVOLUTION WILL BE TELEVISED - SWAGATO GANGULY
- 'THE KILLING OF GIRLS AMOUNTS TO A GENOCIDE' - REMA NAGARAJAN
- COLOUR BLIND - JANARDHAN ROYE
- NO ROOM FOR FREE THOUGHT
- FREEWHEELIN' IN BEIJING
- AN UNFINISHED AGENDA - POOJA BEDI,
- LEFTISM IN THE LURCH - SUMIT MITRA
- FIVE YEARS OF STABILITY - KUMKUM CHADHA
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
- CAPITAL THINKING
- A CONSTANT SEARCH
- SPRING IN SYRIA
- NOT A VERY CIVIL COUP - MIHIR S SHARMA
- FORTY YEARS ON - SYED BADRUL AHSAN
- EMBARRASSMENT OF RICHES - INDER MALHOTRA
- IN SPACE, NICE GUYS FINISH FIRST - MARY ROACH
- THE SONGS THEY ARE A-CHANGIN' - MAUREEN DOWD
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
- FUNDING THE GOOD TIMES
- THE CORRUPTION GAME - MEGHNAD DESAI
- RETAIL THERAPY - SHOBHANA SUBRAMANIAN
- IMF CHANGES ITS SPOTS
- STARTING EARLY FOR 2012
- PRIMARY MARKET MESSAGES
- OLD CONFIGURATION, NEW CONTEXT - K.S. JACOB
- IS IT ADVANTAGE RUSSIA? - VLADIMIR RADYUHIN
- LURED TO WORK WITH RADIATION - HIROKO TABUCHI
- CAN'T NAME THAT STAR? ASK THE TELESCOPE - ANNE EISENBERG
- PAID NEWS, CASH-FOR-VOTES, AND ELECTION COMMISSION
THE ASIAN AGE
- JAITAPUR PROJECT: TIME FOR RETHINK
- LET IDEAS FLOW - JAYANTHI NATARAJAN
- NATION STILL NEEDS A LEADER LIKE GANDHI
- DISINFORMATION: ART AND CAMPAIGN
- 'WHERE IS THE REVOLUTION GONE' - BY PROF. BHIM SINGH
- WHY THERE IS NO ELECTRICITY FOR POOR - BY DR BHARAT JHUNJHUNWALA
- NECESSITY OF REFORMS IN JKIT DEPARTMENT - BY RAYAZ AHMED MALIK
- A FEATHER IN ANNA'S CAP
- PUNJAB LOOKS UP
- KILLING OF A CLERIC
- PAKISTAN IN DIFFICULT STRAITS – BY LT-GEN KAMAL DAVAR (RETD)
- WORLDLY-WISE - BY RACHNA SINGH
- WAR IN LIBYA: TRUTH IS THE CASUALTY - JOHANN HARI
- REVOLUTION? THINK AGAIN
- ANOTHER INSTITUTION
- INFLATION AHOY!
- POLITICS VS POPULISM - SANJAYA BARU
- WANTED: NEW SOLUTIONS TO THE ENERGY PUZZLE - SUNITA NARAIN
- THE YEAR OF SOVEREIGN DEFAULTS? - A V RAJWADE
- SATYAM AGAIN - PRATIP KAR
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
- SLOW BURN
- QUALITY CHECK
- FOOD FOR THOUGHT
- REFORMING THE RULES OF REFORMS
- 'GROWING SLOW, BUT WE'RE AMBITIOUS'
- CHANCHAL PAL CHAUHAN
- CORRUPTION OF POWER PLAY - JAIDEEP MISHRA
- MEASURING PROGRESS - K VIJAYARAGHAVAN
- MONSOON - ROBERT KAPLAN
- JAITAPUR PROJECT: TIME FOR RETHINK
- NATION STILL NEEDS A LEADER LIKE GANDHI
- U-TURNS ON TELANGANA
- SPARE THE COPS, THEY'RE DRUNK
- THE ZEN OF CRICKET
- TAINTED MEDALS
- THE 'HONOURABLE' KILLER
- 'HONY. COL' DHONI
- YEAR OF ANTI-CORRUPTION - BY SAM RAJAPPA
- RIGHT IDEA
- WITHOUT CURE
- IDENING WAVES - S.L. RAO
- DEEPLY UNFAIR - GWYNNE DYER
- NEW HOPE
- POLL VISION
- A FAST UNTO LIFE - M J AKBAR
- THE MORAL HEGEMONY OF WESTERN POWERS - BY MANDEEP S TIWANA, IPS
- SKELETON IN THE CUPBOARD - BY CHITRA SRIKRISHNA
TIMES FREE PRESS
- WHAT DOES SMOKING COST?
- CONTINUED HOUSING COLLAPSE
- DEFENDING EQUAL PROTECTION
- EXPLODING POPULATION
- NO TO PRIVATE HEALTH CARE
- TIME FOR DISENGAGEMENT NO. 2 - BY AKIVA ELDAR
- WHO WANTS FINLAND? - BY NIVA LANIR
- OF AGGRESSION AND CHARLATANISM - BY ALON IDAN
- CALM WITHOUT RESOLVING THE CONFLICT - BY AMIR OREN
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
- FROM THE BOSPHORUS: STRAIGHT - A BANK OF HER-STORY
- I EXPECT YOU TO DIE, MR. BOND - EMRE DELİVELİ
- THE NEEDS OF THE RUSSIAN ECONOMY: PUTIN OR MEDVEDEV? - C. CEM OĞUZ
- LEBANESE CIVIL SOCIETY ON THE RISE - RITA CHEMALY
- CRISIS MIS-MANAGEMENT - JOHN DRAKE
- LIBERATING TURKISH CYPRUS FROM ITS SAVIOR - II - YUSUF KANLI
- MORE BAD NEWS
- TAX OR NO TAX?
- BRAIN DRAIN
- KEEPING UP WITH THE JONESES - AIJAZ ZAKA SYED
- US AND THE AWAKENED GIANT - HUSSAIN H ZAIDI
- INDOMITABLE GHALIB - DR A Q KHAN
- DEMOLITION JOB - ASIF EZDI
- A PARAGON - CHRIS CORK
- GILANI CHARMS NAWAZ AND ALTAF
- EXPAND PAK-US SPY OPERATIONS
- CJ'S WORDS OF ADVICE TO CIVIL SERVANTS
- THE DELECTABLE ART OF READING - KHALID SALEEM
- RELIGION OF A TERRORIST! - AIR CDRE KHALID IQBAL (R)
- VERACITY OF PAK-US RELATIONSHIP - DR RAJA MUHAMMAD KHAN
- HOW WEST TERRORISED MUSLIM PEOPLE? - MAHBOOB A KHWAJA
- POLITICS OF CRISIS LEADERSHIP - KAZUO OGOURA
- A ROUNDED, WELL-LIVED LIFE
- SAY IT LOUD, SAY IT STRONG: BUSINESS TAKES ON LABOR
- REALITY COMES TO WASHINGTON
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
- CHINA SERVES UP BIRD'S NEST SOUP
- SOVEREIGN TURNBULL
- RETHINK ON COURTS THE RIGHT DECISION
- PAKISTAN STUMBLES DEEPER INTO THE BADLANDS
- LIBYA: REBELS IN RETREAT
- IN PRAISE OF … MAIZE
- MAU MAU ABUSE CASE: TIME TO SAY SORRY
THE JAPAN TIMES
- INSUFFICIENT EVIDENCE OF REFORM
- MEDICAL CARE IN THE SHELTERS
- FROM RUSSIA WITH LEVERAGE
THE JAKARTA POST
- ASIA CAN TAKE CARE OF ITSELF
- US DEFICIT WITH ASIA
- THE DIFFICULTY OF SAFEGUARDING INDONESIA'S MARITIME WEALTH (PART 1 OF 2) 0- SISWONO YUDHOHUSODO
- CAN NATIONAL BANKS SUSTAIN THEIR SOLID GROWTH? - WINARNO ZAIN
- WHEN 'SEXY', 'PRETTY' WOMEN ARE CRIMINAL SUSPECTS
GULF DAILY NEWS
- WIELD THE PEN...BUT TAKE THE PAIN! - BY ANWAR ABDULRAHMAN
CONGRESS SETS A DANGEROUS PRECEDENT
A dangerous precedent has been set with the Government, really the Congress, agreeing to include 'representatives' of the so-called 'civil society' in the drafting of the Lok Pal Bill which is expected to be placed in Parliament during the Monsoon Session. By itself, the principle of larger consultation on crucial legislation or policy issues with long-term consequences is unexceptionable. After all, the decision on not allowing the cultivation of Bt Brinjal was arrived at after taking into consideration the views of farmers and consumers through an elaborate process of public meetings. Although the final decision went against an earlier move to allow the entry of Bt Brinjal, and despite considerable argument in support of the genetically modified vegetable, it was accepted by all. To that extent, the exercise undertaken by Minister for Environment and Forests, Mr Jairam Ramesh, was both useful and served a bigger purpose. But we must remember that the consultations were informal and ensured the participation of the largest number of people possible. The latest move is to the contrary. The Government has notified the appointment of the joint committee comprising five Union Ministers and five 'representatives' of what is now called 'civil society' and actually means a rag-tag coalition of rights activists, self-appointed guardians of civil liberties and impulsive agitationists who are loath to accept the supremacy of either the Constitution or its custodian, the elected Government of the republic. This gives a stamp of official approval to what is patently an unconstitutional method of law-making, not the least because the individuals who have been included in the committee claim to 'represent' the people but have nothing to show in support of or to substantiate that claim: They have been vested with authority but owe neither responsibility nor accountability.
Drafting legislation is the constitutionally-mandated responsibility of the executive. It is the job of the legislature to debate that draft, move and incorporate amendments, and vote for its enactment or reject it in toto. That is how parliamentary democracy works. To try and upstage that system by allowing un-elected individuals the right to draft legislation and then hold Parliament to ransom that unless it adopts the draft as it is it shall be deemed to be against the proposed law, in this case to appoint a Lok Pal or ombudsman to root out corruption in high places, is undemocratic as it denies the elected representatives of the people to fulfil their responsibility. In brief, the rights and responsibilities of both the executive and the legislature are being horribly circumscribed to pander to a group of individuals who have no locus standi as far as the Constitution is concerned. Now that this has been allowed by a Government lacking in both courage and conviction, similar demands will be made in future for any and every issue that impinges on the narrow interests of the activists lobby. People's participation in the democratic process is not about Government outsourcing its work to a vocal minority championing fashionable causes that tickle the fancy of a minuscule section of the population which, paradoxically, rarely if ever participates in elections. This group derives perverse pleasure from maligning the entire political class and demeaning the very fundamentals of democracy and pluralism. Tragically, they have now been given reason to believe they can hold the Government of India to ransom.
PRESIDENT VS PRESIDENT
HUMANITARIAN CRISIS LOOMS IN IVORY COAST
As the former President of Ivory Coast Laurent Gbagbo refuses to let go of his position despite the internationally recognised electoral victory of his rival Alassane Ouattara, it seems like the West African nation is going the way of its northern counterpart in Libya where strongman Muammar Gaddafi is also holding on to power, even as both nations are pushed to the brink of a humanitarian crisis. The situation in Ivory Coast particularly went from bad to worse this past week as Mr Gbagbo's forces gained lost ground in the country's main city Abidjan while the UN reported that at least 118 bodies were found strewn in the western part of the country through which forces loyal to Mr Ouattara had swept through earlier. Reports have also emerged that the killings may have been ethnically motivated — if this is indeed true, it sadly adds another worrying dimension to the bloody conflict which has shown no signs of receding despite the fact that French and UN forces are trying to restore order. Instead by the end of the week, both leaders found themselves besieged by enemy forces. On the one hand, forces loyal to Mr Gbagbo, armed with rocket-propelled grenade launchers and armoured personnel carriers, stood less than a kilometre away from President-elect Mr Ouattara's hotel. On the other hand, the former President himself remained holed up in his bunker, located underground his palace while Mr Ouattara's men set up a security perimeter around his compound. Mr Ouattara has promised to starve out the former President if the latter does not voluntarily surrender. His forces stormed Mr Gbagbo's home on Wednesday but stopped short of killing him, possibly because the outgoing President still has a significant support base — let us not forget that he won some 46 per cent of votes in the disputed November election.
At this point, there is no doubt that if the situation does not resolve itself soon enough, a major humanitarian crisis awaits the Ivorian people. Already, the once prosperous nation — known as the 'Ivorian Miracle' for avoiding the kind of chaos that engulfed the rest of the African continent — has been devastated by a decade-long civil war; since fighting broke out in September 2002, the country has effectively been split between rebel forces holding the north and Gbagbo loyalists controlling the south and coastal areas. Sadly, Ivory Coast too seems to have taken the old route of political anarchy that has become characteristic of war-ravaged post-colonial Africa: First the economic collapse brought about by the callous policies of a pro-West, powerful dictator (in this case, President Félix Houphouët-Boigny who was a French ally) which was followed by a military coup and a disputed election which finally plunged the country into civil war.
OUTBURST OF OUTRAGE
The support extended by a large number of people to Anna Hazare shows few are willing to accept rampant corruption any longer.
The mood at veteran social activist Annasaheb Hazare's hunger strike at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi last week indicated a growing nation-wide concern about corruption and crony capitalism. Large sections of 'civil society' came out in support of Mr Hazare's demand for a strong 'Jan Lok Pal Bill' to fight political and administrative corruption. These people were giving vent to the anger that many citizens feel today: They believe that this Government lacks the political will to bring corrupt individuals to book by appointing a 'Jan Lok Pal' with sweeping powers and plugging loopholes in the law that allow wrongdoers to walk free. It seems the Congress-led Union Government is willing to strike but afraid to wound.
That there is growing global concern about the drift in governance and resultant corruption — which has eroded business and public confidence — is evident from an analysis published in the Financial Times on March 21. In a column, headlined "India: Writing is on the wall", Financial Times analysts James Lamont and James Fontanella-Khan write, "Even as the country becomes one of the great economic growth stories of the 21st century, significant members of the Indian elite fear it may be following Russia in developing a kind of crony capitalism dominated by powerful insiders." They add, "A slew of recent corruption scandals — notably in telecommunications — has nourished anxieties that the combination of fantastic wealth creation and weak governance threatens to undermine India's long-term success." The analysis is based on the impressions of a host of foreign economists, bankers, investors and industry captains from the UK, the US and India.
It is significant to note that fundamental weaknesses in the UPA's system of governance are not merely the Opposition's figment of imagination, although senior BJP leader LK Advani has been voicing his concern for the last four years. "Fantastic wealth creation amid weak governance is deepening anxieties about long-term economic success," say the analysts. The 'charge-sheet' is extensive: "Regulation that can be trampled over, alongside a widening gap between the rich and a largely poor population, invite unflattering comparisons."
Twenty years after the licence-permit-quota raj was set aside in favour of a liberalised economy, "the system still favours the insider". According to them, "Cronyism harms India's growth story and frustrates multinationals from abroad, which consider India a formidable place for those who do not know the 'right people' on the inside." What sustains this impression is the fact that there is rampant influence-peddling by powerful entrepreneurs, who have the support of a colluding bureaucracy.
Corruption is "the biggest issue" the Financial Times analysts assert, quoting many Indian entrepreneurs and editors. The ebbing of foreign capital inflow reflects declining global business confidence in India's future. The concern over the fall in foreign investments is reflected in the changes Union Minister for Finance Pranab Mukherjee has announced in this year's Budget on FII investments. A month after the Budget, about 70 per cent of the 50 investors that the Citibank group met "remains bearish on India with investments, inflation and politics topping the list of worries."
Commenting on British Prime Minister David Cameron's visit to India, the analysts have said, "Reading between the lines, Mr Cameron has asked Mr Manmohan Singh, the mastermind of the financial reforms that liberalised India's economy 20 years ago, whether the 'licence raj', a byword for an era when bureaucrats and powerful family-led businesses choked the economy, is still in sway. Mr Singh replied in polite but only general terms." That Mr Singh did not strongly object to such an impression is a comment in itself. Mr Advani's description of Singh as the "weakest Prime Minister we ever had" seems to fit him perfectly.
Many would wish that Mr Hazare had not gone on a self-imposed ordeal like last week's fast unto death. (He ended the fast on Saturday.) His hunger strike was a comment on the country's impression that this Government will not implement reforms unless pushed to the wall. However, from the comments made by the Prime Minister's Office and the Congress one can conclude that this Government will refuse to make amends even when pushed to the wall. Actually, it cannot afford to take drastic measures because some leaders are party to cronyism. The cases before the Supreme Court and other courts have made this evident.
The politician-bureaucrat-corporate nexus has been exposed in the 2G Spectrum allocation scam. Not only former Minister for Telecommunication A Raja but former Telecom Secretary Siddharth Behura and then Minister's private secretary RK Chandolia are on trial. The expose on underselling of 2G Spectrum has brought to light the fact that even leading corporates have to employ powerful lobbyists to arrange secret deals with Ministers and politicians.
Ideally, industrialists should have direct access to the Prime Minister and other Ministers to inform them about their business-related needs, and advise and warn them about policy matters. That they have to employ people with dubious credentials to act as 'go-between' reveals how deep cronyism has penetrated the system of governance.
More revelations on cronyism have come to light in the case of Pune horse-breeder Hasan Ali Khan — who has been accused of stashing black money abroad, forging documents to get multiple passports, establishing links with a notorious gangster operating from Pakistan and is reportedly involved in channelising funds to terrorist organisations like LeT which masterminded the 26/11 attack on Mumbai. Ali was booked for tax evasion. The day the Supreme Court — taking note of the Government's apathy to prosecute him — decided to monitor the inquiry, the officer who was following Ali's black money trail to banks abroad was transferred. The Supreme Court ordered the immediate reinstatement of the key Enforcement Directorate official and two of his colleagues who also were transferred mid-way into the investigation of foreign exchange law violation.
With the Supreme Court monitoring the case, sordid truths have begun to surface sending shock wave across the nation. It is believed that Hasan Ali Khan used to act as a conduit for transferring unaccounted money of politicians and their industrialist cronies to offshore banks. He has also been accused of diverting funds to terrorist organisations that aim to destroy India. The Supreme Court has repeatedly admonished the Union Government in the recent past for its lapses in pursuing corruption cases.
Therefore, Mr Hazare's fast should be seen as a desperate reaction to a hopeless situation. The spontaneous support from the common man, social activists and celebrities makes one thing clear — India has lost confidence in the incumbent Government two years after electing it to power.
A MOMENT THAT SHOULD HAVE BEEN BJP'S
The mounting anger in Middle India over corruption has been deftly used by 'civil society' to rally support for Anna Hazare's fast in support of the 'Jan Lok Pal Bill'. No matter how flawed, the Bill provides an alternative vision and goes beyond rhetoric. This is what the main Opposition should have done, instead of leaving it to rights activists. Will the BJP now come up with an alternative policy agenda different from that of the Congress?
There is no other way to put this but bluntly. 'Civil society' activism has left the principal Opposition party — the BJP — red faced and smarting. In an embarrassment the demand by the Leader of the Opposition for an all-party meeting on Anna Hazare's fast got the short shrift from the Government. With known baiters of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi from the legal community who also double up as rights activists being nominated to the Lok Pal Bill drafting committee, thanks to Anna Hazare's fast, the irony of extending full support to the agitation was perhaps not lost on the leadership. With Karnataka Lokayukta Santosh Hegde not just attending a National Advisory Council Working Group meeting on April 4 but also getting nominated to the drafting committee, one is left befuddled on whether the BJP even has a clue on where the line between activism and constitutional offices blurs.
The anti-corruption crusade was without doubt a momentous development. Anna Hazare's persona has inspired outrage and emotion in the urban middle class in a manner not seen in recent times. The paradox of this singularly unparalleled tumult of hope and outrage lies in the fact that those activists behind Anna Hazare have been anything but champions of middle class issues. With the Lok Pal Bill now being set to be drafted with inputs limited to the Government and 'civil society', one is led to the inescapable conclusion that the middle class has been co-opted by 'civil society' in its new avatar as the non-political opposition. To be sure the Bill needs to go through with the motions in Parliament but given the nature of commitment made by the Government to the 'civil society' groups, it is highly unlikely the political opposition will have the legroom to force significant amendments when the Bill comes up for debate in Parliament.
There is much that needs to be examined closely on both the manner in which this issue was thrust on the political class and in the substance of that which has been thrust on them. It is paradoxical that those advocating for an ombudsman independent of the three arms of Government — executive, legislature and judiciary — have no faith in those who have been put in office through elections while they simultaneously repose immense faith in those they desire to put in office without any kind of an election. They don't trust the Government they elect or indirectly control yet they trust an ombudsman on sheer good faith while exercising no control — direct or indirect.
It is also paradoxical that they seek a credible platform to influence legislation yet they bypass the one platform that exists to make legislation — Parliament. From the Sonia Gandhi NAC variety Left-liberal NGOs to the Anna Hazare-led anti-corruption NGOs, there is a bipartisan consensus on subordinating Parliament and elected lawmakers in the process of law-making. This highlights yet another attitude towards Government in that our faith in democracy doesn't exactly extend to its mechanisms as sanctioned by the Constitution.
Lastly it is strange that those advocating for independence for an unelected ombudsman in the hope that he or she will be a faithful guardian of our interests also hold deep skepticism and stubborn resistance in granting the same independence to enterprise and local communities to be guardians of their own economic self-interest. They trust centralised decision-making in Delhi to safeguard their interests but cannot trust themselves to be the judge of their own economic choices.
But then what of the BJP that has ceded the moral high ground to 'civil society' groups which have succeeded in mobilising a vocal minority within the Indian middle class? What explains the failure of the BJP to speak for the middle class or to be identified as the voice of the middle class?
For much of the last two years since the 2009 Lok Sabha debacle this commentator among others has been calling upon the BJP to articulate an alternate narrative on what exactly it stands for. From the street protests on inflation last year to the Mahasangram rallies on corruption this year, a consistent critique of the BJP has been that while it has managed to stoke public anger with rhetoric, it has not advanced an alternate vision based on concrete policy proposals. Both the Budget Sessions of 2010 and 2011 had witnessed much demagoguery and legislative motions to embarrass the Government but failed to produce a concrete narrative from the BJP on how its stewardship of the economy would have been different.
The 'India Against Corruption' motley group of NGO activists has succeeded where the BJP has failed. Their championing of middle class anger and frustration over corruption did not stop with mere demagoguery and political rhetoric. It built on all of that public sentiment with a concrete proposal, howsoever flawed the 'Jan Lok Pal Bill' may be, to force the issue on the Government. The BJP's belated attempt at getting behind that proposal notwithstanding, it is now largely redundant in its role as the principal Opposition in the deliberations to follow on that Bill.
This is not to say that 'civil society' groups will come to occupy the political space currently held by the BJP. The BJP continues to be a significant political player in specific States. But the cold reality is the BJP has lost the national narrative. The BJP is now merely a super regional party with a permanent Delhi-based leadership that can neither help it break new ground nor arrest the process of slow but terminal decline staring it. With too clever-by-half political calculations the BJP's permanent Delhi-based leadership has timidly submitted itself to conventional wisdom that the role of the Opposition is to merely oppose the Government with rhetoric. This timidity has prevented it from taking sharp ideological positions on the UPA's Left-liberal socio-economic agenda.
In a contest between the Congress and a BJP that is seen to be a B-team of the Congress on socio-economic issues, conventional wisdom of the 1990s no longer applies. The BJP's leadership in Delhi may be non-dynastic and incorruptible but it no longer inspires a vision of being a credible alternative. The national narrative on corruption has been lost by them to 'civil society'. On socio-economic issues and rights-based entitlements the Indian voter would rather vote for the original, the Congress, than a pale imitator in the BJP.
At a pivotal moment when the middle class angst in India needed political leadership the BJP failed to provide it. For a national revival in time for the 2014 Lok Sabha election, the BJP needs a renewed moral purpose. Its current avatar has long lost that moral purpose. It is time for a new avatar relevant to this day and age in line with Hindu tradition. The BJP must reinvent itself as both the political and ideological opposite of the Congress's Left-liberalism with a concrete Centre-Right policy agenda that shows Middle India where its enlightened self-interest lies.
-- The writer is a political and strategic affairs analyst.
MEXICO DECLARES WAR ON DRUGS
Since no American politician will advocate the legalisation of drugs, Mexico can escape its current agony by refusing any further cooperation with DEA
Something remarkable happened in Mexico last Wednesday. Tens of thousands of Mexicans gathered in the main squares of cities across the country to demand an end to the 'war on drugs'. In the Zocalo, in the heart of Mexico City, they chanted "no more blood," and many called for the resignation of President Felipe Calderon, who launched the current war by deploying the Army against the drug cartels in late 2006.
Some 35,000 people in Mexico have been killed in drug-related violence since then. Even as the crowds chanted, news came in of another 59 bodies discovered in mass graves in Tamaulipas state. In the words of poet-journalist Javier Sicilia, who inspired the demonstrations after his own son was killed last week, the war is "tearing apart the fabric of the nation".
But what does he know? In fact, the United States and Mexico are on the brink of winning the war on drugs. We know that because Michele Leonhart, the head of the US Drug Enforcement Administration, said so on the very same day, at an international conference in Cancun. "It may seem contradictory, but the unfortunate level of violence is a sign of success in the fight against drugs," she said.
She presumably means that all the Mexican drug-traffickers will be dead soon, and that nobody else will be tempted by the easy money to take the place of those who are killed. Americans will then stop using drugs because they simply aren't available, or at worst they will be so scarce and expensive that only the very rich can afford them. And we'll all live happily ever after (except the very rich, of course).
True, drugs in the United States have become cheaper, stronger and more easily available over the past 40 years, despite annual claims by the DEA that victory is at hand. To go on doing the same thing every year for 40 years, while expecting that next time will have a different outcome, is sometimes seen as evidence of insanity, but we shouldn't be judgmental. We could, however, try to be rational.
Former Mexican President Vicente Fox has been doing well on the rationality front recently. Last August he wrote on his blog: "We should consider legalising the production, sale and distribution of drugs. Legalisation does not mean that drugs are good. But we have to see it as a strategy to weaken and break the economic system that allows cartels to make huge profits, which in turn increases their power and capacity to corrupt."
This would mean that Mexican drug-users could get any drugs they want, of course. Just like now. The only differences would be that the drugs, being state-regulated and taxed, might cost slightly more, and that there would be fewer deaths from impurities and overdoses. But it wouldn't actually break the power of the cartels so long as drugs remain illegal in the huge US market.
Former Colombian President Cesar Gaviria addressed this issue head-on in a recent interview with Time magazine: "US drug policy has failed. So please, change it. Don't force us to sacrifice thousands of lives for a strategy that doesn't work simply because American politicians lack the courage to change course." Well said — but why did these men not act when they had the power?
Because they were afraid of the American reaction. The United States has repeatedly made it clear that it will inflict grievous economic pain on any Latin American country that defects from its war against drugs. That is becoming an empty threat, however, for US economic power is nothing like it used to be, even in Latin America.
That's partly due to the recent near-collapse of the US economy, but it's also the result of the rapid growth of the Latin American countries. Mexico, for example, is a rising industrial power with tens of millions of educated middle-class people and an economy that's growing at seven per cent a year. It can now say no to Washington without being crushed.
It is the American refusal to allow its consumers legal access to the drugs they want that creates the demand, and American weapons that arm the Mexican gangs that compete for that market. Since no American politician will commit political suicide by advocating gun control or the legalisation of drugs, Mexico can only escape from its current agony by refusing any further cooperation with the DEA.
Ending the war on drugs in Mexico would not instantly stop the killing, most of which is between cartels competing for control of the routes by which drugs transit Mexico on their way to the United States. But just ending the Army's involvement would greatly lower the level of violence, and legalising drugs in Mexico would diminish the epidemic of corruption, too. You don't need to bribe officials if the drug trade is legal.
The current wave of demonstrations against the drug war is only a start. The policy won't change so long as Calderon is President, for too many people have been killed for him to repudiate it now. But by the end of 2012 he will be gone, and his successor, from whichever party, will be free to change the policy. One of these days, Mexico will just say 'no'.
-- Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist.
THE CULTURE OF BUYING VOTES WITH FREEBIES
Tamil Nadu shows how freebies given in exchange of votes debilitates the will of the people, says Neelakantan
It is the silly season of election time once again in India. Election times have tended to lean towards freebies promised by all parties concerned over the past few years. About five years back, Mr M Karunanidhi's DMK went a step forward and promised free colour television sets for the poor of Tamil Nadu if they came to power. Sure enough, when they came to power, they set out to fulfil their promise. They did not plan or promise the electricity required to run them, but they squandered taxpayers' money on television sets, pressing as the need was for them for the poor.
Each party comes up with more and innovative means of squandering taxpayers' money, Today, there is even a term for it, 'competitive populism'.
This is a very dangerous trend. A few years back, while driving through the rural areas of Tamil Nadu, I came across a PDS shop distributing the 25 kg of rice per month per ration card-holding family. The person who was with me mentioned that the 25 kg rice scheme has destroyed any incentive to work among many families with the result that it is difficult to get labour in Tamil Nadu. After all, why indulge in back breaking manual labour when the food is available for free? The upcoming election has seen a rash of such promises — laptops, mixers, grinders were on the list among other things.
On the one hand the middle class is taxed heavily and that money is used, not for infrastructure building, but for freebies such as these which apart from being a leaky bucket also remove the incentive to work and get ahead in life. These freebies effectively emasculate a population which cannot take the rough and tumble of the jungle once they are used to being given stuff for free. What makes it even worse is that once something like this is set in motion, it is very difficult to reverse the trend and this becomes a show of one upmanship between political parties. And Kerala is poised to go the same way too.
The long-term effects of this are not hard to see — on the one hand, the middle class will work hard and get taxed heavily by the Government to fund its castle-in-the-air dreams. On the other hand, the poor will get used to a culture of entitlements and continue to remain dependent on Government doles and election freebies — which will work very well for the party since they are effectively a captive vote-bank.
It is a perfect recipe for political parties to form corrupt Governments while distributing a few small freebies to the ignorant populace and keep them happy while looting the exchequer, secure that their votes will come for a TV set or a grinder. Instead of focusing on pressing problems of their States and country like better infrastructure and quality of life, political parties are busy offering palliatives to real issues in order to buy votes.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
Democracy isn't just about voting every five years. Scoring for participative democracy, the popular movement buoying Anna Hazare's anti-graft crusade has demonstrated this amply. With the Centre notifying a joint panel including civil society members to draft a tough Lokpal Bill, the social activist called off his fast and last week's high drama drew to a close. It's time for sober reflection. The point's been hammered in, and rightly so, that corruption needs to be combated robustly. Activists must now work with, not against, institutions of representative democracy. Our political system is supple enough to allow for innovations formalising civil society inputs in policy making. The way forward mustn't be confrontational, not least because legislating is ultimately the constitutionally guaranteed prerogative of the executive and legislature.
On its part, the government must match word with deed, helping create a strong, independent anti-corruption ombudsman whose role isn't merely advisory nor cynically circumscribed. But while the call for a watchdog with bite is unexceptionable, so is the argument that democracy requires checks and balances. So, the lokpal can't have draconian powers; it must itself be subject to reasonable restraints.
The challenge is to make it serve public interest without risking becoming an all-powerful tool in anyone's hands. Give it unfettered authority over people's representatives and public servants as the Jan Lokpal Bill seems to suggest, and this danger will always be there. Broader reform - political, judicial, police - is as urgent for social good. As Infosys's Narayana Murthy says, reduced corruption means a corresponding rise in GDP growth, translating into higher returns in terms of job creation, revenue generation and resource mobilisation for social spending. In this context, the finance minister correctly says systemic corruption hits the poor hardest. Ironically, while anti-corruption protests are largely the expression of frustration and anger in India's middle class which assumes to speak for the poor, the latter as voters don't seem sufficiently exercised by criminal misuse of public resources.
Genuine systemic cleansing requires the masses to reject tainted leaders who thrive by both appealing to primordial loyalties and greasing political funding, a major source of corruption. Policy makers must strive to create a virtuous cycle so that people - empowered by education, health and infrastructure - blink less at corruption, and the resultant dip in corruption means more resources for enabling instruments like schools, hospitals and connectivity. Curbing abuse of power also mandates rules-based rather than discretion-based decision making and policy formulation wherever possible. The good news is that, in youth-driven India, there's scope for the compact between public institutions and people to be reworked to promote ever-higher degrees of accountability and transparency. The fight, as Hazare says, isn't over.
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THE PARTY CONTINUES
The euphoric high of India's cricket World Cup victory is here to stay. If M S Dhoni and his men brought joy to 1.2 billion people, IPL 4 is keeping the party going. That cricket's grandest carnival kicked off less than a week after the men in blue captured the title of world champions had led to murmurs about fatigue, both for player and spectator. But with 40,000 cricket crazy fans turning up for the 2011 IPL edition's opening match at the M A Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai, any doubts whether the World Cup would turn out to be the perfect launch pad for IPL 4 dissipated. With two new franchisees - Kochi Tuskers and Pune Warriors - and 74 matches over 51 days, the ongoing tournament is expected to take cricket's glamour quotient to the next level.
What is interesting is the smooth transition of cricket lovers from bleeding blue for Team India to supporting city-based franchisees. Thanks to the IPL, fan loyalty is no longer a fixed asset but a tradable commodity subject to the charms of corporate branding. On that note, all 10 franchisees look set to turn in substantial profits from IPL 4: a tribute to the sound commercial model of the event. The controversy of 2010 has helped brand IPL emerge stronger with greater focus on transparency. For the players, it will be a quick turnaround from rivals to teammates as national pride makes way for club devotion. If the World Cup proved 50-overs cricket is alive and kicking, the excitement over IPL 4 reaffirms the vigour of the new format on the block. Cricket wins on both counts.
Yet there is little to choose between the extra-judicial powers exercised by the CPM cadre in rural Bengal and the clan-inspired diktats of khaps.
For three-and-a-half decades, the Left in West Bengal undermined rule of law in order to lord it over every aspect of public life, as well as the private lives of citizens. Infiltrating and rendering toothless most public institutions, CPM cadre became a power unto themselves.
Despite occasional apologies from top echelons of the party leadership, kangaroo courts presided over by local party functionaries have created a culture of goondaism. The reported case of Purnima Biswas exemplifies this.
The daughter of a farmer in Jagannathpur, she was gangraped in 2005. The accused being politically connected were able to derail justice. Instead of fighting for her cause, the local CPM strongman decreed that she should be married off to resolve the issue.
Whether it is the police, the bureaucracy or the education system, the Left stands accused of enhancing its hegemonic powers by undermining each and every arm of state machinery. While paying lip service to the ideal of gender equality, little has been done to empower women in the state.
In fact, the feudal style of working of the party has ensured that women continue to be deprived of their rights. Yet the party leadership seems unable or unwilling to change the status quo. As Mamata Banerjee and the Trinamool Congress look to end the Left's uninterrupted sway for over three decades, it will help their cause if they can restore the rule of law.
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THE REVOLUTION WILL BE TELEVISED
So, is Anna Hazare's crusade against corruption the start of India's peacock revolution? Jantar Mantar may not be Tahrir Square, but surely the professionals, T-shirted younsters and angry housewives erupting in mass protests simultaneously across India's metros have something in common with their compatriots elsewhere in Asia and Africa. They are faces of a civil society that's growing increasingly assertive against government and a compromised political class.
Acting as a relay and mirror for such civil society protest has been a range of new media - from wall-to-wall television news coverage to text messages, Facebook and Twitter. The proliferation of media allows new networks of social solidarity to emerge, flowing outside the established channels of political patronage. In India they are giving voice to the country's growing middle class, increasingly alienated from styles of governance that do not meet their aspirations.
Whatever might be the rights and wrongs of Hazare's campaign against corruption, the public response his campaign aroused within the space of a week is unprecedented. More than anything else, the snowballing public response to the anti-corruption campaign forced the government to capitulate quickly to its demands. It also gave the lie to accusations about the middle class's political apathy. Such accusations are usually made in the context of poor voter turnout in middle class areas during elections. But then, as the current season of corruption attests, the political class pays little attention to the middle class's priorities either.
Given the global circulation of media images, comparisons between Jantar Mantar and Tahrir Square are facile but inevitable. More to the point, however, is that India is no longer the insular country it once was. Its citizens are increasingly exposed to global lifestyles and standards of governance. Chinese authorities may be exercised by their citizens being exposed to global influences, but India won't be left untouched either.
The current season of corruption started with the Commonwealth Games, where citizens couldn't help noticing the contrast between the shambolic and corruption-ridden games held in Delhi with the superb show put up by Beijing at the Olympics it hosted a couple of years earlier.
The middle class feels embattled in a situation where as many as 75 members of the current Lok Sabha are accused of serious crimes while, as a recent study has shown, someone charged with a serious crime has twice the victory rate in a Lok Sabha election compared to other candidates. As Anna Hazare said in response to the question why he didn't participate in an election, he would lose his deposit if he did so.
While Hazare's intentions of tackling corruption are unimpeachable, there is reason to doubt if the alternate Jan Lokpal Bill his followers propose will deliver the goods. Giving sweeping powers to a Lokpal could equally be a recipe for corruption - what if the Lokpal itself is corrupt? Even worse, what if it consists of honest zealots who exceed their brief and harass anybody who doesn't agree with their ideas?
The figure of the all-powerful Lokpal appeals to the middle class nostalgia for a 'strong' man or men of superior virtue, who will oversee and impose order on the rest of the nation through the unchecked powers granted to them.
The shape of things to come may be indicated by the inclusion of Shanti Bhushan and Prashant Bhushan, a father-son duo, among the five civil society members of the joint panel to draft the Lokpal Bill. Is civil society so strapped for talent that of five members it can nominate to draft a critical law, two must be father and son? In that case the movement has acceded to the same principle it routinely accuses the political class of: the principle of dynasty.
Clearly, both conservative and expansive sides of the Indian middle class are in play in the anti-corruption movement. But glitches aside, it has at least moved the debate beyond the sterile issue of whether the Public Accounts Committee or a joint parliamentary committee is best placed to probe corruption. Despite all the storm and fury in Parliament over corruption, the opposition hardly bothered to point out the infirmities of the official version of the Lokpal Bill that the government was placing before Parliament. Bureaucrats and government officers would be outside the purview of the Lokpal, while to initiate actions against MPs it would need to get the permission of the Lok Sabha Speaker or Rajya Sabha chairman. Even if charges are proved to its satisfaction, it can merely be a recommendatory body.
Hopefully, between the toothless version of the Lokpal Bill that the government proposes and the draconian version that civil society activists propose, a reasonable compromise will be worked out. But that in itself will not resolve the issue of corruption. Police and judicial reforms are a must. Rent-seeking powers in the hands of government are the source of much corruption, and economic reforms are needed to reduce or eliminate
these. We need to switch from a patronage to an empowerment model of governance. And then people themselves will vote to throw corrupt politicians out. That, indeed, would be a revolution.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
'THE KILLING OF GIRLS AMOUNTS TO A GENOCIDE'
Over eight million girls are estimated to have been killed in the last decade alone leading to a dipping in the child sex ratio from 927 in 2001 to 914 in 2011. Sabu George is an activist who has been working on the issue of the girl child for over 25 years and tells Rema Nagarajan why there is a need to act immediately to boost the child sex ratio by the next Census in 2021:
Why do you insist that the killing of the girl child is a crime and not just a social evil?
It is not a few hundreds, the killing of girls is happening in millions. It is genocide. In China, an estimated 1.2 million girls are killed every year in their obsession for sons and the one-child policy. In India, an estimated 0.7 million girls are killed each year. In the coming decade, we will exceed the Chinese in killing girls. We will then have the dubious distinction of being the country eliminating the largest number of girls every year along with the distinction of holding other dubious world records like having the largest proportion of starving children, highest maternal mortality and so on.
In recent history, Partition is considered to be the most traumatic and violent event when over a million people were killed. But it is an even bigger tragedy that an estimated eight million girls were killed in the last decade. In the coming decade, over 10 million girls will be killed if something is not done immediately. In a historical context, we haven't seen this magnitude of violence in our society or an event of this magnitude in terms of future consequences.
Is the government doing enough to improve the sex ratio?
Obviously no. In 1991 it was evident from the Census that in Gujarat, Punjab and Haryana 5% of girls were eliminated. But nothing was done till 2001 when this went up to 10-15% of girls being eliminated. The government and the country sat up and took notice, but little has been done. This is evident from the fact that even in parts of the country which were helping to keep the country's overall sex ratio high, we are seeing a huge drop in the sex ratio. This shows that the practice of killing the girl child, instead of being curbed, is actually spreading everywhere.
Why do you think the government does not do enough to curb sex selection?
Many people in the government and among the elite believe sex selection will bring down population growth. From the 1970s doctors and many policy makers have been advocating sex selection as a way to bring down population. Of the five million less children born in the last decade, boys accounted for two million of the reduction and girls for three million. This means the relative decline of girls is more than 50% of the reduction rate of boys. Yet, no one seems to care that the population reduction has come at the cost of girls who are being systematically killed.
What, in your opinion, is the most effective way to improve the child sex ratio?
There is only one way and that is to implement the law. We have a strong law meant to punish those engaged in the practice of sex determination and sex selective abortion - the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act 1994. Doctors have always promoted sex determination. The government has to start with tackling the criminal malpractice among doctors. You have to make it tough and not at all worth their while to indulge in this malpractice.
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I dealt with that quandary of modern man with great resolve. From the very first sign of premature silvery invasion, i told the mirror, 'There will be no dye, pal." That was it. But here i was on a Bangalore-Mumbai express hurtling along on its last leg one early morning, and a kindly old lady serving breakfast to her family made me rethink. The lady ladling kande pohe from a stainless steel vessel to kids and adults around her turned to me. Like a good hospitable Indian, she held out a plate of the beaten puffed rice savoury, "Please have, uncle." I was taken aback. Not by the poha. It looked delicious, welcoming. It was the 'uncle' bit that rankled.
The lady would easily be in her 70s and here she was merrily addressing me, a thirty something, as 'uncle'. As i hesitated, she said, "I made it with my own hands at home. Please have, uncle!" So a bit unhappily, i took the offering. By my side the wife happily tucked into her poha, smiled wickedly, and seeing my frown, said, "Come off it. The 'uncle' bit? It's just a local form of respectable address. If you don't want this yummy stuff, hand it over, pal!"
"Sign of respect?" i raised my eyebows. Respect or not, first thing i'll do on reaching Andheri is to hunt out a hair-saloon, i murmured to myself. And some two hours later when i returned home, i did so with pep in my step, and a mop of uniform jet black hair. The barber hadn't missed one silver hair. The wifey stood at the door, mouth open. Then in quick time, brought hand to mouth to stifle the exploding laughter. The effect wasn't lost on the kids either. One moment they were sprawled on the carpet or on the sofa playing games. Next moment, on sighting me, everything lit up. First came the shriek, then yells and the living room turned into an animated stage where everyone clapped or screamed...and even the maid stepped out to have a dekko, and pulled the pallu over her smiling face.
Many summers later, post that horrendous morning in Andheri, i have often mulled over the idea of covering the pesky silvers by using light ash colours to soften the grey rather than camouflage it. I learnt quickly that it's not easy to fool senior co-workers with jet-black hair or those pretty things with red, auburn, or copper streaks. Better to age with grace and dignity, i said, shelving the colouring fashion. That's how i remain years after the poha lady, resigned to a head lush with hair, untouched; better grey hair than no hair.
Once in a while though, the salt and pepper gives me the jollies. Take the time at a Roger Waters concert. As i watched the carefully hair-dyed rocker prancing around belting out the oldie, 'Another Brick in the Wall', two pretty young things in tight outfits and stripey fire-engine red and nuclear peroxide highlights, elbowed their way to my side. Swaying and dancing, they kept throwing glances at Roger and at my head. Apparently, the blue strobe lights from the stage bouncing off my top had something to do with it. Out of breath, one of the girls cooed, "I like it, i like it! Is that L'Oreal's camo colour?" The other went, "Silvery streaks, wow. Awesome! Way to go, dude."
Before i could respond, the wifey was my side. Like lightning. Whisking me away with a sweet smile, she told the bewildered girls, "Uncle doesn't do dyes, dear!"
NO ROOM FOR FREE THOUGHT
People power in the Arab world and, in a less history-making manner, bits of metropolitan India have been dominating front pages now. Buried in the back pages is State power: alive and, literally, kicking in China. The arrest of Chinese artist Ai Weiwei has at least attracted international criticism. But Mr Ai's arrest is only the tip of a repressive iceberg. Over the past six weeks, says Human Rights Watch, the Chinese system has arrested at least 100 members of civil society.
These arrests have gone well beyond the normal political dissidents. Prominent lawyers, environmentalists, journalists and artists have all been caught in the net. Their families are being harassed and Beijing has ominously warned its citizens that the "law is not a shield". Mr Ai, for example, is famous for politically conscientious artwork but was also chosen to design the famous 'bird's nest' Olympic stadium in Beijing. This crackdown is among the worst since the Tiananmen Square massacre. And it is all the more remarkable given China has become the world's second largest economy and is exerting economic and strategic muscle throughout the world. That the rulers of such a powerful structure should be so terrified of a few fringe elements among their own people is a disturbing contrast.
There is an assumption that the source of this attack of nerves is the Arab revolt. Hence the Chinese government's preemptive police action against 'jasmine' activities, its attempts to put a cyber lock and key on the internet and social networking sites. But there is a curious mix of the sinister and the absurd that such a polity should seek to enforce a zero-dissent culture on 1.3 billion people. It is often argued that the succession struggle breaking out as Hu Jintao's reign enters its last lap is the fount of much of this paranoia. However, Beijing's blues also seem to be a product of a need to be riding at the head of a broader nationalistic sentiment and a sense of geopolitical entitlement. That Beijing should launch such a crackdown when there is no outward evidence of upheaval and its own moment in the sun is coming is disturbing. It indicates a government strangely unsure of its legitimacy, wary of its own people. Which is why New Delhi and other capitals are watching China's external actions so carefully, worrying and watching out for any evidence that domestic paranoia is feeding into foreign policy practice.
FREEWHEELIN' IN BEIJING
It's that one albatross around his neck that Bob Dylan's always been happy to throw off: the tag of being a protest singer. Along with the overworn title of being 'the voice of a generation', Dylan has done pretty much everything to get himself out of the tuneful protester cubbyhole. He's turned 'electric' from his folk roots; he's turned born-again Christian from his bookish Jewishness; he's been in ladies' underwear ads to just get under the skin of his 'die-hard fans'. Last week, the man played his first gig in a place not immediately identified with the free verse of Dylan: China. Playing before a packed house at the Workers' Gymnasium stadium in Beijing, the man who has a bone to pick with everything and nobody performed Dylan standards such as 'Like a rolling stone' and 'All along a watch tower', all the time wearing a Panama hat that many commentators are sure to find hidden messages in.
Dylanistas are usually not fond of totalitarian regimes. So we can understand some of them not being pleased about their hero playing in China. But if to live outside the law you have to be honest (a particularly Confucian sounding aphorism) then perhaps to cock a snook at a closed society like China's you have to be playing songs about being free-spirited in it.
Some fans have pointed to the fact that Dylan was indeed slipping in a subversive line or two while performing in Beijing and on Friday in Shanghai. They point to the first lines of 'All along the watchtower' - "There must be some kind of way out of here" - and the line in 'The Ballad of a Thin Man' - "There's something happening/ but you don't know what it is/ do you, Mr Jones?". But we won't read much into all that. Perhaps all that Bob Dylan of Bob Dylan fame was doing was playing his songs before a new set.
And who says that his love songs aren't protestations against a tyranny?
AN UNFINISHED AGENDA
It's really a virus. People all over the country are suddenly fed up with the system and are demanding accountability. Not just in the cities, but in small towns as well. Old, young, rich, poor, corporate honchos and housewives have joined hands to beat corruption. What struck me as I saw the television footages, read the reports and heard the voices was that these were not the usual jholewallahs, they were ordinary folk like you and me. And they were bent on making a difference.
Corruption is an issue that hits us because it affects us directly. But there are other issues equally urgent and outrageous that somehow escape our scrutiny and often, even interest. They do not touch us in a real sense because we will perhaps never experience them. Issues like hunger, malnutrition, being ostracised because you belong to a particular caste or gender or dying while giving birth are far from the reality of our urban, progressive and fairly affluent lives.
Today, on India's National Safe Motherhood Day, let me share one statistic: India accounts for as much as 20% of the world's maternal deaths. Almost 70,000 women die in India every year in childbirth. This equals double the number of people that the Wankhede stadium can take at full capacity. A woman in India is 60 to 70 times more likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth than a woman from a developed country. Without their mothers, children are 10 times more likely to die within two years. These are not just statistics. Each number represents a life. Together, they reflect the enormity of the problem.
You could ask how this is possible. We are, after all, a country that prides itself in being a thriving economic powerhouse. There are laws in place, government schemes like the National Rural Health Mission and other policies formulated to address the issue. Why then do women continue to die in large numbers?
Well, because we are letting it happen. What's missing is the outcry, the outrage from people like us. You might wonder what you can do here in Delhi, Mumbai or Bangalore about what is happening at the back of beyond. But this is precisely where you are wrong. You don't have to necessarily go out there to set things right, there is no circumscribed route of action. It's not just a certain kind of person, or a section of society that can affect change - it is ordinary folks voicing their anguish, anger, pain, frustration and even hope through their own modes of expression. Artists, theatrepersons, sportspersons, housewives can choose their medium and just go ahead and blog, write, speak or scream.
Recently, my foundation - the Grassroots Foundation - and I joined forces with the White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood, an alliance of volunteers mobilising communities to promote the cause and bring in more people. Ultimately, it is people who can make a difference and make things happen. Unless the noise gets deafening, change will not take place. Maternal deaths can and should be prevented. One woman doesn't need to die every eight minutes in our country. We need your voice, your hands, your feet and most importantly your heart to ensure that women live to become mothers.
(Pooja Bedi is a media personality who is deeply committed to social causes. The views expressed by the author are personal)
LEFTISM IN THE LURCH
West Bengal is a Work in Progress. Or that's what it appears like from the unfinished flyovers, the roads proposed to be widened, the airports waiting to be built and the new schools, colleges, universities and hospitals for which foundation stones were being laid till the moment the Election Commission banned the distribution of such promissory tablets. Indira Gandhi had 'gifted' Calcutta (not yet renamed Kolkata then) the Metro Rail in the early 70s. While the work crawled on, she lost power and grabbed it back and got killed, and the CPI(M) overran Writers' Buildings for eternity, as it were. Kolkata Metro at last became functional in 1984. But, since then, it covers only 25 km - against Delhi's 200 km - and that too in one direction, from north to south.
Tardiness is Bengal's hallmark. In Delhi, for every cup of coffee drunk at the café of the India International Centre (IIC), there are a dozen bitchy remarks passed on who made the millions, and how, by looting the treasury in the name of the Commonwealth Games. But nobody notices that the city is wearing a new look in just about a year. It's so unlike Bengal, which has less corruption than Delhi, maybe, but absolutely no progress.
What is it that jams the brake so painfully on every project in Bengal? Is it because the state is too full of leftists? That's doubtful. IIC itself has perhaps more leftists per square metre than today's College Street Coffee House, if leftism in a general sense means the caption you wear on your T-shirt - from saving the Narmada to condemning the allied forces for bombing Libya. In Delhi, Mumbai or Bengaluru, to be a leftist is an identity issue - like being male or vegetarian. In Bengal, it's a licence. It's a proclamation of one's right to get paid without work, and to collectively defy the law, if it dares stand in the way of the beautiful community free lunch. Being a leftist in Kolkata is one's meal ticket.
Left ideology still has many takers in all geographies, as it pampers the rebellious spirit, which is inherent in most individuals. However, when leftists come to power, they cease to be romantics. On the contrary, they run the state like a dictator.
China has 167 million old people but not a pension system worth the name. Nor does it care. How much its 'miracle economy' depends on State repression shows in the rising labour unrests, particularly the recent strikes in Honda's factories in Guangdong and Hubei provinces, forcing the Japanese auto major into giving a 24% increase in wages. In other words, the Chinese system could keep the wage demand bottled up for as long as it could. And probably it would have kept it longer if the workers did not start writing blogs and using Facebook to draw the attention of workers around the world, with a technology that Marx would have snatched if he could.
So, communist-ruled countries don't have free lunch. But Bengal, being a Left-run state within a democratic republic, is a different paradigm. It feeds on violence till it comes to power. Once in the government of a state, it still has no responsibility as long as there is a 'Centre' to be cudgelled for every complaint. Long before being in power, in 1953, Bengal leftists made a bonfire of tramcars to protest a one-paisa rise in fare. Jyoti Basu, who led the state's Left Front government from 1977 till 2000, described the incident with relish in his autobiography. As expected, after coming to power, his party turned the British-built utility company into a resting ground for its comrades. Rajdeo Goala, a vote manipulator, was made its chairman. The company is so inefficient today that it has to pay as many as 44 workers per tram.
The Bengal leftists never bothered about governance deficit because they didn't face any serious electoral opposition in the past. Many factors have combined with the length of their incumbency to put them close to the road's end. And that has given a new edge to the opposition campaign. Why do only a quarter of the students enrolling in Class 1 finally reach up to Class 10, the rest dropping out of the system at different points? What will the education-deprived boys and girls do in life - will they all ply rickshaws and serve as maidservants? Why has Bengal's industrial labour productivity dropped so low that it's not even half of that of the country? Wasn't it once called the 'tool room of India'?
Why have strikes (not lock-outs) made the state lose a quarter of the total man-days lost in the country? Why don't the police lodge even an FIR until there is a nod from the local party bureaucrat? Why does the present chief minister shamelessly draw a distinction between 'them' (ora) and 'us' (amra), as if he is the CM of a party and not of the state?
The election manifesto of Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress, for which the deck appears to be stacked, has promised the moon, all in either the first 200 or 1,000 days. It is written like an IPO road-show literature, with its supposed author being a chamber-of-commerce executive. It does not talk at all about what it will do with the heavy carcass of 'leftism', which symbolises nothing but a profound disregard of authority.
At a school final examination centre in north Bengal recently, a group of candidates, enraged at being prevented from copying, beat up the invigilators and tore up everybody else's answer sheets. Will the new government look the other way, like its predecessor, or make sure the hooligans get exemplary punishment under the law? More importantly, can it make all-round development of West Bengal a common cause of everyone, including the opposition of the day? Or will it mire itself in the majoritarian gobbledygook of 'them' and 'us'?
Mamata has given the first sign that Bengal might exorcise leftism at last by saying that she is thinking of introducing a legislative council, 42 years after its abolition in the state. A bicameral legislature, bi-partisanism in all affairs of the state, all-parties consultation on major policy issues, the government treating the leader of the opposition as an esteemed colleague - these are marks of a democracy coming of age by accepting consensus, and not numbers, as its guiding principle. Lenin called his faction Bolshevik as it managed to get majority in the Russian Social Democratic Party in 1903, the word being derived from the Russian word bolshinstvo, meaning majority. It is a mistake from the past that cries for correction.
(Sumit Mitra is a Kolkata-based writer. The views expressed by the author are personal.)
FIVE YEARS OF STABILITY
During the last session of Parliament, BJP's LK Advani, informally, made two points. He said the national scenario is worrying and there are diverse views on mid-term polls. "What political parties want is different from what individual MPs want," he had said.
This means that political parties could consider pushing towards a mid-term poll, except that MPs are averse to it. There is a bit of logic in both arguments.
For political parties, the timing could not be better given that the Congress-led government is sufficiently tainted with scams. The Bihar elections have shown that Rahul Gandhi's sheen is a mirage and the going could get tough for the Congress. The much-touted Cabinet reshuffle willy-nilly exposed fissures within the Congress. Worse still, the rap from the apex court on several issues put the government in the dock.
This is enough for any belligerent Opposition to go for the kill. So if political parties and their respective leaderships have their way, their strategy would be to push the government to a corner in the hope that it falls.
However, the MPs who have won and have still over half a term left, do not want to face elections. Some may be denied a party nomination and even if they manage one, they may not win.
Advani's solution to this imbroglio is a fixed term of Parliament. Under this, a government loses its power to call an election. Even if it loses majority, the Parliament would not be dissolved. Instead, a new government would assume office. So, while governments slug it out, the MPs can sit smug.
Advani had mooted this idea to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and finance minister Pranab Mukherjee some months ago. With the British Parliament pushing a similar proposal in Britain, Advani has revived this proposal.
On its part, the Congress has been lukewarm to Advani's proposal. Even though Singh and Mukherjee were visibly receptive when Advani raised the issue on the sidelines of a luncheon hosted for a Head of State some months ago, it has not gone beyond pleasantries. Till date, neither the government nor the Congress party has given any indication that Advani's proposal is on the table. Neither does it seem in any hurry to do so.
For one, it is a proposal mooted by Advani; for another it translates into the government chopping off its hands. A fixed term takes away from a government the powers to call an election or pick up dates to maximise its own advantage. It deprives the ruling party of its current and unfair advantage to manipulate events, or leave the choice of the timing of an election with the prime minister. A fixed term ends a political system that can be used for partisan advantage.
On the flip side, it gives the Opposition a handle to destabilise elected governments. It is in this context that Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi dismissed the proposal as being "ill conceived" and motivated by a desperate need to topple an elected government. However, Singhvi played safe by adding that the Congress had an open mind on the proposal: "not a no-no", to quote him.
While the Congress procrastinates, the BJP, if it is as serious as Advani is, needs to do ground work. It needs to debate the issue, fine tune it and build an all-party consensus. If it is any consolation, Nationalist Congress Party's Sharad Pawar seems to be on board. Pawar has demanded a national debate and a constitutional amendment to push through the fixed term proposal.
But it is the other 'S' which is crucial. If Congress president Sonia Gandhi sees merit in Advani's proposal, then the Congress could change tack. A nudge from Sonia Gandhi will dramatically alter the situation: transform the proposal to a done deal, as it were.
(Kumkum Chadha is a senior journalist and a political commentator. 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
The International Monetary Fund, or IMF, has historically been hawkish on capital controls. Countries that use them, the IMF worries, wind up artificially undervaluing their currencies. In the Indian case, too, most economists have long argued against harsh capital controls; but, often, a concern for exporters and attempts to use the value of the rupee as a variable in managing trade policy have factored into decision-making. For a long time, these economists had the IMF on their side. But the IMF has performed something of an about-turn. Unprecedentedly loose monetary policy in the West post-crisis has caused an enormous amount of money to slosh around the international financial system; much of that has headed off in search of higher returns in emerging economies. In response, many of them, such as Brazil, have imposed controls, like special tariffs on monetary inflows.
The IMF, challenged by this new environment, has now released a new policy framework, which reverses its decades-old advice. The new framework acknowledges that, under some circumstances, capital controls might be the right thing to introduce: particularly if the influx of money is obviously caused by "temporary or cyclical" factors. The Indian monetary authority has been quick to pick up on this. Speaking at the 60th anniversary of the central bank of Sri Lanka, the governor of India's Reserve Bank, D. Subbarao, said that "it is now broadly accepted that there could be circumstances in which capital controls can be a legitimate component of the policy response to surges in capital flows".
There is much sense to a more nuanced approach to capital controls. But the larger argument which has been made, particularly in the Indian context, remains valid, regardless of the IMF's apparent U-turn. India needs to ensure that the investment coming in is long-term, and not driven by short-term needs; but those are frequently hard to tease apart, and the methods used to do so may backfire. The IMF's prescription that "temporary and cyclical" factors could require capital controls means that macro-prudential policy, not trade policy, should dictate capital controls. Fortunately, the RBI also seems to be aware of this. Subbarao said that what is needed is "keeping exchange rates aligned to economic fundamentals, and an agreement that currency interventions should be resorted to not as an instrument of trade policy but only to manage disruptions to macroeconomic stability". Not all the IMF's prescriptions are immediately relevant for us.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
A CONSTANT SEARCH
There is something about an election eve. The flag-waving and slogan-shouting on the streets reach an apogee. All the signs and symptoms of infighting get a decent, temporary burial. But it is not just that. It marks that quiet moment in democracy when political parties sense they have to vacate their noisome rallies, for the centrestage to be occupied by long queues of people waiting for their tryst with the ballot.
In Kerala, as campaigning winds down for the April 13 polls, there is no sense of history that seems to highlight the West Bengal elections. The sops trail and dynastic politics that hang over Tamil Nadu have no place here. Indeed, what is remarkable about this Kerala election eve is how unremarkable it has become, devoid as it is suddenly of the drama and the highfalutin discourse that animated the Left reign, no small thanks to the no-holds-barred rivalry between Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan and the CPM state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan. In the process, instead of a VS vs PV fight, it has become a closer contest between the CPM-led Left Democratic Front and the Congress-led United Democratic Front than what the political pundits would have wagered even two months ago. The CPM has implausibly united under the leadership of VS to fight the assembly election, with every party candidate prominently projecting VS in posters and propaganda. If the comrades share their Bengali brethren's apprehensions of an apocalypse, then they are not showing it. But that could be just political poker face. The United Democratic Front has pitched the development agenda and pointed to the Left's crucial failings. While the Left has scored points on the social sector, the state is lagging behind its neighbours in indices like investment and infrastructure. And while the octogenarian chief minister can very well galvanise the Red cadre, he and his ideologies could seem rather time-worn to the young voters who could eventually decide the politics of the state in the next five years.
While the UDF has not exactly set its campaign alight with a new agenda, the debilitating politics and economics of the LDF could lead to history repeating itself in Kerala: one front making way for the other, in the state's continuous, desperate search for something different, someone better.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
SPRING IN SYRIA
Almost one month has passed since Syrians first took to the streets. Daraa has become the epicentre of unrest and in the latest wave of anti-government protests at least 40 died on Friday. President Bashar al-Assad has responded with cosmetic changes: increase in labour wages and the inclusion of Kurds as Syrian subjects. Alongside, he has authorised the use of force to quell unrest.
Syria is a complex mosaic of tribes; further denomination sees the country divided on sectarian lines — Shi'a, Sunni, Druze, Maronites and Kurds. Much of the anger on the streets is directed towards the Alawi minority clan that claims hegemony over Syria. It is their monopoly through the Baath Party that has denied Syrians access to coveted positions in politics, military and business. This is the Syria that Bashar al-Assad inherited from his father Hafez — not much has changed in the five-decade-long Assad rule. It was hoped that Western-educated Bashar would usher in reform; in fact, a small period of openness was seen during his first year. However, the path to reform, the Damascus Spring, was aborted and the draconian Emergency Law was used to jail political activists. It is this law that ordinary Syrians are chanting against.
Similarities with Tunisia and Egypt do exist in Syria. There is rampant unemployment amongst the youth; political participation is close to zero. But Syria is also different: the state and the army are almost indistinguishable. It was the older Assad that instituted members of the Alawi clan into the army, it is they who would lose out should the Assad dynasty be toppled. In the last real challenge to the government, in Hama, the older Assad authorised the killing of around 20,000 people in 1982 with the army at the forefront.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
NOT A VERY CIVIL COUP
MIHIR S SHARMA
Bang on schedule, a few hours before the Chennai Super Kings took on the Kolkata Knight Riders, word leaked out that the UPA would give in to Anna Hazare. Hordes, by which I mean dozens, celebrated at India Gate, by which I mean that they held ice cream in one hand and candles in the other. The Leaders of the Revolution — Hazare, Baba Ramdev and Anupam Kher — could no doubt reflect on a job well done.
Except it wasn't a revolution, Jantar Mantar was not our Tahrir Square, the Jan Lokpal draft bill is very definitely not the Constitution. In fact, pretty much everything about what played out at Jantar Mantar and on our TV screens last week undermined the principles that those who went on to frame the Constitution believed in.
Means, end and tone: all were problematic.
Look first at the means. What could be less objectionable than a fast? Isn't it sanctified as the method by which Gandhiji won our freedom, after all? Except it wasn't the method, and the equivalence just doesn't apply. Gandhiji used his fasts against several different adversaries: the British, for example, in 1942; political opponents like Ambedkar, as in 1932; and to turn around sentiment in general, such as during Hindu-Muslim tension in 1924 and 1948. Each has a different moral value; using the threat of your death to ensure that separate electorates for Dalits aren't brought into being is not the same, in my opinion and in Dr Ambedkar's, as pushing a colonial state into compromise, or bringing mobs to bay. And pushing for your preferred draft of a bill through fast-unto-death is more like Gandhi vs Ambedkar than Gandhi vs the Empire. Except, in this case, your opponents certainly have far more democratic legitimacy than you have. We are left with an act that loses much of its moral value because the means just don't fit the ends.
And what about those ends? The Jan Lokpal bill is an abomination, a chaotic combination of bad, meaningless and disastrous ideas. (For the record, the government draft has serious flaws too, but not on this scale.) The "institution" to which it intends to give birth should terrify us, a super-prosecutor subject to no checks on its power, capable of investigating and judging pretty much anything and anybody it wants. Today, the threat of investigation slows down and stalls almost anything useful that the state could do — the bridges, the roads, the investment which all those candle-holders in urban India grouse don't get made on time. Even a Jan Lokpal that doesn't go rogue would paralyse a state already doing far too little.
And the Jan Lokpal would go rogue. Why wouldn't she? Power corrupts, and this bill would grant her absolute power, without a check or balance in sight. Ah, say the bill's short-sighted drafters, even if the person in the office is so powerful, she would at least be selected by a panel of irreproachable integrity. Well, forgive me, but I don't think a Nobel or a Magsaysay confers on you the right to decide who rules me. The protesters hissed every time Alagiri's name was mentioned — he was one of the ministers on the drafting committee — but give me Alagiri, with all his evident popularity in the south of Tamil Nadu, than Vidia Naipaul, popular only with the Nobel committee. It is an absurdity that the same people who blanch at the thought of World Bank aid altering project outcomes are agitating to see Bank of Sweden- and Ford Foundation-funded prizes determining who would sit in what would be one of the most powerful offices in the nation.
But perhaps the most shocking and depressing aspect of what we witnessed was the tone of the protests. One, of course, was the obvious RSS tilt. Anna Hazare sat in front of the Bharat Mata icon that anyone who has nightmares about the Sangh will instantly recognise. The only genuinely popular leader on stage with him was Baba Ramdev, currently being used by the RSS as a stick with which to prod the BJP further to the right in UP. Ramdev turned up at Jantar Mantar on Friday with the RSS's Ram Madhav; Sanghis were around everywhere, performing havans.
And, for me at least, the sight of all sorts of spiritual leaders of other denominations hanging around did not help at all; I trust that I am still allowed, as an Indian citizen, to feel that the spiritual component of Gandhi's politics was dangerous and misguided, confusing our definition of the secular — and having Swami Agnivesh, Deoband's Mahmood Madani and the Archbishop of Delhi lend their names and presence to Hazare and Ramdev disturbs me even more than if they had not been there.
But even more than the havans and the chanting, perhaps dismissible as easy-listening Art of Living-style accompaniment to the real serious business of protest — and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar's breathing exercises also made an appearance, apparently — the contemptuous, elitist nature of the anger should infuriate you. Jantar Mantar sees demonstrations most days of the week. Why was this one lauded? Because these aren't safai karamchari or kisan from western UP. They were People Like Us, dissatisfied citywallahs.
I will be the first to agree that India's politics has ignored urban India's needs. The causes are many, and structural. But let us not glorify middle-class anger when it is expressed as an antipathy to where democracy's gotten us, as fury at not having more power than is gifted by the vote you share with a villager. That way lies the pain and disillusionment of a dozen cuddly dictators, of juntas and committees of national salvation, of Musharrafs and Pinochets and the blood on the streets of Bangkok and Barcelona. That way lies the Emergency.
"Civil society", a term I have come to detest, is unrepresentative and unaccountable. There is a danger there: something supposed to work for the powerless can wind up working, as in this case, for itself. It didn't launch an attempt to push our politics to consider reform that made corruption less probable. It tried to create a position for itself at the top, a Gandhian coup d'état, so it can order the messiness of our democracy, the "coalition compulsions" we have all come to dread. The Congress, primed by the NAC to bow to "civil society", gave in. But I won't. At the price of being uncivil, ladies and gentlemen with candles, give me democratic society over civil society any time.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
FORTY YEARS ON
SYED BADRUL AHSAN
For Bangladeshis, this is a time for reflection on the long, tortuous road their country has travelled over the past 40 years. It was in March 1971, following the breakdown of political negotiations between the Bengali leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and the Pakistan military junta led by General Yahya Khan and the launch of a genocide by the Pakistan army, that East Pakistan declared its independence from the rest of Pakistan. It would take the people of Bangladesh nine more months to emerge as a free nation, when the Pakistani forces surrendered to the Joint Indo-Bangladesh Command led by Jagjit Singh Aurora in Dhaka.
Forty years on, Bangladesh as a state remains a work in progress. Democratic institutions are putatively at work and have been since the fall of the last military regime in December 1990. In these 20 years, the Awami League, which spearheaded the freedom struggle, and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), formed by the first military ruler General Ziaur Rahman, have alternately been in power. Begum Khaleda Zia of the BNP has served as PM twice. The Awami League's Sheikh Hasina is now halfway into her second stint as PM.
One would, given that Bangladesh has had general elections on a regular basis since 1991, be satisfied that all is well with democracy, indeed with the country. The facts, though, are disappointing.
For one thing, the parliamentary democracy that Bangladesh has worked in over two decades has been undermined by the propensity of the major political parties to stay away from parliament if they lose the general elections. Of course, the Awami League and the BNP, in opposition, have both justified their boycott of the Jatiyo Sangsad (the Bengali term for parliament) by coming up with myriad allegations against the ruling party. But that has done little to convince the electorate that such boycotts have in any way strengthened pluralistic governance in the country. Now, the two political parties remain miles away from each other. Neither Sheikh Hasina nor Khaleda Zia is willing to concede ground on any issue of relevance for Bangladeshis. The two political leaders have an aversion to each other that has prevented them from interacting even at the social level.
Bangladesh is also caught in a struggle with the past. The Awami League government, having initiated the process of a trial of the war criminals of 1971 — the local Bengali collaborators of the Pakistan army — now faces an uphill task in getting the special tribunal moving. Though there is little question among Bangladeshis on the need for such a trial, it is the modus operandi that has raised questions, especially abroad. The pressure the government is under can be gauged from the fact that it has shifted from its earlier position of trying the collaborators on charges of genocide to those of crimes against humanity. There is also the worry that the defendants in the trial, once it gets under way, will argue that the whole process is misplaced because the principal accused — the officers of the Pakistan army —were eventually allowed to go back to Pakistan from PoW camps in India in the early 1970s through the tripartite deal reached by India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
A critical issue that Bangladeshis are grappling with now relates to the restoration of the secular character of the country's constitution. The constitution was pushed into a right-wing slide following the murder of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in 1975. The secular principle of the constitution was replaced by the Zia regime through the insertion of the Islamic "Bismillah", a move formalised by the fifth amendment to the constitution. Later, General Hussein Muhammad Ershad, the country's second military ruler, decreed Islam as Bangladesh's state religion. In recent times, the high court has shot down both amendments as ultra vires of the constitution, a judgment which encouraged the ruling Awami League in its belief that Bangladesh could now go back to the constitution as it was originally adopted in 1972. However, as a way of appeasing right-wing sentiments, the government has been reassuring critics that it will not tamper with the Bismillah factor and the position of Islam as the religion of the state. Predictably, it has run into criticism from secular quarters who have traditionally supported the Awami League.
In this 40th year of freedom, the government remains busy dealing with the fallout from its collision with Muhammad Yunus, founder of Grameen Bank. The return of tens of thousands of migrant workers from troubled Libya and other countries is also creating new problems for the resource-strapped nation. As if these were not enough, the opposition BNP threatens, at every available opportunity, to launch a movement aimed at toppling the government.
Forty years after March 1971, democracy remains a tentative affair for Bangladesh. And governance, the form of it, gives rise to some fundamental questions about the future of politics in the country.
The writer is editor (current affairs) of 'The Daily Star', Dhaka, email@example.com
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
EMBARRASSMENT OF RICHES
Towards the end of 1957, the much-hyped Second Five Year Plan had been cut drastically, ('A Plan With Empty Pockets', IE, March 14). Yet, there were fears that India might not be able to muster enough foreign exchange to sustain even the truncated plan. On the other hand, the planners — Jawaharlal Nehru, above all — were insistent that not only must the "hard core" of the Second Plan "go through" but also there must not be any diminution of the ambitious goals of the Third Plan, then in the making, and due to start in April 1961. "Under all circumstances," said Nehru, "we must leap across the mighty moat of poverty." Needless to add that he also underscored that social justice must be an integral part of economic development.
From this determination flowed an agonising dilemma. There was no way the stupendous amount of foreign exchange needed to salvage the curtailed Second Plan and finance the Third could be raised through the traditional methods of export earnings and commercial borrowings. The third device of rescheduling the repayments of debts owed to foreign countries was not available for the simple reason that this country hardly had any foreign debt at that time. The only viable option, therefore, was to seek and secure foreign aid, and this was "anathema" to the prime minister who firmly believed that donor countries, particularly the United States, would demand "a price". When told that West European countries had received massive Marshall aid from the US without compromising their independence, he countered: "Aren't they having to follow America's foreign policy?"
Ultimately, however, he swallowed the bitter pill but only after long and painful consultations and arguments. Two fortuitous circumstances greatly smoothened the process. The first was that the man whose job it was to balance the country's foreign exchange needs and available resources was B.K. Nehru, then economic affairs secretary in the finance ministry, who had earlier spent several years in Washington as minister (economic) in the Indian embassy and enjoyed the friendship of the honchos of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
Far more importantly, he was the prime minister's cousin, 20 years younger, and could speak to him more freely than most other advisers. For instance, on one occasion when the PM asked B.K., "do you think we would get the aid we need," he replied: "I think so, sir, but I hope you would stop abusing the Americans."
"I never abuse the Americans," retorted the PM. B.K.: "I know, sir, but your agents do." The prime minister understood the allusion to Krishna Menon but made no comment. Menon, of course, became even more hostile to B.K. than before.
The second helpful factor was that Nehru had developed a liking for President Eisenhower since 1956 when the two had met in Washington and agreed over the Suez War. The bond was strengthened after Ike's visit to India three years later. Even so, the prime minister thought it necessary to declare in public and emphasise in private that he would "never alter his foreign policy even for the sake of foreign aid".
In response to this, B.K. Nehru proposed a strategy that the prime minister approved. It was that India would not approach any country directly for the assistance it needed but would do so through the World Bank, that would use its influence to drum it up. Satisfied with this, Nehru asked B.K. to go and consult "Pantji", Govind Ballabh Pant, Union home minister and the number two in the Nehru cabinet after Maulana Azad's death. After discussing the issue with his usual erudition, Pant agreed that the only alternative to seeking foreign aid was to give up maintenance or development or both.
Fortified with this, Nehru called a cabinet meeting at which he asked Pant to speak first. According to B.K.'s account of this meeting, confirmed by at least two other sources, the subsequent proceedings were hilarious. Pant argued lucidly that the available foreign exchange would mean forgoing the maintenance of the economy or its development. But he didn't say a word about the need for foreign aid. Every other minister was asked to give his views. Not knowing what the prime minister's preference was, "each one of them waffled". At the end of it, the PM said: "Bijju (B.K.'s pet name), you've got your instructions, proceed."
"Sorry, sir. I have got no instructions," was his reply. "Your plane is at five," said the PM, "come and see me at three." At this meeting he told B.K. that he was India's commissioner-general in Washington whose unstated task was to secure maximum foreign aid in minimum time. B.K. said he wanted to take with him two of the "most brilliant men in the finance ministry, I. G. Patel and C. S. Krishnamoorthy," and this was agreed to.
To cut a very long story short, the World Bank president, Eugene Black, was most helpful. He gave B.K. sound advice on what to do and, for his part, promised to "persuade, cajole, pressure and arm-twist" whoever necessary to get India what it needed. Black also sent to India a delegation of "three wise men", headed by Sir Oliver Frank of England, which gave this country a fulsome report and backed to the hilt its claim to foreign aid.
The biggest encouraging factor, however, was John F. Kennedy's election as president of the US. His commitment to India was strong. As a junior and relatively unknown senator much earlier, he had joined Senator Sherman Cooper to move a resolution in the Senate recommending financial assistance to India, but it had fallen. Now things had changed. Early in 1961, the World Bank-sponsored group of countries, nicknamed Aid-India Club, vowed to provide India with a billion dollars a year for the Third Plan period. The money needed for the Second Plan had been given much earlier. B.K. informed his government that his work in Washington was finished, and privately asked for "another job". As always, John Kenneth Galbraith's pithy comment was eminently quotable: "Since Genghis Khan, no one man has carried so much gold from one part of the world to the other."
The writer is a Delhi-based political commentator
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
IN SPACE, NICE GUYS FINISH FIRST
Soviet sculpture renders its subjects larger than life, but few more so than Yuri Gagarin, who became the first man in space on April 12, 1961. A 125-foot-tall titanium statue of the cosmonaut stands at the nexus of three freeways in Moscow.
Gagarin's achievement, and the Soviet playbook that shaped it, made him the most celebrated Soviet hero since Lenin. His deification set the "right stuff" tone that NASA would follow with its own astronauts.
Gagarin was 5 feet 2 inches tall and nice as heck. He was chosen because of his willingness to follow orders, to be a small part of the technological immensity of the Soviet space programme. This makes him, a most modern spacefarer.
Gagarin was the model Soviet citizen. When I visited the Yuri Gagarin museum in Star City, near Moscow, the curator showed me his childhood report cards and a toy airplane he made at industrial school.
But for all his precocious talent, the space programme's chief designer, Sergey Korolev, is reported to have chosen Gagarin for the mission partly because he was the only one of the original squad to remove his shoes before stepping inside a model of the Vostok I capsule in which he'd travel into space.
Gagarin's willingness to go with the programme made him perfect for a mission in which he was human cargo. Beyond coming down alive, his assignment was to write down his observations (which he mostly failed to do, because he let go of his pencil in orbit, and it floated out of sight).
Like the chimpanzees and the mutts that went into space before them, Gagarin and other early spacemen were in part an experimental payload. There was concern about the unknown physiological and psychological consequences of space and zero gravity. Would breaching the infinite blow the crewman's mind? Would weightlessness cause his eyeballs to change shape, his blood to stop circulating? Gagarin went up to find out.
Strangely, the first man to ascend into the cosmos was a skilled pilot forbidden to use his skills. The controls of Vostok I were locked; the capsule was manoeuvred from the ground.
But nothing about Gagarin's personality prevented him from becoming a Soviet demigod. His museum holds gifts and honours bestowed on him during the 27-nation tour that followed his flight.
Gagarin was uncomfortable with the adulation and fuss. He wrote in his autobiography that his shoelace was untied while he walked the red carpet before the presidium of the Communist Party. When he found himself seated beside Queen Elizabeth II at a Buckingham Palace luncheon, he reached under the table and squeezed her knee — not out of lasciviousness but, Gagarin's biographer, Lev Danilkin, told me, "to receive evidence that he was not sleeping." (Her Majesty pretended not to notice.)
Contemporary space travellers have hewed closer to the real-life Gagarin than his larger-than-life image. Whatever bravado was tolerated during NASA's earliest manned space programmes has been ironed out; in an era of large-crew, long-duration missions, it is the wrong stuff. There is no room for egos, swagger and machismo.
A recent list of desirable attributes in NASA astronauts includes empathy, fairness and a good sense of humour. It's hard to say whether and when the US will send a human being to Mars, but Gagarin would be as perfect a choice today as he was in 1961.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
THE SONGS THEY ARE A-CHANGIN'
Bob Dylan may have done the impossible: broken creative new ground in selling out.
The idea that the raspy troubadour of '60s freedom anthems would go to a dictatorship and not sing those anthems is a whole new kind of sellout — even worse than Beyoncé, Mariah and Usher collecting millions to croon to Gaddafi's family, or Elton John raking in a fortune to serenade gay-bashers at Rush Limbaugh's fourth wedding.
Before Dylan was allowed to have his first concert in China on Wednesday, he ignored his own warning in "Subterranean Homesick Blues" — "Better stay away from those that carry around a fire hose" — and let the government pre-approve his set.
Iconic songs of revolution like "The Times They Are a-Changin', " and "Blowin' in the Wind" wouldn't have been an appropriate soundtrack for the 2,000 Chinese apparatchiks in the audience taking a relaxing break from repression.
Spooked by the surge of democracy sweeping the Middle East, China is conducting the harshest crackdown on artists, lawyers, writers and dissidents in a decade. It is censoring (or "harmonising") the Internet and dispatching the secret police to arrest willy-nilly, including Ai Weiwei, the famous artist and architect of the Bird's Nest, Beijing's Olympic stadium.
Dylan said nothing about Weiwei's detention, didn't offer a reprise of "Hurricane," his song about "the man the authorities came to blame for something that he never done." He sang his censored set, took his pile of Communist cash and left.
"The Times They Are Not a-Changin', " noted The Financial Times under a picture of the grizzled 69-year-old on stage in a Panama hat.
David Hajdu, the New Republic music critic, says the singer has always shown a tension between "not wanting to be a leader and wanting to be a celebrity." In Hajdu's book, Positively 4th Street, Dylan is quoted saying that critics who charged that he'd sold out to rock 'n' roll had it backward.
"I never saw myself as a folksinger," he said. "They called me that if they wanted to. I didn't care. I latched on, when I got to New York City, because I saw (what) a huge audience there was. I knew I wasn't going to stay there. I knew it wasn't my thing... I became interested in folk music because I had to make it somehow."
He can't really betray the spirit of the '60s because he never had it. In his memoir, Chronicles, he stressed that he had no interest in being an anti-establishment Pied Piper and that all the "cultural mumbo jumbo" imprisoned his soul and made him nauseated. "I had very little in common with and knew even less about a generation that I was supposed to be the voice of," he said.
He wrote that he wanted to have a house with a white picket fence and pink roses in back, live in East Hampton with his wife and pack of kids, eat Cheerios and go to the Rainbow Room and see Frank Sinatra Jr. perform. "Whatever the counterculture was, I'd seen enough of it," he wrote. He complained of being "anointed as the Big Bubba of Rebellion, High Priest of Protest, the Czar of Dissent."
Performing his message songs came to feel "like carrying a package of heavy rotting meat," he wrote.
Hajdu told me that Dylan has distanced himself from his protest songs because "he's probably aware of the kind of careerism that's apparent in that work." Dylan employed propaganda to get successful but knows those songs are "too rigidly polemical" to be his best work. "Maybe the Chinese bureaucrats are better music critics than we give them credit for," Hajdu said, adding that Dylan was now "an old-school touring pro" like Frank Sinatra Sr.
Sean Wilentz, who wrote Bob Dylan in America, said that the Chinese were "trying to guard the audience from some figure who hasn't existed in 40 years. He's been frozen in aspic in 1963 but he's not the guy in the work shirt and blue jeans singing 'Masters of War'."
Maybe the songwriter should reread some of his own lyrics: "I think you will find / When your death takes its toll / All the money you made / Will never buy back your soul."
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
FUNDING THE GOOD TIMES
History is replete with instances of banks bailing out promoters who have run their businesses aground; whether it was Essar and Arvind in the late 1990s or more recently Wockhardt, it's always the banks who take the hard knocks; the promoters throw up their hands knowing fully well it's going to be a soft landing. The latest in the line of bailouts is that of Kingfisher Airlines, whose flamboyant promoter Vijay Mallya jetsets around the world buying up homes and islands and sponsoring cricket teams while the banks stay home and mend his balance sheet. Kingfisher has run up a debt of R7,651 crore and piled up losses of R672 crore in the nine months to December 2010 on the back of a R1,647 crore loss in 2009-10. When this newspaper asked the erstwhile SBI chairman, some months ago, as to why banks were willing to restructure Kingfisher's debt instead of simply winding up the firm, he said the business was turning around and the banks would be able to recover their money. That's ostensibly why the lenders have agreed to convert R750 crore of the debt into equity at a face value of R64.5 as compared to Kingfisher's current market price of R48! With this, SBI will become the largest shareholder in the airline (it owns 5.7% of the shares) after the promoters—all the banks collectively own a fourth of the equity but will, needless to add, have little say in the running of the business.
The fault lies entirely with them. Indeed, if Indian promoters, over the years, have not paid for their sins, it is almost entirely because the banks have been far too indulgent. Politicians, too, have played their part, helping out businessmen when it suited them. As has been pointed out, India does have the necessary regulatory framework—the SICA is the near equivalent of the US's Chapter Eleven. However, while in the US cases are resolved quickly (a maximum of two years), they drag on forever in India—this suits the promoters because they lose nothing and have everything to gain. A stronger bankruptcy law is a must. In this context, the new Companies Bill could incorporate a recompense clause into the legislation so that banks can recoup the concessions. If the banks are taking a hit by reducing the interest rate, extending the repayment period, allowing a moratorium or taking on more risk by converting debt into equity, they deserve a part of the upside too. Curiously, RBI doesn't seem to object to such large-scale restructuring of bad debts, given that it is taxpayers' money that is being frittered away. The Essar Group is about to make a huge gain by selling its stake in Vodafone; a part of that money rightfully belongs to the banks.
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
THE CORRUPTION GAME
The issue of corruption will not go away. Not that corruption itself is news, but the serial scams and scandals that have been exposed over the last six months have put the Indian polity in a crisis. India's reputation abroad, so high until August last year, is now sinking lower. The media, which used to celebrate India—FT, Economist, WSJ—are all expressing deep doubts about the dysfunctionality of the country.
Now the exasperation has spread to the domestic constituency. This is more due to the slow response of the Cabinet to the problems than anything else. Justice delayed is justice denied. Hence, the large popular support for Anna Hazare's campaign. It is like the campaigns in Egypt and Tunisia, driven by the new media, which are second nature for the young people to use.
That said, it is remarkable that the entire faith of the campaign has been invested in the Lokpal Bill. The idea that the cure for corruption is a tougher Bill than the one put forward by the government is rather naïve. It is not that an Ombudsman will not help but it is hardly the cure-all that people claim. The experience of official institutions and its leaders as anti-corruption devices that we have is dismal; just remember the CVC fiasco. Nor does direct action by a dedicated idealist such as Anna Hazare always prove effective. After all, he had a campaign against Sharad Pawar and he is still there, larger than life.
The problem is deep, multi-faceted and not likely to yield to just one institutional solution. India has a weak record in creating and maintaining institutions that are truly free off political contamination. The structure of the government with its hydra-headed set of regulations makes it easy to collect rent for whoever is in a pivotal position to grant, deny or delay a permission or hand out a form.
Kaushik Basu, the chief economic advisor, has made an interesting intervention in this respect. He has focused on the symmetry between the giver and taker of bribes as one of the issues to be tackled. He would go light on the bribe giver if he exposes the bribe taker and then punish the latter.
This is a promising start, but as Kaushik Basu, who is a good theorist, will realise, the game is not so simple. The bribe giver and bribe taker are not playing prisoner's dilemma, which rewards collusion over individual rationality. There is an ex-ante power asymmetry between the two. The bribe giver knows that if he tries to expose the bribe taker, he may be punished himself since the laws are made by the bribe taker. Every whistle-blower knows that the system he is trying to expose can strike him down since all power and legitimacy is with the corrupt being exposed.
So, the bribe giver faces a series of interconnected choices. First is to give the bribe or not. The costs of not giving a bribe is to lose out on whatever he wants or suffer long delays and harassment before he gets it. Most will give the bribe and be done with it. Having given the bribe, he has the choice of exposing the bribe taker or staying silent. Here again, the costs are asymmetric. No costs to keeping quiet except in the small probability case of being caught giving the bribe. But exposing the bribe taker has also more than one possible outcomes. The bribe taker may be punished but then the bribe giver is a marked man for other potential bribe demanders who control other 'goodies' he may want in the future. There is also a possibility that the system will protect its own and acquit the bribe taker.
Thus, to fight corruption, there has to be someone who can bolster the lower strength of the bribe giver against the higher clout of the bribe taker, so that each of the possible outcomes will cost the bribe taker more than the bribe giver. It may be that the Lokpal is one such person. If so, he has to have the power to be approached directly and secretly.
But even more than this we need to simplify the regulations and rules that generate the opportunities for rent-seeking. Thus, I gather you have to obtain permission from 49 authorities to open a school in Delhi. Do we even know who these 49 institutions are and why they are there? The first need is to make all the regulations with all the various stages at which permissions are needed and the persons responsible transparent. This is an enormous task, since many of the rules are antiquated. But it will be only if we know where the poison can be generated that allows corruption to flourish that we can begin to tackle it.
The author is a Labour peer and a prominent economist
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
The supermarket chain Subhiksha perished because it was growing way too fast, the supply chain was weak and there was virtually no back-end. The story was pretty much the same with TruMart; with the shopshelves bare, the stores stayed empty. Vishal Retail started out well but didn't know how to keep the footfalls coming and ended up with R700 crore worth of debt. Chains like the Birla Group's more. are also finding the going tough and even Pantaloon, which is one of the more profitable food retailers in the country, barely breaks even. Spencer's, which started out nearly 15 years ago, still doesn't make money. The RPG group-promoted chain is, however, not willing to throw in the towel just yet. Spencer's isn't wrong in hoping because, without doubt, there's money to be made in modern retail.
But the story in India so far hasn't turned out quite the way people believed it would, particularly in the food and grocery (F&G) space. While the penetration of organised F&G in China has moved by at least three percentage points to about 5% in the last five years, in India it's moved from 1% to 2%, according to a study done by the Boston Consulting Group. That's not hard to believe because there's a strong bond with the neighbourhood kirana who's friendly enough to deliver at your doorstep and even give you credit for it. Actually, it's the cluster of kiranas within a radius of one kilometre, which, between them, stock almost everything that make the supermarkets almost superfluous.
What may speed up the switch to convenience stores or supermarkets eventually are the ambitions of second generation kirana owners, who may not want to stand behind the counters. But retailers will tell you that as consumers become more affluent, they will worry about hygiene and will demand variety that smaller kiranas simply won't be able to stock. This is probably true. But, in the meantime, there's really no need for retailers to rush with the rollouts, unless rentals are really affordable and the catchment is large. Given that the biggest cost for retailers—at 60-70% of the total expenditure—is the cost of the goods, there isn't too much economy of scale to be gained by putting up more stores. Since private labels still account for a very small fraction of total merchandise, and since FMCG suppliers are stingy with margins (modern trade accounts for just 6-7% of trade) this cost
isn't going to come down in a hurry. Until the cost of goods comes off meaningfully—perhaps through an increase in the share of private labels—it doesn't make sense to run up a large rentals bill.
In particular, smaller stores, because they are competing for space with banks, pharmacies and so on, end up forking out rents of R65-70 per sq ft per month whereas a larger store located in a mall has more bargaining power and pays R40-50 per sq ft per month. So, the way to go about it would be to probably penetrate a region and follow the cluster approach rather than spread the chain across the country. That way the administrative costs can be kept in check. Spencer's, for instance, may have done better had it stayed put in the south and snapped up the Trinethra chain before the Birlas did. Way too much time has been spent by retailers closing down stores, whether it's Spencer's, Big Bazaar, more. or Bharti, which shut down a couple of its outlets within months of opening them.
In fact, the cash should have been channelled into the back-end and the supply chain been made more robust so that inventories could have been leaner. It's also true that retailers in India are at a disadvantage because inter-state taxes compel them to have more in-state distribution centres and so to stock higher than necessary inventories. Moreover, since order fulfilment rates from vendors are 75-80%, stores tend to stock more. That's why, as Citigroup points out, the working capital management of retailers in India has been a structural concern; at an estimated $30 per sq ft, it is higher than formats in Asia, where it ranged between $3 and $7 per sq ft.
Some of this can be addressed, as retailers have greater control over merchandise—especially the low margin food and beverages categories—and that's why retailers like Aditya Birla's more. are betting on private labels. Although store brands may not have taken off as expected, they clearly have a future, if the price differential between them and established brands is substantial and the quality comparable. Pantaloon believes that private brands can be about 27% cheaper than FMCG brands because retailers do not spend on media to build the brand, which is a huge saving. However, studies done by IRIS reveal divergent trends. While in categories like packaged sugar, the private label offering, in north India, is available at a discount of around 12%-17% to the branded product, for a 10 kg pack of wheat flour, the prices are more or less the same. Nonetheless, Citigroup rightly points out that retailers need to get going on their private label strategies because the competition will be fierce, given the attractive margins. For a player like more., store labels account for 17-18% of sales but that could go up if it offers the customer a distinct product proposition.
As of now, where the private label approach has worked really well is in the high-margin apparel space, with chains like Westside turning out winners in womenswear. Shoppers Stop, on the other hand, has struggled, perhaps because it was a little ahead of its time and also the group chose to venture out into too many formats without understanding them. Also, it's not enough to be the early entrant, the proposition too needs to be good; this has been proved by Croma, which may not have been the first to enter the niche consumer electronics piece but has clearly walked away with the honours. And it doesn't play the price game. Again Titan, with more than 500 stores, has done exceptionally well in a highly competitive space by not compromising on quality. To sum up, the market's huge but don't be in a hurry; slow and steady wins the race.
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
IMF CHANGES ITS SPOTS
A silver lining of the devastating global economic crisis has been greater acceptance of more open-minded policies in several sectors, especially in the financial sector. A doctrinaire approach, reflecting the 'Washington Consensus' that guided the IMF's actions in emerging economies over the last six decades, was based on a mistaken presumption that markets will always deliver and that any intervention to restrain free functioning of capital markets will result in efficiency losses. This economic orthodoxy was challenged by many economists, including Jagdish Bhagwati, who had famously noted after the Asian crisis in 1997 that trade in widgets is not the same as trade in dollars. But the IMF steadfastly refused to be persuaded, even in the face of mounting evidence that short-term capital flows could trigger a crisis as it did in South America in the 1980s and in East Asia in the mid-1990s. Well until now. In March this year, the IMF held a conference on rethinking macroeconomics where it reached the conclusion that the current economic crisis challenged the economic orthodoxy behind the Fund's previous policies.
The new thinking acknowledges that unfettered capital flows may contribute to collateral damage, including exchange rate appreciation (overshooting), asset booms and busts. According to the Fund, under certain circumstances, capital controls can be a legitimate policy response to counter volatile and destabilising capital flows. The other elements in the nation's toolkit include currency appreciation, reserves accumulation, adjustments in fiscal and monetary policy, and strengthening the prudential framework. That these other policy responses may not always be desirable and/or appropriate is demonstrated by the success of Chile and Brazil, among others, in managing capital surges by imposition of controls. Although the IMF has recognised the role of capital controls as a vital policy tool, it also outlines when nations should use capital controls, and what types of capital controls should be used under what circumstances—eventually it's the balance of the benefits and the distortions caused. It also warns of the systemic dangers that could result from widespread adoption. But, rather than criticise, we should applaud the Fund for recognising, although belatedly, the potentially destabilising influence of freer capital movements in emerging economies. While India undeniably delayed moving from the draconian FERA to FEMA, it perhaps stands vindicated for the gradualist approach it has followed, at least on capital account convertibility.
STARTING EARLY FOR 2012
A standoff with the legislative branch over the budget would seem hardly the best time for President Barack Obama to declare the start of his re-election campaign. The tussle with the Republican-dominated U.S. Congress over cuts in spending brought the federal government to the brink of a shutdown. But the announcement of his 2012 candidacy in the middle of this was less about finding the right political moment than about garnering finances for re-election — the second quarter of the year marks the beginning of a new fund-raising period under U.S election laws. All the same, it has turned the spotlight on Mr. Obama's leadership even as the White House struggled to bring about a last-minute compromise between the Republicans and Democrats on the budget. This battle may eventually work to President Obama's political advantage if enough Americans see the Republicans as confrontational to the point of stopping the work of government. The harder part for the Democrats is to answer a more fundamental question: where is the change Mr. Obama promised during his inspirational 2008 presidential campaign? Americans are clearly disillusioned because the dynamism and hope Obama, the candidate, represented has been replaced by diffidence and over-caution in Obama, the President. The mood was evident when voters gave Republicans a majority in the House of Representatives and drastically cut back the Democratic majority in the Senate in November 2010.
Mr. Obama's approval rating of 62 per cent when he entered the White House has dropped to 46 per cent. The Libyan misadventure may push this down further. The latest let-down for his supporters is the decision to put Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the self-confessed mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, on trial by a military tribunal at the Guantanamo prison, instead of in a federal court. Coming just a day after he was declared the first official candidate for the 2012 election, it showed President Obama in poor light: he had promised during the last campaign to close down the camp within a year of taking office. The presidential election is still 20 months away. No credible Republican contenders are in sight. Surprising though this may sound, of the many moving parts at work, the one to the incumbent's advantage is the economy. President Obama inherited an economy in deep crisis, but managed to keep it from sinking. Last month, the claim that the economic recovery was well on its way was buttressed by a fall in the unemployment rate to its lowest in two years. Elections in the U.S. are often about the state of the economy. Mr. Obama's political stock has been visibly degraded but all things considered, he remains the favourite for November 2012.
PRIMARY MARKET MESSAGES
There are some important messages from the recently released data on primary markets. Last year (2010-11) a sum of Rs.46,267 crore was raised through public equity issues. The mobilisation was roughly the same as that of the previous year. According to Prime Database, one of India's oldest and most reliable purveyors of capital market data, the mobilisation last year — incidentally the third highest ever — could have been even more but for the fact that some public sector undertakings (PSUs) deferred their planned large public offerings. One of the reasons for the postponement was the volatility in the secondary markets that had set in during the last quarter of 2010-11. Indeed, continuing volatility poses daunting challenges to primary market issuers, especially in timing the issue and price discovery. When iconic PSUs are involved, the issue price can never remain outside the pale of controversy, no matter what method is used to discover the price.
In 2010-11, a total of 57 public issues entered the market, compared to 44 the previous year. Of these, 52 were initial offerings and the remaining five follow-on offers. The average deal size was Rs.811 crore. Ten issues were for Rs.1,000 crore and above. At the other end, there were six issues of less than Rs.50 crore and none below Rs.10 crore. The important message here is that India's primary market remains tilted towards large companies. The ongoing efforts of the government and the regulator, SEBI, to encourage small and medium enterprises to seek funds from the capital market instead of depending solely on bank finance have not been successful. Dedicated exchanges for small share offerings have not taken off. The OTC exchange, which goes back to the early 1990s, was well conceptualised but it found few takers. Public issue of shares continues to be an expensive affair. The system, derived from regulatory rules as well as deeply ingrained market practices, favours the larger issuers over the small. Irrespective of the issue size, there are certain fixed costs such as advertising and publicity that the issuer has to incur. That, in many cases, raises the bar for the smaller issues. While there is absolutely no doubt that a public listing of shares confers many advantages to a corporate, the small and medium enterprises (SMEs) will have to weigh the costs involved against the advantages. Many SMEs therefore depend on outside equity support from venture capital, private equity and many categories of institutional investors.
LEADER PAGE ARTICLES
OLD CONFIGURATION, NEW CONTEXT
THE MILITARY ORIGIN AND CONTEXT OF NUCLEAR TECHNOLOGY, WITH ITS REDUCED EMPHASIS ON SAFETY AND TRANSPARENCY, ARE A RECIPE FOR DISASTER IN THE CIVILIAN SECTOR.
It has been many decades since the pioneers of India's nuclear programme, administrators and government started discussing the need for electrical power, the vast potential of nuclear energy and the country's plans for the peaceful use of nuclear resources. They argued that it was an extremely safe option and projected it as the answer to the nation's energy security needs. Many sceptics were converted. Then, Three Mile Island and Chernobyl happened, shattering the complacency. Nevertheless, post-mortems of these disasters dismissed concerns, blamed people and procedures and downplayed risks. No one imagined that the unlikely combination of natural and man-made disasters would occur together — a massive earthquake, a towering tsunami and the failure of the so-called foolproof safety and containment strategies. Fukushima forces us to question our beliefs about nuclear energy. How have we come to hold naive beliefs about its risks? Are we deluded about its safety? Alternatively, do those who champion its cause as an easy and attractive option deceive us?
Nuclear context: Nuclear technology developed in the context of World War II. This new expertise and its unimaginable horror and destructive potential were demonstrated at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Cold War encouraged nuclear innovation. Overground tests were banned as their adverse environmental impact was clear. The development and innovation related to nuclear energy were closely bound to the military context. However, nuclear expertise was co-opted and gradually moved to the civilian sector for the production of energy. Its growth and promotion for use in war meant environmental and human impacts were considered unimportant in the context of its ability to annihilate the enemy. Consequently, potential hazards and risks did not receive necessary attention required when it was moved into the civilian sector. While the hazards were obvious, its quick and dirty transfer for power generation necessitated the suppression of such implications. Re-designing nuclear energy for peaceful purposes would require going back to the drawing board, a complete reassessment of risks, research on safety concerns and strategies. It would mandate enormous money, time, effort, political and administrative will. However, such costs would make it an unattractive and unviable economic option. Consequently, its historical and social links were rendered invisible and the 'technology,' stripped of its original military context, was transferred to civilian use. Nevertheless, secrecy surrounding the nuclear expertise, with its military implications, remained standard.
Japanese transformation: How did the Japanese, with their history of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, their pacifist post-World War II constitution, their non-nuclear principles of not manufacturing, possessing and deploying nuclear weapons, slowly accept the U.S. nuclear umbrella? How did the country gradually adopt nuclear power as a reliable and routine civilian option? How did its enormous economic wealth, technologically advanced society, safety consciousness and traditional meticulous attention to detail prevent it from foreseeing the Fukushima disaster? What was the probability of a sequence of an earthquake, tsunami, failure of the backup generators, malfunction of battery power, damage to switch gear, limited water to cool the reactors and the absence of nitrogen containment systems? How did such a series of unlikely probabilities come together?
The country's stoicism, in the face of recent devastation and the possibility of massive radiation exposure, was remarkable. However, it also raised questions about how nuclear energy came to be accepted as the norm. Why is Japan not reacting to radiation in the air, water and in the food chain? Did the Japanese have naive beliefs or were they deluded or deceived into accepting the nuclear option? After the initial denials of all possible danger, we now see a slow and managed trickle of information gradually reporting radiation and environmental contamination data, albeit along with scientific reassurance about its non-lethal implications. The cloud of secrecy about nuclear energy continues.
Indian issues: India and its parliament debated the nuclear options in 2008. The United Progressive Alliance-I risked its majority and the Prime Minister staked his reputation on the Nuclear Safety Bill. The government, under pressure from Uncle Sam, refused to significantly increase nuclear liability for western manufacturers of the nuclear power plants. Their legal responsibility and accountability were limited. Financial liability for accidents, considering the magnitude of the potential for disaster, was capped at a paltry sum. Images of Bhopal did little to achieve agreements for substantial compensation in case of nuclear accidents. New political alliances were forged, the Bill was passed and the government survived. The government went on to sign agreements with western nations for the supply of nuclear equipment. It is now clearing land for building nuclear reactors. Opposition to these plans are dismissed. Conflicts with the local people who will be displaced (e.g. Jaitapur) are being effectively managed.
The lack of national consensus, the hurriedly crafted deals and the absence of transparency leave much to be desired. The non-competitive bidding process for acquiring nuclear equipment and the blurring of lines between suppliers, operators, regulators and buyers are serious causes for concern. Acquisition of untested designs adds to the uncertainty. Consequently, the limitation of liability of suppliers and operators, in case of accidents and disasters, makes one sceptical and wonder if issues related to safety received the necessary attention.
Nuclear problems: Nuclear energy, despite growing opposition, is considered an attractive alternative in the West with its hunger for unlimited energy and its unwillingness to alter its preferred lifestyles. The Obama administration's plan to increase nuclear power glossed over its problems and emphasised its economical and environmental advantages, while dismissing genuine concerns. Nevertheless, the nuclear industry faces numerous, multifaceted and complex problems, which are rarely highlighted. Old reactors, safety failures and shutdowns, deadly radioactive waste, untested new designs, colossal building outlay, phenomenal cost overruns, gigantic government loan guarantees, higher than anticipated price of generated power, tax subsidies for the industry, public bailouts for losses and reluctant private investors complicate issues of nuclear power and its generation. High cost of building multiple backup and foolproof safety mechanisms, optimistic estimates of risk, the downplaying of potential hazards, a lack of transparency and the use of nationalist and pseudo-scientific arguments to silence criticism add to complexity. Dwindling energy resources, threats of energy famines, high environmental and financial price of fossil fuels coupled with the slick packaging of nuclear energy make for attractive advertising, increasing consumer confidence and demand for nuclear alternatives.
Transfer troubles: The basis of problems faced by the nuclear industry can be traced back to its history and origins. While nuclear power is born out of science, the nuclear industry is subject to a variety of non-scientific forces. Political, economic, military, nationalist and social factors modulate its efficacy. Iatrogenic problems, errors of judgment, irreversible species-level changes and alteration to the environment complicate the civilian context. Nuclear power operating at ecological/society level can result in a crisis, as exemplified by Chernobyl. While scientific arguments are employed to champion nuclear energy and to defend nuclear safety, it will necessarily be economic issues that will determine the growth of nuclear power. The military origins and nature of much of the technology forces the state to curb transparency, which is mandatory in the civilian sector.
India's and the world's need to power their economic growth seems to be forcing a blind acceptance of nuclear energy as safe. The magnitude of the energy requirements to meet needs of ever-increasing populations and expanding industrial needs dulls our intelligence, reduces our safety consciousness and blunts our safety concerns. Have the general population, scientists, administrators, politicians and government been brainwashed by the world view of the nuclear lobby, making it culturally acceptable to embrace the technology born out of international conflicts and wars? Can we not see the dangers of using old ideas and configurations, which are inappropriate in the new civilian context? On the other hand, could it be that the industry is clearly attempting to deceive, to increase its profits?
Many questions require answers. Should we revisit the science in the context of civilian use? Should we review the probability of accidents and disasters, now that supposedly rare circumstances produced the Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima disasters? Should we re-evaluate the so-called foolproof strategies on safety? Should we demand greater transparency and lift the veil of secrecy, which belongs to a different era and a distinct context? Should the actual and true costs of safe nuclear power be re-estimated? Should there be completely new cost, benefit and risk analysis and comparisons with renewable energy? We need clarifications.
The question is, will the Indian state, national governments and the nuclear-military establishment provide answers?
( Professor K.S. Jacob is on the faculty of the Christian Medical College, Vellore. The views expressed are personal.)
IS IT ADVANTAGE RUSSIA?
THIS YEAR MAY SEE THE BEGINNING OF A TURNAROUND IN THE COUNTRY'S SPACE FORTUNES.
Fifty years after sending the first man into space, Russia has drawn up plans to reclaim the lead position in space exploration.
Yuri Gagarin's first ever space flight on April 12, 1961, cemented the Soviet Union's leadership in the space race that began with the launch of Sputnik in 1957. It took the Americans eight years to catch up and overtake Russia when they landed their man on the Moon in 1969. In the 1970s Russia recaptured the lead, setting up the first manned orbital station and sending first automatic probes to Venus and Mars. The Russian Mir (Peace) space station, operational from 1986 to 2001, was the world's first and only permanently manned orbital outpost till the construction of the International Space Station (ISS) in 1998.
After the space shuttle
After the break up of the Soviet Union in 1991, cash-strapped Russia ceded its leadership in space to the U.S., which bankrolled the construction of the first ISS component, Russia's Zarya module. Russian technologies and experience in building and operating space station were critical for constructing the ISS, whose core elements were designed on the basis of Mir-2 project abandoned for lack of financing. Russia had to drastically curtail its space programmes as budget allocations shrank to just over $300 million by 2002 — barely enough to ferry crews and supplies to the ISS. It was forced to offer launch seats to high-paying space tourists.
The bright side of the post-Cold war epoch was that the space race increasingly gave way to space cooperation. And this year may see the beginning of a turnaround in Russia's space fortunes. As the U.S. grounds its aged fleet of space shuttles this summer, Russia's time-tested workhorse, the Soyuz spacecraft, will be the sole means for taking international crews to the ISS. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) had relied on the Russians before to send Americans into space following the two-year grounding of U.S. spacecraft after the 2003 space shuttle Columbia disaster. The shuttle's track record includes another tragedy. It was the second shuttle tragedy when in 1986, Challenger broke apart 73 seconds into its flight. The Russian Soyuz proved to be the safest way to deliver people to space and it will be the only way till the U.S. builds a new spaceship by the mid-2010s. Under contracts with Russia's Roscosmos space agency, NASA will pay a total of $1.2 billion for U.S. astronauts' rides aboard the Soyuz craft in 2012-2015.
Russia is determined to earn much more in commercial space services in the coming years. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has called for increasing Russia's current share of 40 per cent of the world's annual space launches to as much as 50 per cent in the near future.
"But Russia should not limit itself to the role of an international space ferryman. We need to increase our presence on the global space market … which is roughly worth $200 billion," Mr. Putin said at a meeting with space and government officials in the run-up to Gagarin's trail-blazing flight celebrations.
Mr. Putin unveiled an ambitious programme of stepped-up space efforts through 2030. Despite the embarrassing loss of three navigational satellites in a rocket failure last year, Russia is to complete the deployment of its indigenous space navigation system, Glonass, this year. In 2012, Russia will take part in India's Chandrayaan-2 mission to the Moon, for which it is building a soft landing vehicle and a lunar rover. In 2013 Russia will launch its new rocket, Angara, in two modifications — light and heavy. By 2015, flight tests of the next-generation carrier, Rus-M, are to begin. A year later a new cosmodrome, Vostochny, is to come online in the country's Far East, where the bulk of space launches will be shifted from Baikonur, which Russia is renting from Kazakhstan.
Russia is developing a futuristic nuclear propulsion system for interplanetary flights, a project where "Russia's priority is indisputable," according to Mr. Putin.
Roscosmos plans to start manned flights to the Moon by the end of the decade and build a lunar base by 2030. The base will send back to earth helium-3, a potential valuable source of energy, and will serve as a staging post for a manned mission to Mars about a decade later. The Moon and Mars missions are likely to be international projects.
Russia's space budget for 2011 will be about $3.8 billion, still a fraction of NASA's proposed budget of $18.7 billion, but more than 10 times what it was a decade ago and sufficient "to set strategic goals, implement ambitious projects, and lay the groundwork for the future," Mr. Putin said.
LURED TO WORK WITH RADIATION
INTERVIEWS WITH PAST AND CURRENT WORKERS AT FUKUSHIMA DAIICHI AND OTHER PLANTS IN JAPAN PAINT A BLEAK PICTURE OF WHAT HAPPENS ON THE NUCLEAR CIRCUIT.
The ground started to buck at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, and Masayuki Ishizawa could scarcely stay on his feet. Helmet in hand, he ran from a workers' standby room outside the plant's No. 3 reactor, near where he and a group of workers had been doing repair work. He saw a chimney and crane swaying like weeds. Everybody was shouting in a panic, he recalled.
Mr. Ishizawa, 55, raced to the plant's central gate. But a security guard would not let him out of the complex. A long line of cars had formed at the gate, and some drivers were blaring their horns. "Show me your IDs," Mr. Ishizawa remembered the guard saying, insisting that he follow the correct sign-out procedure. And where, the guard demanded, were his supervisors?
"What are you saying?" Mr. Ishizawa said he shouted at the guard. He looked over his shoulder and saw a dark shadow on the horizon, out at sea, he said. He shouted again: "Don't you know a tsunami is coming?"
Mr. Ishizawa, who was finally allowed to leave, is not a nuclear specialist; he is not even an employee of the Tokyo Electric Power Company, the operator of the crippled plant. He is one of thousands of untrained, itinerant, temporary labourers who handle the bulk of the dangerous work at nuclear power plants here and in other countries, lured by the higher wages offered for working with radiation. Collectively, these contractors were exposed to levels of radiation about 16 times as high as the levels faced by Tokyo Electric employees last year, according to Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, which regulates the industry. These workers remain vital to efforts to contain the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima nuclear plants.
They are emblematic of Japan's two-tiered work force, with an elite class of highly paid employees at top companies and a subclass of labourers who work for less pay, have less job security and receive fewer benefits. Such labour practices have both endangered the health of these workers and undermined safety at Japan's 55 nuclear reactors, critics charge.
'Dangerous for them and safety'
"This is the hidden world of nuclear power," said Yuko Fujita, a former physics professor at Keio University in Tokyo and a long-time campaigner for improved labour conditions in the nuclear industry. "Wherever there are hazardous conditions, these labourers are told to go. It is dangerous for them, and it is dangerous for nuclear safety."
Of roughly 83,000 workers at Japan's 18 commercial nuclear power plants, 88 per cent were contract workers in the year that ended in March 2010, the nuclear agency said. At the Fukushima Daiichi plant, 89 per cent of the 10,303 workers during that period were contractors. In Japan's nuclear industry, the elite are operators like Tokyo Electric and the manufacturers that build and help maintain the plants like Toshiba and Hitachi. But under those companies are contractors, subcontractors and sub-subcontractors — with wages, benefits and protection against radiation dwindling with each step down the ladder.
Interviews with about a half-dozen past and current workers at Fukushima Daiichi and other plants paint a bleak picture of workers on the nuclear circuit: battling intense heat as they clean off radiation from the reactors' drywells and spent-fuel pools using mops and rags, clearing the way for inspectors, technicians and Tokyo Electric employees, and working in the cold to fill drums with contaminated waste.
Some workers are hired from construction sites, and some are local farmers looking for extra income. Yet others are hired by local gangsters, according to a number of workers who did not want to give their names.
They spoke of the constant fear of getting fired, trying to hide injuries to avoid trouble for their employers, carrying skin-coloured adhesive bandages to cover up cuts and bruises.
In the most dangerous places, current and former workers said, radiation levels would be so high that workers would take turns approaching a valve just to open it, turning it for a few seconds before a supervisor with a stopwatch ordered the job to be handed off to the next person. Similar work would be required at the Fukushima Daiichi plant now, where the three reactors in operation at the time of the earthquake shut down automatically, workers say.
"Your first priority is to avoid pan-ku," said one current worker at the Fukushima Daini plant, using a Japanese expression based on the English word puncture. Workers use the term to describe their dosimeter, which measures radiation exposure, from reaching the daily cumulative limit of 50 millisieverts. "Once you reach the limit, there is no more work," said the worker, who did not want to give his name for fear of being fired by his employer.
Takeshi Kawakami, 64, remembers climbing into the spent-fuel pool of the No. 1 reactor at the Fukushima Daiichi plant during an annual maintenance shutdown in the 1980s to scrub the walls clean of radiation with brushes and rags. All workers carried dosimeters set to sound an alarm if exposure levels hit a cumulative dose limit; Mr. Kawakami said he usually did not last 20 minutes.
"It was unbearable, and you had your mask on, and it was so tight," Mr. Kawakami said. "I started feeling dizzy. I could not even see what I was doing. I thought I would drown in my own sweat."
Since the mid-1970s, about 50 former workers have received workers' compensation after developing leukaemia and other forms of cancer. Health experts say that though many former workers are experiencing health problems that may be a result of their nuclear work, it is often difficult to prove a direct link. Mr. Kawakami has received a diagnosis of stomach and intestinal cancer.
News of workers' mishaps turns up periodically in safety reports: one submitted by Tokyo Electric to the government of Fukushima Prefecture in October 2010 outlines an accident during which a contract worker who had been wiping down a turbine building was exposed to harmful levels of radiation after accidentally using one of the towels on his face. In response, the company said in the report that it would provide special towels for workers to wipe their sweat.
Shielded from the media
Most day workers were evacuated from Fukushima Daiichi after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, which knocked out the plant's power and pushed some of the reactors to the brink of a partial meltdown.
Since then, those who have returned have been strictly shielded from the news media; many of them are housed at a staging ground for workers that is off limits to reporters. But there have been signs that such labourers continue to play a big role at the crippled power plant.
The two workers who were injured two weeks ago when they stepped in radioactive water were subcontractor employees. As of April 7, 21 workers at the plant had each been exposed to cumulative radiation levels of more than 100 millisieverts, or the usual limit set for nuclear plant workers during an emergency, according to Tokyo Electric. (That limit was raised to 250 millisieverts last month.)
The company refused to say how many contract workers had been exposed to radiation. Of roughly 300 workers left at the plant on April 7, 45 were employed by contractors, the company said.
Day labourers are being lured back to the plant by wages that have increased along with the risks of working there. Mr. Ishizawa, whose home is about a mile from the plant and who evacuated with the town's other residents the day after the quake, said he had been called last week by a former employer who offered daily wages of about $350 for just two hours of work at the Fukushima Daiichi plant — more than twice his previous pay. Some of the former members of his team have been offered nearly $1,000 a day. Offers have fluctuated depending on the progress at the plant and the perceived radiation risks that day. So far, Mr. Ishizawa has refused to return.
Working conditions have improved over the years, experts say. While exposure per worker dropped in the 1990s as safety standards improved, government statistics show, the rates have been rising since 2000, partly because there have been more accidents as reactors age. Moreover, the number of workers in the industry has risen, as the same tasks are carried out by more employees to reduce individual exposure levels.
Tetsuen Nakajima, chief priest of the 1,200-year-old Myotsuji Temple in the city of Obama near the Sea of Japan, has campaigned for workers' rights since the 1970s, when the local utility started building reactors along the coast; today there are 15 of them. In the early 1980s, he helped found the country's first union for day workers at nuclear plants.
The union, he said, made 19 demands of plant operators, including urging operators not to forge radiation exposure records and not to force workers to lie to government inspectors about safety procedures. Although more than 180 workers belonged to the union at its peak, its leaders were soon visited by thugs who kicked down their doors and threatened to harm their families, he said.
"They were not allowed to speak up," Mr. Nakajima said. "Once you enter a nuclear power plant, everything's a secret."
Last week, conversations among Fukushima Daiichi workers at a smoking area at the evacuees' centre focussed on whether to stay or go back to the plant. Some said construction jobs still seemed safer, if they could be found. "You can see a hole in the ground, but you can't see radiation," one worker said.
Mr. Ishizawa, the only one who allowed his name to be used, said, "I might go back to a nuclear plant one day, but I'd have to be starving." In addition to his jobs at Daiichi, he has worked at thermal power plants and on highway construction sites in the region. For now, he said, he will stay away from the nuclear industry.
"I need a job," he said, "but I need a safe job."— © New York Times News Service
CAN'T NAME THAT STAR? ASK THE TELESCOPE
Long-time stargazers learned the basics of the night sky the hard way — with pencils, star charts and lots of patience with their telescopes.
Now high-tech equipment and smartphone apps are making the task a lot less daunting for beginners.
New point-and-shoot telescopes, for example, require only the push of a button to go into action: Plunk one down in the driveway and the device gets its own bearings, aligning itself with the stars above so it can tell you that the twinkling light in the eyepiece is Betelgeuse.
Three models of these new, self-aligning telescopes will be offered this July. The company launching it says that it is intended for amateurs who don't have in-depth knowledge of the night sky, or may not even have a clue of how to set up a telescope.
Even seasoned astronomy experts are heralding such automation.
"I think the telescope that sets itself up, so anyone can easily use it, is great," said Jay Pasachoff, chairman of the astronomy department and director of the Hopkins Observatory at Williams College in Williamstown, Mass.
"This kind of telescope makes it possible for people to be out in their backyards and look at the most interesting astronomical objects within minutes."
To find its position and then recognise the stars above, the telescope has a digital camera that takes pictures of the sky. It then compares them with its computerised database of stored images, the company official said. The process typically takes less than three minutes.
Automated telescopes that can find celestial objects with no help from humans are not new. Telescopes have long had motors to drive them, allowing built-in processing and databases. Users of some older telescopes, for example, can choose "Saturn" from the menu on the hand controller, recentering the eyepiece over the planet.
But even these go-to telescopes, as they are known, must be set up properly, said Tom Kovach, customer service manager at Astronomics.com, based in Norman, Okla. "It only takes a few minutes to do this," he said, "but you have to be technically savvy, and some people are defeated by the process." Some of the instruments fill that last niche in automation, he said. "The go-to's make it easier, but they are only as good as the alignment you give them."
Amateur stargazers are also finding a wealth of data via low-cost technology like smartphone apps. Smartphones, with their cameras and abundant processing power, offer novel features that telescopes cannot.
For example, there is an application for iPhone and iPad that identifies bright stars or planets you can see in the night sky. It can also simulate a ride on a spacecraft taking you on a tour of distant planets.
Last year, the App Smart column of The New York Times reviewed several other astronomy-related apps including Star Walk (for the iPhone and the iPad) and Google Sky Map for Android phones (free).
The apps can lead to more telescope sales, said Mr. Kovach of Astronomics.com. "People come in with their phones," he said, on which they have looked at labelled versions of the night sky. "They say, 'I want to get a telescope to see this for real'."
For those who want to meld the benefits of telescopes with smartphones, attachments are available. A simple adapter clamps an iPhone directly onto the telescope eyepiece, said an official of the company based in West Melbourne, Fla. With that, users can take snapshots of Saturn, the moon, Jupiter and other bright objects via the telescope. "You won't get distant galaxies," he said, "but it will get you started."
Dr. Chris Lintott, director of citizen science at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago, said he believed that the availability of beginners' tools like apps and self-aligning telescopes would help drive interest in astronomy.
"People can find out much more easily what that bright thing in the sky is that interests them," he said. "And once they've found out that bright star is a planet, I think it's natural to want to learn more about it."— © New York Times News Service
PAID NEWS, CASH-FOR-VOTES, AND ELECTION COMMISSION
Over the last 18 months, the exposure of the unethical practice of publishing or broadcasting 'paid news' has created awareness among the people about how it corrupts the press as well as the democratic process. The Election Commission of India has risen to the occasion by tightening its vigil over the media as well as candidates, as part of its efforts to keep the on-going Assembly elections in four States and one Union Territory as clean as possible.
'Paid news,' selling news space under the table to candidates and dishonestly presenting the paid-for advertising as news, is a relatively recent arrival on the Indian electoral scene. Besides giving the client an advantage over the rival contestants, it helps him or her hide the money spent on paid news from the mandatory electoral expenditure accounts, thereby violating electoral laws. The Hindu played a key role in taking the issue to larger sections of people. Many journalists pressed for the intervention of organisations such as the Editors' Guild, besides the Press Council of India and the Election Commission, to stigmatise and put an end to the corrupt practice and initiate action against the guilty. It is heartening that the Election Commission has taken some initial steps to end the menace.
Corrupting the election process
A front page expose, "Cash for votes a way of political life in South India," in The Hindu (March 16, 2011), based on a report in "The India Cables," accessed by the newspaper through WikiLeaks, highlighted the various methods adopted by South Indian politicians in the 2009 Lok Sabha election to bribe voters. In a factually rich cable sent to the State Department on May 13, 2009 under the name of Frederick J. Kaplan, Acting Principal Officer of the U.S. Consulate-General in Chennai, we have a detailed account of "the role and impact of money power in corrupting the electoral process." Mr. Kaplan noted that the bribing of voters by political parties was "a regular feature of elections in South India." Referring to an Assembly by-election at Thirumangalam in Madurai District in 2009, the cable mentioned how party workers resorted to ingenious ways to distribute the bribe money, hoodwinking security officials and the workers of rival political parties. At Thirumangalam the payment was Rs. 5,000 per voter, possibly the highest ever bribe paid to a voter, according to the cable. This is now known as the "Thirumangalam formula," thanks to liberal usage of the term in Tamil periodicals.
Apart from the unprecedented rise in prices of essential commodities, the neglect of agriculture and growing unemployment, the major issues before the electorate in the current phase of the elections are the 2G-spectrum scam and the plethora of corruption scandals involving ruling party politicians at the Centre and in the States.
Although electoral malpractices and corruption in high places are not new to the people, apprehension of a possible scaling up of electoral malpractices and the violence they might result in has made the Election Commission step up its vigil in a big way. The challenge is particularly serious in Tamil Nadu and the shrill complaints and criticism heard from leaders of the parties ruling in the State and at the Centre speak to the ECI's rising to the challenge. The seizure of cash to the tune of at least Rs. 42 crore and of articles worth several crores of rupees carried by persons with no valid papers relating to the money in their possession only strengthens the case for stepped-up vigil by the Commission.
Chief Election Commissioner S.Y. Quraishi has done well to face the situation head-on and refute the charge that the Election Commission has exceeded its powers in Tamil Nadu. He has emphasised that the Commission was within its constitutional mandate and any criticism was "totally unfair and we dismiss it." He made it clear that holding free and fair elections was always the Commission's top priority and it would also seek to make the polls peaceful, transparent, and participative. His announcement that the Commission had asked officials to intensify search operations with a view to totally curbing "money power" has won much public appreciation and support.
It is encouraging to see the news media giving such wide publicity to the Election Commission's efforts to clean up the whole process. So far, so good.
THE ASIAN AGE
JAITAPUR PROJECT: TIME FOR RETHINK
The smoke alarm that went off at the 220MW Kaiga nuclear power plant in Karnataka's North Uttar Kannada district could well have been an alarm bell for the proposed 10,000MW nuclear park in Maharashtra's Jaitapur. Thankfully, in the Kaiga case, there was no fire behind the smoke and so the unit, shut down immediately after the
alarm went off, will restart in a week's time after some checks. We have not been told, however, what set off the smoke alarm, though a report is expected. On Jaitapur, which witnessed widespread protests by those residing in nearby villages, minister of state for environment Jairam Ramesh appears to have changed his mind. The "green" minister had earlier given it the go-ahead, even after the catastrophic nuclear disaster at Japan's Fukushima, but now he appears to be in favour of a comprehensive rethink. The agitation against the Jaitapur nuclear park had started long before the Japan earthquake/tsunami struck, but the protests intensified after the Fukushima disaster. The Maharashtra government, however, led by chief minister Prithviraj Chavan and senior minister Narayan Rane, had gone all out to convince villagers that nuclear power was a hundred per cent safe and trying to crush the protests. They even refused permission to the protesters to hold a memorial meeting to commemorate victims of the Japanese disaster, and several people were arrested and jailed. Mr Ramesh had at that time still been in favour of the nuclear park coming up there.
In the wake of the Fukushima disaster, all countries with nuclear power plants are reconsidering their programmes. Even China, which has the largest nuclear programme on its agenda, is having second thoughts. Only in India did the authorities insist that everything was safe. One wonders at the scientific basis for such confidence. There are also huge controversies around the EPR (evolutionary power reactor) technology that will be used for these plants. Major problems with this have been reported from Canada and South Africa. It is in this context that Mr Ramesh's letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh suggesting a rethink on Jaitapur assumes significance. This does not even take into account the gigantic rehabilitation effort that will be needed to resettle the estimated 27,000 families that will be affected. Besides its pious intentions, the government has still not come out with a concrete blueprint on this.
One other issue that Mr Ramesh has raised, and which needs to be considered without any loss of time, is the need to separate India's nuclear regulatory body from the parent department of atomic energy. At present, and in fact ever since its formation, the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board has functioned under the wing of the department of atomic energy. Many scientists had pointed out the anomaly in such a position as it makes a mockery of the presumed independence of such a board. Most other regulatory bodies, like those in the insurance and telecom sectors, are independent of their parent ministries, but not the AERB. Now that Mr Ramesh has suggested that public confidence in nuclear energy might improve if the regulator were not answerable to the department of atomic energy, it is to be hoped that the government will finally see reason. The AERB had, meanwhile, set up a high-level committee late last month to assess the preparedness of all existing Indian nuclear plants to handle various situations arising out of national disasters. One hopes its findings will be made known soon. Jaitapur, which falls in an earthquake zone of 4 magnitude (the highest is 5), but surprisingly the project's votaries have put it in zone 3. That, however, can in no way change the reality.
THE ASIAN AGE
LET IDEAS FLOW
The news of the week has been Anna Hazare's fast, and the tremendous media attention, which was focused upon it. The issue of fighting corruption in the public domain finds resonance with every Indian, and most people want to be part of a campaign that fights corruption. The why and how and the nuts and bolts of any
meaningful involvement will obviously have to be devised within the parameters of the Indian Constitution. To my mind, however, that's the most obvious form of involvement in issues of national interest and the most media attractive. Less media obvious and of equal public importance are social sector concerns such as health and education.
In recent years, the very definition of politics has changed and expanded in India. Social sector concerns such as those of health and sanitation, or education, have come into the mainstream of political discourse. If I were to use newspaper terminology, they have moved from page 19 to page one.
There are three reasons for this. First, as India's economy has grown and soared in recent years, it can no longer get away with crucial gaps in its provision of public health and education. These are goods and services that citizens will increasingly demand — and justifiably so — in a rising economy. The expectation will be that governments in New Delhi and in the states either provide these public goods or facilitate policies and measures that will do so.
Second, India's economic rise is underpinned by its demographic dividend, by the fact that it will have the largest population of working-age individuals in the first half of the 21st century. Yet, without crucial health, education and social sector interventions, will we be able to harness this demographic dividend and meet our economic potential? Can an economy with eight or nine per cent growth rate and a society with the largest collective of sick people — in absolute numbers — anywhere in the world co-exist?
These challenges and questions confront us every day. Only the other week, when the initial figures for the Census of 2010-11 were released, the pride of the wealthiest, most literate Indian populace since Independence sat uneasily with the embarrassment of the worst male-female sex ratio since 1947. Can this go on?
The answer to that question brings me to my third reason: the political commitment to the social sector. That the ambit of politics has expanded in the past few years, that public health access and education equity issues have come to the forefront and gained hitherto unprecedented attention in policymaking circles is to my mind the most heartening achievement of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government.
This is a reflection of the commitment to inclusive growth and holistic development that defines the public career of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi. Even more, this is a legacy that no successor government — irrespective of party or political affiliation — can efface for decades to come. The entire paradigm of political discourse, and of placing health and social sector issues within it, has been transformed.
Having said that, there is a vast space between intent and implementation, and that is where research and in-depth study into these implementation concerns assume critical importance. Today, India has what may be called the hardware to meet health and social sector goals. It has a robust government and public health framework, it has resources — its gross domestic product and public outlays are larger than ever before. However, it is deficient in what I would term the software: the ideas and innovations that will rejuvenate this hardware and optimise its achievements.
In simpler terms, India's health and education and social sector and welfare budgets are larger and bigger than ever in its history. The UPA government has been true to its promises here. Yet, the ideas for how this money would and should be well spent, the requisite devices and policies and methods of delivery remain a work in progress.
Paucity of ideas should not be the reason to pour more money into old and, in some cases, sub-optimal templates and strategies. This is particularly apparent in the states. Health and education are issues for state governments under India's Constitution; the Union government has limited powers and authority. It can propose overarching policy, it can provide the money, but the implementation and actual "doing" is in the hands of the states.
Yet, how does it ensure that state governments and local authorities take charge of the proverbial last mile; that they set up adequate and enough primary schools in that faraway village; that they provide quality healthcare, good doctors and nurses and a clean delivery or surgery room in a decidedly rural, underprivileged setting?
These are issues we need to think through. We need civil society, civil society organisations, NGOs and eminent citizens to work with the government and the bureaucracy instead of adopting adversarial positions which do not help anybody and achieve little except media hype.
They must be voices for processes and positions, not for personalities and partisanship. Credibility cannot exist in a vacuum. It needs to be institutionalised and structurally enhanced and protected.
Next, partnerships between the government, NGOs, private sector and the civil society are necessary as it is increasingly hard for a single actor to advocate policy change. There is a synergy here that is waiting to be recognised.
Also, the synergy and ideas which flow and are synchronised between important stakeholders have to embody the concept of developing innovative policy ideas and aggressively selling those ideas to the necessary stakeholders. It is critical to be able to understand the political and economic dimensions and work with a diversity of stakeholders to bring them on board. In other words, NGOs and civil society should not be adversarial to the political community and bureaucracy but need to engage them and build a successful alliance.
In the ultimate analysis, it is this balanced and nuanced approach that will help our democracy move forward, rather than any hostile approach.
Jayanthi Natarajan is a Congress MP in the Rajya Sabha and AICC spokesperson. The views expressed in this column are her own.
THE ASIAN AGE
NATION STILL NEEDS A LEADER LIKE GANDHI
Ironically as a controversial book questioned Mahatma Gandhi's sexuality, Anna Hazare, a quintessential Gandhian, captured the national imagination by his fast over combating corruption, an issue dogging the United Progressive Alliance government. He sought immediate enactment of legislation to appoint an ombudsman i.e.
Lokpal, the government disagreeing over its powers and independence. A simple Gandhian technique, met the power of electronic media, the social networking sites and popular revulsion over endless corruption scandals and the result was tumultuous. The government caught on the backfoot, turned mulish. How could it concede the power to legislate to self-appointed custodians of public good when that right vested in the elected representatives? The Jasmine Revolution triggered by the self-immolation of Tunisian Mohammed Bouazizi, which 28 days later, on January 11, 2011, ousted President Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali, had arrived in India.
The ouster of President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, the uprisings in Jordan, Syria, Bahrain and Yemen with the rulers still clutching to their chairs/thrones were a sign that the moral space for the common people in the Arab world had suddenly expanded, using Gandhian methods. India felt exempted from this virus as it was already a democracy, where periodic elections had the requisite cathartic effect, allowing the venting of popular emotions. The Anna Hazare tsunami challenges those assumptions.
A closer look at the socio-political factors engendering the upsurge in the Arab world is illuminating. The Economist magazine christens it the Shoe Throwers Index, listing the variables on a sliding scale as: population below age 25; years the government was in power; corruption and lack of democracy; Gross Domestic Product; censorship etc. The list thus derived coincides with the nations most in trouble. Add to that burgeoning economic inequality and oligarchs with billion-dollar sky-scrapers that can be seen by millions of shanty dwellers from their front door and the picture begins to resemble India. That is why Indians, young and old, rich and poor swarmed to the vigils, reclaiming the moral space the nation's founding fathers had recovered from the British but has since woefully shrunk.
Half of South Asia's 1.5 billion are below 25 years and three fourths live on less than $2 per day. Even in India migration from rural economy to jobs in the services and manufacturing sectors is mismatched, both on numbers and paucity of vocational skills. Surging Indian economy has accentuated economic disparity and amplified the scale of corruption, ranging from simple bribery to Radia-type influence peddling, or the Commonwealth Games' patronage or finally a cosy alliance between the government, big business and the entire political elite, tantamount to crony capitalism. Political parties apportion Rajya Sabha seats to money bags, one recently apprehended carrying a cache to a poll bound state. US President Theodore Roosevelt, the scourge of robber barons at the dawn of 20th century, advised that "...to dissolve the unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics is the first task of the statesman of the day".
India is a democracy, with a constitutional separation of powers and a rule of law. However, unprecedented generation of wealth is creating distortions. The Supreme Court supervising CBI's 2G scam enquiry is a symptom that systemic collapse is resulting in ad hoc solutions, Take the UN Convention Against Corruption of 2003, which India signed but has not ratified. It prescribes, inter alia, the installation of anti-corruption bodies and election campaign reform. Mr Hazare has put his finger on the problem, the malaise however demands systemic reform and not the mere addition of another office.
Supervening authority to an empowered Lok Pal, as a roving conscience of the three branches of the state i.e. the executive, the judiciary and the legislature would be impractical and even dangerous. As Roman poet Juvenal warned in his Satires, "Who is to guard the guards themselves?" Institutions like the Central Bureau of Investigation, Central Vigilance Commission, Competition Commission etc. are controversial or ineffective as their success depends on who mans them.
Mr Hazare has proclaimed that reform has only begun and the agenda is long. Success may be difficult to repeat, as the demonstrators in Tahrir Square, Cairo, are realising. Rare it is when man and the moment combine, as it did at Jantar Mantar. Pandit Nehru once violently disagreed with Gandhiji over the withdrawal of an agitation that had turned violent but was beginning to hurt the British. If Ms Hazare can persist, the reform should include state funding of elections and campaign reform, making inner-party democracy mandatory to break the hereditary control of families over political parties and the debarring of criminals from electoral politics. Government will react even as the great reformer President Roosevelt did: "I do not represent the public interest: I represent the public". Whether Mr Hazare can make public's representatives mindful of public's interest only time will tell, but the nation still needs a Gandhi and the world Gandhian inspiration is now established.
Following the dastardly murder of Maulana Showkat Ahmad Shah, the news of ultras having masterminded the assassination plot from across the border in PoK has come in through an interception monitored by the army. It is revealing though not unprecedented. The difference is that now the army and our intelligence establishment is better equipped digitally to monitor the exchange of messages through satellite and impose effective control on clandestine crossing on the border. Of course, if the messages could be monitored in advance, though in some case it has been done, the impending blast of IED explosions could be averted. Hopefully that too will be achieved shortly. But reverting to the subject in hand, and relying on relevant input from the army, it is clear that promotion of terrorism has not only stopped but rather intensified from across the border. This belies all the sweet words emanating from Pakistani ruling circles about their denying the terrorists the use of Pakistani soil for perpetrating terror against India. All this talk of change of hearts is nothing but eyewash. In fact, what has been intercepted clearly shows that renewed tactics of terrorism are going to be adopted by the ultras in due course of time. Their prime motivator, the ISI, has brought pressure on them to indulge in killing and subversion so that peace and harmony in the valley are disrupted. The ISI is uneasy with the ease that has prevailed in the valley for some months now and the measures that the union and state governments are taking to remove peoples' alienation. The snow on high mountains is melting and passes are now open for crossing over difficult terrains. It has been already stated by army commanders that a sizable number of militants are assembled along the LoC to infiltrate into the valley. With the onset of summer, they will try to push into this side of LoC. ISI is goading them into a major strike in the valley. In the course of this subversive plan, the ISI has revived its old game of disinformation campaign by way of supplementing the process of disruption and turmoil in Kashmir.
The art of disinformation has a long history and can be traced to Machiavelli. It is a dormant facet of state terrorism. The tactics is to convey baseless, distorted and malicious news and commentaries for public consumption on the basis of the understanding that the public is weak in having independent judgment and assessment or is easily carried away by religion-oriented propaganda. By inciting the masses to something sacrilegious or something that scratches deep-set traditions would work as matchstick to a keg of gunpowder. This is facilitated by powerful electronic and print media that has over-reached almost all aspects of life in modern times. People have little time to sit down and introspect on what is being fed by the media. They believe what their eyes see or ears hear forgetting that there could be fake radio stations, fake news or tele broadcasts, fake announcers and fake data. All this falls under the category of disinformation. Events are blown out of proportion to create sensation or suppressed to maximum levels to keep the public opinion guessing. Sometimes the truth wells up into the public awareness regardless of what the media does to bury it. When this occurs their only recourse is to attempt to change the public's focus and thereby distract them from the truth they were so close to grasping. The media accomplishes this by "over-reporting" on a subject that has nothing to do with the more important issues at hand. Ironically, the media can take an unimportant story, and by reporting on it ad nauseum, cause many to assume that because the media won't shut-up about it, it must be important! An example of this is the message to the local handlers of LeT to spread the canard that Maulana Showkat was killed by a conspiracy hatched by the security forces. The purpose, as indicated, was to creat turmoil in Kashmir. and thus add one more achievement to their long list of sabotages. Disinformation campaign of the ISI is integral to armed insurgency ever since turmoil began in 1990. For example, a canard of the then governor Jagmohan asking the valley Hindus to leave Kashmir so that he could take punitive actions against the remaining masses in the valley was so strongly and so intensively spread that even today the canard has many buyers in Kashmir. Likewise, the falsehood of Molavi Muhammad Farooq and Abdul Ghani Lone being eliminated by the security forces is still making rounds among militant circles. Such is the force and intensity of disinformation campaign that no amount of countering it could succeed. In the case of assassination of the religious leader, nobody has any doubt that the assassins are the armed insurgents receiving directions from across the LoC. The question arises t what have the masses of people responded to by observing the wholesale strike? The call had come from the separatists to observe a state-wide strike that has affected life throughout the valley, the towns and villages? Against whom is this protest strike? Obviously, as it is against the militants and their dastardly acts of liquidating Kashmir leadership, why shouldn't millions of people come out in a large protest rally and demanded the militants lay down their arms and call a day to armed insurgency? Why did not the separatists and nationalists go in big processions to the headquarters of the UN and demand UN take some meaningful action to prevent Kashmir related jihadis from acts of murder, mayhem and subversion. Why does not an Anna Hazare spring from the masses of Kashmir valley who would sit down on hunger strike before the UN and American and other big western embassies in New Delhi to demand immediate closure of terrorist training camps in PoK and Pakistan and surrender of their leaders to Indian authorities? Why did the mainstream political leadership confine themselves to just few words of condolence but did not mobilize their party workers to demand the world body especially the US that Pakistan shut down terrorist camps on its territory? It is all right to pay a courtesy call on the bereaved family members, but it is another thing to give a call to the masses of India to strengthen their conviction in secular democracy along which the nation is walking today. True reverence to and appreciation of the sacrifice of precious life made by Maulana Showkat Shah, mean adhering to and propagating vigorously the truth for which he stood all his life. The widespread ban in Srinagar was actually a protest by the protestors against their own self-deception and their willing suspension of disbelief.
BY PROF. BHIM SINGH
On 20th March, 1815 when Napoleon returned as a victor to France thousands Frenchmen gathered at Republic Square in Paris to welcome him as a leader of the revolution. While the exit of Louis XVIII the last king of France was being celebrated with French wines and Champaign's by the French revolutionaries, Napoleon commanded Frenchmen from the Republic Square to go back to work and that was all. Several thousands among the audience screemed, asking Napoleon; Oue Aue Revolucion (where is the revolution)? Angry Napoleon shouted, 'Le Revolucion, a Finite' (The Revolution is finished). The French history has been witnessed the rule, no less authoritarian, than the rule of the Louis of France.
Massive, unprecedented and one of the most popular uprising of the people of Spain was witnessed by the entire Europe in the first quarter of the 19th century. A noted military man, General Franco, himself jumped into the revolutionary fray against the king. He gave a call to all the Spaniards residing in different European countries to join the revolution which made thousands of youth, Spanish labourers, intellectuals and all to return to Spain from European countries to join the Spanish revolution against the Carlos, the king of Spain. The king fled the country and General Franco took over the reins of revolution in 1936. His dictatorship for four decades suppressed the seedlings of the revolution. Before his death in 1975 he issued a decree ensuring the return of Prince Carlos (son of the deposed king) to Spain as its King again.
China's world-famed leader of the revolution, Mao Tse Tung took over the reins of power in 1949 after Chiang Kai-shek fled the mainland. Promises of freedom of expression and liberty of thought and equality were thrown to the winds. China has everything except human rights and freedom of thought and expression.
In 1969 a young Army Officer from an unknown Tribe ousted king of Libya He assured 'Libyan' people of equality and justice through his Green Book for four decades. When people got education, they followed the spirit of his Green Book. Col. Gaddafi treated them with bullets. The people thought they were cheated by their leader. They goes the Ultimate Revolution.
The people of India demonstrated their will for a change and in support of total revolution led by India's veteran socialist leader Shri Jaiprakash Narayan in the middle of the seventies. The mighty Congress led by India's unmatchable leader, Mrs. Indira Gandhi was thrown out of power by the people in 1977. Revolution, it appeared, was total. The 'total revolution' did not survive for a full term of the Parliament even. The same Congress leadership which was rejected by the people as 'authoritarian' and 'corrupt' returned to power through the power of ballot. The victor Mrs. Indira Gandhi was assassinated in her official residence before she could do the needful.
India, six decades after it achieved constitutional freedom from the colonial rule has witnessed mounting corruption among the echelons of power and pillars of democracy, the bureaucrats. The ruling politicians combined with 'foxy bureaucracy' stood exposed of their corrupt rule from fodder scam to commonwealth games and then spectrums after spectrums. It is for the first time in the history that the ministers have not only been fired for being corrupt but have been sent to jails on their corrupt deals. It is for the first time that the highest judicial authority of India, Supreme Court, has directed the echelons of power to disclose the names of those who had stolen state wealth and deposited their moneys in foreign banks. Several bureaucrats and politicians are lodged in prisons and most of them are awaiting their public trials. Even the corrupt have no arguments in their favour, instead, they have also joined the campaign against corruption. It is like a thief shouting to catch the thief. It is for the first the times in the 60 years history of Independent-India that the practicing lawyers have raised their fingers against their 'Lords' sitting in the seats of judgments. Corruption has become the rule of law and there is not a single person in power who can afford to defend himself even if he is truly honest.
It was in this background and under that situation that an elderly man identified as a Gandhian arrived in the national capital in the company of some notables (not politicians), identified as clean men of the civil society. Shri Anna Hazare started his fast demanding a stricter enactment against corruption. He demanded a Lok Ayukt for the trial of all privileged men in the society should be armed with elephant's teeth. This author shot a letter to Anna Hazare reminding him of an unfortunate end of the total revolution that Shri Jaiprakash Narayan has dreamt of so genuinely in the middle of seventies. His movement was against the 'authoritarian rule' and for the return of democracy as the people thought the emergency had eloped with democracy. He succeeded, though, partially. But total revolution disappeared with the disappearance of Lok Nayak Jaiprakash Narayan. With Anna's four days fast entire India stood mobilized and the people from different walks of life rather from all walks of life hoped that Hazare's fast would usher into corruption-less era and the corrupt shall march off the political domain leaving democracy in the hands of its genuine custodians chosen by the electorates.
Shri Anna Hazare remained on fast at Jantar Mantar the whole day but his companions moved him to some secured place for the night. The visitors wondered about his disappearance in the nights. Many started inquiring whether Gandhiji used to stay away from his fasting venue in the night? The champions of Lok Ayukt enactment might have doubted the capability of Delhi's security men to provide them protection.
The question arises whether enactment of a law by the Parliament shall deter the highly placed politicians and high-profile bureaucrats from indulging in their routine corruption? There is death sentence for committing a murder or conspiring against the state. Have these laws stopped murders or conspiracies? There are strong anti-corruption laws in the Penal Code. Have such laws stopped thefts or crimes? Above all, the prosecutors play very important role in collecting evidence and projecting such evidence before the trial courts. The prosecutors shall remain unchanged, the judges are the same. From where justice shall flow unto the people. Of course, the great intellectuals, thinkers, the supermen in the civil society and the media shall have to wait till the dooms day of the corrupt politicians. The government has every excuse from this day that they have fulfilled the aspirations of the people to fight corruption by formulating an Anti-Corruption Law and appointing toothful Lok Ayukt in response to the people's wish.
If laws could bring desired results and deliver justice? This proposition may be matched with a story of Victorian era. Queen Victoria enacted a law to respect the desire of the Britain that 'death' sentence should be awarded to the 'pick-pocketers' in public. At Trafalgar Square, London, 20,000 people came to witness the public hanging of a pick-pocketer. On their return from the scene, 80% found their pockets were picked.
This author in his letter addressed to Anna Hazare, a day before he terminated his fast, had expressed the voice of over one billion people in India against corruption, communalism and criminalization particularly among the politicians. The people had expressed total solidarity with Shri Anna Hazare hoping that he may lead the revolution for the establishment of a corruption free society so that India leads the world for the promotion of total disarmament, peace and development of the wretched of the earth. Shall a Lok Ayukt end corruption?
At Jantar Mantar, this author met many youth from different parts of the country who looked highly disappointed asking the same question 'Where is the revolution gone?' which they dreamt the other day.
BY DR BHARAT JHUNJHUNWALA
About a third of our fellow citizens do not have access to electricity. This is not due to shortage of generation, though. A study by National Power Training Institute tells that a hilly state like Himachal Pradesh had provided electricity to 95 percent of households in 2004 itself. Even a 'backward' state like Madhya Pradesh had reached electricity to 70 percent of the households. Performance of the 'developed' states pales into insignificance in comparison. Gujarat has provided electricity to only 80 percent and Kerala to 70 percent of the households. This indicates that the real lacuna is absence of political will to reach electricity to the poor.
About four crore households do not have electricity today. Provision of electricity at lifeline consumption of 30 units per month would require 1.2 billion units per month. Generation in the country is about 67 billion units per month presently. Therefore, diversion of mere 2 percent of present generation is sufficient to provide electricity to all households.
Real problem is that the available electricity is captured by the upper classes for their luxury use. Not enough remains for the poor. The electricity bill of a prominent Mumbai industrialist is Rs 70 lacs per month. The stronger boy in the family will eat away the food of the weak child if the mother does not intervene. Similarly, the upper classes are consuming the electricity and depriving the poor because the Government is failing to intervene in favour of the latter.
It is doubtful whether the consumption by the rich is adding to human welfare. The poor use electricity mostly for light and fan and sometimes for running desert cooler, fridge and TV. This leads to a distinct improvement in their welfare. But consumption of electricity by the rich for running air-conditioners, washing machines, dish washers, geysers, freezers and reflected lighting may not add much to welfare of the people of the country. Experts at University of Cape Town have studied the relationship between the Human Development Index (HDI) and consumption of electricity using data for about 100 countries. HDI is based on income, literacy and health status of the people and is the most acceptable measure of welfare of the people. Experts found that the HDI increases hugely from 0.2 to 0.75 as per capita electricity consumption increases from 0 to 1000 units per year. However, increase in HDI is small as consumption increases thereafter. Increase of electricity consumption from 1000 to 9000 units per capita leads to a small increase in HDI from 0.75 to 0.82. Consumption of the first 1000 units leads to an increase in HDI of 0.55. But further increase of consumption to 9000 units leads to a paltry increase of 0.07. This indicates that this huge consumption of electricity is not adding much to the welfare of the people. Conversely, a reduction in consumption by the rich will lead to small decline in HDI while supply of the same electricity to the poor will lead to a huge increase in HDI. Welfare of the people, therefore, will be attained by diverting the present consumption from the rich to the poor. Reduction of food intake by the obese and giving that to the sickly poor leads to enhancement of welfare of both. Similarly, diversion of electricity from the rich to poor will lead to welfare of both. The rich will take a walk in fresh morning air instead of breathing stale air from the air-conditioner.
Increased generation of electricity is not necessary for securing economic growth either, it seems. According to data released by the Central Electricity Authority, demand for electricity is increasing more for domestic consumption. The rate of growth of domestic consumption is 7.4 percent per year against only 2.7 percent for productive sectors. We are generating electricity more for the luxury of the rich and less for economic growth.
The share of services sector is increasing rapidly in our economy. This sector includes software, call centers, clinical research, education, health, movies, etc. Share of this sector in our economy was 30 percent in 1951. It has become about 60 percent today. Its share is about 90 percent in developed countries like the United States. The requirement of electricity in this sector is less. An army of engineers can produce software worth a crore of rupees with small consumption of electricity. Nearly ten times more electricity is required to produce a crore rupees worth of cement or steel. The requirement of electricity for economic growth is less because growth is coming from the services sector.
Example of the developed countries is often citied in favour of the need for rapid increase in generation. Indeed, the consumption of electricity and incomes are both high in these countries. But the conclusion that increase in generation is the source of their economic progress is not correct. The falsity in the logica can be explained by an example. We would find that the age and consumption of cloth of the people increase together. It can thus be concluded that wearing more cloth leads to an increase in age! The truth obviously is that increase in age leads to higher consumption of cloth. Similarly, the developed countries consume more electricity because they are developed. They are not developed because they consume more electricity.
The ability of mother earth to produce electricity is ultimately limited. Forests are cut and Green House Gasses emitted in the generation of thermal power. Thermal plants routinely discharge hot water in rivers and kill fishes to save money in making of cooling towers. Nuclear power carries the risk of radioactive leakages as seen in Japan. We are also pawning our economic sovereignty by becoming dependent on imported uranium. Hydro power is probably the worst of the conventional sources of electricity. Water of our rivers ferments in the reservoirs. Ashes of the dead are immersed in the sullied waters. Pray! Will that beget them salvation? Hydro projects trap sediments and are leading to rapid erosion of our coasts. They obstruct the migratory routes of fishes and lead to their extinction. Huge amount of methane gas is generated from the reservoirs. This gas is more poisonous than Carbon dioxide and adds hugely to global warming that is imperiling the very existence of our civilization.
Our Government is determined to secure a huge increase in generation of electricity under the false premise that environmental and spiritual costs of generation are less and benefits are large. We should rise above this misinformation. We should make policy for just distribution of available electricity. We should focus on increase in economic growth from services sector which does not require much electricity. We should not destroy our social cohesion and environment for luxury of the rich as being pushed by the Prime Minister and Minister of Power.
BY RAYAZ AHMED MALIK
Government of Jammu & Kashmir is claiming to introduce Computers and Information Technology at department level in the state. To do this the Jammu & Kashmir Information Technology (JKIT) Department created in 2004, is entrusted to link the departments at state, divisional, district and Tehsil/Block Levels. The JKIT has also proposed a structure to implement the information technology through CICs and SWAN PoPs. It has also proposed an organization structure for the recruitment of professionals. But there is a flaw in its organization structure and is not appropriate in accordance with the implementation of information technology in the state.
For some vested interests JKIT has made a provision to include the semi-professional or non-technical people to carry out this tubby assignment. It is pertinent to mention here that JKIT, in its structure, has identified the posts of Computer Engineers and Programmers but it is ironic to learn that the eligibility of these posts is kept as B.Sc./M.Sc.(Physics/Maths/Statistics), B.Sc./M.Sc.(IT), BCA/ MCA, PGDCA, DoEACC Courses, etc. These people are not well aware of technical knowledge and have no such exposure to handle such kind of tasks in the state. The people having such qualifications cannot countenance this challenge as most of them are pass outs from study centers of Universities which are either not recognized or are imparting knowledge just to boost their income and thus making our brethren handicapped to work with zeal and zest anywhere in Government or Private sector.
For instance, e-Governance project of Government of Jammu & Kashmir is not being implemented due to lack of fully technical power. To carry out such assignments and exigent jobs, the JKIT Department should employ technical people from engineering background, i.e; B.E./B.Tech/Three Yrs Diploma Holders in Computer and IT Engineering. A large number of Computer Engineers are sitting idle at their homes as they cannot afford the expenditure of passports, visas etc. to go abroad to utilize their talents and skills and earn their livelihoods. Thus the JKIT Department, in collaboration with Department of Technical Education, should frame a policy to identify all the departments where these Computer Engineers can be given job opportunities so that they may not experience an alienation and deprivation from the class and status of their counterparts' i.e; Electrical, Electronics, Mechanical and other Engineers. They should be considered under the same rules, regulations and policies meant for the engineers of other departments. There should not be any bias or indiscrimination to any of the engineering youth. They should feel to stand under the same roof of engineers. Instead they may not be amalgamated with other average computer literate persons having done BCA, MCA, BIT, MIT, PGDCA and other such courses, who have no significance in juxtaposition to engineering pass outs. Such persons should be employed against ministerial and other teaching, non-teaching and administrative posts for Computer Applications in educational institutions, Departments and other organizations and should not be employed for technical jobs meant for computer engineers.
JKIT department should identify all such departments at divisional and district levels where at least one computer engineer can be employed to cater to technical needs of the department. Their services can be utilized to train the clerical staff of a department or organisation in a district. He shall manage networking to link all the offices with its district headquarter and thus facilitating the centralization of a department. This thing would speed up the functioning of departments and the people would be able to get the quick services at ease. These computer engineers can also help to make a link of department to its Divisional and State headquarters which would take less time in inter-correspondence and inter-communication of departments. The general masses and the officials itself will be able to access any processing or information directly from anywhere in the state.
Computer Engineers can be employed in Civil Secretariat at twin capital cites of Jammu and Srinagar to help technically the Government Departments. They can technically manage each and every wing or organization of a department directly from capital cities extending their reach to remote areas of the state.
A FEATHER IN ANNA'S CAP
BUT THERE ARE HUGE CHALLENGES AHEAD
IT is a matter of much relief that social activist Anna Hazare has ended his fast-unto-death following the Union Government's issuance of a notification to set up a joint committee of five Union ministers and five representatives of civil society to deliberate on the long-pending Lokpal Bill. With the committee expected to work with an unfamiliar sense of urgency to finalize a draft bill that would then go before Parliament for adoption in the ensuing monsoon session of Parliament, a legislation that has been 42 years in the making has apparently finally come to the threshold of adoption. While Anna has become a symbol of hope for millions of people who are outraged by the rampant corruption around them, there is a lesson for the country's powers-that-be that there is a new awakening among the youth which can prove their undoing if politicians in general do not mend their ways.
However, as Anna Hazare pointed out as he spoke before breaking his 98-hour long fast, "our responsibility has increased after the first success that we have received after this notification. It is a long road ahead. We have to put more pressure on the government to eradicate corruption." It is not the time for euphoria and complacency. The Lokpal Bill is only the first in the series of battles civil society needs to wage to deal with the awesome politician-bureaucrat-business nexus which is often deleterious. The manner in which black money rules the roost in the country, the honest are being squeezed and tormented as never before.
Civil society must realize, however, that while it must hasten the process of reform and zealously guard national interest, the ultimate responsibility of preparing the legislation on the Lokpal must rest with Parliament. There cannot be any shortcuts to the process for debating the bill when it comes before the two Houses. The positive from the just-concluded phase of the agitation is the sense of awakening and the signal that would predictably have seeped into the conscience of the corrupt. The negative that must be avoided is the arrogance that could stem from a mob mentality. Anna Hazare deserves the nation's gratitude but it is incumbent on him and his loyal band of supporters to keep the movement insulated from self-seekers and other vested interests.
SEX RATIO, LITERACY RATE IMPROVE
AS in other states, Census-2011 has collected copious and invaluable data about population, gender and literacy in Punjab. These provisional statistics have to be seen from three different perspectives. One, how do the figures compare with the situation that existed a decade ago or earlier? Two, what is the overall situation today and, three, how has the state performed in comparison to other states? Obviously, there are miles to go on every front but what is heartening is that there is considerable improvement overall. Let us take the population growth to begin with. While the decadal growth was 20.10 per cent in 1991-2001, it was only 13.73 per cent in 2001-2011. Although partly it could be because there is a dip in migration, there is apparently more awareness about family planning as well. There is need for greater stress on curbing population growth because the state already has 27.7 million mouths to feed.
In 2001, there were only 876 females for 1000 males. Now the sex ratio stands at a slightly healthier 893. This improvement is pretty widespread, with every district having over 800 girls for 1,000 boys. More important is the sex ratio among children in the 0-6 age group, because that reflects the gender bias more accurately. Although it has gone up from 798 in 2001 to 846 in 2011, Punjab is still among the worst performers in the country.
Similarly, the literacy rate, which was only 34.12 per cent in 1971, now stands at 76.7 per cent. Significantly, the gap in literacy between males and females has come down considerably. While in 1971, 42 per cent males and 24 per cent males were educated, now it is 81.5 per cent males and 71.03 per cent females. The policy planners ought to continue promoting female education till they come on a par with their male counterparts. Punjab is one of the prosperous states of the country. It should take a lead in all positive parameters instead of being just an also-ran. Movements like "Nanhi Chhan" have come to the aid of the daughters but a lot more remains to be done.
DESPERATE BID TO FOMENT TROUBLE IN J&K
THE Jamaat Ahle Hadees, a religious organisation which does not believe in giving much importance to shrines, has been a peace-loving movement. Yet militants killed its Kashmir unit chief, Maulana Showkat Ahmed Shah, while he was on the way to leading Friday prayers in a Srinagar mosque on April 8. His "crime" was that he condemned violence and did not support separatist ideas. Two other prominent religious personalities of Kashmir, Mirwaiz Mohammad Farooq of Central Kashmir and Anantnag Mirwaiz Qazi Nisar, who lost their lives at the hands of militants in the past belonged to different schools of Islamic thought. But they too were opposed to the ways of militants. The conclusion is obvious: those who talk of peace in Kashmir are not safe even today.
Interestingly, the Ahle Hadees cleric has been killed soon after the General Officer Commanding, 15 Corps, Lt-Gen S. A. Hasnain, told a gathering in Handwara that the "training camps in PoK are full and the militants trained there are waiting to infiltrate into Kashmir. So, we can't say that militancy is on the decline". He has proved correct: when militants are getting trained across the border, it is not possible to eliminate the scourge root and branch. Their training camps must get dismantled by Pakistan in the interest of peace and stability in the subcontinent. It is surprising that the authorities in Islamabad are allowing these camps to exist despite Pakistan having promised many times in the past that it would ensure that no territory under its control was used for promoting militancy in India or any other country.
If Pakistan really gets tough with Kashmir-bound militant outfits, these anti-peace movements would die their natural death. Very few people is Jammu and Kashmir now subscribe to the militant viewpoint. These destructive organisations have virtually no support base in Kashmir today. That is why in desperation they are adopting tactics to revive militancy in a big way. One can see through their designs in blaming organisations like the Bajrang Dal and the Shiv Sena. There is need to hold a thorough probe to establish the identity of Maulana Showkat's killers.
PAKISTAN IN DIFFICULT STRAITS
ITS ARMY MUST RETIRE TO THE BARRACKS
BY LT-GEN KAMAL DAVAR (RETD)
THE architect of Pakistan, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, in his inaugural speech on August 11, 1947, to the newly constituted Pakistan National Assembly outlined his vision for his infant nation. Jinnah unequivocally expressed to his predominantly Muslim legislators that "You are free, you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or any other place of worship in the state of Pakistan". The newly born Muslim nation's Quaid-e-Azam (Supreme Leader) further clarified that "You may belong to any religion or caste or creed — that has nothing to do with the business of the state".
Six decades later the inclusive dreams of Pakistan's creator lie fully shattered at the altar of worsening Islamic radicalisation — a collapsing economy, a sham democracy, a weak government gasping for army-administered oxygen to survive, an army bigger than the state and the sole arbiter of its destiny. Pakistan displays all the attributes of a failing state with its very existence at stake. Jinnah rightly envisioned an "ideological balance" in his nation, but surprisingly, it was the rule of an army dictator, Gen Zia-ul-Haq which sowed the seeds of Islamic fanaticism corroding even state institutions, including the army. This strategic blunder caused much damage from which Pakistan has not been able to rescue itself and is now sliding down inexorably to an ominous destination which may have grave repercussions for the entire region.
Pakistan remains the hub of terror and instability. The terror machine and the terror infrastructure it developed, for operations in India and Afghanistan, is haunting it now with frequent blasts targeting innocent Pakistani civilians, religious shrines, high profile army and intelligence assets, etc. The recent assassinations of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti, the sole Christian minister in the Pakistani cabinet, within weeks of each other, both for supporting the repeal of the one-sided blasphemy law portends the dangerous slide towards Islamic fundamentalism. Prominent Washington Post journalist Thomas Friedman recently expressed that " What are we doing spending $110 billion this year supporting corrupt and unpopular regimes in Afghanistan and Pakistan that are almost identical to the governments we're applauding the Arab people for overthrowing?"
Pakistan continues with its myopic and inimical policies towards both India and Afghanistan forgetting the basic tenets and usefulness of good neighbourliness in today's changing world. It persists with double-dealing with its financial mentor, the US, by its duplicitous participation with them in the so-called war against terror. It continues its patronage of fundamentalist parties like the Jamaat-e-Islami, the Jamat-ud-Dawa and its terror syndicate, the now internationally banned Lashkar-e-Toiba(LET) and the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen for anti-India operations in Kashmir. Obsessed with its outdated fixation for "strategic depth" in Afghanistan, Pakistan has kept supporting the Haqqani network, the anti-US Afghani Taliban and the old warlord, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar in the hope of having a pro-Islamabad government in Kabul as and when the US departs from Afghanistan. Thus, it remains not overly enthusiastic in taking on the Afghani Taliban and Al-Qaeda elements in the badlands of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and South Waziristan. In keeping with its highly anti-India stance in Afghanistan, Pakistan through its ISI and local agents persists in targeting Indian personnel engaged in development activities in Afghanistan, not even sparing the Indian Embassy in Kabul by targeting it twice.
A Washington-based NGO, the Fund for Peace along with the prestigious magazine, Foreign Policy, based on a survey of 177 countries, has ranked Pakistan as the 10th most failed state with Somalia as the first and Afghanistan at number 7. Myanmar is ranked 13th and India at a respectable 87th ! Norway ranks as the most stable country in the world. The survey adjudges Pakistan as the world's most dangerous country and the areas astride the Durand Line and especially FATA and South Waziristan as the sanctuary of the top leadership and cadres of Al-Qaeda, and the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban. It notes that since 2009 nearly 3 million Pakistani civilians have been uprooted owing to counter-insurgency operations — "the largest single movement of people since the Rwandan genocide. The report also opines that President Asif Zardari heads a lame-duck government which has virtually no control over its nuclear-armed forces or the ISI, which nurtures the Afghan Taliban. An assortment of political, economic and social indicators, including developmental indices, also point to the precarious state of Pakistan.
As the leading country in South Asia and its immediate neighbour, India has a vital stake in the stability of a nuclear Pakistan. For years, India has made many friendly overtures to it in the larger interest of peace in the subcontinent, including the offer of a no-war pact by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Pakistan over five years back. He showed political courage in inviting his Pakistani counterpart to the World Cup semi-final cricket match at Mohali. Now Pakistan has to seriously introspect to ensure its own existence as a progressive and moderate nation-state.
The first and foremost step the Pakistanis need to adopt is to eschew utilising terror as an extension of state policy and stop support to terrorists of all hues, countless-terror organisations and dismantling the terror infrastructure. It must whole-heartedly participate in the war on terror in cooperation with the US, India, Afghanistan and Iran. Pakistan must realise that ensuring good neighbourly relations with India, in particular, is not a zero-sum game and it will itself benefit immensely. Pakistan must comprehend the fact that India does not behave as a regional hegemon and all outstanding problems can be resolved in a spirit of mutual accommodation.
However, it has to discard the export of terror to India, overcome its Kashmir-fixation and must appreciate the current ground realities. Whether Pakistan can ever achieve true democracy or not is, in reality, their problem but even under an army dispensation, it can strive for improvement in its relations with India for mutual benefit. Pakistan must never forget its many perilous faultlines, and only when it accords respect and succour to its minorities and the hapless people of Baluchistan and Sindh will its internal situation improve.
Meanwhile, the Pakistan army has to meticulously ensure the security of its nuclear wherewithal to prevent them from falling into wrong hands as the world fears. To survive and become a modern and moderate state as envisioned by its founder, Pakistan has to change tack. Perhaps, its most powerful state institution, the Pakistan army, has to take the lead and finally retire to the barracks!
The writer was the first Chief of the Defence Intelligence Agency
BY RACHNA SINGH
MY son was a student in one of the well-known schools of the city. Things seemed to be going well when mid-session I received a note from the class teacher saying that he had received several 'de-merits' in the preceding fortnight.
The school had an in-house incentive-disincentive system whereby a child was awarded 'merits' for performing well and punished with a demerit for breaking rules. Greatly perturbed, I sought an appointment with the teacher and met her the very next day. The teacher admitted to being completely mystified by the sudden slew of de-merits. She shook her head sorrowfully and kept muttering: 'He was such a good boy.' With some trepidation I asked her what the problem was. She consulted some notes and whispered conspiratorially: 'He was caught talking in class'. She squinted at the notes some more and like a baton master directing the build-up of a crescendo announced: 'He was rude to the monitor'.
'Monitor?' I spluttered in shock. 'Is he the deciding authority on handing out demerits,' I asked in disbelief. The teacher nodded her head proudly. 'Ours is a mini-democracy', she intoned smugly. I left somewhat precipitately fearing I would vent out my frustration if I didn't.
Back home, I cornered my son and sat him down for a heart-to-heart. I looked him in the eye and asked him what the problem was. He looked back calmly and with a wisdom far exceeding his 13 years asked me point blank if I was ready to listen to his truth. At my nod he announced: 'The monitor is very fond of chips and kurkure'. I was completely befuddled. How were the monitor's culinary likes linked to de-merits?
Patiently my son continued: 'You've seen Bollywood films where 'hafta' is paid by the common man to the 'powers that be'? I nodded, still puzzled by the strange simile but slowly enlightenment dawned. The monitor, apparently, demanded chips and kurkure from the students. He was no bully and the demand was made in a very amiable fashion. He used his own home-grown carrot-stick policy to implement his demand. Those who 'paid up' were awarded with a chance to represent the school in an inter-school activity. But woe betide those who did not pay up. They were punished with demerits.
Before I could think of taking up cudgels against such a blatant barter system, I was sworn to secrecy. I could do nothing but lament a psyche that had tainted even the very young. But perhaps we have cause to celebrate. After all, the youngsters are becoming 'worldly-wise'.
WAR IN LIBYA: TRUTH IS THE CASUALTY
THE MOST PLAUSIBLE EXPLANATION IS THAT THIS IS A WAY OF ASSERTING WESTERN POWER AND TRYING TO ARRANGE A FAVOURABLE FALLOUT
MOST of us have a low feeling that we are not being told the real reasons for the war in Libya. David Cameron's instinctive response to the Arab revolutions was to jump on a plane and tour the palaces of the region's dictators selling them the most hi-tech weapons of repression available. Nicolas Sarkozy's instinctive response to the Arab revolutions was to offer urgent aid to the Tunisian tyrant in crushing his people. Barack Obama's instinctive response to the Arab revolutions was to refuse to trim the billions in aid going to Hosni Mubarak and his murderous secret police, and for his Vice-President to declare: "I would not refer to him as a dictator."
Yet now we are told that these people have turned into the armed wing of Amnesty International. They are bombing Libya because they can't bear for innocent people to be tyrannised, by the tyrants they were arming and funding for years. As Obama put it: "Some nations may be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries. The United States of America is different". There was a time, a decade ago, when I took this rhetoric at face value. But I can't now. The best guide through this confusion is to look at two other wars our government is currently deeply involved in — because they show that the claims made for this bombing campaign can't be true.
Imagine a distant leader killed more than 2,000 innocent people, and his military commanders responded to evidence that they were civilians by joking that the victims "were not the local men's glee club". Imagine one of the innocent survivors appeared on television, amid the body parts of his son and brother, and pleaded: "Please. We are human beings. Help us. Don't let them do this." Imagine that polling from the attacked country showed that 90 per cent of the people there said civilians were the main victims and they desperately wanted it to stop. Imagine there was then a huge natural flood, and the leader responded by ramping up the attacks. Imagine the country's most respected democratic and liberal voices were warning that these attacks seriously risked causing the transfer of nuclear material to jihadi groups.
Surely, if we meant what we say about Libya, we would be doing anything to stop such behaviour? Wouldn't we be imposing a no-fly zone, or even invading?
Yet, in this instance, we would have to be imposing a no-fly zone on our own governments. Since 2004, the US — with European support — has been sending unmanned robot-planes into Pakistan to illegally bomb its territory in precisely this way. Barack Obama has massively intensified this policy.
His administration claims they are killing al-Qa'ida. But there are several flaws in this argument. The intelligence guiding their bombs about who is actually a jihadi is so poor that, for six months, Nato held top-level negotiations with a man who claimed to be the head of the Taliban — only for him to later admit he was a random Pakistani grocer who knew nothing about the organisation. He just wanted some baksheesh. The US's own former senior military advisers admit that even when the intel is accurate, for every one jihadi they kill, as many as 50 innocent people die. And almost everyone in Pakistan believes these attacks are actually increasing the number of jihadis, by making young men so angry at the killing of their families they queue to sign up.
The country's leading nuclear scientist, Professor Pervez Hoodbhoy, warns me it is even more dangerous still. He says there is a significant danger that these attacks are spreading so much rage and hatred through the country that it materially increases the chances of the people guarding the country's nuclear weapons smuggling fissile material out to jihadi groups.
So one of the country's best writers, Fatima Bhutto, tells me: "In Pakistan, when we hear Obama's rhetoric on Libya, we can only laugh. If he was worried about the pointless massacre of innocent civilians, there would be an easy first step for him: stop doing it yourself, in my country."
The war in the Congo is the deadliest war since Adolf Hitler marched across Europe. When I reported on it, I saw the worst things I could have ever conceived of: armies of drugged and mutilated children, women who had been gang-raped and shot in the vagina. Over five million people have been killed so far — and the trail of blood runs directly to your mobile phone and mine.
The major UN investigation into the war explained how it happened. They said bluntly and factually that "armies of business" had invaded Congo to pillage its resources and sell them to the knowing West. The most valuable loot is coltan, which is used to make the metal in our mobile phones and games consoles and laptops. The "armies of business" fought and killed to control the mines and send it to us. The UN listed some of the major Western corporations fuelling this trade, and said if they were stopped, it would largely end the war.
Last year, after a decade, the US finally passed legislation that was — in theory, at least — supposed to deal with this. As I explain in the forthcoming BBC Radio 4 programme 4Thought, it outlined an entirely voluntary system to trace who was buying coltan and other conflict minerals from the mass murderers, and so driving the war. (There are plenty of other places we can get coltan from, although it's slightly more expensive.) The State Department was asked to draw up some kind of punishment for transgressors, and given 140 days to do it.
Now the deadline has passed. What's the punishment? It turns out the State Department didn't have the time or inclination to draft anything. Maybe it was too busy preparing to bomb Libya, because — obviously — it can't tolerate the killing of innocent people. (Britain and other European countries have been exactly the same.) Here was a chance to stop the worst violence against civilians in the world that didn't require any bombs, or violence of our own. If the rhetoric about Libya was sincere, this was a no-brainer. It would only cost a few corporations some money — and they refuse to do it. So the worst war since 1945 goes on.
This all went unreported. By contrast, when the Congolese government recently nationalized a mine belonging to US and British corporations, there was a fire-burst of fury in the press. You can kill five million people and we'll politely look away; but take away the property of rich people, and we get really angry.
Doesn't this cast a different light on the Libya debate? We are pushed every day by the media to look at the (usually very real) abuses by our country's enemies and ask: "What can we do?" We are almost never prompted to look at the equally real and equally huge abuses by our own country, its allies and its corporations — which we have much more control over — and ask the same question.
So the good and decent impulse of ordinary people — to protect their fellow human beings — is manipulated. If you are interested in human rights only when it tells you a comforting story about your nation's power, then you are not really interested in human rights at all.
David Cameron says "just because we can't intervene everywhere, doesn't mean we shouldn't intervene somewhere." But this misses the point. While "we" are intervening to cause horrific harm to civilians in much of the world, it's plainly false to claim to be driven by a desire to prevent other people behaving very like us.
You could argue that our governments are clearly not driven by humanitarian concerns, but their intervention in Libya did stop a massacre in Ben Gazhi, so we should support it anyway. I understand this argument, which some people I admire have made, and I wrestled with it. It is an argument that you should, in effect, ride the beast of NATO power if it slays other beasts that were about to eat innocent people. This was the argument I made in 2003 about Iraq — that the Bush administration had malign motives, but it would have the positive effect of toppling a horrific dictator, so we should support it. I think almost everyone can see now why this was a disastrous — and, in the end, shameful — argument.
Why? Because any coincidental humanitarian gain in the short term will be eclipsed as soon as the local population clash with the real reason for the war. Then our governments will back their renewed vicious repression — just as the US and Britain did in Iraq, with a policy of effectively sanctioning the resumption of torture when the population became uppity and objected to the occupation.
So why are our governments really bombing Libya? We won't know for sure until the declassified documents come out many years from now. But Bill Richardson, the former US energy secretary who served as US ambassador to the UN, is probably right when he says: "There's another interest, and that's energy... Libya is among the 10 top oil producers in the world. You can almost say that the gas prices in the US going up have probably happened because of a stoppage of Libyan oil production... So this is not an insignificant country, and I think our involvement is justified."
For the first time in more than 60 years, Western control over the world's biggest pots of oil was being rocked by a series of revolutions our governments couldn't control. The most plausible explanation is that this is a way of asserting raw Western power, and trying to arrange the fallout in our favour. But if you are still convinced our governments are acting for humanitarian reasons, I've got a round-trip plane ticket for you to some rubble in Pakistan and Congo. The people there would love to hear your argument. — The Independent
REVOLUTION? THINK AGAIN
THE IDEA OF A SUPERCOP-SUPER PROSECUTOR-JUDGE, ALL ROLLED INTO ONE, NEEDS DEBATE RATHER THAN JINGOISTIC FLAG-WAVING
Revolution is always an easy word to bandy around. Sometimes too easy, and when it suits your ratings, it is easier still. The tricolour is flying high again on news television and the people have registered a great triumph, we are told. Anna Hazare is the new middleclass icon and Gandhi is back in fashion.
The Mahatma led us to our independence with tools like satyagrah and hunger strikes, right? So why can't we use the same tools to have a second revolution against corruption, goes the argument. We "don't need a very analytic mind", for this. We only "need to present the case in front of the public", as Anupam Kher proclaimed so grandly on television the other day. Just follow Gandhi.
Actually, Gandhi was far more careful with his politics and its tools. He did use the strategy of satyagrah, of noncooperation and non-violence to devastating effect against the British but look through his writings and you find a lot of considered thought and strategising on when and where hunger strikes are justifiable. In 1941, for instance, with several freedom fighters threatening to go on strike in British jails, he wrote a cautionary note to Vijaylaxmi Pandit, "Hunger-strikes are permissible only when self-respect is at stake. We must understand the limitations of hungerstrikes." In October that year, he followed this with a press release on this question, warning his satyagrahis against the indiscriminate use of hunger strikes.
The Mahatma understood the difference between using a hunger strike as a political tool and using it as an ad hoc emotion-rising technique
Now there is no question that there is great public anger today against corruption, that Mr Hazare is a man with tremendous public and moral eminence, and that the campaign under his leadership has won a great victory. The movement for a renewed Lokpal Bill has proved successful but was a hunger strike the only way to have done this? And where will this lead us? We must ponder on its deeper meanings.
First, everybody wants action against corruption but this hunger strike to enact a law meant that there could be no reasoned debate on the pros and cons of the new Jan Lokpal Bill that Mr Hazare and his campaign have proposed. Mr Hazare's impeccable reputation and his well-intentioned motives meant that no government could take a risk with his health. When you put a loaded gun to someone's head, then you better be ready for other loaded guns.
Will we be equally supportive when the Gujjars go on hunger strike, for instance, or the Dalits for a greater share in government jobs? Have we then, opened the way for a new kind of nocompromise politics for every kind of cause that seems justifiable to its proponents?
Second, in this euphoric push for a broad-brush punitive law against corruption in the name of the people, we need to question what we mean by 'the people' here and who will represent them? We are not an Egypt-style autocracy or a Tunisia. This is why it is silly for news channels to compare the Jantar Mantar protests with Tahrir Square. We are a democracy which routinely puts people into power and ejects them routinely for non-performance.
Yes, we are not happy with them; yes, many may be disillusioned with our system but can we legitimately talk of people's representation without the people's representatives i.e. the politicians. The middle class anger that we are seeing now is actually a protest and statement of contempt against the state of our democracy itself. It seeks to subvert the fabric of the democratic system itself, to push for a democracy without the political democrats in the name of an amorphous, 'we, the people' category.
There are genuine reasons for this anger and we must engage with it seriously but the path we are cheering so lustily now is the path of anarchy. If we want to engage in politics without the politicians, then we will turn into Pakistan.
Third, there is the question of representation. Civil society is a loose term but what does it mean exactly? The draft Janlokmat Bill specifically recommends "international awardees": people with the Nobel prize or the Magsaysay award, among others. So, do only people recognised overseas have a right to judge our corruption? And did anyone also count the Magsaysay award winners spearheading this campaign?
Fourth, the idea of a national Lokpal for corruption has been around since the 1960s. Eighteen of our states already have Lokayukts, the kind of ombudsman that we are talking about now at the national level, with little effect on corruption. The argument is that this happened because the laws that created them did not have teeth. The Campaign against Corruption has listed 17 reasons their Jan Lokpal Bill will be better than the Central government's version. But several credible experts also argue that the proposed bill is actually un-workable and draconian: it envisages a "supercopsuper prosecutor-judge, all rolled into one" as one lawyer put it.
Do we really want to concentrate so much power in one entity's hands with no checks and balances? Any institution is only as good as the people that run it.
To now create another super-institution over and above the existing pillars of the state, including the Supreme Court, surely needs far more careful debate than the kind of jingoistic flagwaving we have seen up to now.
Let's be careful what we wish for.
EXISTING ONES NEED GOVERNANCE REFORM AND REVITALISATION
Showing grace in defeat Prime Minister Manmohan Singh declared, "The fact that civil society and the government have joined hands to evolve a consensus to move this historic (lok pal) legislation augurs well for our democracy." Caught between the need to defend the institutional processes of the State and the desire to respond to the anger and anguish of civil society, the prime minister went more than halfway in conceding the demands of an assortment of civil society activists led by Anna Hazare of Maharashtra. Only history will judge whether this uneasy compromise between the government and social activists is a blow for Indian democracy or a blow to the Indian State. History will also have to judge whether the institution of Lok Pal will reverse the rising tide of corruption in public life. There is much less corruption in Narendra Modi's Gujarat, which does not have the institution of Lok Ayukta, while there is certainly more corruption in Karnataka, which has an active Lok Ayukta. This suggests that one man and his band of dedicated staff are unlikely to make all that difference unless effective political and administrative leadership is able to stamp out corruption and incentives for rent seeking.
It now remains to be seen if the committee of ten wise men, half from the government and the rest from civil society, will be able to arrive at a meaningful compromise that would satisfy both constitutional imperatives and societal demands. Much will depend on the wisdom and maturity of both sets of members. Equally, it will depend on what role the media and political parties choose to play. The frenzied amphitheatre of news television has made a mockery of reasoned and reasonable debate. Like old Roman crowds cheering the feeding of humans to lions, or like spectators in a bull fight drawing pleasure from the pain of a dumb animal, news television has finally erased the already blurred lines between news and entertainment, between reportage and comment, between fact and fiction.
Now that the government has conceded ground and social activists have won their case, all concerned should step back and ask: what exactly is the governance challenge in the country and how should this be addressed? The laboriously produced reports of the Second Administrative Reforms Commission (SARC), chaired by Veerappa Moily, have some very good ideas for combating corruption in public life and imparting greater transparency and accountability to the government. The fourth report of SARC titled "Ethics in Governance" (2007), inspired by the Gladstonian principle that "the purpose of a government is to make it easy for people to do good and difficult to do evil", has some very sensible and mostly practical proposals for governance reform. These must be implemented immediately. Going beyond, businessmen, film actors and other professionals who enthusiastically supported Mr Hazare's fast should now direct their energies towards fighting black money, tax evasion and other corrupt practices in their respective professions. As Mahatma Gandhi said, be the change you want to see!
ECONOMIES ADRIFT AS QE2 LIQUIDITY SLOSHES AROUND
Cracks are beginning to appear in the great wall of liquidity built by developed economies' central banks that has so far propped up high-yielding assets like commodities and emerging-market stocks and bonds. On Thursday, the European Central Bank raised interest rates for the first time since July 2008 in response to rising inflation. If analysts are to be believed, a couple of more increases are due over the rest of the year. With inflation rates in the UK at over four per cent, the Bank of England could follow with an increase in May. However, the real market mover going forward could be the mother of all central banks, the United States Federal Reserve (Fed). US labour market data for the last few months have been nothing short of spectacular with the unemployment rate dropping from a peak of 9.7 per cent in November 2010 to 8.8 per cent in March 2011. The problem is that better employment conditions than expected suggest a sharper recovery in the real economy. This has kindled fears of a build-up in inflation in the US. Treasury bond yields, which usually serve as a barometer of inflation expectations, have hardened over the past few weeks. This implies that the Fed might have to reverse its monetary policy stance from "hyper-expansion" to slow contraction.
It is unlikely that the Fed will change course in a hurry. The American housing market, for one, looks somewhat weak. Mortgage applications in March, for instance, were close to a record low. Durable goods sales numbers have disappointed over the past few months. Besides, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke and a number of senior Fed officials seem reluctant to abandon QE2 (or quantitative easing — the monetary stimulus programme launched in November that aims to release $600 billion into the US economy by July) midstream. However, given the improved rate of job creation and the prospect of improved growth, it is unlikely that a fresh monetary stimulus programme is likely to be announced after July. While the US' inflation rate at 2.1 per cent is still somewhat muted, the mix of a rising business cycle, hugely surplus liquidity and elevated commodity prices could set off a sudden inflationary spiral. Thus, after July the Fed might have to consider a strategy of sucking out some of the liquidity that is sloshing around possibly through bond sales. If the spigot of dollar liquidity is turned off, it is bound to take a toll on all asset classes that rode the wave of cheap dollars. This includes Indian stocks and possibly external borrowings. Over the last couple of months, events in Japan and North Africa have distracted the markets that seem to have temporarily ignored this rising liquidity risk. The worry is that when this risk jumps back on investors' radar screens, the corrections in the asset markets could be sudden and deep. The joker in the pack remains the Bank of Japan, which has embarked on another round of easy money policy both to aid reconstruction efforts and to keep the yen weak to aid exports. Whether loose liquidity in Japan can offset the impact of monetary contraction in Europe and the US is an issue that markets will have to grapple with over the next few months. This looks unlikely and investors perhaps need to prepare for rough times ahead.
POLITICS VS POPULISM
INDIA NEEDS SUSTAINABLE POLITICAL AND GOVERNANCE REFORM, NOT 'MR INDIA'-TYPE PRIME-TIME POPULISM.
Anna Hazare got his timing right, as Kumar Ketkar, a distinguished journalist from Mumbai, put it. Considering this was obviously planned as a television-based mobilisation of middle-class India, pitching it between the cricket World Cup and the Indian Premier League series was perfect timing. Even as Mr Hazare fasted, a large number of his supporters joined him between meals, at New Delhi's Jantar Mantar, and around TV dinners in urban India.
Mr Hazare's message and medium struck a universal chord and he captured widespread anger against the lackadaisical response of the entire political class to the genuine revulsion against corruption and crony capitalism. But this is not the first time Mr Hazare has fasted. The last time he did so, in 2007, sitting somewhere in Maharashtra worrying about farmers' suicides, national television showed no interest. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh sent his colleague Prithviraj Chavan, then a minister of state in the Prime Minister's Office, with a glass of lime juice and assurances. A media strategy was put in place in case the situation got out of hand. The media didn't take note and Mr Hazare drank up the juice.
Jantar Mantar was different. Mr Hazare and his strategists planned well. Not only did they get the timing and place right, they also got the medium and the message right. This was not about farmers in Vidarbha. This was about people like us paying bribes and watching all the bribe takers in page 3 parties!
The Hazare brigade also offered a solution that much of middle class India feels comfortable with — an all-powerful superman like Rajinikanth, called Lok Pal — a "Mr India", so to speak!
Given the mood of the middle class, few in the media were willing to ask how a new "Lok Pal", however empowered, could banish corruption when so many of the existing institutions have not done that. (A few voices have begun to be finally raised and, hopefully, these will find an echo in the days to come.) It is easily assumed by many that the fact that the Lok Pal Bill has been debated since the mid-1960s with no action suggests the entire political class has conspired for over four decades to keep "Mr India" under lock and key like the Count of Monte Cristo!
Could there have been a different reason? After all, in these four decades every national party, from the Congress to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Left Front, had enough influence in New Delhi to have brought such a Bill to Parliament. Why didn't successive governments do that? The simplistic NGO view that there has been a conspiracy of silence and inaction on the part of the entire political class is just that — simplistic.
After all, several states have enacted the Lok Ayukta Act. What has been the experience of Lok Ayuktas? If India's politicians and political parties have been willing to live with a Lok Ayukta, why should they conspire against a Lok Pal? Is it possible, one might ask, that there could be other valid reasons? Moreover, the fact is that Narendra Modi's Gujarat has no Lok Ayukta. Yet, many people testify to the fact that there is less corruption in Gujarat than Karnataka – both ruled by the BJP – where a distinguished person holds the office of Lok Ayukta.
But votaries of Lok Pal may reject the Lok Ayukta comparison. In fact, they would say, that is precisely why India needs a "Mr India" kind of Lok Pal. That's a pity. For governance to improve, good politics must be in command. Populism mobilises people; politics empowers them.
What India needs every now and then is governance reform in the existing institutions of the state. This must become the focus of policy for the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government in its remaining three years in office. Incidentally, the UPA's national common minimum programme of 2004 did commit itself to the enactment of a Lok Pal Bill. So, in getting the legislation through, UPA-II will really be implementing one of the few "unfinished" agenda items of UPA-I.
Chances are the negotiations on a draft Lok Pal Bill could see acrimonious exchanges and the government could be placed on the defensive repeatedly, and not necessarily for the right reasons. Thus, anticipating this possibility, and in a bid to revive its badly damaged reputation, boost the sagging morale of the government and the ruling coalition and, finally, give itself a positive agenda for the remaining term, UPA-II must come forward with an agenda for governance reform.
A good starting point would be the reports of the Second Administrative Reforms Commission (SARC), chaired by Veerappa Moily. Comprehensive reform of the government, the judiciary, and legislative and electoral processes will re-energise India. All this requires credible and effective political and administrative leadership.
In his very first address to the nation, on June 24, 2004, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said: "When I chose to enter public life I did so because I was convinced that our democracy needs more professionals to become more engaged and active in politics. I, therefore, now appeal to each one of you to also participate in our public life so that governments at all levels — central, state and local - are all constantly put on notice and not just tested once in five years. When I travel across the country I am always heartened by the increasing number of young and idealistic people I meet who work with voluntary organisations, empowering the dispossessed and the dis-enfranchised. We shall make effective use of the resources of the civil society to improve the quality of governance and delivery of important public services."
Civil society has the right and responsibility to seek a responsive state, not shun politics, nor seek to replace it through prime-time populism. That way, as Dr B R Ambedkar said in the Constituent Assembly in 1949, lies anarchy.
WANTED: NEW SOLUTIONS TO THE ENERGY PUZZLE
Two major events happening at two ends of the world – Japan's natural disaster and its nuclear fallout and the unrest in Libya and other countries of the region – have one thing in common: energy. The fallout at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, which was hit by an earthquake and a tsunami, has not yet been contained. It is not clear how Fukushima's problems will be buried.
This nuclear accident has stopped – even if temporarily – the resurgence of the nuclear industry. Italy only recently restarted its nuclear programme after a post-Chernobyl referendum had ordered a shutdown of its working plants. It has now called for a one-year moratorium on the four proposed nuclear reactors. Both the US and China remain wedded to nuclear energy, but have slowed developments and suspended future expansions. Europe has called for a safety review of its 143 plants. All this clearly indicates that the world will rethink its projects and tighten safety procedures and requirements, which, in turn, will add to costs. The nuclear industry's renaissance may not be stillborn but is certainly delayed. Clearly, this will put pressure on global energy supplies.
At the same time, the violent conflict unfolding in West Asia and North Africa has led to oil prices peaking over $105 per barrel — some 24 per cent up from February 15. Again, there is uncertainty about where this conflict could go. The outcome of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation-led air strike on Libya is unclear. Will it succeed in stopping Colonel Gaddafi or end up dividing the country into two parts? There is no real plan about when this will end. Yemen is falling apart, and even though it is a small oil producer, it is strategically located at the Gulf of Aden. Bahrain, a major oil producer, is edging towards collapse. The zone of unrest is growing. The world is too scared to exhale.
The question is: what will this do to the already precarious energy situation in the world? The recent recovery of the world economy has driven up demand at a time when oil production is stretched and even perturbation can raise oil prices. In the coming months, Japan will fuel this demand further — its 54 nuclear reactors met 30 per cent of its energy needs. Now, many are closed and in the coming months, the post-earthquake recovery will need more energy. It will be in the market to import more natural gas. This will put a strain on the European oil and gas market, which has common buyers. Gas futures in Europe have already risen. All this will, of course, mean more revenue and global influence for oil and gas exporters like Russia.
This comes at a time when new oil fields have been difficult to find. Oil is now being found in areas that are ecologically fragile and also where man is finding it difficult to go, like deep sea where BP met with its accident. That's not to say the oil-addicted world is not trying.
There is a mad rush for the Arctic now. Ironically, because of climate change, caused by the use of fossil fuels, the Arctic melting has left the region open to more oil exploration. Countries are vying to get into the Arctic quickly to begin drilling, irrespective of the environmental consequences.
The other big find is shale gas in the US. Oil companies are using hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, at a high pressure to unlock the gas trapped in shale rock formations deep underground. Now other parts of the world are busy looking for shale in their territory. It is hard to say how much of this is available and at what cost.
But the bottom line is that energy constraints on the world's emerging economies will grow. We know that the price of energy determines the price of growth.
India will need to work out its own energy options. There is no doubt that we need more energy — large parts of the country remain deprived of this basic need, which is unacceptable. It is also clear that our options are limited. We already import huge amounts of oil and gas and will need more in the future, particularly because we seem to be unclear about how much gas reserves we have. Also, we don't really have a plan on how we should use energy more efficiently and wisely. We only want to dig deep into forested regions for cheap coal.
Clearly, energy is the world's Achilles heel. But we will not get anywhere if we keep harping on the old answers. We need to secure energy sources, but equally we need to find new ways of doing much more with much less. It is time we learnt this lesson. Fast.
THE YEAR OF SOVEREIGN DEFAULTS?
POLICYMAKERS SHOULD BE WARY OF THE WESTERN MODEL OF FREE CAPITAL FLOWS.
A V RAJWADE
Just before the beginning of the year, The Economist had a "Leader" (the magazine insists on calling itself a newspaper and its editorials "Leaders") speculating on the possibility that 2011 may turn out to be the year of sovereign default in developed economies. At the time of writing, there was a deadlock in the US Congress about increasing the ceiling on federal debt: earlier this year, in a budget deal, the Republicans got what they wanted (tax cuts for the rich), and the Democrats got what they wanted (extension of the unemployment benefits). In the process, both shut their eyes to the deficit to which this would lead. Federal debt, already bloated by the costs of bailing out the financial system and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, was to have reached the statutory ceiling last Friday night. Chances are that some compromise would be worked out to postpone the day when the federal government may have to start shutting down some of the services it provides. Many state and local governments are in even more dire straits.
The position is not much better across the Atlantic. Portuguese bond yields are close to 10 per cent, even as the government was defeated a couple of weeks ago on a bill to cut expenditure. (The country will have an election and a new government shortly.) It has applied for EU/IMF assistance of the Greek/Irish variety. The EU/Euro zone problems have been exacerbated by political differences between the major countries, and the electoral defeat suffered by the ruling Christian Democrats in recent local elections in Germany. Across the Pacific from the US, Japan, the world's third largest economy, was already boasting of the globe's highest ratio of national debt to nominal GDP. The ratio has gone up further with the recent tragedies (the earthquake, the tsunami and nuclear radiation leak).
The traditional ways of diminishing the debt burden through inflation (which increases the denominator, the nominal GDP) are not easy for the US and Japan because of political and economic compulsions. Indeed, for the last few years, Japan has been trying to reverse the deflationary spiral, but without success. Incidentally, the route is not even open for Portugal because of the existence of a supranational central bank controlling the money supply.
While economic growth has resumed in the US, this is yet to result in job creation on any significant scale. On the other hand, as Buttonwood commented in a recent column in The Economist (March 26) "the benefits of recovery seem to have been distributed almost entirely to the owners of capital rather than workers." Nouriel Roubini cautioned a couple of months back that "the path of least resistance becomes continued monetisation of fiscal deficits (QE II). Eventually (once the slack in goods and labour markets is reduced), this would push inflation expectations—and yield curves—higher." So could oil prices. No wonder the European Central Bank has increased interest rates late last week, for the first time since 2008 — and the JPY yield curve has steepened, if only marginally.
In principle, there are two solutions other than inflation:
· reduce the fiscal deficit by increasing taxes and cutting expenditure, particularly on public servants; and/or
· nrestructure the debt.
The former is difficult for democracies: as Raghuram Rajan wrote recently (Mint, March 28), in a different context, "Democracies are necessarily soft-hearted, whereas markets and nature are not....So how can this one-way betting be stopped? The scary answer may be that it does not end until governments run out of money (as in Ireland) or the public runs out of sympathy (as in Germany vis-à-vis the rest of Europe)."
As for the latter, restructuring (in the form of lowering coupon or principal of existing debt) of course has serious implications for financial markets: after all, sovereign bonds are supposed to be credit-risk free and thus the benchmark for all other interest rates in the economy. On the other hand, many euro zone countries have always paid higher interest than the benchmark German bond: the investor clearly was conscious of the higher risk. And, having earned higher returns in good times, (s)he should be willing to make some sacrifice in the restructuring, given the inevitable risk-reward relationship.
Are there any lessons for us in India from the dilemma that some of the developed countries are facing? To my mind, there clearly are: there are limits to what the state can afford, but for too many of our political masters, as would be amply manifested in the forthcoming state elections, the only way to win them is by distributing freebies. The risks are even higher for economies dependent on foreign capital, directly or indirectly, to finance the resources gap. (This surely is one of the problems in the euro zone countries in the southern cone.) However, our policymakers are still in thrall of the Western model of free capital flows and market-determined exchange rates, whatever their impact on the current account and on output, and therefore, on savings and jobs.
THE US REGULATORS SETTLE ON DEFINITIVE SANCTIONS AGAINST THE COMPANY AND THE AUDITORS, PRICEWATERHOUSE INDIA.
Last week, the US securities market regulator, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) announced punitive sanctions against the Satyam Computers Ltd and the five India-based affiliates of PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) that formerly served as independent auditors of Satyam, for violating sections of the SEC Act 1934. The financial penalty of $6million is by SEC's own admission "the largest ever on a foreign-based accounting firm in an SEC enforcement action".
In addition, the PriceWaterhouse (PW) India affiliates agreed to refrain from accepting any new US-based clients for six months, establish detailed training programmes for its officers and employees on securities laws and accounting principles; introduce prescribed procedures for staffing and selection of lead partners, engagement managers, and quality review; institute new pre-opinion review controls; revise its audit policies and procedures and appoint an independent monitor to ensure these measures are implemented.
Simultaneously, the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB) sanctioned a penalty of another $1.5 million for violating its rules and standards. The PW India affiliates have agreed to settle the charges made by SEC and PCAOB and pay a $7.5 million penalty and take corrective actions.
In a related settlement, Satyam also agreed to settle fraud charges, pay a $10 million penalty and undertake a series of internal reforms.
The nature of the order, however harsh it may appear to be, only underpins the enormity and the seriousness of the offence. Audit firms have critical gate-keeping duties whenever they perform audit engagements for any company and the SEC and PCAOB's rules require that [auditors] must exercise professional skepticism and care. According to the Chief of the SEC Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Unit, "PW India violated its most fundamental duty as a public watchdog by failing to comply with some of the most elementary auditing standards and procedures in conducting the Sataym audits. The result of this failure was very harmful to Satyam shareholders, employees and vendors." The role of the audit firms is paramount in investor protection and shareholder protection.But mere recognition or articulating this role in the statute books is not enough, the demonstration of the way it is implemented is equally important.That can only happen through quick and decisive remedial actions.
It may be argued that the US is a different country, with a different economy and market, and different securities laws and a legal system. One may also say that the corporate-penalty calculus of SEC is still not very widely known in the US though after Christopher Cox assumed leadership, the SEC attempted "to provide the maximum possible degree of clarity, consistency and predictability in explaining the way that its corporate penalty authority will be exercised" by issuing a press release 2006-4 "Statement of the Securities and Exchange Commission Concerning Financial Penalties" (January 4, 2006). It is possible that some of us may even cite critics of SEC's enforcement actions and criticisms by law-makers and suggest that SEC may not be the ideal regulator.
But all this notwithstanding, the principles of enforcement action should remain the same across all jurisdictions, while the implementation may differ. The SEC and the PCAOB orders are therefore worth a deeper examination, especially because the crispness of the order, the unambiguous determination and delineation of the violations and clarity in terms of the punitive actions and remedial measures; and more importantly because the scene of action and dramatis personae falls under our jurisdiction.
The SEC's order is short — it has only 32 pages shorn of any incomprehensible legalese. The essentials of the SEC and PCAOB's orders available on the respective websites could be summed up as follows. In simple terms these orders describe what happened in Satyam and how it happened.
The SEC and PCAOB have established that:
- Satyam had engaged in fraudulent financial accounting and falsified the company's revenue, income, earnings per share, cash, and interest bearing deposits and falsely reported over $1 billion in revenue and cash in its publicly filed financial statements.
- PW India had departed from applicable PCAOB standards by failing to maintain control of the confirmation process with respect to cash, interest bearing deposits, and accounts receivable balances.
- PW India had failed to uncover Satyam's fraud until its former chairman admitted that the company had been engaged in a billion dollar financial fraud.
- The failures PW India experienced on the Satyam audit were not limited to that engagement, but were indicative of a quality control failure throughout PW India...(1)
- Satyam had falsified its reported revenue by manufacturing false invoices for services never provided and, in some cases, for customers that did not exist.
- To support the false revenue and income that Satyam prepared materially false bank statements, from at least fiscal year 2005 through 2008, reflecting materially false cash deposits in the company's bank accounts which was made to appear as investments by Satyam's former senior management manufacturing scores of false bank statements, which were not verified by the auditors.
- The potentially conflicting audit evidence during the fiscal years 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008 were not reconciled by PWC, who had relied on Satyam's representations, in large part, because they believed that Satyam's former chairman and senior management were honest and that they did not suspect that Satyam was fabricating audit documents. The failure to properly execute third-party confirmation procedures contributed to the fraud at Satyam going undetected for years.
- The confirmation process they employed for the Satyam audits was not in compliance with PCAOB standards.
- PwC had received warnings from the PwC Network Firm Partner, but the Satyam engagement team failed to take any corrective action to confirm Satyam's cash and cash equivalent balances in a manner that complied with PCAOB standards during the fiscal year 2008 audit.
Several agencies have been involved in India enquiring into the causes of Satyam's failure and identifying those who are responsible in the company, on the board and among the auditors. It is unlikely that these reports would have new revelations beyond what is established by SEC, except in the area of corporate governance and board functioning. It is, therefore, important that the investigations are taken to their natural culmination, by translating the reports to judicial pronouncements and appropriate penal actions. And when these actions are taken it would be unusual to expect that the SEC's action will not have a bearing on the regulatory actions in India.
The effectiveness of a regulatory system is a function of the quality of the enforcement mechanism, which is not determined by the size and volumes of the investigation reports but by their quality and the ability of the system to bring definitive regulatory action quickly.
(1)Securities Exchange Act of 1934 release no 64184 / April 5, 2011; Accounting and auditing enforcement release no 3257 / April 5, 2011; Administrative proceeding file No 3-14321
The views expressed are personal The author is a former executive director of Sebi and is currently associated with International Finance Corporation's Global Corporate Governance Forum and World Bank
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
TINKERING WITH COAL ALLOCATION WON'T WORK, THE SECTOR NEEDS OVERALL REFORM
The coal ministry has put out draft norms for allocation, through competitive bidding, of coal and lignite blocks identified for captive mining. The move to invite bids seems pro-reform, but the continuing policy of captive mining is a distortion that makes no sense. By summarily disallowing economies of scale and mandating a panoply of rigidities, captive operations would come at a huge national cost. The draft makes it clear that successful bidders for captive blocks would be responsible for 'exploration, development, operations and post-operation activities'. Bunging in the risks of coal mining with downstream risks of attendant plant operations is a fundamental policy flaw that would needlessly add to costs, rev up overall risks and almost certainly discourage bids. The ministry draft has outlined four options for bidding: the first has upfront payment as the sole criterion for bid evaluation; the second option contains a formula for back-loading payments linked to actual mining; the third says capacities and status of enduse plant(s) would be taken into account; and the fourth has elements of both the third and second option, namely that end-use would have some weightage and bid payments would be staggered. The plan to backload bid amounts needs to be nipped in the bud.
The idea of taking into account capacities and end-use status while evaluating bids needs to be junked for proper price discovery. We need to develop a thriving functional market for coal with competitive, efficient pricing, not break it up into artificial segments and niches. Bidding for coal blocks that are unexplored and undeveloped makes no sense. We have some of the largest proven coal reserves globally, and the way ahead for policy is to fully explore and reasonably develop the coal blocks, before putting them up for bidding for genuine price discovery. It is a fact that productivity in our coal mines is at rock bottom compared to international levels, so what's essential is sustained modernisation and a revamping of the sector. Along with that, the Coal Mines (Nationalisation) Act, 1973, which is both anachronistic and incongruous, needs to be repealed without further delay.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
IMPROVED EDUCATION QUALITY IS A MUST TO HAVE A READILY-EMPLOYABLE WORKFORCE
Software body Nasscom's estimate that only a quarter of all engineering graduates are readily employable in the IT sector is worrisome. Their percentage has grown by a meagre 1% over the past six years, signalling a major challenge for IT companies that spend huge sums of money to train engineering graduates. Surely, the long-term interests of industry hinge on the quality of talent produced in the country. The same holds true for other sectors. IT companies will also compete with other sectors of the economy for a common pool of skills. So, the solution is to make the higher education sector bigger and improve the quality of education at all levels. Industry must sponsor students and fund research in universities to increase their visibility. It should also work with educational institutions to make university programmes practical and job-oriented. Students who enrol in colleges should have a minimum level of understanding that secondary schooling is supposed to provide. The standard of high school students depends on the quality of primary schooling. Most children in India are enrolled in government-run primary schools, which lack trained, quality teachers. The problem can be overcome only with drastic reforms in governance. Sure, teachers must be paid more, but they should also be made accountable. The administrative control over primary school teachers should be transferred to panchayats and teachers must be appointed to individual schools instead of a state-level cadre.
Merely sending children to schools will not do. Their ability to learn and be a part of the creative workforce later will depend on the development of cognitive skills. Studies show that nutrition and mental stimulation that a child receives in the first three years of her life impacts later performance in schools. So, the efficacy of programmes like the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) scheme has to increase. The government has also done well to launch a skill development programme that requires various departments, industry bodies, educational institutions and others to work together.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
THINK BACK OF THE BOX IF YOU WANT KIDS TO READ QUALITY STUFF IN LOCAL LANGUAGES
Inarticulation is an oft-cited shortcoming perceived by one generation when it comes to the powers of expression of its successors. No wonder the generation gap is most felt in matters of communication. In India, this malady is particularly galling as it is home to more languages and dialects than the whole of Europe and yet true proficiency in any one is increasingly rare. Lack of inculcation of a reading habit from an early age, poor and unimaginative language and literature syllabi in schools, too many new-age distractions and the changing mores (and spellings) of the Twitter-age are the usual and probable suspects. There is no doubt that if language skills — kindled through the reading of good literature — are to find space in a child's mindscape, they have to squeeze into the time already commandeered by more interesting and possibly more essential activities. In that context, India could look for inspiration to Britain, where Puffin has tied up with Asda to print extracts from Roald Dahl books on the own-brand cereal boxes stocked by the supermarket chain. Considering a recent survey found children in Britain spend four-and-a-half hours a day on average watching TV or on the computer and another study found children thought some famous literary names were actually just brands of cakes and chips, cereal reading seems to be the perfect solution. Even reading what can be fitted on the back of a box of corn flakes could sate the hungry minds in hungry bodies.
In India, admittedly, breakfast does not always come out of a box. Parents, therefore, should chew on the idea of where best to slip in engaging pieces of writing — in relevant languages — so that children can develop a taste of literary bon mots along with their daily dose of muesli, bun-maska or poha. Then the next generation will surely be an af-fluent one.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
REFORMING THE RULES OF REFORMS
IT IS TIME TO KICK-START THE SECOND GENERATION OF REFORMS — AND INCLUDE THE PEOPLE IN ITS INITIATION PROCESS
The clock is ticking. India's population increased by almost 200 million in the last 10 years. In addition to the large backlog of unemployed in the country, another 200 million persons will be looking for gainful employment in the next 10-15 years. Economic growth will be inclusive only when it provides hundreds of millions young Indians adequate opportunities to earn and stand on their own feet. This is the sustainable approach to inclusive growth. Otherwise, the additional millions will be yet more mouths to feed and bodies to take care of by government schemes hoping to guarantee food security and healthcare for all: an unsustainable approach to inclusion.
Recently 1,20,000 aspirants rushed to Bareilly for 100 jobs: 40 died tragically in the scramble. Economic growth must create jobs faster than the increase of aspirants for jobs. Who, no doubt, must be educated and skilled. However, educated and skilled people can also be unemployed —and in large numbers too, as even western economies have realised. People not only need skills. There must also be jobs for them. For this reason, among others, it is high time that India's manufacturing sector steps up to the plate. For the past 20 years, it has grown more slowly than the economy; and the organised manufacturing sector has created very few jobs. Now on, manufacturing must grow at least 3% faster than the economy and become an engine for growth and creation of jobs. Members of the Prime Minister's Trade and Industry Council (TIC) have asked him to press on the accelerator of reforms again. Reforms are necessary to attract investments, especially in manufacturing. However, the reforms required now are fundamentally different to the economic reforms of the early 1990s. Those first-generation reforms freed industry from the need to get government's permission to invest and produce, and foreign investment was welcomed, too. The resistance to those reforms was from sections of industry itself, like the 'Bombay Club', whereas the common person welcomed the reforms because they ushered in better goods and services.
Now investments in manufacturing are constrained by difficulties in getting environmental clearances, people's permissions to use land and, to some extent, by labour regulations. Inadequate infrastructure and power remain major constraints: and land and environmental clearances are constraints on investments in infrastructure, too. Clearances for land and environment (and changes in labour laws) require permissions from common people and their representatives. Whereas government leaders could negotiate the first-generation reforms with industry leaders, negotiations for the secondgeneration reforms must be with the people.
Different conditions call for different processes. Golfers know they must use different clubs and different swings for different conditions. So too processes and tools for economic reforms must change to suit conditions. It is no longer sufficient for only industry and government leaders to meet and talk about reforms. Representatives of affected people must be included too, as one industry leader pointed out to the TIC. According to many in industry and government, representatives of stakeholders, such as NGOs and unions, are not easy to work with. Therefore, they are not invited to the high table. And so, reforms are stalled.
Industry yearns for freedom from the messiness of India's environment and labour laws, and its bureaucrats and inspectors. Governments at the Centre and in states must reform the way they function. The costs of transacting business with them are too high: too many strings attached, too many silos, too much corruption. Investors would love to be given a territory of their own that they could govern free from intrusion.
No doubt, hassles must be removed. But to give investors their wish would be throwing out the baby with the bathwater. The state cannot, to attract investments, hand over to private parties its sovereign functions and responsibility to protect people's rights. Nor, in democratic India, should the government suppress people's demands. Moreover, a few enclaves handed over to private parties will not create the hundreds of millions of jobs in manufacturing the country needs. Widespread reforms must attract investments across the country.
Industry would like less government. Because with gov ernment come laws, rules and bureaucracy. And, with demo cratic governments come com plications likethe need to make concessions to demands of noisy citizens. Some years ago when it was macho and 'politi cally correct' to say so, the CEO of a US MNC publicly expressed his desire to move the headquar ters of his company to an island away from the jurisdiction of any government so that he could concentrate on producing 'val ue' for his shareholders. Now the call is to spend on corporate social responsibility (CSR) to win over citizens. Companies realise that their 'license to oper ate' comes ultimately from the people who elect the govern ment. The most enlightened companies know that, to win the genuine trust of people, even CSR is not enough. Their lead ers reach out to citizens and civil society organisations directly and engage them in a dialogue. Inclusive growth, stimulated by investments and employ ment, will require reforms. The systemic reforms now required cannot be made by shutting out stakeholders either from spe cial enclaves governed by pri vate entities or from policy making processes. Therefore the process of reforms needs to be reformed to include stake holders. Principles and tools for conducting productive dia logues, rather than stormy fights or desultory discussions must be deliberately employed in the process. Returning to the golf course, different clubs should be used and different strokes must be mastered to get out of the rough.
ARUN MAIRA MEMBER, PLANNING COMMISSION
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
'GROWING SLOW, BUT WE'RE AMBITIOUS'
CHANCHAL PAL CHAUHAN
Hiroshi Nakagawa considers himself fortunate. Ever since he began steering Toyota Kirloskar Motor, the Indian subsidiary of world's largest carmaker, Toyota Motor Corp, the waiting list for buyers of these cars has been growing. The carmaker doubled production capacity since 2008, when Nakagawa took over, but demand continues to overstrip supplies. "I'm just lucky. The more cars we make in India, higher is the demand. While sales in many markets declined globally or were flat after the 2008 financial crisis, it has been quite the opposite in India. So, we have never looked back," says Nakagawa.
Carmakers sold over 2.5 million cars in India last fiscal year, recording the fastest acceleration in over a decade, though sales are forecast to slow down this year due to higher borrowing costs and surge in commodity prices. Toyota has visualised the growth potential of the Indian car market, but has been careful not to go overboard, claims Nakagawa. For example, the Etios sedan launched in November 2010 notched up over 25,000 bookings in the first two months, though not a single car was on display in any of its 150 outlets.
Nakagawa points out that Indian market is exceptional. "Toyota got an exceptional response to the Fortuner SUV in 2008, so much so that the vehicle still carries a waiting of over six months, almost after two years of its launch. Etios, too, is fully sold out for the next six months."
On the flip side, technical recalls also forced Toyota to get back millions of its cars globally back into service stations. Its Indian subsidiary too felt the pinch. Fortuner did well, though customers initially complained of faulty brakes. It forced the company to fix the problem and make necessary changes in the product. Nakagawa, an avid motorist himself and an old hand with 31 years in Toyota, claims that he managed the crisis well and Fortuner's popularity remained intact.
"Indian customers believe in buying the best quality at a competitive price. So, we had in mind their aspirations for our future cars without compromising our global commitment to quality. For instance, Etios which is reckoned to be the most affordable marquee from Toyota's stable," he says.
However, industry trackers say that Toyota has not pursued an ambitious strategy. It is four times the size of its Japanese peer Suzuki Motor Corp, and yet continues to remain a fringe player in the Indian car market. Toyata sold a little over 84,000 cars in India in FY '11 compared to 1.13 million units sold by Maruti Suzuki.
The company says that it plans to augment capacity 2.1 lakh cars by FY2012. Suzuki, though, would surge ahead to make over 15 lakh cars from the next fiscal year. Should'nt Toyota scale up production faster? Not exactly, says Nakagawa. Once bitten, twice shy. The company does not want to replicate its American experience — where it ramped up faster than planned to achieve the global status of largest carmaker, but finally ended up with a host of quality issues — in the Indian market.
Toyota aims to get a modest 10% market share of Indian market by 2015 — originally targeted in 2010. The company emulated the Japanese genchi genbutsu (go and see for yourself) concept for the Etios project where the entire manufacturing process — from procurement to production — was done locally to make the car from scratch. "Automobile is a complex industry. Growing slow doesn't mean we are not ambitious. It's just that a carefully crafted strategy to get right quality to our customers and the rise in market share will follow," says Nakagawa.
India is a major destination of Toyota's new global 10-year plan to expand in emerging markets as the world's biggest automaker attempts to grow after two rough years, following vehicle recalls and the recession. For well over a decade before the recession, more than half of Toyota's profits came from developed markets such as the US and Europe. The company has shifted gears and is now focusing on China and India, forecast to have the fastest growing market for cars.
As part of its focus on emerging markets, Toyota's Etios compact car, dubbed as its 21st century Corolla, was launched only in India. It will now be taken to China, Thailand and Brazil in different avatars.
With its main focus on quality, Toyota aims to counter the challenges from other carmakers in India such as Volkswagen AG that is aiming to surpass it as the world's largest carmaker by 2018, while competition is hotting up from General Motors and the Korean Hyundai Motors in emerging markets. "India will be icing on the cake for Toyota's future as we aims to maintain the top-slot in the global pecking order, Nakagawa says.
Toyota Kirloskar Motor
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
CORRUPTION OF POWER PLAY
The accomplice to the crime of corruption is frequently our own indifference, noted a perceptive observer years ago. That was then, in the high noon of the 'black and white' era in television. Fast-forward to the here and now, and the moral campaign of activist Anna Hazare to have civil society representatives included for drafting the Lokpal Bill, which is soon to be introduced in Parliament, so as to have a pathbreaking anti-graft law, seem to have paid rich dividends. The ruling alliance at the Centre has acceded to his demands. It remains to seen how the implementation of the Lokpal Act actually pans out.
But it cannot be gainsaid that we need much more transparency and openness in the public domain, to arrest corruption and tackle, say, routine revenue leakage in power distribution. The latest Economic Survey does mention that power sector losses add up to a whole percentage point of total national output annually, which now amounts to almost .80,000 crore. And it's noted in the passing, buried deep in the inside pages and merely outlined in a 'box' item. Now, the root meaning of corruption is 'broken' or 'spoiled', but in the social context the word denotes bribe or moral deterioration. And especially in high places in public life, in this extended season of scams and umpteen allegations of perverse give-and-take. However, it would be wholly sub-optimal to perceive corruption as merely misuse of public office for private gain. Routine corruption, such as theft of power, can mean illegality indulged for the very purpose of benefits or cost avoidance.
Meanwhile, the powers that be seem, of late, to be on an overdrive to announce stepped-up addition to power generation capacity pan-India. But power theft and its stemming and clamping down appears very much to get the short-shrift policy wise. For the last few years, the annual Economic Survey has preferred to downright expunge details of distribution losses of power utilities, having dropped an entire table of figures on rates of return, commercial losses and other attendant annual projections. Without upto-date data about ground realities in the vexed power sector, the policy process would only plod along in the dark.
The point is that without regular publication of accounts and figures on power distribution and supply, the decadal policy intention of having 'unaccounted power loss sharply reduced', would be thoroughly defeated. Worse, it would be at huge national cost. The fact of the matter is that there's a large and widening gap when it comes to electricity generation and supply.
Hence, instead of politically mandated tariffs and giveaways, we need competitively priced power to shore up delivery and plug the infrastructure deficit with proactive investment, including in line-capacity and supply networks.
We seem thoroughly lax in keeping tab of the questionable, open-ended leakages in power. The way ahead is to mandate quarterly publication of accounts of state power utilities. We do need political mobilisation and societal activism to shore up real power reforms. Yet we seem more focused on ritualising reforms.
The power ministry does not fail to highlight that over 16 State Electricity Boards/electricity departments have been unbundled and corporatised, 28 states have constituted independent regulatory commissions (SERCs) and that 23 SERCs have issued open access regulations etc. Yet what's euphemistically referred to as aggregate technical and commercial (AT&C) losses, basically denote routine power theft, and amount to almost 35% of total generation, which by international standards is truly scandalous. It does needlessly rev up the costs and risks of investing in power.
The Reserve Bank last year reportedly mandated to administratively reduce the risk weightage for bank funding of power projects, slashing it from 100% to 20%, so as to boost sectoral funding. Also, the ongoing policy initiatives to significantly increase domestic power equipment capacity such as tax and duty rationalisation makes sense given the large investment requirement. While supply-side measures in power make ample sense, we cannot afford to ignore data on the demand side. To begin with, both the Survey and Mid-Year Review need to incorporate data and tables on power utility losses. Next, we need regular disclosure of utility results, aided by universal metering; the latest-generation digital meters are tamper-proof, accurate and inexpensive.
Also, instead of gross, openended subsidies, the subventions in power do need to be properly accounted for. With smart meters, energy audit software and related IT enables, it should be perfectly reasonable to measure AT&C losses with pinpoint accuracy, for prompt follow-through action. Sound finances of power utilities would imply a welcome paradigm shift in state finances, and better allocation of funds, say, for the social sector. We should be interested in (and exercised over) the reality of corruption per seand not merely that which is high-profile and power-related.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
Having comprehended what actually constitutes true spiritual progress, as applicable to all seekers in general and to himself in particular, the aspirant would be able to feel the extent of this progress within. He would know how far and how much he has applied the concept of 'victory over oneself ' and also that of 'being' or 'becoming' something truly authentic. In his search for a truly effective and efficient living, which alone is the indicator of the spiritual progress within, the aspirant would also evolve conceptual standards, parameters and yardsticks for measuring this progress. He would also have, as his 'benchmarks', the lives of great persons and also great writings. This also is the art of not merely knowing well that one is truly on the right path, but also of inspiring oneself continually. Particular 'slipups' within or unforeseen developments without (both of which are only inevitable in life) would not act as instances of 'single slip' or 'leaking pot', which would otherwise undo the benefits of past arduous efforts. By way of great writings, the immortal poem IF- of Rudyard Kipling specifically prompts the needed inquiry within to determine the extent of authenticity within, with regard to specific situations, which aspirants would have to face. The 'check list' in Bhagawad Gita on ascertaining how far one has evolved (stitaprajna) is spread over various stanzas (such as in II: 54 to 61; V: 18 to 21 etc.). In his quest, the aspiring seeker would, indeed, land on the right avenues and aids, which, certainly, would lead him on!
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
Al Bahr al Hindi is what the Arabs called the ocean in their old navigational treatises. The Indian Ocean and its tributary waters bear the imprint of that great, proselytizing wave of Islam that spread from its Red Sea base across the longitudes to India and as far as Indonesia and Malaysia, so a map of these seas is central to a historical understanding of the faith. This is a geography that encompasses, going from west to east, the Red Sea, Arabian Sea, Bay of Bengal, and Java and South China seas. Here, in our day, are located the violence- and famine-plagued nations of the Horn of Africa, the geopolitical challenges of Iraq and Iran, the fissuring fundamentalist cauldron of Pakistan, economically rising India and its teetering neighbors Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, despotic Burma (over which a contest looms between China and India), and Thailand, through which the Chinese and Japanese, too, may help finance a canal sometime in this century that will affect the Asian balance of power in their favor. Indeed, the canal is just one of several projects on the drawing board, including land bridges and pipelines, that aim to unite the Indian Ocean with the western Pacific.
On the Indian Ocean's western shores, we have the emerging and volatile democracies of East Africa, as well as anarchic Somalia; almost four thousand miles away on its eastern shores the evolving, post-fundamentalist face of Indonesia, the most populous Muslim country in the world.
JAITAPUR PROJECT: TIME FOR RETHINK
The smoke alarm that went off at the 220MW Kaiga nuclear power plant in Karnataka's North Uttar Kannada district could well have been an alarm bell for the proposed 10,000MW nuclear park in Maharashtra's Jaitapur. Thankfully, in the Kaiga case, there was no fire behind the smoke and so the unit, shut down immediately after the alarm went off, will restart in a week's time after some checks. We have not been told, however, what set off the smoke alarm, though a report is expected. On Jaitapur, which witnessed widespread protests by those residing in nearby villages, minister of state for environment, Mr Jairam Ramesh, appears to have changed his mind. The "green" minister had earlier given it the go-ahead, even after the catastrophic nuclear disaster at Japan's Fukushima, but now he appears to be in favour of a comprehensive rethink. The agitation against the Jaitapur nuclear park had started long before the Japan earthquake/tsunami struck, but the protests intensified after the Fukushima disaster. The Maharashtra government, however, led by the Chief Minister, Mr Prithviraj Chavan, and senior minister, Mr Narayan Rane, had gone all out to convince villagers that nuclear power was a hundred per cent safe and trying to crush the protests. They even refused permission to the protesters to hold a memorial meeting to commemorate victims of the Japanese disaster, and several people were arrested and jailed. Mr Ramesh had at that time still been in favour of the nuclear park coming up there. In the wake of the Fukushima disaster, all countries with nuclear power plants are reconsidering their programmes. Even China, which has the largest nuclear programme on its agenda, is having second thoughts. Only in India did the authorities insist that everything was safe. One wonders at the scientific basis for such confidence. There are also huge controversies around the EPR (evolutionary power reactor) technology that will be used for these plants. Major problems with this have been reported from Canada and South Africa. It is in this context that Mr Ramesh's letter to Prime Minister, Mr Manmohan Singh, suggesting a rethink on Jaitapur assumes significance. This does not even take into account the gigantic rehabilitation effort that will be needed to resettle the estimated 27,000 families that will be affected. Besides its pious intentions, the government has still not come out with a concrete blueprint on this. One other issue that Mr Ramesh has raised, and which needs to be considered without any loss of time, is the need to separate India's nuclear regulatory body from the parent department of atomic energy. At present, and in fact ever since its formation, the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board has functioned under the wing of the department of atomic energy. Many scientists had pointed out the anomaly in such a position as it makes a mockery of the presumed independence of such a board. Most other regulatory bodies, like those in the insurance and telecom sectors, are independent of their parent ministries, but not the AERB. Now that Mr Ramesh has suggested that public confidence in nuclear energy might improve if the regulator were not answerable to the department of atomic energy, it is to be hoped that the government will finally see reason.
NATION STILL NEEDS A LEADER LIKE GANDHI
Ironically as a controversial book questioned Mahatma Gandhi's sexuality, Anna Hazare, a quintessential Gandhian, captured the national imagination by his fast over combating corruption, an issue dogging the United Progressive Alliance government. He sought immediate enactment of legislation to appoint an ombudsman i.e. Lokpal, the government disagreeing over its powers and independence. A simple Gandhian technique, met the power of electronic media, the social networking sites and popular revulsion over endless corruption scandals and the result was tumultuous. The government caught on the backfoot, turned mulish. How could it concede the power to legislate to self-appointed custodians of public good when that right vested in the elected representatives? The Jasmine Revolution triggered by the self-immolation of Tunisian Mohammed Bouazizi, which 28 days later, on January 11, 2011, ousted President Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali, had arrived in India. The ouster of President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, the uprisings in Jordan, Syria, Bahrain and Yemen with the rulers still clutching to their chairs/thrones were a sign that the moral space for the common people in the Arab world had suddenly expanded, using Gandhian methods. India felt exempted from this virus as it was already a democracy, where periodic elections had the requisite cathartic effect, allowing the venting of popular emotions. The Anna Hazare tsunami challenges those assumptions. A closer look at the socio-political factors engendering the upsurge in the Arab world is illuminating. The Economist magazine christens it the Shoe Throwers Index, listing the variables on a sliding scale as: population below age 25; years the government was in power; corruption and lack of democracy; Gross Domestic Product; censorship etc. The list thus derived coincides with the nations most in trouble. Add to that burgeoning economic inequality and oligarchs with billion-dollar sky-scrapers that can be seen by millions of shanty dwellers from their front door and the picture begins to resemble India. That is why Indians, young and old, rich and poor swarmed to the vigils, reclaiming the moral space the nation's founding fathers had recovered from the British but has since woefully shrunk. Half of South Asia's 1.5 billion are below 25 years and three fourths live on less than $2 per day. Even in India migration from rural economy to jobs in the services and manufacturing sectors is mismatched, both on numbers and paucity of vocational skills. Surging Indian economy has accentuated economic disparity and amplified the scale of corruption, ranging from simple bribery to Radia-type influence peddling, or the Commonwealth Games' patronage or finally a cosy alliance between the government, big business and the entire political elite, tantamount to crony capitalism. Political parties apportion Rajya Sabha seats to money bags, one recently apprehended carrying a cache to a poll bound state. US President Theodore Roosevelt, the scourge of robber barons at the dawn of 20th century, advised that "...to dissolve the unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics is the first task of the statesman of the day". India is a democracy, with a constitutional separation of powers and a rule of law. However, unprecedented generation of wealth is creating distortions. The Supreme Court supervising CBI's 2G scam enquiry is a symptom that systemic collapse is resulting in ad hoc solutions, Take the UN Convention Against Corruption of 2003, which India signed but has not ratified. It prescribes, inter alia, the installation of anti-corruption bodies and election campaign reform. Mr Hazare has put his finger on the problem, the malaise however demands systemic reform and not the mere addition of another office. Supervening authority to an empowered Lok Pal, as a roving conscience of the three branches of the state i.e. the executive, the judiciary and the legislature would be impractical and even dangerous. As Roman poet Juvenal warned in his Satires, "Who is to guard the guards themselves?" Institutions like the Central Bureau of Investigation, Central Vigilance Commission, Competition Commission etc. are wrapped controversial or ineffective as their success depends on who mans them. Mr Hazare has proclaimed that reform has only begun and the agenda is long. Success may be difficult to repeat, as the demonstrators in Tahrir Square, Cairo, are realising. Rare it is when man and the moment combine, as it did at Jantar Mantar. Pandit Nehru once violently disagreed with Gandhiji over the withdrawal of an agitation that had turned violent but was beginning to hurt the British. If Ms Hazare can persist, the reform should include state funding of elections and campaign reform, making inner-party democracy mandatory to break the hereditary control of families over political parties and the debarring of criminals from electoral politics. Government will react even as the great reformer President Roosevelt did: "I do not represent the public interest: I represent the public". Whether Mr Hazare can make public's representatives mindful of public's interest only time will tell, but the nation still needs a Gandhi and the world Gandhian inspiration is now established. * K.C. Singh is a former secretary in the external affairs ministry
U-TURNS ON TELANGANA
Telangana statehood has many sympathisers. The UPA-appointed Pranab Mukherjee Committee received letters of support for Telangana from Mr I. K. Gujral, Chandrasekhar, V.P. Singh and Mr H.D. Deva Gowda (all former PMs) and also from Mr Lalu Yadav, Ms Mayawati, Mr Sharad Pawar, Ms Mehbooba Mufti, Mr George Fernandes, and Mr Prakash Singh Badal. Mr Yadav understood what was driving the movement. He wrote: "The people of the region have been fighting for it for more than a half a century. It is a people's movement in the real sense. This movement has always been solidly backed by every section of the people of the region. Intellectuals, government employees, students remained although, as the backbone of the movement. And now, it has percolated down to the agrarian sector and the working classes…. The people of this region strongly feel and they have every reason to feel so — that they can no longer live in the integrated state of Andhra Pradesh with self respect and dignity." All these were non-Congress leaders. The BJP has always been a consistent supporter. But the NDA was prevented in granting statehood to Telangana only because, as Mr Advani wrote in his memoir, of objections by Mr Chandrababu Naidu and the TD — its major coalition partner. Since 2009, however, the TD and Mr Naidu have also supported Telangana statehood. The Congress has in 2004 and again in 2009 promised statehood for Telangana in its election manifestos. The riddle is why was there the delay since at least 2009? The answer may lie in two significant actors holding opposite views at the same time. Mr Naidu and Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy were candidates for the post of chief minister in Andhra Pradesh in 2009. One can understand their desire to rule the state while promising to divide it — this sort of hypocrisy comes easily to Andhra politicians. However, the present Union home minister, Mr P. Chidambaram, is now the main actor in the final phase of Telangana statehood movement. It is interesting to recall that as early as 18th May, 2003, he wrote, referring to the Bibek Debroy-Lavash Bhandari Report, that: "The report makes out a nearly uncontestable case for small states. With hindsight it is possible to say that the divisions of Punjab and Maharashtra were wise decisions; otherwise would Haryana and Gujarat have recorded such impressive development?" He went on to say: "In my view, there is a strong case for the creation of Vidarbha (out of Maharashtra, population 9.67 crore) and Telangana (out of Andhra Pradesh population 7.57 crore). Uttar Pradesh and Bihar should also be further divided." Mr Chidambaram five months later again on October 5, 2003, wrote an article headed "A Telangana State May be Answer to Deal with Naxalite Menace". Therein he said: "Surprisingly the Naxalite movement has survived in Andhra Pradesh. It has found sanctuary in the districts of Telangana and in the border districts of Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. It is not a co-incidence that these and the most backward, poor and neglected districts lie in these three states. Successive chief ministers of Andhra Pradesh have tried different measures to stamp out the movement but with little success." Praising Mr Naidu's "good understanding of economic principles" he also stated that he was a "trier and doer". But, "despite his good intentions, the Telangana region remains backward. It is the story of the chicken and egg. On the one hand, the region remains backward and neglected because it is torn by strife caused mainly by the Naxalites. On the other hand, the region is hospitable to the Naxalites because it is backward and neglected." He thought: "Someone — or something — has to break this logjam". He went on, "the answer does not lie in police action. Perhaps there may be an answer if the people of the region are empowered in a different way, and new opportunities are created for the disaffected sections to gain political power and a say in the governance of the region." Mr Chidambaram concluded: "Strange as it seems, the option of a new state of Telangana may turn out to be the answer to deal with the menace of Naxalite terrorism." To prove his point, police data indicates that while in 2003 there were 923 Naxalite related incidents and 326 fatalities, after the announcement by him of Telangana statehood on 9th December 2009. However, 2010 saw only 183 incidents and 47 fatalities from Naxalites. If Mr Chidambaram holds the same view as cited above, he should rubbish at once the conclusions of the Chapter 8 of the Srikrishna Committee written by Mr V.K. Duggal, the former home secretary, sent to him in a sealed cover which takes exactly the opposite view. While Mr Chidambaram sees statehood as a solution to Telangana's poor governance, underdevelopment, backwardness and neglect as well as a counter to Naxalism, Mr Duggal says that statehood would result in poverty, backwardness, unemployment and Naxalite and terrorism and communal riots. Who is right? Mr Chidambaram or Mr Duggal? Is the decision a personal one of a few actors or a fulfilment of solemn promises to 40 million people of Telangana?
SPARE THE COPS, THEY'RE DRUNK
It's all in the parivar The BJP is never tired of using the "family" metaphor. At times, its leaders talk loftily about "Vasudev Kutumbakam" (the world is a family). But now this "family" is a divided house. Groupism in the BJP's Rajasthan unit has frustrated committed party workers and delighted Congressmen to no end. "Other parties blame us for dividing society on religious lines... but now we suffer division in our own parivar", lamented a BJP leader. The Congress leaders say the BJP is falling prey to its own tactics. "They have been skilled in dividing people in the name of religion", said Mr Ravindra, a Congress functionary. "But now they are falling prey to their own skills". BJP leaders confess that the Congress is not far off the mark in its criticism. "Pehle ye parivar tha, ab to ye parivaad hai... (Earlier it was a family... now it is one long fight)", confesses a BJP leader. State policemen dry, yet high Cops in Maharashtra nowadays get drunk on duty and no questions are asked. The reason: Cops have to sniff numerous drunkards behind wheels at night. This was admitted by none other than the state home minister, Mr R.R. Patil, who is frustrated at the failure to check drunken driving in the state despite an intensive campaign. "In 2009, we had arrested 36,000 people for drunken driving," the home minister told the Legislative Council. "Many of them were even sent to jail. We expected this would act as a deterrent. But to our surprise, in 2010, we arrested 38,000 people for drinking and driving. We are falling short of breathalysers and now my policemen tell me they have started getting 'high' after sniffing so many drunken people every day," Mr Patil said in a lighter vein. A large number of people caught for drunken driving in the state carry international driving licences. "When we ask them whether they drink and drive in the country where they got the licence, they admit that they don't," said Mr Patil. Cricket camps, not terror camps Prior to the World Cup, the BJP had warned the Centre against mixing cricket with diplomacy when the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, invited his Pakistani counterpart to watch the match. But after India won the World Cup, a senior BJP leader's message to Pakistan was to "open more coaching camps (for cricketers) than training camps (for terrorists)". The BJP, perhaps, knows not how to heed to its own advice. Which Stalinist regime to topple? The AICC spokesperson, Mr Manish Tewari, was at his eloquent best recently. While claiming that the people of West Bengal wanted to get rid of the 34-year-old Stalinist regime, Mr Tewari said, "Winds of change are visible and people will throw the Left Front government out of power". A witty scribe promptly asked Mr Tewari to define the kind of result that is in the offing in election-bound Tamil Nadu as well. But before Mr Tewari could formulate his response, someone quipped that Tamil Nadu, too, has a "Stalinist" regime. The reference obviously was to the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, Mr M. Karunanidhi's son and deputy CM, Mr M.K. Stalin. This left Mr Tewari tightlipped and the packed room burst out into laughter. Playing passing the buck Madhya Pradesh's BJP government is in a fix after the Supreme Court pulled it up for allotting a 20-acre piece of prime land in Bhopal to the party-sponsored Kushabhau Thakre Training Institute Trust. The SC also asked the trust to return the land to the government within 15 days. The list of trustees reads like a BJP hall of fame — Mr L.K. Advani, Mr M. Venkaiah Naidu, Mr Sanjay Joshi, Mr Bal Apte and Mr Kailash Joshi. When news about the apex court order was received in the state capital, the Chief Minister, Mr Shivraj Singh Chauhan, was ducking for cover, while his top Cabinet colleague and former chief minister, Mr Babulal Gaur, described the allotment as "technically flawed". He added the allotment would be done afresh, ensuring all formalities were followed in letter and spirit. The political bosses are busy blaming one another for this embarrassing situation. When it comes to accepting responsibility for their actions, they can't but help passing the buck — a skill they have turned into an art form. When followers come 'tweeting' by the Foreign secretary, Ms Nirupama Rao, was welcomed by an earthquake on her first night in Tokyo, where she had arrived earlier in the day on April 8 to hold talks with her Japanese counterpart. "...tremor of 7.1 on the Richter scale was an experience. My hotel room on the 15th floor shook and swayed. I admire the Japanese people for their stoicism", she tweeted. Ms Rao has acquired a large number of "followers" in the three months since she opened her account on Twitter. Her personal musings or anecdotes have surely brought out her human side.
THE ZEN OF CRICKET
It has been the season for cricket. Nothing can beat the high of the World Cup mania that gripped us as a nation. It is encore now for another round of play through the Indian Premier League (IPL). I am not an expert or die-hard enthusiast of the game, but even I have been quite hooked on to the passion and euphoria generated by the sport. There was one aspect, particularly during the high-tension semi-final and the final of the World Cup, which caught my attention. Did you notice the praying hands and minds of the players and the audience before the tournaments seeking the courage for the team to perform well and past the victories, in gratitude for the results? The teams and their supporters followed their chosen paths of belief seeking divine grace. I was touched to watch media bytes of cricket players thanking their spiritual masters and visiting temples post victories. Skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni's act of shaving his head was one of the most visible marks of the importance of faith as a source of inspiration in the lives of cricketing heroes. All of this represents the significant crossroads of culture at which our current generation finds itself. On one hand, we are witnessing transition, technology and new gains. And on the other, we still remain connected to our deep-rooted values that bind us a nation of diverse spiritual traditions. Prayer, meditation, chanting techniques are as relevant in our lives today as they were in the past. They help us stay focused on targeted goals without distractions; calm fears to face challenges of the future; stay positive to give our best performance; have heightened awareness of surroundings to make most of given circumstances and, last but not the least, contain our egos from bloating our perspective away from the context of reality so that we remain grounded for accomplishments in a long-term sustainable fashion. The rules governing life are not very different from those on the cricket field. And spirituality is a management science that offers techniques both in cricket and life to achieve excellence. Practices of worship and faith help us scale the extraordinary and simultaneously nurture our evolution as rounded holistic individuals. It is interesting to point out the way context colours our responses. In the World Cup we were oriented towards a national psyche of victory for the country. Now, IPL juggles the same teams into a new arrangement where opponents become teammates and fellow mates become adversaries playing for the opposite camps. So who do you cheer and what are the rules of fair play? Like in life, there are no black and white fine lines of distinctions easily drawn. We are addressing most of the time, grey areas in the middle. May be then it is a worthy strategy to focus on the enjoyment quotient generated by the sport and celebrate good performances, irrespective of our personal geographical and cultural leanings. — Poonam Srivastava has published a book of Zen poetry titled, A Moment for the Mind, which expounds on the practice of Mindfulness Meditation. She is also involved in popularising new ideas of change in the social sector. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
1984 JUST WON'T GO AWAY
A FORMER Special Commissioner of the Delhi Police and one of his subordinates remain entitled to wear the gallantry medals awarded to them by the President for "action" during the infamous violence in the Capital in 1984. However, even a modicum of self-respect would dictate they hide them away. For while dismissing a petition seeking their being stripped of the medals the Delhi High Court made it clear it was bound by technicalities. Not just that, Mr Justice S Murlidhar proceeded to observe: "The 1984 riots in Delhi have left deep scars in the collective memory of the nation, especially the Sikh community. The role of the state machinery has come under critical scrutiny. It is arguable that in the context of a tragedy of such proportions, the state ought to display sensitivity to the feelings of the victim community and be circumspect in hastening to award gallantry medals to the officials of the law enforcement machinery soon after the events. Yet the scope of judicial review in such matters is limited."
Public opinion is not thus constrained and those aware of what transpired during the organised killings ~ there were no "riots" ~ would remain appalled at the awards being made for curbing one of the very few incidents in which what Justice Murlidhar rightly identified as the "victim community" could be deemed the instigator: more likely its members acted in panic-laced fear, self-defence, revenge perhaps. The court has, most appropriately, injected an element of honour and nobility into "gallantry", which must mean more than an ability to counter fire.
If the action of the two officials in focus was deemed exemplary what can be said of the hundreds of other policemen in the city who simply allowed political and communally engineered carnage to flourish unchecked ~ in fact a "promo" for what took place in post-Godhra Gujarat. That is where the foul thinking of the government of the day betrayed itself ~ the criteria for assessing gallantry was "loaded". Sure there were some stray instances of cops trying to protect Sikhs. The local Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee even presented a saropa to one IPS officer. For the record, that man was never in the running when the selection for the Commissioner's appointment was in hand. No, 1984 just won't go away.
THE 'HONOURABLE' KILLER
BEYOND BILL, A DRAMATIC CHANGE IN MINDSET
IT IS a curious feature of governance that whether a file relates to food security or honour killings, nothing seems to move without the approval of the Group of Ministers. On the face of it, therefore, approval of the legislation against honour killings ~ a cruel contradiction in terms if ever there was one ~ is a forward movement, if horribly belated. Hopefully, the legislation will be introduced in the monsoon session of the Lok Sabha. The parameters of the Bill titled "Prevention of crimes in the name of honour and tradition" are stringent enough to rein in societal killers. Honour killings are to be treated at par with murder, as they ought to be. The chief regret must be that it has taken some time for the government to act. Above all, there is need for a dramatic transformation of attitudes and mindset of the khaps. Going by the statement of Girija Vyas, chairperson of the National Commission for Women, the GoM is said to have "deliberated on all sides of the issue", notably the reservations expressed by some MPs, including Congress leaders, against action against khaps. It is not enough merely to contemplate "penal action" against the khaps by amending the penal code, Evidence Act and the Special Marriages Act. The enormity of the societal crime calls for a dramatic change in the mindset and attitudes of the khaps, one that must go beyond legislative amendments. And it is here that social activists have a crucial role to play
It is ironical, or perhaps not so ironical in the Indian context, that the executive and the legislature have to intervene in the 21st century to end a social aberration that is reminiscent of the 19th. Over the past year, couples have been done to death for marrying within the same gotra in Haryana and Rajasthan and not least in the national Capital. Worse, even a legislator has on occasion spoken in defence of the cruelly bizarre justice handed down by the khap panchayats. It is one thing to punish the killers; quite another to bring about a fundamental change in the fountainhead of family crime, perpetrated in the name of izzat.
'HONY. COL' DHONI
ARE OFFICER-SPORTSMEN EXTINCT?
CRICKET is not war ~ despite what recent headlines (on TV specially) screamed. Yet there is some commonality in terms of training, discipline, dedication and strategy-execution. Hence it was not surprising that the victorious Indian skipper should have been felicitated by the Army and Air Force chiefs. His leadership, and the collective performance it inspired, would find parallel in the treaties of Napoleon, Clausewitz, Liddell Hart etc. It was in recognition of that the Army decided to honour MS Dhoni with an Honorary Commission: and for those who might question the seemingly middle-level rank of Lieutenant-Colonel it would be worth recalling that in the original scheme of things (before "cadre reviews" made such a mess of the rank-command structure) it were the battalion commanders of that rank who provided the cutting edge of the fighting forces. Yet as they lauded the World Cup winner both Chiefs must have also felt a tinge of remorse that none from within their organisations were anywhere near national-standard performers. That was not always the case: one of the few to score a century against the West Indies of 1958-59 ~ a squad boasting Hall, Gilchrist, Sobers, Hunte, Kanhai, Ramadhin, Gibbs ~ was AK Sengupta: he batted for the National Defence Academy. And one of the string of Indian captains in that Test series was Hemu Adhikari, who as Colonel Adhikari successfully managed Wadekar's history-making side in England. Then there was HT Dani, who sported air force blue. Today the Services play in the lower echelons of the Ranji Trophy.
Nobody can deny that contemporary professional demands on a young officer restrict his scope for other activity, but is not sport an "essential" to soldiering which lays stress on physical fitness, teamwork, the ability to take losing in stride? Somewhere along the way the Services have lost the plot, listing their CWG medal-winners is not good enough. Where are regimental sides that dominated the hockey and football fields, the boxers who "swept" the national ring? Golf is certainly a popular pastime, but once again we must ask when last did we have a national amateur champion from the Services. Yes, polo is still officer-dominated ~ it now features prominently on "page three"!
YEAR OF ANTI-CORRUPTION
EFFECTIVE LOKPAL MUST TO ACHIEVE GOAL
BY SAM RAJAPPA
ANNO Domini 2011 was declared the year of India against corruption by the Gandhian Seva and Satyagraha Brigade, an all-India NGO of Gandhian persuasion which placed a charter of three demands before the UPA government of Manmohan Singh. They are: i) Appointment of an effective Lokpal, repeatedly promised by all major political parties, including the Congress, but with no concrete steps taken so far; ii) Disqualification of candidates seeking election to Parliament and State Legislatures against whom serious criminal cases are pending, a recommendation made by four Chief Election Commissioners in the recent past; and iii) Confiscation of illegally acquired property of public servants, including ministers, MPs and State legislators and their benami transactions.
On New Year's Day, the GSSB launched a relay fast at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi. As there was no positive response from the government, five satyagrahis who had participated in the 1942 Quit India movement and were imprisoned for it, led by 93-year-old Shambhu Dutt, began a "fast unto death" campaign at the same venue on 30 January, Martyr's Day.
Leaders of India Against Corruption, another NGO also engaged in the anti-corruption crusade, implored the fasting satyagrahis to postpone their fast by three months as they too were planning a similar exercise on a much larger scale. Kiran Bedi, in fact, reportedly sat at the feet of Shambhu Dutt and said she would not get up till he called off the fast. Justice Rajinder Sachar, Swami Agnivesh and Arvind Kejriwal were among others who made an impassioned appeal to the satyagrahis to defer their fast. Thinking that it would be arrogant if they did not heed the request of the eminent leaders and agreeing that it was wiser to put up a joint front with other like-minded organisations, the satyagrahis decided to postpone their fast by three months.
To pre-empt the GSSB's anti-corruption crusade, the Congress core group met at Manmohan Singh's residence on New Year's Eve with a draft ordinance on the lines of the long-pending official Lokpal Bill to create a mechanism to cope with burgeoning corruption among public servants, including the Prime Minister. It was a strategy to hoodwink the people into believing the UPA government was serious about tackling corruption. Earlier, at the AICC plenary, Congress president Sonia Gandhi wanted the government to take corruption head-on and prescribed a five-point agenda. It was said the ordinance would be promulgated before 26 January so that it could be included in the President's Republic Day address to the nation. It turned out to be yet another exercise in taking the people for a ride.
Meanwhile, India Against Corruption had hijacked GSSB's anti-corruption crusade without even informing Shambhu Dutt of its programme of pushing veteran social worker Anna Hazare in a well orchestrated frenzy to go on an indefinite fast to force the government to accept its Jan Lokpal Bill drafted by Justice Santosh Hegde, Prasant Bhushan and Kejriwal. Under its scheme, there will be an institution called Lokpal at the Centre and Lokayukta in every State of the Indian Union. Like the Supreme Court and the Election Commission, they will be completely independent of the government.
Cases against the corrupt will not drag on for years. Investigations into any case will have to be completed in one year and trial in the next year so that the corrupt politician, bureaucrat or judge is sent to jail in two years. The loss that a corrupt person caused to the government will be recovered from him at the time of conviction. If any work of any citizen is not done within the prescribed time in any government office, the Lokpal will impose financial penalty on the guilty official which will be given as compensation to the complainant. Members of the Lokpal will be selected by judges, citizens and constitutional authorities and not by politicians. The Central Vigilance Commission and anti-corruption branch of the CBI will be merged into the Lokpal.
Under the official Bill, the Lokpal will have jurisdiction over the Prime Minister, ministers and MPs, but not civil servants. The Lokpal cannot receive complaints of corruption directly from the public. They will have to be routed through the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha or the Speaker of the Lok Sabha. The Lokpal would be a purely advisory body and would not be able to initiate an inquiry suo motu. The Lokpal will consist of three members, all of them retired judges. The committee to select Lokpal members will consist of politicians. If a complaint against the Prime Minister relates to security, defence or foreign affairs, the Lokpal would be barred from entertaining it. There would be no time limit for the Lokpal for completion of trial. The Bill does not provide for recovery of ill-gotten wealth from the guilty.
The government Bill suffers from several infirmities. By restricting membership to judges, the government is paving the way for the re-emergence of 'committed' judges as in the days of Indira Gandhi. Judges with an eye on post-retirement membership of the Lokpal will be tempted to stray from acting judicially while delivering judgments. We have had the experience of retired judges heading inquiry commissions and producing voluminous reports signifying nothing. While the Bill does not guarantee any criminal action against corrupt politicians, the complainant could be sent to jail if he fails to prove the charge. Bureaucrats who help politicians to indulge in corruption are outside the purview of the Lokpal. Under this carefully drafted Bill, no politician need fear being hauled up before the Lokpal. The draft Jan Lokpal Bill forwarded to the Prime Minister by India Against Corruption also has its share of infirmities. For instance, one of its provisions says that the loss a corrupt person caused to the government will be recovered from the person at the time of conviction. According to the CAG, A Raja, former telecom minister, caused a revenue loss of Rs 1.76 lakh in the distribution of 2G spectrum. From investigations made so far by the CBI so far, it is safe to deduce the loot was shared. Even if the government attaches Raja's and his family's entire assets, both in the country and abroad, only a fraction of the loss could be recovered. Past experience shows that States already having Lokayukta have not been able to eradicate or reduce corruption. Karnataka is a good example.
What promoters of the Jan Lokpal Bill are envisaging is the creation of an extra-constitutional fourth arm of the government by a self-appointed group of moral guardians drawn from Indian Nobel laureates or Magsaysay award winners. Let us not forget US President Barack Obama, currently waging three wars, is a recipient of the Nobel peace prize! The Magsaysay award, named after the late Filipino leader Ramon Magsaysay, is funded by Rockefeller Foundation of the USA having its own economic and political agenda. The silence of these anti-corruption crusaders in demanding action on the VK Shunglu Committee report on the Commonwealth Games which indicted Delhi Lt. Governor Tejinder Khanna and Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit is deafening. They are going to create a corruption-free India.
Mercifully, Hazare has broken his fast and acquiesced to the government proposal to draft a brand new Lokpal Bill by a committee with 50 per cent representation from his group and 50 per cent from the Congress. Nowhere in the world was corruption eradicated by merely passing legislation, however well-intentioned it might be. And in India, we already have a plethora of legislations to root out corruption. The Congress has a long history of corruption from the day India obtained independence. First Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, whose personal integrity no one questioned, allowed corruption to flourish under his benign rule. Had the Father of the Nation not been assassinated in 1948, he would have ensured the winding up of the Congress.
Manmohan Singh, with a similar reputation of personal integrity, allowed loot without boundaries to take place but ensured no senior Congress leader was put behind bars for their avarice. The only politician in his Cabinet to face the music for the monumental spectrum scandal belongs to the DMK, an ally of the Congress. Once the euphoria over Hazare's victory in forcing the government to constitute a joint committee to draft the Lokpal Bill dies down and the Magsaysay award winners and their elitist protesters pack up their bags and vacate Jantar Mantar, the Gandhi Seva and Satyagraha Brigade, waiting in the wings for the last three months, is ready to resume its interrupted "fast unto death" on May Day, led by 93-year-old Shambhu Dutt, with its three-point demand to usher in Bharat that is free of corruption.
The census commissioner did some clever things to publicize his venture this year. He organized car rallies; in Madhya Pradesh he even used people who could not see well to navigate the cars. He made a list of all houses, including those of the Andamanese who do not have much use for one. Amongst stone walls, he made a distinction between mortared and unmortared ones. Amongst bathrooms, he distinguished between those with and without a roof. He got the Indian Institute of Design to make census forms. A month after the census moment of midnight on March 1, 2011, he has already announced the first results. His efficiency must put greater worthies in the government to shame. Those who bemoan India's lag behind China will be comforted by the fact that the next census will show both running neck and neck, and that India's population will overtake China's by 2022. But even for India, the writing is on the wall: its population growth in the past 10 years was nine lakh less than in the previous 10 years, although population had gone up by 18 crore meanwhile. The northern states led in growth, while the southern states lagged behind.
West Bengal broke ranks; with its growth of 13.9 per cent, it fell behind not just the Bimaru states, but even progressive states like Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. The number of children under six grew less in 2001-11 in most states than in the previous decade; the fall in West Bengal was the highest for any state except Uttar Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh. It looks as if the people of West Bengal are giving up on fecundity faster than their neighbours and countrymen. Fewer children cost less to educate; but the literacy rate in West Bengal went up only from 69 to 77 per cent — a decent improvement, but not spectacular. To its credit, however, the number of illiterates went down by 2.9 crore — more than in any state other than UP and Bihar. There were twice as many new women literates as men.
As Indians forsake fecundity, they avoid having girls more than boys. West Bengal is no exception. But its trend is confusing. Amongst children aged six and below, its sex ratio went down from 96 to 95 per cent (girls to boys) in 2001-11; amongst those older than six, it went up from 92.9 to 94.6 per cent. Since people cannot be born six years old, this must reflect trends in mortality; apparently, Bengali women are living longer than men. They need to make men live more healthy lives if they do not fancy widowhood. They have got the right idea if they are getting better educated; it would make living without men easier. The choice between men and education is clear. Education must come first; men can wait. But it is even better to enjoy both together.
The problem may be too many people and insufficient resources, or inadequate doctors and staff. Or cumulative stress on the part of the staff. But a change for the better in all aspects of the situation would not make up for a lack of humane feeling. A hospital is supposed to be a place of trained attention dedicated to the cure of hurt and illness. Whatever the stresses, each member of the hospital staff is expected to shoulder, to the best of their ability, the burdens of working in such a place. Yet it has become a routine matter for hospitals to refuse patients even primary care. If there is no bed and the patient cannot be admitted then that does not mean that a man's wound cannot be given a moment's attention. That such is the case became clear to the policemen who had carried Bapi Saha, an indigent man with an infected wound, to the Calcutta Medical College Hospital. They tried for a few hours to get a doctor's attention, and were repeatedly told to take the patient to some other hospital.
This culture of passing the buck is no longer novel, and it kills patients. In February, Rajib Das, the 16-year-old in Barasat who was trying to protect his sister from molesters, was severely stabbed. The district hospital, to which he was taken, sent him on his way to Calcutta after first aid. He died on the way. It appears that the district hospital had all the necessary equipment, and even the manpower — maybe a technician needed to be called up — to try save the boy's life and not let him bleed to death on the way to Calcutta. There was no need to make a mockery of the principle of emergency aid. But government hospitals habitually refuse to be accountable. Corruption, callousness and fear run deep. Was Rajib sent off because the hospital staff was not sure whether helping him would not cause trouble with local political goons? And was Bapi Saha left uncared for because he is a beggar?
JAPAN'S TRAGEDY WILL AFFECT THE WORLD, INCLUDING INDIA COMMENTARAO: S.L. RAO
The unprecedented earthquake, tsunami, damage to the concentration of nuclear energy reactors at Fukushima, massive destruction to infrastructure, properties and manufacturing establishments, and the over 25,000 people missing or dead, was the worst tragedy in Japan after the explosion of the atomic bombs in 1945 in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It is made much worse by the frequently changing, corrupt and weak political leadership of the past five years, the economic decline of the last decade in comparison with the earlier decades, and a rapidly aging population. Japan's deeply insular immigration policies prevent changing the demographics. If it has strong and united leadership and adequate workers, Japan's past virtues of stoicism, teamwork with discipline and obedience to a common national goal can help it overcome this tragedy.
With the gross domestic product at current prices in 2010 at $5,390.90 billion, and per capita income at $42,325.23, Japan is the third largest economy in the world, China having overtaken it this year. With GDP share of the world total (at purchasing power parity) for Japan in 2010 at 5.83 per cent, the global economy will be adversely affected by any continuing deterioration in Japan's economy. As a low-consumption economy with poor social security, Japan has a high savings rate at 23.186 per cent and a high investment rate of 20.091 per cent. Prices have been, if anything, on a downtrend in the last few years. Government revenues were 30.133 per cent of GDP and expenditures 39.731 per cent. Total government net debt (percentage of GDP) for Japan in the year 2010 is 120.744 per cent, among the highest in the world. The current account balance was a comfortable 3.088 per cent of GDP. After World War II Japan legalized abortion and sharply brought down the population growth rate. With rising literacy and prosperity, this has led to a rapidly aging population. Added to severe restrictions on immigration, Japan suffers from a growing dearth of working-age people.
Japan in July 2010 had the second largest foreign exchange reserves in the world — at $1,063.51 billion. The rigid bureaucracy and poor political leadership are stumbling blocks that do not give up political compulsions for national unity. Interest rates have been low and will now stay that way to stimulate the economy. After the tsunami, manufacturing has been hit by lack of many materials (especially on Japan Inc's 'just in time' supply chains). The traditional pork-barrel politics of Japan that led to excessive construction of infrastructure will now get a necessary boost to rebuild. With radiation fears, food imports will increase, raising world prices further. So will other commodity prices as Japan begins reconstruction.
Exports might be depressed for a few months till manufacturing resumes. The closure of affected petroleum refineries and the setback to nuclear energy, which accounts for almost a fourth of energy, will raise imports of crude and refined oil and gas. Nuclear energy expansion will be treated gingerly, apart from the loss of power from the quake-hit areas. Till alternatives to nuclear power begin generating, demand for oil and gas will rise, putting further pressure on the global economy. Importing 80 per cent of its oil and gas, India will be badly affected. Inadequate young labour for heavy reconstruction work will impede progress. But the tragedy will stimulate the economy, lead to much greater government spending, raise government debt further, and use some of the foreign exchange reserves for imports.
For India, Japan is a trading partner of growing importance, a significant aid giver (mostly low interest loans, little grants) and a growing investor. India's balance of trade is in deficit with Japan. Imports in 2010 were $3.718 billion in nine months, 27 per cent above the last year, and exports $1.510 billion, up by 15 per cent. Japan's reconstruction gives scope for raising our exports.
Japan gave nearly 40 per cent of the long-term loans that we received for development in 2010 at very low interest rates. The grants were insignificant. Since Japan has huge foreign exchange reserves, which, as a strategy, it will be trying to invest and spend so as to bring down dependence on the dollar, we can expect these loans to continue. Some projects that depend on such loans are the Delhi-Mumbai freight corridor and the metro rail in many cities.
A seriously damaged Japanese economy could cause global problems. However, Japan's growth has been poor for the last decade and the world has adjusted to it. Growth will improve with massive government spending on infrastructure reconstruction. Resources are not a problem. High debt has so far not caused inflation because of the high savings rate. The tendency of Japan's governments to borrow from the practically government-owned Post Office Bank, which has enormous funds, mostly invested in government bonds, will add to available resources. Japan's huge foreign exchange holdings will be used for imports and investment (to buy Japanese products), and will also reduce Japan's dependence on the American dollar.
Japan has no petroleum and gas, and nuclear power was the best alternative to reduce dependence for energy on others; we can expect the planned expansion in nuclear energy to slow down, if not halt. Concentrations of plants as in Fukushima will be reconsidered the world over. A lot more money will be spent to substantially scale up safety measures. All this will add to cost, not only in Japan but also for nuclear energy plants globally. Japan will probably enter a phase of dramatic innovation to find alternative energy. In this Japan will provide leadership to the world and help revive its economy.
The big challenge is for Japan to find enough labour for reconstruction. It has necessarily to change its immigration policies and find ways to reconcile its hostility to other races with the need for young labour. It must be watchful to prevent inflation (already global commodity prices are rising). The Middle East crisis will further raise oil and gas prices, another cause of global inflation.
India is heavily dependent on burning coal; the world wants an electricity-starved India to reduce its growth of carbon emissions, inevitable with more coal-based electricity necessary for growth. This will now be almost impossible. India's modestly ambitious nuclear energy capacities (4,120 megawatts in 2009, 15,180 in 2020 and 50,000 MW in 2050 or around 2 per cent of all electricity rising to a maximum of 5 per cent) might now be drastically reduced. The reasons would be exploding nuclear plant costs because of the safety methods required after Japan's nuclear accident, consequently much higher insurance costs, global reassessment of nuclear energy capacities as they exist and as planned leading to rising cost of equipment and higher overheads as nuclear plants are spread out and not concentrated (as was Fukushima and the planned 10,000 MW at Jaitapur).
India's artificially low electricity tariffs are heavily subsidized by state governments. These will rise for all energy as demand rises with pressure on coal and gas. The already expensive nuclear energy will become more so. The economic pressure to get consumers to pay costs of electricity will increase. The need for political leaderships to understand the situation is great but does not seem to be happening in any political party.
Thus for India and the world, the awful tragedy in Japan will result in more burning of coal, faster global warming, climate change and a setback to development in countries like India that depend on imported fuels, and more energy consumption. We can also expect a battle (not always peaceful) to possess fuel resources — coal and gas — in other countries. Governments being unsettled in countries with these resources is a possibility.
The author is former director general, National Council for Applied Economic Research
Why is India's future brighter than China's, especially in a warming world? Because India has more good agricultural land per person. That will get more and more important as the temperature goes up.
I first encountered the concept of Real Population Density (note the "Real") when I was interviewing people in the Netherlands last year about how the country would fare as the temperature rose. My initial focus was on sea-level rise, because 20 per cent of the country is already below sea level. But the Dutch are confident that they have the sea-level problem under control.
The Dutch sea-level experts were also confident that the Netherlands would not face any problem with food when the temperature rises. The country is, after all, the second or third biggest agricultural exporter in the world. But it still feels like a very crowded country, so I looked up a few agricultural experts, and they explained the concept of Real Population Density to me.
"It would take a country three or four times the size of the Netherlands to support our present diet," said Dr Huib Silvis of the Agricultural Economics Research Institute at Wageningen University. "We import huge amounts of soybean and other animal feed, which we could not produce ourselves. If we had to be self-sufficient, we would not be eating meat." The Real Population Density of the Netherlands —how many people there are per square kilometre of farmland — is 2,205. That's higher than Bangladesh, and it means that the Netherlands, to be self-sufficient in food, would have to feed 22 people from each hectare of land. So how can the country be the second- or third-biggest agricultural exporter in the world? Because that's the cash value of its exports, which are mostly high value-added products. You get a lot more for a tonne of cut flowers than you do for a tonne of potatoes — but you can't eat cut flowers, and the Dutch could barely feed themselves from their own resources.
Global warming makes matters much worse, because it hits food production very hard. The rule of thumb is that the world loses about ten per cent of its food production for every rise of one degree Celsius in average global temperature.
So the amount of food that is for sale on the international market drops drastically, because some of the big food-exporting countries are not producing enough food to export it any more. As the food gets scarce, the price goes up. Countries that cannot feed themselves either pay huge amounts to buy the limited amount of food that is still available on the international market, or else go hungry. Which brings us back to India and China.
Almost half the total land area of India is good arable land, whereas only 15 per cent of China is. So although China looks bigger on the map, India has a significantly lower Real Population Density: 753 people per sq km of farmland compared to 943 for China. Add in the fact that China is currently losing about 1 per cent of its arable land per year to buildings, roads and parking lots, and the numbers for China start looking seriously bad.
At the other end of the spectrum, look at the big industrialized states in Europe. Italy and Germany are in the 700s, but Spain, France, Sweden and Poland are all in the 300s. The lucky ones still have room to grow; the others don't.
And the uncontested winners in this new lottery? The United States of America has only 179 people per sq km of good agricultural land. Russia has 117. Canada is 78, and Australia is 43. Australia, in other words, has more than half a hectare of good land per person. This is deeply unfair, given which countries are actually responsible for the global warming. To them that hath, shall it be given. But then, you already knew that the universe isn't fair.
''HAZARE'S FAST, HAS LIFTED THE MOOD OF DESPONDENCY.''
The compromise between the government and social activist Anna Hazare over the Lokpal bill is a victory for civil society. Hazare has graciously called it a victory for everybody stressing that it siginifies a mutual resolve to combat corruption. At the same time, he has made it clear that the government's acceptance of the demands on the drafting of the bill is a sign of only a battle won.
The war over finalising the provisions of the bill and getting it passed by parliament still lies ahead. The government has made a climb down from its position by agreeing to equal participation from civil society and the government on the drafting committee, sharing of its chairmanship and notifying the formation of the committee.
The softening of the government's position was obviously the result of the mass support that Hazare's fast attracted. The fast was becoming a popular movement and the government could oppose or ignore it only at its peril. Though opposition parties supported the movement, the backing could not but have been opportunistic and in most cases, insincere.
The entire political and official class is the target of the movement, though the government was its immediate target. The usual strategy employed by politicians and even by the bureaucracy to scuttle a proposal is to support it in public and then undermine it secretly. Everyone agrees that the present draft of the bill, as prepared by the government, will not make any difference to corruption in the country.
The civil society representatives in the drafting committee, including Hazare, are known for their social commitment and moral uprightness. Some of them also have the legal acumen needed for the job. That being so, the government may not be able to wriggle out of its commitment to finalise the bill's provisions by June 30 and introduce it in the monsoon session of parliament. Hazare has said that he wants the bill to be passed before August 15.
Hazare's fast, the wide support he received and the discussion on the Lokpal bill appear to have somewhat lifted the national mood of despondency. The scandals that unspooled in the last few months had drawn attention to pervasive corruption, depressed most countrymen and made many of them cynical. The fast has at least provided some hope of resistance and remedies, and veered the discussion towards how to handle corruption rather than on how to accept it.
''OBAMA HAS LOST HIS SHEEN, YET HE'S IN A STRONG POSITION.''
President Obama will not have the advantage of a visionary fighting a cynical, entrenched and compromised establishment when he seeks re-election. He has announced his candidacy early, the earliest any incumbent US president has made his re-election plan officially public. The election is still 18 months away, which is a long time in electoral politics.
The early announcement might give him a head start in the campaign and in fund-raising.
But this may not be important because, being the President and being a good communicator with an efficient campaign machinery, he would not have suffered on both counts even if he were late. A disadvantage is that he will be a candidate and a politician for a long period and it might colour and constrain his conduct and actions as President in the coming months.
Obama has lost a lot of his sheen and he has been unable to keep many of the promises he made during his campaign. The platform of change and hope may not appeal as much as it did last time. Yet he is in a strong position. His ratings are good and have improved since last November when the Republicans made a strong showing in the Congressional elections.
In fact, in most polls Obama as a person has got a much higher rating than his policies. The economy will be the main electoral issue, though there are potent foreign policy issues like Afghanistan and the revolts in the Arab world that may hog the limelight. The US economy is not very badly placed at the moment, having recovered from the 2008 crisis faster than expected, and unemployment has come down to 8.8 per cent.
History too is on Obama's side. Only two elected US Presidents — Jimmy Carter in 1980 and George Bush Sr in 1992 — have lost their re-election in the last 60 years. The Republicans are yet to get their act together. More than a dozen, including former Massachusetts governor, Mitt Romney, are considering to run for presidency but none has yet announced his candidacy.
The appeal of a Republican shift to further right, the Tea Party movement and the idea of Bushism without Bush is uncertain. It might also help Obama that the Republicans are only trying to assert themselves in opposition to him. But much can change later.
A FAST UNTO LIFE
M J AKBAR
''India has become so supine that it slept while the wealth of this nation was being looted.''
Mahatma Gandhi flagellated himself with 17 fasts. They were not all fasts unto the death; they could be time-specific. This did not reduce the risk to his life, for 21 days without any nourishment or medical intervention could drag a frail man with an average weight of some 110 pounds to death's door.
Gandhi was a visionary, but not one ever trapped by illusion. He did not believe that a fast would persuade the British to pack up and leave the most lucrative part of their far-flung empire, the jewel of their crown, just because one obstinate, half-clad, toothless native had decided to stop drinking goat's milk for a few days.
The British establishment always treated Gandhi with contempt (exceptions like Lord Irwin apart); and as defeat loomed in the 1940s this evolved into unmitigated loathing, not least because an extraordinary arsenal of non-violence, moral momentum, and an unprecedented national awakening had driven history's mightiest empire into limp impotence.
When Gandhi started his liberation movement, the ranking Indian within the establishment, Lord Sinha, confidently averred that the British Raj would last for 400 years.
Thirty years later, the last Viceroy with any authority Lord Wavell (Mountbatten was a mere midwife, and left the motherland bleeding) had this to say in his diary on September 26, 1946: "The more I see of that old man (Gandhi) the more I regard him as an unscrupulous old hypocrite; he would shrink from no violence or bloodletting to achieve his ends... he is an exceeding cunning man to achieve his ends… he is an exceedingly shrewd, obstinate, domineering, double-tongued, single-minded politician". You have to hate someone with unbelievable intensity to stitch together such a farrago of lies. Wavell wrote this just after his beloved British Raj had killed some four million Bengalis through another man-made famine.
Paradoxically, many of the British on the second rung admired the man who had made it his life's work to destroy their empire. They understood that if they had been born Indian they would have been with Gandhi. On January 11, 1924, the superintendent of Pune jail, where Gandhi was interned, rushed the Mahatma to Sassoon hospital for an emergency appendicitis operation. The electricity went off when Colonel Maddock, the surgeon-general, was operating on the night of January 12, with the help of a British nurse; he completed his duty with torchlight. Gandhi thanked them for saving his life, and they were proud to do so.
The British constituted only half the challenge before Gandhi; the other, and bitter, half were fellow Indians. Gandhi knew that unless he could exorcise, or at least contain, the evil of communal violence between Hindus and Muslims, even success could become ash in his mouth. He had no instrument of coercion to use against fellow Indians, but he had a secret weapon: moral blackmail.
Fear of sin
He could hold his own life hostage through a fast while Indians sorted out between themselves whether the ransom, Gandhi's life, was worth paying. Over and over again, India paid up, for no Indian, Hindu or Muslim, wanted the sin of a Mahatma's death on his head.
It was in 1924, the same year as his appendicitis, that Gandhi went on a 21-day fast after the Kohat riots. Very deliberately, he chose to fast at the home of the great leader of the Khilafat movement, Maulana Mohammad Ali, in Delhi. By the time he sipped some orange juice on October 8, the fever of violence had passed, at least for the moment.
The instinctive reaction of governments to any such fast is cynicism. A government might be, in fact, as weak as a terminal patient in cancer ward, but will delude itself, till its dying breath, that to surrender before a man ready to sacrifice his life will make future governance impossible. The Congress, which had wept through Gandhi's fasts, refused to compromise when a Gandhian went on a fast unto death to demand the creation of Andhra Pradesh in 1950.
The Gandhian died, and Andhra was born. The Akali Sants put fasts to effective public use during their movement for a Sikh-majority Punjab. The Marxists laughed about Mamata Banerjee's weight when she went on a fast in Kolkata to protest against their land policy; on May 13, when the Assembly election results are out, Mamata will have the last laugh.
A fast succeeds not because it bends a government to its will, but because it is the yeast that foments the rise of a populace. Anna Hazare's fast in Delhi is not meant to bring down a government, its solitary purpose is, or should be, to resurrect an India that had become so supine that it slept indolently while the wealth of this nation was being looted by a handful of politicians and their acolytes.
Anna Hazare is not waiting to see how many corrupt, hypocritical ministers come to his side; he wants to know how many Anna Hazares have emulated him on a street corner in front of their homes. He has asked just one question: do you, fellow Indians, have a conscience?
If the answer is yes, then rise and save your nation from the death-grip of corruption. This is a fast for India's life.
THE MORAL HEGEMONY OF WESTERN POWERS
BY MANDEEP S TIWANA, IPS
There is a need for the emergence of alternate and principled centres of global power.
Interestingly, the website of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization proudly proclaims "NATO Allies decided on March 27 to take on the whole military operation in Libya under UN Security Council Resolution 1973". This sole claim of ownership over a UN-sponsored mandate by a military alliance is indeed worrying and begs the question whether international precedents are being established here to conflate a multi-lateral UN force with a NATO force.
When Gadhafi's military unleashed disproportionate force against what appeared to be hopelessly outnumbered and outgunned pro-democracy supporters, a number of civil society and independent observers urged the international community to step in to prevent further crimes against humanity.
What many hoped would be an across-the-board humanitarian intervention by a multi-lateral UN force to protect civilian lives has somehow ended up becoming a military operation run by a 'coalition of the willing', some of whose constituents are themselves blamed for causing large numbers of civilian deaths in military operations elsewhere.
The sad state of current international geo-politics can be seen in a number of ironies: the French air force targeting Libyan jet fighters produced and sold by France; the US government's selective urgency in taking action to protect civilian lives in Libya and not in Cote d'Ivoire; and the British prime minister's trip to Kuwait with arms manufacturers just after a successful revolution by largely peaceful pro-democracy protestors in Egypt.
Most notably, the five permanent and veto-wielding members of the UN Security Council (UNSC) whose responsibility under the UN Charter is to maintain international peace and security accounted for three quarters of global arms sales, which fuelled deadly armed conflicts between 2002-2009. Further proof of this moral ambivalence emerges from the fact that three of these major arms suppliers — the US, UK and France — also position themselves as staunch champions of democracy and freedom across the world.
Given this state of affairs, the need for the emergence of alternate and principled centres of power that own the global human rights agenda, particularly amongst nations of the global south — where most struggles are being waged — is acute.
In the second half of the 20th century when struggles against colonial domination and the hegemony of the principal power blocks were being waged, initiatives such as the Bandung Conference and the formation of the Non-aligned Movement (NAM) provided a ray of hope that some governments even though they were not strong military powers at the time were willing to challenge the domination of a few over many.
Unfortunately, the passage of time has taken its toll on NAM, which has become large and unwieldy. Some of its members have also earned reputations as 'human rights spoilers' at the UN in addition to being complicit in large-scale rights violations.
At present, no grouping of major powers is better placed to fill this role than the India, Brazil, and South Africa (IBSA) trilateral. However, while IBSA has enormous potential to do good in a constantly changing and increasingly multipolar world and to entrench and deepen the protection of human and democratic rights globally, its constituents have some ground to cover to enhance their legitimacy to advance these values. Moreover, IBSA's potential to do good hinges on a few factors:
First, the political leadership of these three countries needs to be confident in the knowledge that despite the imperfect enjoyment of human rights by their own citizens, substantial progress has been made in their domestic environments.
Second, there must be a willingness to discard diplomatic niceties and call a spade a spade at bilateral and multilateral forums when gross abuses of human rights are committed. This will require a spring cleaning of current diplomatic doctrines and relationships.
Third, there needs to be an acknowledgement that IBSA has much to offer to in terms of south-south cooperation by helping to put in place democratic institutions and stable structures across the developing world.
Finally, there needs to be recognition that the days of absolute dictators and authoritarian heads of government are coming to an end, and it is in a country's long-term interest to be on the right side of history. The question is whether Messrs Singh, Rousseff and Zuma are willing to play a part in scripting it.
IN RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE
SKELETON IN THE CUPBOARD
BY CHITRA SRIKRISHNA
The 'special guest' came wrapped up in cloth and spent the night under the cot.
The two middle aged women exchanged worried glances. They had been sworn to secrecy. "It's just for one night!" insisted their niece. When the young medical student announced that she was bringing a skeleton home for the night, they were taken aback. As members of an orthodox Tamil Brahmin household, they prayed silently that the stern family patriarch wouldn't find out. How could they carry this off? The women found themselves wondering even as they acquiesced with their niece.
Before that night, the two women had always insisted on their niece having a bath before entering the home every evening. "As long as she adheres to our rules it doesn't bother us."
My septuagenarian mother, one of the two conspirators, still feels the goosebumps when she recalls the incident that happened decades ago. "It was probably one of the most frightening nights of my life. I was so scared my father-in-law would discover the skeleton!"
The 'special guest' that memorable night came wrapped up in cloth and spent the night under the cot in the niece's room. Before sunrise, the guest left the house shrouded in secrecy, no drum rolls in the background. The two women did not sleep a wink that night. But then my mother had no idea how progressive her in-laws had been when it concerned another family member from the medical fraternity.
It was the 1930s and a young girl was playing hopscotch with her friends outside a sprawling house. When a relative dragged the reluctant girl inside the house she was at first annoyed at the intrusion. On hearing an elderly aunt utter the words, "Come inside, your husband is dead!" she became bewildered.
She was yet to grasp the ramifications of the incident on her life. In the next few years she was made to stand in a corner or separated from the others whenever there were festivities at home.
Despite the tribulations in her life, the 11-year-old blossomed into a beautiful teenager with one goal in her mind. She wanted to heal others. "Let her study medicine. I will support her financially." The girl's brother, a high ranking official in the Indian Audit Service was determined to provide for his young widowed sister and encouraged her to apply to the prestigious Madras Medical College.
After her medical degree, she set up a private practice in Trichy. 'Dr Athai' (aunt in Tamil) as she came to be known in the family rather than her first name, carved a path for herself in the town. Her brother and sister-in-law who were my grandparents, were proud of the young doctor's accomplishments.
What was really ironical to the other family members was that my grandfather was a staunch believer in homeopathy and had a deep abhorrence to allopathic doctors. Until the end of his life he shunned the conventional method of treatment yet was adamant when it pertained to his sister's medical training!
As the mother of two daughters I feel inspired by these real life stories of my relatives overcoming odds and blazing a trail as doctors.
TIMES FREE PRESS
WHAT DOES SMOKING COST?
People who smoke don't usually want to count the cost of a pack or more of cigarettes a day. And those who suffer cancer, emphysema or other smoking-related diseases surely do not like to think of what their habit costs in terms of doctor and hospital visits.
But really, in individual terms, the worst "cost" is not monetary: It involves health and quality of life.
Costs matter, though, and with Medicaid in Arizona running short of cash, there reportedly is consideration there of levying an annual $50 "tax" on those who smoke, are overweight or suffer diabetes.
Would that discourage smoking? Probably not much. And the suggested tax would be a drop in the bucket as compared with smoking-related spending through Medicaid, Medicare, etc.
But an official with an Arizona health care program said the $50 tax would be an incentive for patients to avoid smoking and the problems it brings.
"It engages the consumers to start having a greater awareness of how they fit into the bigger health care puzzle," an Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System spokeswoman told The Associated Press.
"We want to stretch our dollars as far as we can. Part of that is engaging people to take better care of themselves."
Do you think an additional tax on smokers will do much good? Tobacco taxes already are collected with the sale of each pack. And smokers who are hooked already "tax" themselves hundreds or even thousands of dollars a year by buying cigarettes — and paying much greater health care costs.
Everybody knows smoking is a bad habit. But many of us unfortunately have lots of bad habits that threaten or damage our health in a wide variety of ways. It's too bad we all don't just "do the right thing" and use our common sense for self-preservation — without adding another tax.
We already have too many taxes of various kinds that "may be hazardous to our health."
TIMES FREE PRESS
CONTINUED HOUSING COLLAPSE
Never in the nearly 50 years since the United States began keeping records on sales of new homes were sales as slow as they've been recently.
New-home sales dropped almost 17 percent in February. Sales would almost have to triple to reach the level that economists consider "healthy," The Associated Press reported.
Sales of existing homes offer no comfort, either. Nationwide, sales of existing homes were down nearly 10 percent from January to February.
And that's not the worst of it: About 40 percent of the existing homes that were sold in February were either foreclosures or involved sellers accepting less from buyers than what was still owed on the homes. In addition, the median price of existing homes that were sold hit its lowest level since early 2002.
The Chattanooga area, with its bright prospects from a number of major, ongoing economic developments, fared better. While the Greater Chattanooga Association of Realtors cannot readily separate out sales of new versus existing homes, it says this part of Southeast Tennessee and Northwest Georgia saw a 15 percent increase in overall home sales from January to February.
Many parts of the country fared far worse, though. For instance, sales of new homes in the Northeast fell almost 60 percent!
These painful numbers raise questions about the heavy government intervention that helped cause the housing sector to collapse and triggered the recession and high unemployment. Prior to the housing meltdown, the federal government for years had pressured lenders to lend money to home buyers who in many cases were high credit risks. So what the government considered "fairness" trumped sound lending practices.
A lot of those shaky loans had variable rates that eventually began to tick upward, putting the monthly payments out of reach for many of the borrowers.
That caused a tidal wave of foreclosures, glutting the market with properties. Borrowers who lost their homes wound up worse off than if they had never received the loans. And the foreclosures sharply reduced the value of homes owned by people who had borrowed more responsibly.
So as home values and sales keep plunging, it's fair to ask whether Washington has learned a lesson about not distorting the free market in pursuit of dubious social ends.
Sadly, with Washington's continued subsidies to everything from costly ethanol to passenger rail service, it appears that lesson has yet to be learned.
TIMES FREE PRESS
DEFENDING EQUAL PROTECTION
The state of Arizona has an innovative way to promote school choice and academic achievement. It provides dollar-for-dollar tax credits, up to $500, to individuals who pay into a tuition scholarship organization that helps children attend private schools.
But so-called civil liberties groups claim the tax credits amount to government support for religion, because many students who use the scholarships choose to attend religious rather than secular private schools.
That criticism is nonsense. Arizona provides the scholarships without requiring or forbidding students to use the money to attend parochial schools. That choice is left to parents and children, so the tax credits are scarcely a government endorsement of, or support for, religion.
Appropriately, the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld Arizona's commonsense law. Parents, not government, decide what schools their children will attend with the tax breaks, noted Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the 5-4 majority.
"[C]ontributions result from the decisions of private taxpayers regarding their own funds," he declared.
It would be deeply unjust for Arizona to create such a program and then to deny its benefits solely to students who choose to attend religious rather than secular private schools. In fact, it would undermine what the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution spells out: that no state shall "deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."
That includes "persons" of faith.
TIMES FREE PRESS
We are always naturally interested in population figures.
We often equate population growth reports with progress. But growing population can involve many problems, too.
In fact, the name Thomas Robert Malthus, a British scholar who lived from 1766 to 1834, gained lasting fame because of his controversial "Malthusian theory" on population.
In short, he thought, "The power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man." In other words, he believed we would outnumber our power to feed ourselves.
We were reminded of Malthus by recent reports that Communist China has about one and a third billion people, India roughly 1.2 billion, the United States about 309 million, Indonesia about 246 million, Brazil about 203 million, Russia nearly 140 million and Japan more than 126 million — all contributing along with smaller nations to a world population of about 6.9 billion.
Disease, war, famine and natural deaths constantly remove people from the Earth. But every day, there are more of "us," some sadly having to fight starvation — and some of us eating too much.
NO TO PRIVATE HEALTH CARE
ISRAEL'S HEALTH CARE SYSTEM IS A GOOD ONE, BUT IT SUFFERS FROM A SHORTAGE OF DOCTORS AND RESOURCES, AND IT MUST BE SHORED UP.
The negotiations between the Israel Medical Association and the Finance Ministry have run aground. But even if both sides make compromises, there is one demand the government must not accept under any condition: instituting private health care in hospitals run by the government or the Clalit health maintenance organization.
Those leading the push for private care are private insurance companies; a group of veteran doctors whose primary concern is themselves (at the expense of their younger colleagues and specialists in fields that don't allow for private practice ); and Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, who is behind the move because private health care is popular among the ultra-Orthodox, whom Litzman represents as a United Torah Judaism MK.
And now Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is adding himself to the list. His position contravenes an opinion handed down by the attorney general in 2002, which came out strongly against privatized medicine, and a High Court of Justice ruling from 2009 that found that, aside from long-standing agreements with Jerusalem hospitals, the private health care that had seeped into public hospitals during afternoon hours was illegal.
Supporters of private health care argue that it will give experienced specialists a reason to stay at hospitals rather than work in private clinics, shorten the waiting periods for medical services, and serve as a source of income that will be used to benefit all patients, most of whom have supplementary insurance. But the Finance Ministry says institutionalizing private care will increase the health care budget by NIS 3 billion, make private hospitals unnecessary, and reduce the productive competition between public and private hospitals.
The issue is even more serious when examined through the lens of social welfare. "Shortening the line for one person," the High Court wrote in its 2009 ruling, "means making the line longer for someone else."
Indeed, many public health specialists expect an expended private health care system to increase the wait for everyone else and make sought-after treatments more expensive. The burden on the public, which is already high - 42 percent of the national health care expenditure comes from the public - will increase. At the same time, health care in outlying areas of the country will be worse off and it will become more difficult to train new doctors.
Israel's health care system is a good one, but it suffers from a shortage of doctors and resources, and it must be shored up. Abandoning the public infrastructure for privatization will allow the state to completely ignore its obligation to provide equal health care, and is liable to destroy the entire health care system.
TIME FOR DISENGAGEMENT NO. 2
AS LONG AS THE GOVERNMENT DOES NOT KFAR TAPUAH AND SHEIKH JARRAH, THE CHILDREN OF SDEROT AND ASHDOD WILL NOT BE SAFE.
BY AKIVA ELDAR
Every rocket launched from the Gaza Strip toward Sderot and Ashdod serves as "further proof" that the evacuation of the Gush Katif settlement bloc was a bad bargain. And once again we are being warned that "this is what will happen to Kfar Sava and Netanya if we withdraw from Judea and Samaria." And once again the settlers are able to pull the wool over people's eyes, turning themselves from a security burden into a strategic asset.
One can make the claim that, were the Israel Defense Forces still deployed in the Strip, they'd make it difficult for Hamas and Islamic Jihad to smuggle war materiel in and fire rockets at Israel. But what security benefits would the residents along the Gaza border actually acrue if we continued to sustain the tinderboxes in Gush Katif?
For many long years, Israeli soldiers were killed defending the lives of 8,000 Jews who chose to settle in the heart of a population of 1.5 million Palestinians. On their behalf, Israel expropriated one-third of the land of the most densely populated area in the world. The 2005 disengagement from Gaza was intended to put an end to the outrageous waste of human lives and resources, and to lift from Israel's shoulders the international pressure to begin serious negotiations on a final-status solution. As could have been expected, the withdrawal from Gaza did not help solve the disagreements over the West Bank and Jerusalem, or the problem of the refugees. International pressure to open negotiations on the basis of the June 4, 1967 borders, and to freeze the settlements, is only growing stronger.
No country in the world can relate seriously to the claim that the Gush Katif disengagement proves that the settlements in "Judea and Samaria" are not an obstacle to peace. The presence of settlers in the West Bank worsens Israel's relationship with the Palestinians and disrupts the capabilities of the Palestinian Authority's security mechanisms. The IDF, the Shin Bet security service and the Israel Police are required to allocate large forces to protect the settlers from their Palestinian neighbors, who consider them robbers, and to protect the Palestinians from the settlers, who relate to them as foreign elements.
The lesson to be learned from the Gaza disengagement is that the time has come to start evacuating the West Bank settlements. Contrary to the unilateral disengagement from Gaza, the withdrawal from the West Bank should be carried out as an agreed-on down payment with the PA, in the framework of renewing the final-status talks. Such a move would increase Israel's military and diplomatic maneuvering room to counter the firing of missiles from Gaza, while decreasing the popular support among Palestinians for Hamas.
Contrary to what happened in Gush Katif, there would not be a need to evacuate every settler and every settlement from "Judea and Samaria." According to the Geneva Initiative map - which proposes an exchange of territory to the tune of 2.5 percent of the West Bank - 95 percent of the 100,000 ultra-Orthodox settlers and 80 percent of the 100,000 settlers in non-religious settlements would be annexed to Israel. Most of the evacuees would not require employment services, as 75 percent of them reside in the territories but go to work every day in Israel.
The settlers must come home not only because of the security and diplomatic damage these colonialist polices are causing Israel; Israeli society, particularly in the periphery, is also paying a high economic price for the passion for real estate in the West Bank. For example, the number of construction projects started in Israel in 2009 was 34,280 overall (according to the Central Bureau of Statistics ), of which 4,174 were public buildings (about 12 percent ). The rate of public building in the south of the country stood at 16.6 percent. That same year, however, the rate of public building in "Judea and Samaria" stood at 33.7 percent - and this was more or less the ratio seen in the two preceding years as well.
Responding to the WikiLeaks documents published in Haaretz this weekend, the chairman of the Yesha Council of settlements, Danny Dayan, said that even if the settlers are offered "sky-high bribes, the number of those who will be tempted to accept this will be negligible and not significant from the settlement point of view." If Dayan is so sure that his flock wishes to remain on its land, why does he hold these people hostage? Why does the Yesha chairman fear the evacuation-compensation law, which already offers those settlers on isolated settlements who wish to do so to return to the sovereign territory of Israel and enjoy fair rehabilitation services?
As long as the government does not evacuate Dayan's colleagues from Kfar Tapuah and Sheikh Jarrah, the children of Sderot and Ashdod will not be safe. Nor will the residents of Kfar Sava and Netanya.
WHO WANTS FINLAND?
IF NETANYAHU HAD WANTED TO CONDUCT REAL NEGOTIATIONS WITH THE PALESTINIANS OR WITH SYRIAN PRESIDENT BASHAR ASSAD, NO ONE WOULD HAVE STOPPED HIM.
BY NIVA LANIR
The Hamas regime is a pain in the neck. If it drags Israel into another ground confrontation in the Gaza Strip, Hamas won't be the only one that is beaten for the second time. The equation was, and remains, bad news; the shooting, the escalation and the losses harm both sides with differing force and cyclicity. There is no "bang-and-it's-over" solution, as Defense Minister Ehud Barak said yesterday morning on Israel Radio. Who knows better than he?
The fighting in the south has brought Barak - who just a few days ago boasted that Israel was enjoying "the kind of calm that hasn't been seen for years" - back to reality, and has revealed the Netanyahu government's great weakness: Israel must pay dearly not only for what it does, but also for what it does not do.
Since his June 2009 Bar-Ilan speech, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his government have done practically nothing to push forward diplomatic solutions with the Palestinians and with the Syrians. His spokesmen sold us thorough discussions among the inner cabinet about renewing negotiations, after that they bragged of unequaled American commitments for arms deals, then they spun the story about "Bar-Ilan II" and presenting a diplomatic plan, perhaps on the eve of Netanyahu's meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, perhaps in May when he makes a speech before the two houses of Congress in Washington. All of these moves were aimed at fanning the dwindling flames of the Netanyahu campfire - and if not to rouse a real flame, then at least to keep the coals glowing, or the embers, or a little spark. All of these moves were just for show.
Netanyahu does not need bargains or witticisms or articles of encouragement. If he'd wanted to conduct real negotiations with the Palestinians or with Syrian President Bashar Assad, no one would have stopped him. Neither Likud MK Danny Danon nor National Union MK Michael Ben Ari. If the prime minister had intended to fulfill his declaration of "two states for two peoples," he would not have required so many words of interpretation and PR spins. He would have presented a diplomatic plan and cut out a working program from it. The United States would have supported him and Europe would have cheered him on. But that is not what Netanyahu intended or intends to do - excuse me for putting it so plainly.
How do we know? Why should he do tomorrow what he has neglected to do until today, especially now that the Middle East is stormier than ever?
"We have not tried to put all core issues on the table in the past two years," Barak said at Tel Aviv University on March 13. In that same speech, the defense minister sketched the storm that would come crashing down on the Netanyahu government - a "political tsunami" that could be expected around September. "There is an international movement which will recognize a Palestinian state in 1967 borders," he said.
There are five months left before the "tsunami" will hit. Barak, President Shimon Peres and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman are busy rushing around the world; the Iranian front, Hamas and Hezbollah will not help solve the conflict with the Palestinians. Netanyahu is the only one who can help Netanyahu, and - from what we have seen so far - he has no inclination to help himself. September will once again be Black September. And not in Jordan; in Jerusalem and its surroundings; five minutes from Kfar Sava.
"Those who came here in order to set up a national home," Barak continued during his radio interview yesterday, "have to know how to stand firm. Those who want complete quiet - there is Finland and there is western Europe, and they can go there."
No thank you. Who wants Finland? We came from Europe, and not so we could go back there. We're not looking for the little Dutch boy with his finger in the dyke. Nor the boy from "The Emperor's New Clothes."
OF AGGRESSION AND CHARLATANISM
THE WIKILEAKS DOCUMENTS PROVE THAT THE ISRAELI PUBLIC LIKES TO BE GOVERNED AGGRESSIVELY BY PERSONS WHO TEND TO FEED THEM LIES.
BY ALON IDAN
A reading of the so-called Israel file found among the WikiLeaks documents reveals the stuff of which Israel's "leadership" is made. To sum it up, an Israeli leader apparently carries two basic genes: one of aggression and one of charlatanism. In ideological terms, that means that such a leader has most likely been influenced by Machiavelli's "The Prince" - based on the great assumption that said leader has actually read the book. If for a moment we switch things around and extrapolate, this also means the Israeli public likes to be governed aggressively by persons who tend to feed them lies.
According to the documents, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is the king of charlatans. He is mostly preoccupied with tactics like enhancing visibility and marketing. He asks to hold a meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy in private. His request is turned down. By way of explanation, the president's adviser says: "After a tete-a-tete, each side says what it wants" about the things said in the meeting. In other words, there was concern that Netanyahu would present the details of the conversation in a distorted and incomplete way.
In November 2009, during a meeting with members of the U.S. Congress, Netanyahu says jokingly: "What is the difference between on and off the record in Israel? Two weeks." In other words, even his jokes deal with how to create two realities - one confidential, the other not - with a comic dimension attributed to the very short period during which the con is perpetrated.
"Netanyahu" is a marketing term which describes the way in which reality is presented in order to preserve power.
Avigdor Lieberman is the king of force. In a 2006 meeting with Richard Jones, then U.S. ambassador to Israel, the current Israeli foreign minister explains that Mahmoud Abbas is "weak and corrupted, and no longer relevant." After thus dismissing, in a few words, the most moderate Palestinian leader Israel has known, Lieberman suggests finding a more appropriate partner within the Palestinian Authority leadership. For example, Mohammed Rashid.
Setting aside the issue of private interests - Rashid is linked with Austrian billionaire Martin Schlaff, who is linked to Lieberman - it is interesting that Lieberman disqualifies the person elected by the Palestinian public and hopes to put in his place, in colonialist fashion, a leader who will meet the demands of the powerful states. Democracy, Yisrael Beiteinu style.
Danny Dayan, chairman of the Yesha Council of settlements, told representatives of the U.S. embassy that, "As long as the [Defense Ministry] only dismantles outposts like Maoz Esther, we're really not concerned - yet." But in the media he warns that, "If the government acts in such a one-sided and aggressive manner, the grave results that will stem from this will be on its account." Charlatanism. By contrast, Histadrut labor federation chairman Ofer Eini, warns that he "will pull the plug" if the government does not take him seriously. Aggressiveness.
When it comes to Yuval Diskin, the outgoing head of the Shin Bet, aggressiveness and charlatanism are molded together to the point of stupidity, to which is added a touch of racism. His claim that "many of them [Israeli Arabs] take their rights too far" reflects a very narrow concept of democracy and an inherent feeling of superiority over the Arab Israeli minority. My assessment: Diskin can be expected to have a brilliant political career if he so chooses.
As for the Israeli left, in the absence of any foothold in the establishments of power and control, it can only take advantage of the remnants of the charlatan genome. However, it must also be said that there is something embarrassing when one's charlatanism takes the form of regularly running to the "teacher from America" to "tattle on" Israel for its violations of law in the territories. After all, Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch will eventually legalize some of those violations in any case, because of the "innocent buyers who are not aware of the clandestine machinations of the contractors."
CALM WITHOUT RESOLVING THE CONFLICT
THE CALM IS ONLY PARTIAL SINCE SHOOTING DOWN A GRAD ROCKET IS NOT THE BE-ALL AND THE END-ALL - THERE IS NO DEFENSE AGAINST A KORNET MISSILE AIMED AT A BUS OR A WINDOW IN A KIBBUTZ HOUSE.
BY AMIR OREN
April 7 is an important date in the history of the Israel Air Force. In 1967, that was the day six Syrian planes were shot down in dogfights over Damascus and the Kinneret's eastern shore, and the countdown began to the Six-Day War. Last week it became important for another reason: It marked the first intercept of a Grad rocket by the Iron Dome system.
In the 44 years between those two milestones, the Arab-Israeli war has changed. The air force no longer downs enemy planes because those planes don't take off to do battle against it. For three decades, from 1955 to 1985, Israeli pilots clashed with Egyptians and Syrians, Jordanians and Iraqis, and roundly outdid them in numbers of downed aircraft.
Arab efforts have now been diverted elsewhere. There are fewer regular armies of countries and regimes and more sub-state organizations. Tanks and planes hold their fire, while explosives, anti-tank missiles, rockets and surface-to-surface missiles are let loose.
Israeli pilots, with their special attributes, training and Western planes, as well as the development of original systems, had a great advantage over their Egyptian and Syrian counterparts, back when the MIG-21 was just as good as the Mirage, and certainly thereafter. But the gap between the Hamas militant firing a missile or a rocket, not to mention a suicide bomber, and the soldier, police officer or Shin Bet operative trying to stop the attack is not that great. In any case, it's not great enough to dull the cumulative sting of attacks, whether carried out directly in the street or on a bus, or indirectly with high-trajectory fire.
The response to the terror campaign in the early part of the last decade was a combination of offense and defense. Defense involved the Shin Bet and Military Intelligence improving intelligence and extending the security fence in some places east of the Green Line as a partial and tardy imitation of the southern fence around Gaza. The offensive response was Operation Defensive Shield. In the south, the Israel Defense Forces is moving in the opposite direction, outward, while aerial and other terror persists from the Gaza Strip - shooting, explosives and attempted abductions.
The praise for the soldiers operating Iron Dome is in fact a reproach of our political and military leaders. Not so long ago, people who are now boasting about the achievement, and their predecessors, were against investing in systems to intercept short- and middle-range rockets. When developers and experts from outside the military establishment offered quick solutions, they were arrogantly and blithely rejected.
Arguments against such solutions, in light of ongoing funding constraints, came from the realm of strategy. (Better to focus on attack and flexible and multipurpose methods, particularly aircraft, for air battles and ground attacks ). These arguments also came from combat doctrine. (The enemy's knowledge that lacking defenses, Israel must attack, will help deter that enemy ). Finally, there was the tradition of the organization. (In the air force, manned planes lead; unmanned aircraft and ground weapons to intercept aircraft are shunted aside ).
The story of Iron Dome, like the Patriot against the Scud 20 years ago, confirms how true it is that wars must not be left to generals to manage, in or out of uniform. And they made up our entire leadership, in government as well, during the years of refusal to develop those systems.
Senior officers were trained to fight at the front; they don't have abundant skills when it comes to understanding the civilian population. While air defense systems will not lead to the elusive resolution of the armed conflict, they will help prevent escalation and reduce civilians' anxiety, which in turn relieves the pressure for us to embark on a major offensive operation. In contemporary media-soaked warfare, which draws international attention and is subject to legal constraints, civilians have an impact no less than divisions and squadrons.
Along with a decisive resolution of the conflict, early warning and deterrence, calm is a fundamental component of security. It's only partial, because shooting down a Grad rocket is not the be-all and the end-all - there is no defense against a Kornet missile aimed at a bus or a window in a kibbutz house, and in the end Israel may still need to act to bring down Hamas.
But there is a big difference between "in the end" and "from the start," between necessity and overenthusiasm. And that difference marks the deficiency in leadership from which Israel suffers.
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
FROM THE BOSPHORUS: STRAIGHT - A BANK OF HER-STORY
Most of the terms shaping our times are thought to have originated in the West and the East is thought to be a mere follower of the idealized world. This illusion is also valid for feminism.
A detailed story in our weekend paper, however, shows how this perception is a crooked one and sheds light on the history of the reflection of this term on this land. It thus serves as a tool of deconstruction of the word "his-tory" as well.
The Kadın Eserleri Kütüphanesi (The Women's Library) provides many firsts in regards to the women's movement and issues, including the first women's party under Ottoman times.
The library, a memory bank of women in Turkey with 13,000 books and 1 million archive documents is a very significant source. However, it is very frustrating that it is not much known even by museum lovers of Istanbul. It is even more depressing to see that the institution lacks the necessary interest from state officials and it basically tries to survive on foreign funding.
"Works on women have not been taken seriously in the mistaken belief that men make the history and with the misperception that history is a narration of men's war and pain. History was not evaluated in this angle before, and the history of women disappeared," says the library's new director, anthropologist and journalist-writer Nevval Sevindi. With this approach, she shows the library's significant mission to change a deep-rooted prejudice.
The library initiated a project called "Istanbul Woman, Woman Istanbul," as part of European Culture Capital 2010 Istanbul activities. "Istanbul is a feminine city. It is decorated with fountains, mosques, woods and public fountains built for women Ottoman sultans. That's why everyone has an eye on the city," says Sevindi. We are not sure whether with the existing perceptions, Istanbul indeed reveals its femininity. But we are sure the need to reveal its authenticity belongs to a wide-ranging scope, including all genders and ethnicities.
We also believe it is not a coincidence that the absence of authentic interest and involvement in actions to solve gender-based problems goes in parallel with the immense rise in violence against women. And we believe women's problems should not be eclipsed just by the headscarf issue, which is just one aspect of the problems of freedom for women.
We thus would like to salute the figures who gave birth to this invaluable library and enabled its survival and also pay respect to the memory of the late Füsun Akatlı and the late Jale Baysal.
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
I EXPECT YOU TO DIE, MR. BOND
I remembered this famous scene when Turkish bonds rallied strongly after the favorable March inflation release on Monday. My precautionary stance towards bonds stems mainly from my belief that markets seem to have been fooled by the inflation figure, whereas supply and demand dynamics paint a mixed picture for bond prospects.
While inflation fell below 4 percent for the first time in four decades in March, the inflationary outlook is anything but comforting.
For one thing, the March reading is largely due to the unusually low food inflation. But the volatility of both global and domestic food prices have increased substantially, which means that upward surprises are equally likely in the coming months. Besides, if the past is any guide, Citi Turkey economists show, in a recent report, that unusually low food prints are reversed in the following five months.
Oil prices are another risk to inflation. Moreover, with demand going strong, producers are likely to be able to pass on the increase in producer prices to consumers. Therefore, the growing wedge between producer and headline inflation is likely to close in the direction of the headline figure.
Besides, as the same Citi report illustrates, we have always seen inflation accelerate after elections, as much-needed administrative price hikes are frozen until then. With rumors that electricity price increases are on the way, I don't see any reason to believe this time would be any different.
I have quantified these arguments into a time series model, the details of which can be seen at my blog, as even the mention of acronyms such as VAR and VECM are bound to scare my few readers away. At the end of the day, I am left with an end-year inflation forecast of 7.5 to 8 percent.
Once you accept this inflationary outlook and 2 percent as the real interest rate, two-year benchmark bonds look, if anything, overvalued. If you work with the inflationary expectations two years ahead instead, the benchmark seems fairly valued.
Supply and demand dynamics
On the domestic demand side, banks could be hit with new reserve requirement ratio hikes, which would curb their appetite for bonds. Besides, the limited appreciation potential for the lira constrains domestic demand for bonds as well.
As for foreigners, despite the fault lines of the Turkish economy I have discussed many times, such as the current account deficit and the unsustainable growth path, investors have an extremely positive perception of the political and economic outlook.
Besides, while domestics look more to the level of the lira in whether to invest in bonds, foreigners care more about its volatility. As I expect a more stable lira before the elections, the second quarter could mark the return of the carry-trade to Turkey. Bonds would be the main beneficiaries of such flows, as the Central Bank-induced volatility has made short-term assets risky.
On the supply side, the debt stock is likely to fall to 43 percent of GDP by year-end, and the redemption schedule is rather light, with the exception of May, August and November. The positive public debt outlook and financing schedule are bond-positive, and along with a surge in foreign demand, could lead the benchmark towards 8 percent. But I would expect such rallies to be transitory, as rate hikes after the elections have only partially been priced.
At the end of the day, while I do expect them to die sooner or later, there is still hope for Turkish government bonds, at least in the short-term. After all, they, like 007, just refuse to be a good boy and die.
Emre Deliveli is a freelance consultant and columnist for Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review and Forbes as well as a contributor to Roubini Global Economics. Read his economics blog at http://emredeliveli.blogspot.com.
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
THE NEEDS OF THE RUSSIAN ECONOMY: PUTIN OR MEDVEDEV?
C. CEM OĞUZ
As a birthday present, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev was reported to have recently handed the last Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, a book of essays by Sergei Witte.
Count Witte, actually a converted Orthodox of Dutch origin, was one of the most influential figures in pre-revolutionary Russia. He served as chairman of the Council of Ministers between 1903 and 1906. During his term in office, he wrote the October Manifesto of 1905 a precursor to the first ever Russian constitution that granted a variety of civil rights to tsar's subjects. As a skilful diplomat, he managed to end imperial Russia's humiliation during the famous Russo-Japanese of 1904-5, which inspired all the nationalist movements in the East, including the Kemalist revolution of Turkey. Nevertheless, his most substantial contribution to Russia was his role in the extensive industrialization within the empire.
By the end of the 19th century, Russia had no choice but to industrialize. The state lacked the capital to meet the expenditures of an imperial power with huge ambitions. The only alternative was state bankruptcy and thus, more unrest within the country.
Witte believed that the only solution to Russia's fiscal crisis was industrialization or more production. Industrial expansion would mean broadening the state's tax base and revenues. It is precisely for this reason that Witte opened the Russian economy to foreign investment. By the turn of the century, nearly one-half of Russia's industrial and commercial capital was of foreign origin.
In such a country extending from the Baltic Sea to the Pacific Ocean, the transportation network was understandably of grave importance for further economic development. Thus, Witte oversaw an ambitious program of railway construction which included the building of the famous Trans-Siberian Railway, still a source of inspiration for many movies.
Witte's contributions to Russia's economic reforms as well as development are numerous, but they are beyond the scope of that op-ed. I merely gave these details to highlight the message Medvedev was trying to give to the Russian public.
Several times in the past, Medvedev was reported to have embarked on a drive of modernization to urgently move the Russian economy away from its dependence on energy exports to an innovation-based model. I remember that I read a couple of his warnings that Russia would face an impasse if the need for change was neglected.
Such concerns are not baseless. Suffice it to say that natural resources constitute around 70-80 percent of Russian exports, while oil and gas account for approximately half of all exports. During Boris Yeltsin's term in office, Russia was even unable to pay salaries and pensions. In August 1998 the collapse of the Russian ruble caused one of the most severe financial crises Russia has ever seen.
The turnaround came in 1999-2000. The rise in world crude oil prices from around $10 a barrel in December 1998 to around $33 a barrel in September 2000 provided Vladimir Putin with a major opportunity to restore the Russian economy. The increasingly growing infusion of cash thus did not only help boost the Russian economy but also accelerated the revival of the Russian energy industry. The eventual culmination of this process has been the Russian economy's still ongoing budget surplus. However, structural transformation has not been accomplished yet. The Russian economy is still fragile, as seen during the latest global economic crisis. In fact, Russia urgently needs to improve its producing capabilities.
This situation creates a dilemma of grave importance for Russia in the realm of foreign policy: What might be the cost of any rivalry or confrontation in foreign policy for a Russia that still lacks the necessary resources? In the past, Putin, trying to make the most of Russia's few assets, increasingly relied on the export of energy resources and chose to follow a more moderate foreign policy line. For a while by now, however, there are signs that he has started to opt for a more challenging approach. Undeniably, this choice has vital repercussions on Russia's domestic politics as well as economy. For instance, it is Putin and his "sloviki" who initiated the famous Yukos affair and the imprisonment of his president, Alexander Khodorkovsky; actually, a move Medvedev is believed to be strongly opposed to.
At the time when Witte opened Russia to foreign investment (and thus global economic integration), he was heavily criticized by Russian reactionary forces. He even was accused of transforming Russia into a "European colony." The most outspoken name in the camp of this circle was Konstantin Pobyedonostsyev, a jurist holding the position of the ober-procurator of the Holy Synod, the highest post in the supervision of the Russian Orthodox Church by the state. Pobyedonostsyev strongly rejected such Western ideals as freedom and denounced democracy as an element hostile to Russia's historical course.
Whom does Russia need today? Witte or Pobyedonostsyev? Or will this situation help open the way for an untested alternative, as it was the case with the Bolsheviks in the past?
Endnote: It has become a fashion in Turkey, among liberal-minded intellectuals in particular, to heavily criticize the achievements of the Republican era. Yet they neglect the fact that this country could not even produce a single pin at the time when the republic was established. In contrast to the picture that Russia faces today, however, we are talking about an export target of half a billion U.S. dollars in Turkey and are proud of our worldwide entrepreneurs. Is it fair? Turkey produces. And the more Turkey produces the more I am confident about the future of my beloved country.
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
LEBANESE CIVIL SOCIETY ON THE RISE
On March 20, the day before the Mother's Day holiday in Lebanon, 30,000 people of all ages took the streets of Beirut chanting slogans and demanding the abolition of the country's confessional system.
This was the latest in a series of demonstrations that began on Feb. 27 with 3,000 young people committed to demonstrating each Sunday for a secular Lebanon that guarantees equal rights for all its citizens.
Their demands are clear: demonstrators want a secular state, a personal status law that guarantees women's rights, the end of Lebanon's current system which allows religious sects to apply different civil laws on issues related to divorce or heritage, and the establishment of civil marriage.
Lebanese civil society seized the momentum from popular uprisings in the region to launch a campaign for the abolition of the confessional system of power-sharing between Lebanon's different religious groups. Although the Preamble of the Lebanese Constitution stipulates that "The abolition of political confessionalism is a basic national goal," due to the 1943 National Pact – an unwritten agreement – power sharing was established on a confessional basis where parliamentary seats are allocated on the basis of religion, and the highest positions are filled by people from specific sects: the president is always Maronite Christian, the prime minister always Sunni and the speaker of parliament always Shia.
With 18 recognized religious communities, laws on personal status that deal with marriage, divorce, adoption, child custody and inheritance are handled by different religious courts run by each community. Druze, Shia and Sunni citizens each apply different interpretations of Shariah (Islamic principles of jurisprudence). And the Orthodox and non-Orthodox Christian communities apply different versions of canon law. Most of these laws tend to favor the rights of men and stress patriarchal values.
Those who opt for civil marriages outside of Lebanon face another challenge. Many personal status laws disallow marriages if one person in a couple is from a different religious community. And because there is no civil marriage in Lebanon, many religiously mixed couples that do not believe in religious marriage or couples where one partner does not want to change his or her religion, are obliged to travel to neighboring countries like Cyprus or Turkey.
Various attempts to institute one civil code pertaining to the status of the individual, even as an optional measure, have failed due to a political and social system based on confessional power-sharing.
However, civil society has decided to act. A vast roadside billboard campaign was launched in March by the KAFA (which means enough in Arabic) network which brings together various women's associations and organizations. The aim of this campaign is the full implementation of Article 16 of the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women which clearly stipulates equality between men and women as far as marriage is concerned and at the spouse's discretion. KAFA advocates that all Lebanese people be subject to the same personal status laws, which guarantee women the same rights and obligations in marriage, inheritance, divorce, alimony and custody afforded to men under the Lebanese Constitution and gender-sensitive international agreements.
A unified civil code on personal status would put an end to existing inequalities between men and women, and among Lebanese women of different confessions, and is the first step in upholding the constitutional aim of abolishing political confessionalism.
*Rita Chemaly is a social and political science researcher. This piece was distributed by the Common Ground News Service
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
It has been some time since so many crises have affected the Middle East and North Africa. Many companies have been caught out – and there is more to come. Those who were comfortable working in relatively crime-free Libya found themselves in a war zone overnight. Tourists in Tunisia, Egypt and Bahrain faced chaos at airports and violence in the streets. Firms have abandoned properties and left employees stranded, unable to organize proper evacuation.
Oddly enough, although protests have taken place in Iraq too, they are not having the same impact on its slowly re-emerging commerce. The underlying grievances such as unemployment, poverty, inflation and a lack of services are as much of a problem here as anywhere else but private companies have not been significantly affected.
One reason is readiness. Companies operating in Iraq (should) have measures in place to mitigate risks and manage crises. The problem is that companies anywhere should have crisis plans too.
But it is no use having them in a document gathering dust on a shelf: In a crisis there will be little time for reading a book. Actions need to be swift and fluid, both by those in the country and those assisting them from outside, such as travel planners, security officers and even those liaising with employees' families. The only way to ensure fluidity is training and regular practice for all involved.
Evacuation plans must also be reviewed. Many companies already have evacuation insurance but they must check their contracts in light of recent events. In the small print, many providers will only guarantee evacuation from the nearest safe airport. During the crises in Libya and Egypt such airports were often in another country, little use to those stuck in gridlock in Cairo or, worse, stranded in the Sahara desert. Measures need to be in place for evacuation by other means, such as boat or car.
There is no one-size-fits-all plan that companies can sign and hope for the best. An energy firm with staff in the desert will have completely different evacuation requirements from a hotel firm in a busy tourist resort, or a bank or a construction company. Contractors must not assume that security will be provided by the main company: This cannot be left to chance.
In one case, a group of 30 sub-contractors woke up one day in the middle of the Libyan desert to find that the management had disappeared, repatriated by their own country. The contractors' insurers' evacuation service eventually turned up, offering to meet them across the border in Egypt: Obviously, if they could get to Egypt, they could get anywhere, including safely home. In an added complication, their passports were at the head office in Tripoli.
Our team in Benghazi diverted and traveled more than 700 miles into the interior and brought them back. Meanwhile, our Crisis Response Center organized diplomatic intervention to handle their undocumented crossing into Egypt, where they were met at the border by a consular official.
This happy ending conceals a litany of incompetence, lack of planning, inadequate resources and real danger in the middle of a civil war – all of which could have been mitigated by proper risk assessment, intelligence, planning and organized response.
Crisis management can be expensive and time-consuming but it is better than being caught out. Many staff managed to escape Libya and Egypt at the appropriate time without getting in the news, often on a scheduled flight at standard cost before conditions deteriorated. Those that did not react in time were faced with either locking down and staying put or risking dangerous road movements and the high cost of chartering a plane.
Furthermore, if employees suffer harm the cost can be unquantifiable. You cannot put a value on the impact on their families, or indeed a company's reputation. The financial liability is a whole other problem.
There are no quick solutions and crisis management is a long-term process – but with immeasurable potential benefits. The cost of a crisis can very quickly outweigh the cost of mitigating a crisis, while the impact on staff, assets and reputation can be irreparable.
There are plenty more crises brewing. If plans are only reviewed when a crisis is taking place, it is too late.
*John Drake is a senior risk consultant with AKE Group, a British security and risk analysis firm working in Iraq since before 2003 and throughout the Middle East and North Africa.
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
LIBERATING TURKISH CYPRUS FROM ITS SAVIOR - II -
The insistence of the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, government in Ankara to force the Turkish Cypriot government since 2004 to use at least partially the financial assistance extended by Turkey for restructuring and thus transformation of the Turkish Cypriot economy toward becoming a self-sustainable one was indeed something new and totally contradictory with the "classical" mainland approach to the island.
Though there was almost no industrial capability of Turkish Cypriots before 1974, with the Turkish intervention, small industry facilities, particularly the Nicosia Industrial Zone left by the Greek Cypriots in the north provided Turkish Cypriots with a considerable base to launch their industrial growth. Yet, difficulties in exporting its products to countries other than Turkey because of political barriers resulting from the non-recognition of the Turkish Cypriot administration by the international community, the difficulties of competing with prices in Turkey and the small domestic market forced installations in that small industrial zone to close down one after the other forcing the Turkish Cypriot economy solely rely on tourism revenues, which also was dwindled because of the absence of direct flights from European destinations.
All those troubles were experienced in the second half of the 1970s and in the 1980s. The rise of Turkish Cypriot business tycoon Asil Nadir on the international commercial scene was a rescue for Turkish Cypriots for some time in late 1980s and early 1990s, providing employment opportunities and boosting the per capita income. The collapse of Asil Nadir and his Polly Peck empire, the subsequent Greek Cypriot EU process and the thickening of the isolation of the north forced northern Cyprus "integrate" further with Turkey, or to become a zone living on subsidies from Turkey.
All through those years at seminars, panels and round-table discussions this writer was trying to explain to Greek Cypriot and European or American colleagues, academics and diplomats that the isolation of north might eventually be detrimental to the prospects of a settlement to the Cyprus problem as the more Turkish Cypriots were made an outcast by the international community, the more they feel compelled to integrate further with Turkey; one day, thus, northern Cyprus might be no different than Bodrum or Alanya or any of those nice Turkish towns on the Aegean or Mediterranean coasts. That is, it might become an area where Turkishness is protected and promoted while the Cypriot character and Turkish Cypriots have indeed vanished from the island.
Thus, the more isolation of northern Cyprus continued, the more prospect of a settlement of the Cyprus problem will be hurt. Furthermore, the longer isolation continued, the more mainland Turks settle on Cyprus and Turkish Cypriots migrate abroad and eventually it will no longer be possible to talk of existence of a Turkish Cypriot cultural and ethnic presence in northern Cyprus.
A while ago, talking with this writer, Greek Cypriot Archbishop Christostomos enraged mainland Turks living in northern Cyprus by describing them as "parasites" who in a settlement accord must be "kicked off" the island. However, international isolation and the consequent failure to develop a self-sufficient economic infrastructure for their non-recognized state made the Turkish Cypriot people some sort of a parasite surviving on blood, or subsidies, from Turkey.
Turkey was of course naturally responsible for the development of such an awkward Turkey-dependent people and state in northern Cyprus given in the fact that if the Turkish market were opened to Turkish Cypriot exports and mainland entrepreneurs, rather than unqualified and cheap labor, northern Cyprus could indeed become an outstanding success, a paradise. Yet, probably because it wanted to be always the "generous big brother" who should always be obeyed – as it is funding the Turkish Cypriot state – particularly after the 1995 customs union deal with Europe, Ankara became as difficult and unreachable a market to Turkish Cypriots as any other country might be.
In the mean time, to overcome rampant unemployment and the consequent high migration rate, enrollment in public offices was continued; a giant public sector in a dwarf land and population was created.
More to come…
I. THE NEWS
MORE BAD NEWS
The State Bank of Pakistan has stated in its second report for 2011 that the economy can expect to face still harder times than is currently the case, mainly because of a continued rise in global oil prices. This essentially means that inflation will continue and has been anticipated by the SBP to stand at around 14 or 15 percent. For the average Pakistani, this is obviously not good news. As things stand, rising prices have affected almost every sector of society and left many less and less able to acquire even the basic needs of their households. The threat of a still tougher future is not comforting. While there has recently been a shimmer of better news on the economic horizon, with the rupee rallying marginally and some possibility of a tax on agriculture, this is not enough to dispel the dark clouds that hang over people's lives. As the SBP report points out, continued political uncertainty is one factor that brings them floating across the sky and is blocking the sunshine. There is, for now, no evidence that this uncertainty will be reduced in the coming months. Poor governance and almost perpetual crises in many spheres of life have aggravated the situation. There is no visible attempt to tackle this issue or deal with the consequences that arise from it.
But for the sake of our future as a nation, for the sake of our people, we do need to seek out solutions. Political and economic issues need to be considered together given the degree to which they influence each other. Most of us know quite well what the problems are. These have been identified many times over and at many different forums. Economic paralysis is an ailment we have lived with for some time now. What we need now is the establishment of a panel of experts that can put forward suggestions on how to resolve the problem and move towards recovery. Other countries with fewer resources than us have after all fared better than we have. In light of the latest SBP report and other grim forecasts of our economic future, we need to know what solutions are available, so that the government can be pressured to move towards them effectively and decisively. Unless this happens, we will continue to hear only bad news and will have no insight into how things can be turned around.
I. THE NEWS
TAX OR NO TAX?
At first sight the news that the Punjab government is to enforce an 'income-based' tax on parts of the agricultural sector could be expected to draw applause from economists across the land. At last, the long-sought widening of the tax footprint to include the agricultural sector is here. Celebrations all around. Or not. Apparently, officials have been collecting data for months and doing all sorts of preparatory work and training in order to prepare themselves for their first engagement with the landowners whose holdings exceed 50 acres. They are going to be approaching the 'big landlords' of Punjab, presumably with more than a little caution, in order to hand them a simple self-filled self-assessed form which on completion will be returned to the revenue staff. Or not.
Anybody who thinks that this is going to make any significant contribution to the tax revenues of Punjab is living in cloud-cuckoo land. What is being proposed is the enforcement of legislation that has been on the statute books in one form or another since 1997. On the books it may be, but enforced it has not been – or where it has been imposed, it is highly selective and not all inclusive. The primary legislation is the Punjab Agricultural Income Tax Act, 1997, amended in 2001 when the criterion for taxation was shifted from 'land-based' to 'income-based' in order that those with more fertile lands paid more tax than those with less fertile lands – which seems a fair way of doing things. Research by this newspaper reveals that the gentlemen of the Board of Revenue, ever mindful of the powerful farming lobby, have only been charging a nominal land-based tax and not the far more fruitful, in revenue terms, income-based tax. The BOR conducted a sample survey of four large landowners in south Punjab, discovering that they had collectively managed to avoid paying Rs13.916 million in taxes. Data held by the BOR shows that there are 6,555 landowners with holdings of similar size, and it is not unreasonable to assume that they have not been rushing to pay their taxes either. We wish the best of luck to the BOR in its endeavours, but handing a form to a landowner hardly constitutes enforcement. Now, if the BOR started to talk in terms of sequestration of the taxable portions of farm income then we might be a little more inclined to believe in enforcement as a reality. As things look today, we suspect that a lot of forms are going to sit a very long time in the 'pending' tray of landowners.
The emigration of people from the country is a phenomenon we are all too familiar with. It has been going on for decades with people leaving in waves for other lands since the years soon after Partition. In most cases, it is those who are highly qualified and educated who choose to make the long journey to the west. The impact of this on our own country has not been properly studied. But we can say almost without doubt that it has been a profound one. In many ways, it accounts for the growing mediocrity we come across in so many places and for the complaints from employers that they cannot find competent people to hire.
This is highly detrimental to the country and its future. We need to plug the brain drain somehow. But rather than slowing down we have seen a speeding up of the process of departure over the past few years. Much of this is connected with the issue of governance and people's opinions about how events are shaping up. This is just one more way in which the actions of leaders impact what people do. For now, things don't look so good. There is need for drastic change; otherwise we can look forward to a future where there are even fewer people with the professional expertise we need in a wide variety of fields.
I. THE NEWS
KEEPING UP WITH THE JONESES
AIJAZ ZAKA SYED
Why is it that some of the greatest crimes against mankind have been perpetrated in the name of religion? Faith is supposed to liberate and empower us. To give us hope, strength and a reason to live. And keep us going even when everything around us is falling apart. It's faith that bonds humble man with God making angels fall before him in submission. Faith, like reason, distinguishes men from animals and all other creations of God.
So why do we often see the so-called men of God turn on their fellow men in unbridled hatred in the name of faith? Faith is ought to make us more compassionate, more forgiving and generous to our fellow men and every living thing around us. Because they are all the creation of the One who created us too and whom we claim to love and worship. You would understand if crimes against humanity are committed by agnostics or deniers of the whole business of creation.
Mass murderers like Genghis Khan, Atilla the Hun, Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot and others like them could be explained away as pathological killers untouched by morality or any sense of right and wrong.
But how do you explain those who kill in the name of God? This week Pakistan woke up to yet another attack targeting another shrine in the Punjab province. Around 50 lives were claimed by the assault carried out by two bombers. All those killed were Muslims and the shrine belonged to a revered saint. This was supposed to be a "protest against the un-Islamic, corrupt practices" and all that that goes on at such places.
In the past few years, hundreds have perished in such attacks in a country that was founded in the name of Islam.
Next door in Afghanistan, more than 20,000 protesters ran over UN offices in the sleepy Mazar-i-Sharif. Twelve people including seven UN officials died in the violence. And more people have died in subsequent protests that have now spread to other parts of the country. And don't be surprised if the neighbouring Pakistan and other countries around the world soon begin to feel the heat of this latest of firestorms between the West and World of Islam.
And Rev Terry Jones says he merely wanted to 'stir the pot' when he and his followers at Florida's Dove World Outreach Centre church put the Holy Quran 'on trial' and formally torched it. He's the same dovish preacher who had decided to spread all-round cheer by making a bonfire of the Islamic scripture last year.
He was persuaded to 'defer' it after worldwide protests and appeals, including by President Obama and General David Petraeus, US commander in Afghanistan, who were concerned over the fallout for 'our boys' down there spreading sweetness and light in the badlands of the Islamic world. Now Rev Jones has gone ahead and done just that.
Only this harmless 'stirring of the pot' by a little known church has claimed the lives of innocent people like Joakim Dungel, the 33-year-old Swede working with the UN, who had nothing to do with him or the desecration of the Book. What was his crime? Or that of four poor Nepalese guards, who perished with him?
Rev Jones and his little congregation of kindred spirits however have no regrets over the killings of all those innocent people. Indeed, the priest argues that all that bedlam in Afghanistan and fiery protests by angry Muslims only prove his point: That Islam is evil and Muslims with their scripture deserve to be burnt at the stake. Just as the church had burnt all those free thinkers and scientists as heretics at the stake in Europe in the Middle Ages!
In fact, now that he is famous and has the world's attention, the Florida pastor is planning to put the Prophet, loved and venerated by a billion believers above everyone else, himself on trial. It matters little that Prophet Muhammad had immense love and respect for Jesus, peace be upon them both.
The Quran not just reaffirms all the earlier scriptures and prophets and swears by Mary's purity, it talks about Christ with great love and fondness. You'll find more references to Jesus in the Islamic scripture than about the Prophet of Islam himself. So it's not just the Quran that Jones has set ablaze but his own beliefs and icons.
And given the absolute freedom of speech and action everyone enjoys in the blessed Land of the Free, it's unlikely anyone would stop him. No matter how much it hurts the world's Muslims or what they are driven to do in outrage. The argument that all freedom is qualified and comes with responsibility may sound perfectly reasonable to you and me but it obviously has few takers in the west. Especially when at the receiving end are Islam and its followers.
This wouldn't warrant so much alarm if it had just been the loony tunes of a lonely fanatic craving cheap and instant celebrity. Unfortunately, Jones represents a growing wave of intolerance and Islamophobia in America – and the west. It's not just fringe groups like Jones's congregation or fruitcakes of the Tea Party who are 'stirring the pot'.
The mainstream Republicans led by former House speaker Newt Gingrich and Rep Peter King, who as the head of the House Homeland Security Committee has been conducting hearings on the clear and present danger that American Muslims allegedly pose to their country, and have been running an all-out campaign screaming about the 'stealth jihad' and 'creeping shariah in America'.
The same forces have also been targeting Obama, dropping not so vague hints about his alleged 'secret Islamic faith'. According to a Newsweek poll, 52 percent of Republicans believe "Obama sympathises with the goals of Islamic fundamentalists who want to impose Islamic law around the world". No wonder the Muslims, just one per cent of the population, account for nearly 15 percent of victims in cases of religious discrimination in US.
Things are little better in liberal Europe. The ever moderate Swiss, French and Belgians see no irony in banning the Islamic minaret – as though it was a WMD – or the tiny piece of cloth that Muslim women have worn to cover their faces for centuries as a matter of choice. President Sarkozy's party is right now hosting a debate to tackle Islam's 'incompatibility' with the land of liberté, égalité, fraternité, with Interior Minister Claude Guent, no less, turning the 'number of Muslims' in the country into a national issue.
Was Dr Samuel Huntington right after all? Are the Christians and Muslims indeed headed for a showdown, if not a head-on collision? It doesn't have to end like this though. We are not foes but fellow travellers. Our scriptures come from the same source and our prophets had a common ancestor.
We may not agree with each other on everything. That doesn't mean we must tear each other apart. Forming half of the global population, we could create a better and more peaceful world if we joined hands. Respect for each other and each other's beliefs and sensitivities – is that too much to ask? Tolerance is a two-way street. You can't ask Muslims to exercise restraint all the time when the other side continues to run amok. If we do not tackle the Joneses of this world before they mutate into fire-breathing monsters, they'll soon destroy all of us. Too much is at stake for all of us to stand and stare.
The writer is based in Gulf and has extensively written on Muslim world affairs. Email: aijaz.syed@ hotmail.com
I. THE NEWS
US AND THE AWAKENED GIANT
HUSSAIN H ZAIDI
"What are the major contours of our relationship with China?" the president asked his team of advisors.
"Mr President, our country and China are at once competitors and partners," the secretary of state explained. "Since the demise of the USSR, we're the globe's sole superpower and have shaped international relations in our own fashion in what was once called the New World Order. But now we'll have to reckon with Beijing, which is a superpower in the making and suspects we're out to prevent its rise. This makes us rivals. That said, both of us have stakes in preserving the current international economic order and therefore maintaining global peace and security. The economy is the mainstay of China's power and it's alive to the fact that economic growth predicates a peaceful, predictable and stable environment. Hence, cooperation is in our mutual interest."
"What about China's imperialistic ambitions," the president enquired.
"None. The Chinese have no ambition to export their ideology or create colonies."
"Surprising, indeed!" The president remarked.
"Well, it's simple. The Chinese believe that the non-Chinese world is too savage to be civilised; so political or cultural imperialism makes little sense in their worldview," the secretary of state replied. "In the realm of economics, like us, Beijing is a beneficiary of economic and trade liberalisation and has no alternative economic model to espouse."
"Politically, where do we clash?" the president turned to his national security advisor."
"We've quite a few issues to settle," the advisor began. "Potentially the most explosive is the Taiwan issue. China claims Taiwan to be its province, which has to be united with the mainland. Officially, we're committed to a one-China policy and recognise Taiwan to be part of China. So far things have been under control. But problems may crop up in case Taiwan formally declares independence and China resorts to the use of force to avert that, prompting us to step in on the side of Taiwan. That may bring us to a direct military conflict with Beijing, which evidently would be catastrophic."
"From politics we move on to economics," the president looked at his treasury secretary.
"Well, China is close on our heels as the world's second-largest economy and trading nation. They have already become the globe's top exporter of merchandise goods. Our transnational corporations have invested billions of dollars in the enormous Chinese market. On its part, China is in part financing our current account deficit through huge investment in the domestic bond market."
"That's nice, isn't it? Courtesy China, we're consuming more than we're producing," the president noted.
"Yes, on the face of it. But the fact is that our firms are finding it exceedingly difficult to successfully face competition from their Chinese counterparts at home. That's why our trade deficit with Beijing is on the rise. Importing more from China than exporting to it means we're losing jobs to them at a time when our economy is in straits and is facing double-digit unemployment," the treasury secretary explained.
"It means the Chinese first cause our terms of trade to go to our disadvantage and then come to our rescue. Clever! Aren't they? I'm sure we have responded to the Chinese challenge."
"Our response, Mr President, has been two-fold: We've taken trade defence measures on several Chinese products as well as pressured them on such issues as human right and intellectual property right violation, subsidisation and an undervalued currency. Congress is considering clamping punitive duties on Chinese exports. However, we need to be careful in acting against the Chinese, for several reasons. One, our transnational corporations have invested heavily in China and a good deal of Chinese economic output is produced by the subsidiaries of these firms. Hence, punitive action against China will also penalise these mega-businesses and have a backlash at home. Two, punitive measures against China would harm our own consumers and businesses, which are getting inexpensive goods in Chinese imports in hard times.
"Three, in China, we've a credible source of funding for our current account deficit. Imposition of duties may force China to disinvest part of its holdings of our public securities, which would push the greenback down and may cause great inflationary pressures on the economy. Four, our administration is eyeing huge Chinese foreign exchange reserves to bail out the beleaguered domestic financial firms. Beijing hasn't ruled out the possibility of lending a hand to our administration, but it has made it subject to certain conditions, such as softening of criticism of state of human rights in China, an attenuated American support to Taiwan, and removal of what they call discriminatory trade restrictions on their exports and businesses.
"You've nicely put our constraints in dealing with China. But do Chinese policymakers also realise their constraints?"
"Yes, of course. As the secretary of state stated, if China wants to continue its economic and commercial growth momentum, it must adhere to peaceful settlement of disputes. And they know it. Besides, the Chinese are mindful of the repercussions on their own economic performance of the economic slowdown in the West, particularly in our part of the world. Their economic growth is mainly export-led and we account for the bulk of their trade surplus. Our economic slowdown will reduce demand for China's exports and hamper its growth momentum."
"Very well. Thanks for the nice briefing."
The writer is a freelance contributor based in Islamabad. Email: hussainhzaidi@gmail. com
I. THE NEWS
DR A Q KHAN
Ghalib was India's best known Urdu and Persian poet. Ghalib was a mentor of the last Mogul emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar, who was an accomplished Urdu poet in his own right. Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib suffered much during and after the War of Independence. No other poet has been read and loved as much as Ghalib by Urdu- and Persian-speaking people. No other poet reached the heights achieved by Ghalib, though he himself profusely praised Momin, Mir and Bedil. The language he used was rather difficult to understand, even by learned scholars of his day. Hakim Aish once taunted Ghalib with these words:
Agar apna kaha tum aap hi sanjhe to kia sanjhe
Maza kehney ka jab hey ik kahe aur dusra sanjhe.
Zaban-e Mir samjhe aur bayane Meerza sanjhe
Magar apna kaha yeh aap sanjhen ya Khuda sanjhe.
Ghalib, somewhat frustrated at this, complained:
Na sataish ki tamanna na siley ki perwa
Gar nahin hen merey ashaar men maani na sahi.
This was just an expression of his humble nature, otherwise his poetry was beautiful. Volumes could be written about his work, but today I would like to introduce an extremely important and not easily available work. I believe it is the first Urdu translation from Persian of Ghalib's own preface to his Urdu Divan. This information, together with the Urdu and English translations, has been sent to me by my dear friend, Dr Sarfraz Khan Niazi, son of that great Urdu scholar of the subcontinent, Allama Niaz Fatehpuri, who was royal librarian in Bhopal and who was decorated with the highest civil award of Padmabhushan by the Indian government. Dr Sarfraz Khan Niazi is a biochemist and genetic engineer by profession and has written extensively on this subject.
Dr Sarfraz Khan Niazi has done an invaluable service to Ghalib by the translation of his preface to his Urdu Divan. The language used in the original was so difficult that publishers refrained from printing it, but it should be introduced to Ghalib's fans. I am privileged to be able to reproduce the English translation here, thanks to Dr Niazi and thanks to the wide circulation within the country and abroad of The News and those of you who read my columns.
Translation of Ghalib's Preface in Persian to his Urdu Divan:
"The fragrance-appreciating palate is invited, and glad tidings are offered to the genius of the assembly-sitters that some sources have become available for dissipating fragrance by burning aloeswood in the thurible and even some Indian aloeswood has come into hand. Stone has not cut this aloeswood, nor has it been broken crudely or carved haphazardly; instead it has been cut by an axe, and properly separated into pieces by a knife and finely carved by a file. Now the desire for taste is moving so fast in the search for the Zoroastrian's fire that it is losing its breath. The search is not for the fire that has been extinguished in the Indian furnace and having turned into a fistful of ashes, providing a proof of its extinction; neither is it dependent on satisfying hunger from the bones of the dead for its impiety; nor because of the lunacy of hanging to the wire of the extinguished lamp on the grave. This fire can neither melt the hearts nor can it brighten the assembly. One creating fire from his talent and the fire-worshipper burning in fire for his bad deeds, know it well that the seekers are impatient to get this radiant fire that has been taken out of stone to present it to (King) Hoshang and which dazzled day by day in the royal court of (King) Lahrasap; that fire which is a flare for the blaze of straw, the colour for the tulip, an eye for the fire-worshipper and a lamp for the temple of idols. This humble one is thankful to God Who makes hearts warm with speech; a spark of that brilliant fire this humble one has found in his ashes; and, so through this, the hammering of the breast has increased and began to billow over this spark with his breath. It is hoped that in a few days, it turns that the brilliance of the light of the lamp would be in the thurible and would give wings of a fast bird to the fragrance of aloeswood to quickly reach out and perfume the palates.
"This humble writer desires that after making this selection of ghazals from the Urdu Divan, he would turn his attention to his Persian Divan, and after having achieved this feat he would keep sitting having his feet broken.
"I hope that the litterateurs and also those who appreciate my work would not declare my scattered pages, which are not included in this divan, to be the result of the wetness of my quill and would not oblige the collection of my writings with praise of those verses, nor would they carve blame on me for their adaptations.
"O Lord, this is the smell of a being never heard of, and not coming to existence from non-existence; that is, the carving is bringing out the conscience of the carver that Asadullah Khan is alias Mirza Nosha and of nom de plume Ghalib, born in Akbarabad and resident of Delhi, finally let him be buried in Najaf (22 Dhi-Qa'dah, 1248 HA/11 April, 1833)."
(Dr Niazi's note: In 1833, Ghalib wrote a preface to his Urdu Divan and, keeping with the tradition of writing the preface in a different language, Ghalib chose Persian, just like Rumi chose Arabic for the preface to his Persian poetry. Like his poetry, the prose Ghalib wrote was difficult to understand, as he used many words that were not even in common usage; this resulted in numerous typographical mistakes in the Persian manuscript and forced the publishers to redact this significant contribution by Ghalib. I have provided an English translation as best as possible, given the inevitable difficulties of interpreting rare idioms, compound words and Ghalib's own vocabulary.)
Prof Dr Sarfraz Khan Niazi lives in Deerfield, Illinois, USA. He is actively engaged in teaching, research and consultancy. He regularly visits Pakistan and gives me the pleasure of seeing him. The two books, Love Sonnets of Ghalib and Wine of Love are a treat to read At present, Dr Niazi is translating Ghalib's Persian poetry into English. I am sure it will be a valuable work.
As far as Ghalib's work is concerned, it is enough to reproduce what he said about himself:
Hain aur bhi dunya men sukhanvar bahut acche
Kehte hain keh Ghalib ka hey andaz-e-bayan aur
The time has come in Pakistan to end the culture of ignoring democratic failures under the pretext that imaginary 'anti-democracy forces' will draw benefit, or that time will correct democratic practice.
One of the biggest charades in Pakistan since the restoration of democracy in March 2008 is the idea that the worst democracy is better than anything else.
Experts and NGOs receiving aid money to assess and promote democracy will not criticise serious and disturbing trends because criticising democracy has become taboo. Pundits and commentators routinely ignore glaring faults in Pakistani democracy. There is a strange restraint. An unhealthy concept has developed in Pakistan that says if you criticise democracy and politicians then you are supporting dictatorship.
No one is ready to see the obvious; that there is no dictatorship around and the term 'anti-democratic forces' is ridiculous and nothing but a fig leaf. In short, no 'anti-democratic forces' are preparing to seize power in Pakistan and we might as well relax and begin an overdue exercise: an honest critique of Pakistani democracy.
Pakistani politicians are getting away with a lot. The media gives them disproportionate television airtime and accepts their flaws as natural weaknesses that time would heal. This is wrong.
In three years of democracy, no Pakistani political party cared to hold party meetings or release policy guidelines on education. Civic services in cities and towns are basic to a minimum. The quality of life of the Pakistani middle and lower classes is deteriorating, and at times it appears ridiculous even to talk about things that ordinary citizens in places like China, Malaysia and Dubai take for granted, like public sports and cultural facilities, shopping malls and world-class business districts.
Our politics have become too divisive, chaotic and suicidal. Forget major elections, even balloting on smaller scales, as in labour union elections, results in violence and chaos. Last month, a major artery that connects Islamabad and Rawalpindi to the only civilian-cum-military airport was blocked for a few days because of the national airline's union elections.
Major routes in all cities are closed and life comes to a standstill whenever political parties of all sorts hold their political and religious rallies. Flags and posters of political parties distastefully ruin the look of our cities and towns and often trump the national flag (remember how the ruling party's flag adorned the lampposts of Islamabad Highway for months before being removed in February after public grumbling).
The Pakistani nation shows remarkable unity at important junctures, but it is our politicians who divide it along regional and linguistic lines for political gain. For example, politicians who have nothing to offer voters raise the non issue of a new language-based province in southern Punjab. President Zardari's ruling party shuts down one province, Sindh, on the death anniversary of a former prime minister to play up a linguistic card (why not a national holiday? Was the ex-premier not a national prime minister, elected by a majority of Pakistanis outside one province?)
Not to mention the biggest flaw: that Pakistani parties are no longer incubators of change and new blood and thinking, which is the original idea of parties in a democracy. Our political parties are bastions of indispensible mini-dictators who will not abandon party slots to allow new blood to rise. With the exception of one or two parties, the rest of them are all passing the mantle of leadership from fathers to sons, just like Syria, Libya and Yemen.
No other democracy in the world allows its elected representatives to maintain bank accounts and conduct local politics abroad, in Dubai and London. There are also the falling standards of personal integrity of Pakistani politicians. Our democratic warriors include thieves, looters, credit card thieves, rape suspects, and even accomplices to murder and to burying women alive in the name of honour (at least in one case). Lastly, the Pakistani political system is now structured to stifle the emergence of new faces and ideas.
We cannot rely on time to heal these major flaws in our political system. The culprits will not step forward to correct themselves and these flaws will damage the state. We are already on the path of slow suicide. The only solution is extra-constitutional intervention – by the people and the judiciary – to force change onto a dying political system. Such an intervention has enabled the Egyptian people, for example, to force changes in their constitution and political system to root out incompetence and allow for fresh faces and ideas.
The writer works for Geo television. Email: email@example.com
I. THE NEWS
The writer is a former member of the Foreign Service For once, Raza Rabbani is right. As he told the Senate on March 29, the only education-related subject that remains with the federation after the passage of the 18th Amendment is "standards in institutions of higher education." Only functions related to this subject can therefore be assigned to (or kept with) the Higher Education Commission of the federal government.
In most countries, provision of education to citizens is the foremost duty of the state, after maintenance of law and order and ensuring of security from external threats. But in Pakistan the government at the national level has been divested of virtually all responsibility for education. Education is, as the prime minister has the habit of saying, a provincial subject and therefore not the concern of the federal government. Pakistan is now probably the only country in the world which does not have a national education ministry or a national education policy. This is a mind-boggling thought, considering that Pakistan has among the poorest educational indicators in the world.
Since education forms the foundation on which a country's future is built, the abolition of the federal education ministry will give further momentum to Pakistan's race to the bottom that this government has been pursuing so assiduously. It is a national catastrophe bigger than any that the country has faced in its turbulent history. And it is entirely manmade; or, to be precise, it is a crisis created solely by the incompetence, petty-mindedness and short-sightedness of our politicians.
The entire membership of parliament and all those political parties which voted for the 18th Amendment share the blame for having brought on this disaster. Some of them are now trying to absolve themselves of their responsibility and are asserting that the abolition of the HEC is not required under the 18th Amendment. This is nonsense. The fact is that, with the scrapping of the concurrent list, the centre has forfeited virtually all responsibility for education, as for over 40 other subjects which were previously in the concurrent list.
No amount of legal jugglery can now give a new lease of life to the HEC without a constitutional amendment. Political parties from the opposition woke up to the issue only after the academic circles voiced their serious objections and drew attention to the harmful effects that such a step would have on the higher education system. For the PML-N, Ahsan Iqbal has said that there is no "constitutional compulsion" for devolving the functions of the HEC to the provinces. Similarly, Waseem Sajjad has suggested that the HEC could be brought within the federal purview by treating it as a "regulatory agency under a federal law" or a matter covered by "inter-provincial coordination," both of which are subjects on the federal list. This is nothing but legal sophistry.
Zardari and Gilani have been completely silent on this issue. Clearly, education is nowhere on their radar screen. But our lady information minister has dismissed the uproar at the impending abolition of the HEC as nothing but "media hype." According to her, this entire "hullabaloo" is nothing but political point-scoring.
She has a point, sort of. It is a legitimate question why there is so much "fuss" over the dissolution of the HEC, one of the subordinate bodies in the education ministry, when hardly a voice has been raised over the shredding of the ministry itself. And the education ministry is only one of ten ministries that have been wound up, more or less quietly, under the 18th Amendment. the ministry of population welfare and the ministry of culture are among the other major casualties. In addition, several other ministries, among them labour, health, environment, minorities and women's development, are now going to be axed before the end of June.
When the Implementation Committee set up under the Eighteenth Amendment is done with its job, about fifteen out of the forty-or-so ministries that existed before will have been trashed. After this huge demolition job on the Pakistani state has been completed, the country will have no national policy on education, on labour, on health, on population welfare, on environment or on culture, to name just a few of the affected areas.
It is shocking that the downsizing of the state on this massive scale is being carried out with virtually no debate on the pros and cons. The public is still in the dark why this step is being taken. The abolition of the concurrent list was agreed upon by our benighted politicians in deals made behind closed doors, with little thought having been given to the consequences for the future of the country.
All this has been done in the name of provincial autonomy and "devolution." Provincial autonomy is no doubt a desirable goal. But the scrapping of the concurrent list will only cripple the federal government without giving any additional powers to the provinces. There will be no "devolution," because the provinces already had power over the subjects given in the concurrent list.
The main reason why the provinces felt powerless against the centre was that, once a policy or law on a concurrent subject had been framed at the national level, they had no authority to modify it in order to meet their own special local requirements or conditions. This problem could have been easily remedied by empowering the provinces to modify a national policy, or federal law, by a qualified majority in the provincial assembly. There would then have been no need to take the extreme step of scrapping the concurrent list.
Many members of parliament who joined in the unanimous adoption of the 18th Amendment last year have since then been dissociating themselves from the move to scrap the federal ministries dealing with matters on the former concurrent list. In December, the National Assembly's Standing Committee on Education agreed unanimously that the formulation of curriculum and national education policy should remain with the federation. The National Assembly's Standing Committee on Minorities Affairs has also recommended that the minorities affairs ministry should not be transferred to the provinces. The Senate Standing Committee on Women's Development similarly demanded last week that the ministry of women's development should remain with the federation.
Outside parliament as well, concern is growing at the abolition of the concurrent list, as its full implications begin to sink in. Workers have been staging protests against the "devolution" of the Workers Welfare Fund; the pharmaceutical industry has demanded that drug registration, pricing and manufacturing should remain a federal subject; and climate-change experts have opposed the devolution of the environment ministry to the provinces.
All these problems could have been avoided if, before deciding on the wholesale scrapping of the concurrent list, there had been careful deliberation on each item, with inputs from the federal and provincial ministries, experts and the private sector. When it was suggested on the floor of the Senate to Rabbani last month that there should have been a clause-by-clause discussion of the 18th Amendment in parliament, his reply was typical. If the bill had been debated in parliament, Rabbani said, there would have been no 18th Amendment. In other words, parliament is there only to rubberstamp decisions taken elsewhere. Rabbani also dismissed all those who question his wisdom, saying that they represented "vested interests" that are waging a crusade against parliament. His way of thinking is obviously very close to that of our military dictators. Thank God he does not wear a military uniform.
Whatever Rabbani might claim, the 18th Amendment, of which he is the proud author, has achieved not so much the devolution of powers to the provinces as the demolition of large parts of the state of Pakistan. Last month, he received the Nishan-e-Imtiaz from Zardari for his pains. Rabbani's award was well-deserved, but for services performed in a field very different from the promotion of constitutional democracy: being the country's most diligent demolition man.
I. THE NEWS
Back in the days before the internet and emails and social networking it was possible to lead an anonymous life. One could walk unrecognised even if you are, like me, just a tiny bit famous. But all that has changed. My anonymity is not enhanced by having a photo byline, but it is the publication of my email address which is the key to Pandora's box. That string of letters and numbers is the front door of my life, and a remarkable number of people walk through it.
An equally remarkable proportion of those that do, are beggars. Some just rattle the pot and ask for money, others are more circuitous and it takes a while before I realise that yet again I am being asked to fund several years of expensive education - and then there are those who don't want my money but do want something even more valuable. My time. Something I have never got to grips with is the national habit of people treating other people's time as if it was their own, and 'spending' it as carelessly as they would if it really were. Thus I turn down the endless requests to sit on this or that group, come and visit obscure NGOs in far-flung places or be part of the audience at yet another tedious bout of self-congratulatory speechifying.
But recently one request to spend my time made it in under the radar, and I am glad it did. It was a request to speak at a school event in Rawalpindi and it was the subject that beguiled me - 'Why I chose to live in Pakistan'.
Come the day I put on jacket and tie in an effort to cut the scruffiness quotient, turned up on time, and spent three truly splendid hours bang in the middle of why it was that I chose to live here. I long ago lost count of the number of schools I have visited. They range from tiny outfits in the desert to grandiose institutions with an inflated sense of their own importance. This one was typical of so many. Started by a woman who had a background in education it had grown to have five 'branches' and served a lower-middle-class population with affordable education for boys and girls.
Over time, one develops a 'nose' for a school, and I can tell within minutes of going through the gate if it is good, bad or indifferent. This was a 'good' one. I and my fellow speakers (I was not the fish hooked by Ms J) were roped in to be the judges of a series of presentations made by the students, and it became one of those unexpected pleasures that go to make life worthwhile.
There was a pleasing diversity in the way teachers and students had created their presentations, which ranged from the kindergarten classes acting out village life and a wedding, through to the importance of respecting the rights of minorities up to what we judged the eventual winner; a marvellous representation of the ruins of Moenjodaro, then and now. The vignette was introduced by two well-rehearsed and confident girls who knew their stuff, and we were unanimous in our decision as to the winner. But every child and teacher and parent there on that day was a winner. Education was a winner. Ms J and her mother who founded this paragon of a school were winners. The time I spent there was time well spent and I begrudged not a minute of it. There are thousands of 'reasons to live in Pakistan' like that - we just hardly ever hear about them.
The writer is a British social worker settled in Pakistan. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
GILANI CHARMS NAWAZ AND ALTAF
PRIME Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani who was on a private visit to London thought it appropriate to first call on PML-N Quaid Mian Nawaz Sharif and then the MQM Supreme Altaf Hussain and discussed issues of national importance. Mr Gilani inquired about the health of Nawaz Sharif who is recuperating in the British capital and as Chief Executive of Pakistan he discussed ways and means with the two political heavy weights on challenges confronting the country.
It was heartening that during these meetings, the three leaders reiterated their support for the consolidation and strengthening of democracy. It was a welcome initiative on the part of Mr Gilani that he himself drove to the residences of the PML-N and MQM leaders and that is needed to remove any misunderstanding and adopt a joint strategy to get the country out of difficult times including economy, law and order situation. The visits to the two leaders by the Prime Minister would certainly leave a positive impact at the political horizon of the country. In fact right from the beginning of his tenure, the Prime Minister has been in touch with all the political leaders of the country and consulted them on key issues so that there was no cause of any political bickering. In the past the country suffered a lot as the leaders at the helm of affairs never took the opposition parties into confidence as they thought it their sole prerogative to handle the critical issues. It is in the interest of democracy to respect the mandate of every political party so that the system moves on smoothly. This is what we have always emphasized in these columns that the present systems should take roots. There had been provocations and mishandling that created misunderstanding between different parties in the past three years but credit goes to the top leadership whether in the Government or in the opposition that the things were never allowed to go out of control. Mian Nawaz Sharif is on record of having stated that he favours completion of the tenure of the present government and Altaf Hussain during the meeting appreciated the political sagacity of the Prime Minister for his policy of consensus politics. That is the right approach at this critical juncture and we hope that all the stake holders would continue to follow the path of reconciliation and address the difficult issues in consultation with each other for the greater good of the country and strengthening of democratic institutions
EXPAND PAK-US SPY OPERATIONS
PAKISTAN is a front line state in the war against terrorism and in view of its principled position and strategic location several joint operations launched with CIA and ISAF forces in Afghanistan have helped in the killing and arrest of most wanted persons. Credit for the success of these operations goes to Pakistan's premier intelligence agency, the ISI, which provided the necessary intelligence to target the terrorists and their hideouts. However the US as per its known policy has periodically expressed its dissatisfaction and indulged in arms twisting but the fact is that Washington could not have achieved the successes in Afghanistan and along the Afghan-Pakistan border areas without Islamabad's all out support.
According to intelligence sources joint US-Pakistan intelligence operations have been halted since late January reflecting strain in relationship and if the present trend continued, the sufferer would be Washington as it plans to start drawdown of its troops from Afghanistan in July, 2011. It needs full cooperation of Pakistan to stabilize the situation in the war torn country before it starts withdrawing troops from some parts of Afghanistan. In fact US must blame itself for the present situation as it started interfering in the internal affairs of Pakistan. The killing of two Pakistanis in Lahore by CIA contractor Raymond Davis and the drone attack on a Jirga in March killing innocent people led to tension in otherwise cooperative relationship between ISI and the CIA. That means the CIA indulged in spying activities in Pakistan and tried to hide them from Pakistani agencies which no sovereign country could allow. We think the CIA must admit its mistakes of the past and start a new cooperation with Pakistani intelligence agencies but this should not be one sided. While Pakistan had been and would be ready to share its intelligence about the activities of militants on Pakistan-Afghan border, it must also in return get the intelligence about the notorious agents of RAW who are active along the Durand Line and in Balochistan to destabilize Pakistan. There is no doubt that India is very active in spying activities and that is mother of all problems in Pakistan now a days. We think expansion of cooperation among the spy agencies of the two countries is for their mutual benefit and hope that it would be deliberated at length during the forthcoming visit of ISI Chief to Washington and any agreement for intelligence sharing would also include sharing of information about RAW activities in Pakistan and an assurance by the CIA that it would not use its network any more on our soil.
CJ'S WORDS OF ADVICE TO CIVIL SERVANTS
THE Chief Justice of Pakistan Mr Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry has passed on his words of advice to the civil servants that they were not obliged to follow illegal orders of their superiors and must abide by their conscience. He rightly stated that the bureaucracy must take all decisions according to rules and the interest of the country.
Addressing a delegation of civil servants the Chief Justice said an independent bureaucracy means a civil service not beholden to the executive and he quoted the speeches of father of the nation Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah in which he asked the civil servants to serve the State and not particular parties and governments. In the past civil servants in Pakistan had the courage to say no to the political leaders whenever they thought that orders being given to them were illegal but with the passage of time the bureaucracy has been made subservient to political governments as strong officers had been side lined and in their place party loyalists inducted at key positions. Even today there are civil servants who could perform in difficult times provided they have constitutional protection against political witch-hunt. We hope the address of the Chief Justice of Pakistan would send a positive message to the bureaucracy and it would perform its duties without any fear or favour in the interest of public and the country.
THE DELECTABLE ART OF READING
Not so very long ago, the Harry Potter mania had become something of a phenomenon. Hats off to Ms. Rowling for the way she veered the new generation towards reading her books. Before the advent of Harry Potter, people had all but given up on the art of reading especially those among the younger generation. And then the Harry Potter tomes popped out of nowhere and created an instant following that has shown no sign of tapering off – among young and old alike. As an aside, it may be mentioned that it has not done so badly for the finances of the author either. Each tome that has been published sold literally millions of copies around the world in several language versions. Ms. Rowling has, as a consequence, been catapulted from the status of near pauper into the exclusive list of the richest women in the world. But that is another story.
What is of direct import here is that, over the past several years, one has inexplicably gone through the ritual of spending good money on the purchase of the Harry Potter tomes as they came out one after the other and, what is more, actually laboriously wading through the text – all the six hundred and some odd pages of each – and feeling none the worse for it. Despite going through this ordeal, one continues to be at a loss to quite put one's finger on the secret behind the phenomenal success of these volumes. There is, of course, the fact that the world of wizardry conjured up by Ms. Rowling does afford a path of escapism to those living in our topsy-turvy world, beset as it is with pestilences such as globalization and the like. The positive fall out of the phenomenon, of course, is that the general interest generated appears to have revived the lost art of reading that had lately – and regrettably - been sacrificed at the altar of the so-called technological progress.
Not all that long ago (it may be recalled), reading a good book represented a singular pleasure most people looked forward to. Every now and then, the film version of a popular book would come to the silver screen. Having read and enjoyed the book, one invariably went out to see the film with certain misgivings. More often than not the print version came out the winner in one's perception; i.e. the visual presentation in the film hardly ever matched the word picture of the written version. The art of (good) writing was, in a word, supreme.
Alas, things then perceptibly changed for the worse, as they invariably do. It came to pass that people lost the inclination to read books. Reading as an art had lost out to the television. Instead of reading the book people preferred to wait for the film or television version to appear. Then, for some odd reason, it appeared that people did not have the time any more! The number of those who went to the bother of reading the original, even in an abridged version, shrank to an infinitesimal minority. It was akin to the passing away of an era.
Enter the Information Technology; and the very goal posts were repositioned. The inevitable result was further havoc. The practice of leisurely reading – or good writing, for that matter – went out the window. Gone were the days when a person went through the exercise of purchasing a good book (or, if he/she lacked the means, drawing it out of a library), reading it at leisure, savouring it and - if it lived up to its promise - reading it a second or even a third time. Come to think of it, the real flavour of a good book could be absorbed only on the second or the third reading. Regrettably, this practice did not survive the shock of the technological revolution. What a 'reader' resorts to in the post IT era is to ingest the substance of the book through the shortcut of the computer and then move on to greener pastures. The modern generation has little time or inclination to savour a book, much less go for a second or third reading.
Another of the mores that has been badly mauled by the information revolution is the delectable art of letter writing. Corresponding with one's near and dear ones had its own special pleasure. The practice of expressing oneself in a longish, leisurely written, letter had a character all its own. One could, if one wished, pour one's heart and soul into such a missive. The sentiments that unfolded in such correspondence were meant for the eyes of the recipient alone and this is what gave power and facility to the pen of the writer. And, what have things come to now? Feverish telephone conversations, hastily scribbled notes and terse, impersonal messages (in inane jargon, mind you) via the inter-net or cell phones are the order of the day. Letters as part of literature may well be thing of the past, never to return. The wonderful world of literature is the loser in the bargain.
The overall effect of the technological revolution in general and Information Technology in particular has been to sap the flavour out of man's life. The edifice is still there. It may even look more glamorous than before, but the substance is sadly lacking. The computer, true to its genius, is fast dehumanizing the human being. Man is getting closer and closer to becoming an adjunct to the machine, rather than the other way around. The technology buffs may argue, and with reason, that this is the price that has to be paid for progress; that in order for mankind to move forward, personal sacrifice is necessary. One can argue back that a line has to be drawn at some point. One needs to pause and ponder before the point of no return is reached. Because once one takes the decisive step across the divide, there will be no turning back. There is prudence in not starting anything that one cannot stop.
The feverish pace of the technological revolution leaves one a bit dazed. Being expected to keep up with the machine is a trifle too much to ask. One may be old-fashioned, but one is somewhat reluctant to let go of the little pleasures that make life worth living. All in all, one should be thankful that people are again turning to reading even if the books happen to be of the Harry Potter genre. One has no hesitation in confessing to the persuasion that reading a good book remains one of those little pleasures that make life worth living. Thank goodness for small mercies.
RELIGION OF A TERRORIST!
AIR CDRE KHALID IQBAL (R)
During Munich Security Conference 2011, Prime Minister David Cameron made a belated yet very pertinent comment by clearly distinguishing Islam from Islamist violent extremism. He acknowledged that many of Britain's home grown terrorists are not the product of failed integration, but rather "have been graduates and often middle class". Historically, extremism has never been confined to any particular religion or ideology; it belongs to every religion and culture. Duke University and University of North Carolina have published a study on terrorism in February 2011. It revealed that in 2009, more non-Muslim Americans were involved in terrorist plots than Muslim Americans; last year there were more than twenty plots by non-Muslims.
The 'Triangle Centre on Terrorism and Homeland Security' has confirmed that tips from the Muslim American community resulted in prevention of potential terrorist plots in forty-eight of the 120 cases involving Muslim Americans. Data from the 'Muslim Public Affairs Council' also indicates that Muslim community helped and assisted law enforcement in 75 percent of all al-Qaeda related plots since December 2009. Moreover, American Muslims involved in terrorist acts dropped by more than half as compared to 2009. David Schanzer, director of the Triangle Centre, said, "Americans should take note that these crimes are being perpetrated by a handful of people whose actions are denounced and rejected by virtually all the Muslims living in the United States."
Mark Fallon, a thirty-year veteran of federal law enforcement and counterintelligence, says the Muslim community has provided a "significant level of cooperation" in combating terrorism; he is worried that the rhetoric from some critic', like Representative Peter King, risks alienating a segment of American population that "needs to be part of the solution." He is of the opinion that the process of radicalization, or "violent extremism," is usually a function of conditions highly personal to the subject, rather than ideological. Robert Pape, a political scientist of Chicago University, has carried out an in depth study on the genesis of extremism. His study is based on data from over 300 suicide terrorism campaigns executed around the world as well as on the information regarding more than 450 individual suicide terrorists. His findings show that there is little connection between suicide terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism, or any one of the world's religions. Rather, all suicide terrorist attacks had in common been a specific political objective: 'to compel foreign countries to withdraw military forces from territory that the terrorists consider to be their homeland.'
Robert says, "In general, suicide attackers are rarely socially isolated, clinically insane, or economically destitute individuals, but are most often educated, socially integrated, and highly capable people who could be expected to have a good future". Out of the sample of his study of suicide terrorists, only 21% were 'Islamists'. Self-sacrifice or suicide missions have a very long history. In 1831, During the Belgian Revolution, Dutch Lieutenant Jan van Speijk detonated his own ship in the harbour of Antwerp to prevent its capture by the Belgians. In 1943, Clarence Cull was charged with attempting to assassinate President Roosevelt by suicide bombing. World War II saw use of Kamikaze pilots on suicide mission by Japan. Over 7000 Kamikazes flew such missions. Acts of Kamikaze were glorified by carrying out ceremonies before their departure on these one-way missions. During the Battle for Berlin, German Air Force flew "Self-sacrifice missions" against Soviet held bridges.
Viet Minh "death volunteers" were used against the French colonial army. In May 1967, US Marine Commander was also of the view that North Vietnamese were using suicidal tactics in their attack. A former associate director of the 'Regional Centre for Strategic Studies' in Colombo, Suggeeswara Senadhira, also rejects the idea of linking suicide attack with any religion. He writes, 'during the Lebanese civil war, around 70 percent of suicide attackers were Christians'. LTTE perfected the art of suicide bombing. They were considered most dreaded and successful terrorists organisation due to their suicide squads. Famous victims of LTTE suicide bombers included; Sri Lankan President Premadasa and a former prime minister of India, Rajiv Gandhi. LTTE invented the suicide vests. Around thirty percent of LTTE suicide bombers were women.
Lindsey O'Rourke, a doctoral student at the University of Chicago has also declined to accept the link between religion and suicide bombing. She wrote that more than 85 percent of female suicide terrorists since 1981 committed their attacks on behalf of secular organizations; many grew up in Christian and Hindu families. She also found out that motivating factors for female bombers are same as for male bombers. Around ninety five percent of female suicide attacks occurred as part of military campaigns against foreign occupying forces, suggesting that chief motive has been to create or maintain territorial sovereignty for respective ethnic group. Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) had used the concept of human bomb; people were forced to drive car bombs into British military targets. The Kurdistan Workers' Party based on revolutionary socialism and Kurdish nationalism also used suicide bombing in its campaign against Turkey for establishing an independent Kurdistan.
There were no suicide missions during Afghan resistance against USSR. However, when suicide attacks made a debut in Iraq, Afghans also started such attacks against the occupation forces. In 2010, Andrew Joseph crashed his plane into building which housed 'US Internal Revenue Service' in Austin in Texas. In his suicide note Joseph mentioned his long running feud with the organization. In the US close to 350 school shootings have taken place since 1992, in majority of these incidents, attackers killed themselves. In 1995, Chief Minister Beant Singh of East Punjab, India, was killed by a suicide bomber; Babbar Khalsa, a Sikh outfit claimed the responsibility. Likewise, Bal Thackeray, head of Hindu extremist outfit Shiv Sena called upon Hindus to form suicide bomber squads. He said suicide bombers, along with bombs planted in Muslim neighbourhoods, were needed "to protect the nation and all Hindus."
One of the largest ever opinion poll conducted by Gallup in Islamic world found out that over 93 percent Muslims condemned the 9/11 attacks. Among the seven percent who viewed these attacks as "completely justified", none supported their stance with religious reasons; rather, they expressed their fears about American plans for occupation and domination of the Muslim world. As per Gallup, "Politics, not piety, differentiates moderates from radicals" in the Islamic world. M. Zajam, a Patna-based freelance columnist, in his article 'Suicide Missions: Nothing Islamic About It', has chronicled a long list of historic incidents of terrorism to carry forth the point that terrorism is not confined to any single society or religion. He says, 'Thanks to media and some groups, Suicide missions are projected to associate only with Islam. It is forgotten that neither Muslims are the first one to use it or will be the last one'.
Suicide missions are the ultimate manifestation of extremism and terrorism; these missions have been carried out irrespective of religious inclinations or geographical limitation. Unfortunately, Islam bashers are projecting as if Muslims have invented patronised and monopolized extremism and terrorism; indeed nothing could be farther from truth. There is a need for a concerted campaign to correct the perspective.—The writer is international security, current affairs analyst and a former PAF Assistant Chief of Air Staff.
VERACITY OF PAK-US RELATIONSHIP
DR RAJA MUHAMMAD KHAN
Following the issuance of the White House Bi-annual Assessment report, showing discontentment over the Pakistan's handling of the counter insurgency, the US Congressional Panel has emphasised the Obama administration to abandon Pakistan and embrace India. While revealing the nefarious US designs that, "Pakistan is about to go broke or collapse," Mr. Gary Ackerman, a Democrat Congressman from New York Democrat stressed Obama administration to go all out in its relationship with India. He envisioned India as the, "brightest light in South Asia`s constellation and the strategic centre of gravity for the region is India."
While analysing the motives of the self-contradicting report, prepared by the White House National Security staff, one would find that, it is well thought out US strategy to put the blame of US failure in handling the situation in Afghanistan, the country it occupying since last ten years, on Pakistan. Whereas, the majority of the analysts find the report as biased and discriminatory towards Pakistan, a class of analysts also fear hidden US motives to pressurize Pakistan, not to create hurdles for its covert activities in Pakistan, especially after the Raymond Davis episode. US perhaps desire a level playing field in Pakistan, contrary to the wishes of the Pakistani masses and above all the amount of sovereignty, every independent would like to maintain.
In the so far Pakistan's fight against terrorism, there have been human losses of more than 33,000. This very fact is recognised in this report even, "Pakistan has endured thousands of casualties in their military ranks and among their civilian population from terrorist attacks." The economic losses and breakdown in the social fibre of the Pakistani society is apart from this. Declaring that military operations by Pak Army and Para-military forces could not be substantiated by the actions required by civil Government, White House seems to be quite unaware of the ground realities in the Tribal belt of Pakistan.
Knowing fully, the geo-politics of the FATA, authorities in the White House should have known that, Pakistan cannot bring an overnight total peace in these wide-spread seven tribal agencies and four frontier regions. Why did the report failed to project list of Pakistani successes in over 80% of the region especially, Malakand, Swat, Buner, Shangla, South Wazirstan, Orakzai and many other areas of FATA. Pakistan feels that, the handing over of the areas cleared through military to civilian control should be slow and incremental, thus leaving little chance for the insurgents to retake the area. In the 137th Corps Commanders conference, General Kayani, the Chief of Army Staff, has shown his total satisfaction on the gains of Pakistani security forces with reference to the "conduct of stability operations in tribal areas and appreciated beginning of transition to civilian control in Shangla and Buner." Like Foreign Office, Inter Services Public relations Department of Armed Forces of Pakistan, has also rejected the contents of the report, declaring it as the malicious and un-called for.
The glaring contradiction in the report is that, on one hand it says that, "Al Qaeda senior leadership in Pakistan is weaker and under more sustained pressure than at any other point since it fled Afghanistan in 2001." Whereas, on the other hand, it accuses that, owing to failure of Pakistan to deny safe havens to al-Qaeda, there is threat to the global peace. It is worth noting that, CIA Director, in one of his the earlier statement in December 2010, has revealed that, only 50 to 100 Al-Qaeda operatives could be in Afghanistan and Pakistani areas. White House also recognizes in the report that, "There was improvement in our security assistance, with increased training cooperation, more support for Pakistan's military operations, and greater border coordination." Then where is the problem.
The real problem area could be traced from the Congressional recommendations to the White House in the response of the report; "Abandon Pakistan and embrace India." Pakistan indeed has serious reservations of growing Indian role in Afghanistan. The US, however, is not only comfortable with the India in Afghanistan, but also consider her as its junior partner. Both have the joint interests in the regional and global politics, thus, Pakistani opposition to the unwarranted Indian role along its western borders; irk both White House and New Delhi. The report has a lot to convey Pakistan that, anyhow, it has to accept the Indian role in Afghanistan, failure to which, Pakistan would face a constant pressure.
Another aspect of the report is that, Pakistan should be pressurized to finally launch a military operation in North Waziristan Agency, which Pakistan has long been reluctant to do under US directive. Pakistan questions US, why over 150,000 US and NATO troops failed to bring stability in Afghanistan. In last ten years, had they been able to increase the militancy. Whereas, on its part Pakistani security forces have record of tangible wins over militants. If U.S is encouraging India to destabilize Pakistan while being in Afghanistan, how Pakistan should accepts such a demands. There are still many people in US Administration who believes that, "Pakistan. is a country that`s vital to our (US) national security interests."
White House must understand that without Pakistani assistance, today it would not have been the sole super power. It cannot win a war in Afghanistan with active Pakistani support. Therefore, US should not betray the trust of Pakistani masses, which are already hostile to its role. Let us have relationship on equal terms taking into consideration the national interests of each other with a bilateral respect for the sovereignty.
—The writer is an International Relations analyst.
HOW WEST TERRORISED MUSLIM PEOPLE?
MAHBOOB A KHWAJA
Terrorism originates from the Western colonial powers but none would dare to concede it for the fear of unknown in contemporary history. When the European businessmen explored new world markets for diminishing resources and their armed forces invaded and occupied the vast Islamic world, there were no television, internet, video cameras and stone throwing public and voices of reason to call them foreign mercenaries, aggressors and terrorists. The colonization scheme of things was not outcome of the Western democratic values to spread freedom, liberty and justice but ferocity of violence and killings of millions and millions of human lives for the Empires to be built on colored bloodbaths.
The European crusaders crossed the channels and unknown time zones to subjugate the much divided Muslim people as part of their superior nationalism perception and values that Muslims were inferior to the European race and could be used as subjects without human identity and raw material to build the new Empires. Many centuries past, if there was a UNO, it would not have dared to call the European intruders as terrorists because it would have been their own organization as Muslims lived in slavery and denial of basic human rights and identity. In an information age, knowledge–driven global culture of reason, ignorance is no longer a requisite to learn from the living history.
History speaks of the Al-Andalusia Arab civilization as the longest advanced civilization lasting for eight centuries in Europe. Now, the Europeans identify themselves as civilized people but the effective date for the claim remains a mystery. The previous Empires knew their geography and limits, but the newly articulated American Empire in its infancy, is challenging to the limits of the Laws of God and appears obsessed with "fear" of being replaced by the new emerging economically productive nations of Asia such as China, Japan and India and combination of others. President George W. Bush invoked the "War on Terrorism" as a dictum of power, not reason and wisdom, to camouflage the prospective future with acts of barbarity and to dispel the notion of accountability in global affairs. Historically, people and nations pursuing this path of behavior have ended up in self-delusional and self-destruction.
The 9/11 attacks in the US were carried out by individuals and not inspired or supported by the religion of Islam or Muslims. Some hourly paid intellectuals turned guardian of the approved truth, allege that Islam breeds terrorism. The Western mass media complements the self crafted notion to poison the public thinking and perceptions and source of judgments against the Arabs and Muslims as "terrorists" making the treacherous claim as if Islam was at the threshold of the paradigm. The US Neo-Conservatives gang helped to rob the mankind of its human heritage. The perception of 'radical Islam' was invented and enhanced by the 'fear' of terrorism as if Arabs and Muslims were born in the eye of the storm and terrorism was an exclusive domain of the Islamic religious tenets.
Gwynne Dyer, the London based prominent writer (The International Terrorist Conspiracy") points out that "Terrorism is a political technique, not an ideology and any group willing to use violence in pursuit of its political goals may resort to it." He explains that "there are left-wing terrorists and right-wing terrorists; national terrorist and international terrorist; Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist and atheist terrorists. In theory, you could have a "war against terrorism", but it would involve trying to kill everybody who uses this technique anywhere in the world. The United States is not trying to do that, so it is not fighting a "war against terror." In reality, what the United States leadership is doing is fighting its own articulated war against the people and nations who had no animosity, nor did any perceive capability to threaten the US as a global power.
Truth is one and indivisible. When it comes to terrorism and the Arabs or Muslims, the North American and European mass media portrayals enforce two distinct order of truth - one for the general public and one reserved for the Muslims. In all human affairs, facts are considered to reach the conclusion. End cannot be assumed to play with the facts, nor based on dogmas to explain the facts of human life. Under the guise of the Anti-Terrorist legislation, America, Britain and Canada have misused the logic of power to arrest, defame and punish people of Arabian and Islamic origin who had no linkage to the terrorism myth. The strategy dictates that selected groups should be detained and tortured indefinitely, to drain out their moral, intellectual and creative energies, making them incapable to survive socially or professionally credible citizens of the country. Consequently, the public will view them as crazy and undesirable people to be counted as numbers and digits in economic terms, but not dignified human beings.
Divergent scenarios flourish to manifest lies and deception about the real aims of the "War on Terror." When the Western leaders play with words, it is known and often acknowledged, but when the Muslim leaders offer ignorant excuses, they are masked under willful lies and deceptions without any accountability. Many Western scholars wonder, why leaders of the Muslim countries and the masses appear disinterested in the post 9/11 affairs when it had direct impacts on the entire Arab and Muslim world?
—The writer is specializes in global security, peace and conflict resolution.
POLITICS OF CRISIS LEADERSHIP
The mega-crisis engendered in Japan by the great earthquake and tsunami has brought to the surface the political problem of Japanese crisis management. One aspect of the difficulties for political management in the aftermath of the mega-crisis was the relationship between the government authority and private enterprise.
The private enterprise, Tokyo Electric Power Co. (Tepco) in this case, was naturally obliged to keep in mind the viability and profitability of the enterprise, even though they must have been well aware of the "public" nature of the operation of electric power supply and social responsibility of the enterprise. Besides, each private enterprise has its own "privacy" in the sense of the protection of industrial secrets or the particular manner of management.
It is therefore understandable that the "public responsibility" of the electric power supply company and their commitment to it may not have, at least as the immediate reaction to the disaster, been clear and manifest in the eyes of the general public as the overall priority for consideration. In other words, the maintenance of the safety of the operation of the power stations is, however important it may be, only a part of the various factors to be considered in their operations and rehabilitation efforts.
On the other hand, from the standpoint of the public authority, the safety of the operation is the primary point of concern and responsibility. This means that political risk management is more important for the government authority than the consideration of economic calculation. How to close this gap between the private enterprise and the public authority is indeed a difficult problem to deal with.
One way to cope with this problem is to keep a constant good relationship and communication route between the regulatory authority and the private enterprise and thereby to establish a relationship based on trust and confidence. In the past few years, however, there has been a politico-social tendency in Japan to discourage a close relationship between the government and private industries. The breakfast or luncheon meetings between government officials and representatives of industries are practically banned due to the criticism that there was traditionally too much close personal relations between industry and government. Fanned by journalists, this was the major factor for non-transparent dealings between the two.
There was some logic in this argument, particularly in the case of those related to the tendering of public works or similar operations. Even in the case of electricity supply, there has been an argument that the government (regulatory authority) had a tendency to collude with the industry for the sake of efficient energy supply. However, several groups of journalism and political circles pushed this argument too far with the result that communication, both formal and informal between the government and industries, has become narrow and superficial. The climate of mistrust and detachment, however muffled it may be, has spread in the corridors of the establishment of economic power in Japan.
With this backdrop, it was quite natural that "invisible" barriers of communication should have existed between Tepco and the Japanese government in general. What appeared to be a lack of transparency and miscommunication of the flow information between the electric company and the government, was indeed a price to be paid for the breakdown of the informal yet effective "togetherness" between industry and government.More serious and more apparent in the process of crisis management following the great disaster in Japan is the drawback implied in the slogan "politics should override bureaucracy." Naturally, the slogan itself is a fundamental principle of governance in any democratic society. However, when this catch phrase was put into practice in Japan, it meant the rise of dogmatic attitudes among some politicians who neglected consultations with the bureaucracy. The three pivotal political figures appointed to the top echelon of each ministry were sometimes reported to have insufficient discussions on policy matters with bureaucrats. Indeed, some political figures openly displayed their mistrust of the expertise of ministry officials. Some even proudly boasted of their independence of bureaucracy and detachment from their own ministry's officials.
High-ranking career officials in each ministry, for their part, accepted the initiatives of politicians with a docile but ironic grin, presumably for fear that the social trend was on the side of the politicians and that frank or bold intervention and advice should damage their position. In this process, however, the atmosphere of mistrust, detachment and even a mild degree of helplessness spread around the bureaucracy. Under such circumstances, it should be very difficult for the experts of the bureaucracy to share the same spirit of mission with responsible political figures and gather forces around them for coping with the crisis.
The bureaucracy-bashing and populist trend of many politicians, and of a host of journalists, has undermined the effective functioning of the bureaucracy, which one could count as one of the hidden causes of the confusion in crisis management.
—The writer, a political science professor at Aoyama Gakuin University, is president of the Japan Foundation.
A ROUNDED, WELL-LIVED LIFE
INNOVATIVE Macquarie leader was rich in cultural capital too
David Clarke, who died last week, helped found the very modern "millionaires' factory" at Macquarie Bank. But the 69-year-old was something of a renaissance man -- urbane; interested in fine wine, the arts, sports, and the society around him. He was a committed philanthropist. Clarke's death from cancer drew tributes from across the business, political and not-for-profit sectors, praising a life lived in the pursuit of cultural, not just financial, capital.
Even so, it is as an innovative businessman that Clarke will be remembered, through his role in reshaping the financial markets in this country from the 1970s till a few weeks ago when he stepped down from chairmanship of the Macquarie Group. From its beginnings as Hill Samuel Australia, the investment bank, as Terry McCrann wrote in these pages on Saturday, rode the wave of deregulation led by Paul Keating and Bob Hawke with dazzling success. McCrann wrote that Keating and Clarke were revolutionaries "set upon overturning the established order: the cozy, crony, sclerotic capitalism" of the big end of town. Macquarie's aggressive financial engineering and sometimes ruthless style had their critics, but Clarke's legacy is extraordinary. He didn't just build a bank, he helped transform an entire financial sector.
SAY IT LOUD, SAY IT STRONG: BUSINESS TAKES ON LABOR
THE GOVERNMENT MUST LISTEN, THEN SET ITS OWN COURSE
Australia's business leaders have not only found their voice -- they're shouting from the rooftops at a federal government they believe is getting it wrong on the economy. A certain amount of pre-budget lobbying is usual practice, but the frustration and distrust over Labor's policy settings is becoming palpable. While self-interest obviously plays a part in an industry's response to government initiatives, the complaints now emerging are a pointer to deep concern that the national interest is being ignored for reflexive and populist proposals from a minority government struggling on several fronts and lacking a clear policy agenda.
The demands from business leaders, many of them reported in our pages today, reflect fears that Labor does not understand what needs to be done to ensure Australia secures lasting prosperity from the present unparalleled demand for our natural resources. A combination of tax imposts and short-sighted population policies are at the centre of what is worrying those dealing with a patchy economy. With the mining tax still not settled, a second front has opened up on the proposed carbon tax, as industry joins the public disquiet over the potential cost of reducing emissions. Now the liquefied natural gas sector has upped the ante with a demand that it be exempt from the carbon tax as senior industry leaders warn our reputation as an investment destination is beginning to suffer. Meanwhile, Clubs Australia talks of a $20 million fund to fight the government's plan to introduce pre-commitment technology for poker machines in order to restrain problem gamblers. And then there is the disquiet over plans to "harmonise" workplace safety regulations across the nation -- a good idea in principle but one that business says could saddle it with more costs while giving too much power to employees.
Some of it is getting personal. In a searing speech on Friday, ANZ boss Mike Smith said the government was "weak" . He worried out aloud that the end result of a minority government would be poor economic and business policy. We report today that quality policy was uppermost in the minds of business leaders at a forum run by The Australian, which led to calls for action to address the lack of skilled workers. The need to look seriously at training is echoed by Heather Ridout of the Australian Industry Group. Once seen as uncomfortably close to Labor, Ridout has also recently called for changes to the Fair Work Act, which she says is not working for business.
It all adds up to a sense that business, so vital to any government's efforts to manage the economy, is increasingly prepared to take on Canberra, spending millions if necessary to put its case directly to the people via television and other advertising. Once business might have worried that a public campaign could rebound on big corporations that are often seen as too powerful and more concerned with shareholder profits than with the interests of working people. But the public success of the campaign by miners against the original mining tax appears to have emboldened business. In that exercise, miners found common cause with voters who understand that their futures and the opportunities offered their families depend on a lightly regulated, low-tax market economy where existing businesses can grow and new ones emerge.
This newspaper has called consistently in the past for business leaders to become more actively involved in policy issues, such as those on industrial relations, which so directly influence productivity, viability and profit. For this reason we welcome industry joining the debate on taxes and immigration and population issues. It is important that business leaders articulate what they need in terms of labour and training: the government should be in no doubt, for example, that it must get to grips with population policy or at least learn how to manage the 457 skilled visa program to overcome severe labour shortages.
That said, it is important for our political leaders to maintain a clear distinction between listening to business concerns without crumbling at the whiff of opposition. Good policy is good policy -- even if it is not always popular. Governments must have the capacity to tell the difference and the courage to take a long-term view and press ahead when necessary, even in the face of criticism.
REALITY COMES TO WASHINGTON
BUDGET challenges for US President are only just beginning
All the self-congratulation and backslapping in Washington over the 11th-hour budget deal that averted a US government shutdown is understandable. But it should be seen for what it is -- an interim political fix that shaves an extra $US38.5 billion off a budget totalling $3.5 trillion and that has less than six months to run. The far bigger fight between Democrats and Republicans lies ahead when congress is asked to increase the current federal debt ceiling of $14.25 trillion so that the US does not default on maturing debt. Then there's the debate on the shape of the 2012 budget, due to start in October.
Not unreasonably, President Barack Obama, who launched his 2012 re-election campaign last week, is claiming credit for the late-night budget deal. In 1995, president Bill Clinton faced a similar budget crisis, one that shut down government services for 21 days. He managed to turn the tables on the Republicans, going on to win re-election in a landslide against Bob Dole. Mr Obama would like to do the same. But the debate over the budget cuts has underscored just how extensively the political landscape has changed since last November's mid-term elections and the degree to which issues of fiscal responsibility and balanced budgets, the core message of the Tea Party, now dominate the debate in Washington. All sides in the compromise, Democrats and Republicans, did well to overcome the obstacles. But if there were winners beyond Mr Obama, they were new Speaker John Boehner who showed himself an adroit negotiator, and the Tea Party, which has succeeded in making its agenda of fiscal conservatism and budget cuts Washington's agenda.
The anguish of many Democrats over this new reality will be reinvigorated as Republicans, under Tea Party pressure, seek changes to healthcare, environmental and abortion law policy as the price for supporting an increase in the debt ceiling. Already there are predictions of "financial Armageddon" if congress does not support the increase.
Mr Obama showed skill in achieving the budget compromise. Whatever the unhappiness of some Democrats, he must be similarly flexible now. The mid-term elections left no doubt that fiscal responsibility and budget cutting have widespread support, particularly within the conservative movement. Mr Obama has no alternative but to work within this new reality.
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
CHINA SERVES UP BIRD'S NEST SOUP
CHINA'S fourth-ranked communist leader, Jia Qinglin, has been in Australia this past week. Julia Gillard goes to Beijing two weeks from now. It is part of the routine cycle of the relationship. The Chinese send us a Politburo standing committee member every year, we send a prime minister every second year or so, the top leaders meet at the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation forum and so on. What do they talk about?
Same old, same old, it seems. Are we getting any closer to the Chinese leadership, or developing any greater understanding of their real thinking? It's doubtful. Contacts between the peoples are extending and deepening; Chinese leaders retreat into greater opacity. In the 1980s they were much more open. Now as the President and party chief, Hu Jintao, and the Premier, Wen Jiabao, prepare to hand over to a ''fifth generation'' of leaders - whose names are already known - 18 months from now, the Chinese communists are in even deeper reversion.
Progress towards rule of law has halted. Security agencies are ever more repressive against domestic and expatriate critics of the system. The latest victim of arrest and secret detention is the artist Ai Weiwei, picked up at an airport eight days ago. Nothing to do with human rights, says the Foreign Ministry; he is being investigated for ''economic crimes''.
There seems to be a wave of this type of crime in recent years. Journalists at the more daring domestic newspapers, a researcher for The New York Times, a constitutional reform activist, a group supporting those with HIV-AIDS, promoters of constitutional reform, legal rights, Tibetan and Mongolian cultures, and a group trying to revive Kuomintang-style nationalism have all been accused of fraud, tax evasion and misusing funds. Most recently activists who drew attention to the ''jasmine revolution'' sweeping the Middle East have disappeared.
Sometimes the arrests are just for being embarrassing. Zhao Lianhai, the father of a child affected by the melamine-tainted milk scam that surfaced just before the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the organiser of a group seeking redress, was jailed for ''provoking quarrels and making trouble''. He was released on medical grounds in December but was rearrested on Wednesday for talking to the media. A lawyer who campaigns against land-grabs, Ni Yulan, already crippled from a police interrogation nine years ago, was rearrested on Thursday. Ai's fall from favour after conceiving the Bird's Nest Olympic stadium came quickly in 2008, when he collected details of 5000 children killed in the Sichuan earthquake and supported Tan Zuoren, who blamed shoddy school buildings. Non-political grievances so easily become challenges to the system.
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
MALCOLM TURNBULL'S call for debate about a sovereign wealth fund for Australia is welcome. By speaking outside his shadow portfolio of communications, Turnbull may well be advertising his continued interest in the leadership of the Liberal Party. But he is also being constructive on policy, something his leader, Tony Abbott, too often fails to be.
Australia is experiencing a once-in-a-generation resources bonanza, and both sides of politics have a patchy record when it comes to setting aside windfall royalties. The Howard government could not resist populist tax cuts, but it did create the Future Fund, which has accumulated billions of dollars to invest - initially to cover the government's unfunded public service superannuation liability, and then, as amended by later governments, for schools, hospitals and infrastructure. The Rudd government's fiscal stimulus spending was criticised as profligate, but Paul Keating's superannuation push was visionary. Still, the public's loss of faith in politicians is driving a new push to limit how much of our money they can spend. The Treasurer, Wayne Swan, and the shadow treasurer, Joe Hockey, have both said that paying off government debt and building up superannuation are higher priorities than a sovereign fund. But Turnbull believes we should start debating the design of such a fund so that it is ready to go when the budget returns to surplus.
A key issue is how to prevent minerals royalties and super contributions from driving up the Australian dollar, which can damage our export competitiveness. A sovereign wealth fund that buys foreign assets, rather than local ones, could help redress the dollar's rise. Recent national accounts figures showed that the two-speed economy - the resource sector booming while retailing and manufacturing remain fragile - is operating powerfully at present. As well as a fund to provide for a future transition away from the ''dig it up, ship it out'' minerals boom, Australia also needs a fair resources rent tax (not one drafted by the mining industry) to ensure all miners pay a proper share to the real owners of the minerals they sell - the Australian people - especially when profits are at record levels. Turnbull is a slick salesman for a good idea, and championing this cause will not hurt his chances should Abbott stumble in future. Turnbull's ability to take the long view about Australia's interests by promoting a national savings strategy is valuable, especially when the big parties have such difficulty looking beyond the next election.
boundaries of safety to leave their mark behind.
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
RETHINK ON COURTS THE RIGHT DECISION
KEVIN Rudd aside, politicians rarely concede that ''we were wrong''. The Baillieu government has done the next best thing, however, by removing the threat of abolition of Victoria's specialist courts for disadvantaged and indigenous people. The Drugs Court in Dandenong, the Neighbourhood Justice Centre in Collingwood and the state's six Koori Courts were savagely derided when the Coalition was in opposition. Liberal frontbencher and former leader Denis Napthine, who is now Racing Minister, notoriously described the legislation establishing the Neighbourhood Justice Centre as ''the apartheid of the justice system in Australia'', because it set up a separate judicial system for one section of the community. And Richard Dalla-Riva, now Manufacturing Minister, said that the centre, in which magistrates work alongside psychologists and welfare workers, was the product of ''some left-wing ideology that will actually deliver no benefit to the community''.
The attacks continued after the Coalition won office. In last month's edition of the Law Institute Journal, Attorney-General Robert Clark accused his predecessor, Rob Hulls, of having treated the specialist courts as ''Soviet-era model farms, to distract attention from failures, rather than as mainstream institutions to be made available to all''. This rhetorical onslaught had barely been delivered, however, when Mr Clark had to back down. Last week he announced that the courts would be retained, saying the government was ''looking to identify successful elements of the Neighbourhood Justice Centre and other specialist court lists, which can be taken and implemented more widely''.
The government has been mugged by reality. There is increasing evidence that, rather than distracting from failures or delivering no benefit to the community, the specialist courts have in fact reduced recidivism rates. Auditor-General Des Pearson, in a report on the Neighbourhood Justice Centre, warned that ''definitive conclusions cannot be made at this stage as to the NJC's effect on reoffending''. Mr Pearson found, however, that the centre had addressed the causes of crime and disadvantage. That is what it was intended to do, and what mainstream courts have typically been unable to do. There is similar evidence about the efficacy of the Koori courts, in which indigenous elders sit alongside the magistrate. Those familiar with the courts say that wayward indigenous youth are often far more responsive to the elders' admonitions than to the prospect of jail. The government has heard these voices, and made the right call.
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
PAKISTAN STUMBLES DEEPER INTO THE BADLANDS
THE relentless march of Islamist and tribal zealots in Pakistan is deeply worrisome. Pakistan's military has deployed troops, helicopter gunships and fighter jets to tackle extremists on the border with Afghanistan, and regularly boasts the number of militants it has killed. At least 54 was the claim last week following a strike in the tribal lands. And still they come.
Pakistan is losing the wider battle; to show competent government, respect the rights of minorities, give the chance of education to all its people and manage a successful economy. Most critically, Pakistan's government is losing ground to the preachers of extremist Islam, who hold out the illusion of easy answers to life's problems cloaked in the language of hate, segregation and violence. President Asif Ali Zardari appears hapless when promising to fight ''militants to the finish'' and having ''no other option except to win''. The more terrifying prospect is that his government will lose.
Pakistan - or more accurately, its nefarious intelligence agencies - found it convenient in the past to foster a rabid breed of Islamist ideology to unleash upon its longtime rival and neighbour India, particularly in the disputed territory of Kashmir. This was also the spur for the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Yet vast numbers of those same fighters have now turned against the Pakistani state and it remains unclear how much support they enjoy from elements within Pakistan's security and intelligence agencies.
The capital Islamabad has felt the brunt of attacks from Tehrik-e-Taliban - the so-called Pakistani Taliban. Zardari's wife, Benazir Bhutto, was assassinated in 2007 in the southern commercial capital of Karachi and, in effect, a civil war has been fought out since.
The danger is less that an organised extremist force will seize power, but rather that the incipient rise of fanaticism within Pakistan will take creeping control of the state. The country has only ever managed a tenuous commitment to democracy, with the military willing to take control under the pretence of acting in the nation's best interest. When not driven by the naked self-interest of a particular general, the military often appears to suffer a hangover of colonial distrust of local politicians. But with the ideology of extremism on the march, the fear is Pakistan's rulers will seek to accommodate the fanatics and, as a consequence, fundamentally change the character of the state.
The stakes in Pakistan are far higher than in any other country threatened by violent Islamist forces, such as Yemen or Somalia. Pakistan has nuclear weapons. Many safeguards are in place on the nuclear arsenal and it is important not to be alarmist about the threat. But it is just as important not to be complacent. With all the attention given to Iran and the accompanying fear of nuclear weapons in the hands of fanatics, the far greater and more immediate danger may well be in Pakistan.
For the rest of the world, helping Pakistan is first a matter of following through with past promises. Pledges of aid are yet to reach those still suffering the effect of the devastating floods in Pakistan last year, leaving many people easy prey to extremist groups that are offering assistance.
But it is not merely another case of the world failing to help after images of disaster fade: the international neglect of Pakistan's wider problems is habitual. A group of countries, including Australia, founded the ''Friends of Democratic Pakistan'' meeting in 2008 with some fanfare. But despite talk of action to strengthen local governance, that forum appears moribund. The demand instead is that Pakistan do more alone to fight militants.
International antipathy of this sort only contributes to a sense of frustration and anger inside Pakistan. The country is too important to be left to founder.
LIBYA: REBELS IN RETREAT
The only country where the Arab revolution became a military struggle may be one of the places where the regime stays put
The renewed clashes this weekend between Gaddafi's army and the opposition forces near Ajdabiya in eastern Libya confirm something that western powers should have realised a long time ago: the rebel army is not a fighting force. It expelled Gaddafi's officials from Benghazi and had to fight to do so, but when it comes to actual combat between two armies, all the rebels have ever done is to retreat. Territorial advances have been secured only by western air strikes and only after Gaddafi's forces turned tail. The rebels have yet to capture and hold ground on their own account. If there is a war going on, it is between Nato air power and Gaddafi's ground forces.
Nor should we kid ourselves that on-the-job training by the SAS will make a difference. Providing heavy weapons to a force with little command and control is an even worse idea. Gaddafi's forces have adapted swiftly to the shock of being blown out of the sand in the first wave of air strikes. They have hidden their tanks and turned themselves into a fast-moving force, using pickups that, from the air, are indistinguishable from those they are fighting. The rebels in the meantime have continued to charge up and down a 150km stretch of coastal road, with weapons many of them have little idea how to use. If they tried this with tanks and heavy artillery, they would soon lose them, and the coalition would only be arming the wrong side.
Nato, too, may soon reach the limits of what it can do with air power, after the second time in less than a week that its war planes struck friendly targets. Nato refused to apologise for the latest attack on a rebel convoy of tanks and troops. The British deputy commander of the operation, Rear Admiral Russell Harding, said on Friday that they had not been told that the rebels planned to deploy tanks. Air strikes may have degraded Gaddafi's forces to the point that they no longer threaten Benghazi, but that is a long way from him surrendering control of Tripoli. Libya is the only country where the Arab revolution became a military struggle, and for this very reason it may be one of the places where the regime stays put.
If all this points to a stalemate, and worse, one that partitions the country, the prospect of negotiating a ceasefire may start to look more attractive to both sides. Two elements of the peace plan put forward by the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, could appeal to the rebels: a ceasefire in the cities surrounded by Gaddafi's forces and a humanitarian corridor. Getting their cities back would allow the rebels to return to the business of organising an uprising, which is exactly why Gaddafi might oppose such a move. The third element – negotiations leading to free elections – is more troubling to the rebel leadership in Benghazi because they could be a long, drawn-out process. Determining how the Gaddafi clan will react to this, with its splits and the uncertainties over son Saif's role, is anyone's bet. If Saif is indeed working towards an exit strategy that is not insulting to his father – an interim government and a transition period that leaves him in place but without power – then the Turkish proposal is well aimed. Even if this is yet far from his father's intentions, he will be canny enough not to reject Turkish mediation out of hand. The problem is that we know so little about these court intrigues that it is impossible to make a judgment about how an end game might look. All we know is that the military option is looking less appealing and the regime, despite the defections, is not crumbling.
The air war may have secured parts of Libya, but Gaddafi has shown for the second time in his life that he is still standing on home turf. This could change, but how many in Nato are that confident that it will? All this points to an outcome with Gaddafi and his sons in place. It is messy. It lacks a redemptive conclusion. But it is the way this conflict is going.
IN PRAISE OF … MAIZE
One of the world's most successful food crops, maize could also prevent greenhouse emissions from flatulent cows
It has a ring to it, but that is the only sound the world will hope to hear from the latest use for one of the world's most successful staple foods. Research at Reading University has found that increasing maize silage in the diet of cattle reduces the flatulence which accompanies their gentle rumination of the cud. Farming is responsible for 9% of the greenhouse gas emissions; half of this comes from the overworked stomachs of cows, sheep and goats. The Reading experiments, with input from scientists at Aberystwyth, therefore promise a small but not insignificant footnote to the struggle to stem climate change. Alas, the findings do not extend to humanity, via bingeing on corn-on-the-cob or finding some virtue in the popcorn scoopings at cinemas where "small" is the size of a bucket or baby-bath. They also require that some praise be given to higher-sugar grasses and naked oats, the latter stripped of the indigestible husks which would actually increase windiness. Both are part of Reading's recommended diet for cattle and so deserve honour, but in the way of an Olympic runner-up or third place. Maize takes the crown, as a plant first cultivated in prehistoric Mesoamerica and still the most widely grown crop in the United States, yet capable of producing these surprises. Perhaps time will bring it a second Nobel prize, on top of the 1983 award to Barbara McClintock who described her genetic work memorably as "asking the maize plant to solve specific problems and then watching its responses".
MAU MAU ABUSE CASE: TIME TO SAY SORRY
There are some who would like empire to be on trial, but what matters now is that the British government accepts responsibilityApril 2011
Three frail, elderly men and one woman will this morning continue their high court fight for compensation for the pain and suffering they suffered in detention camps during the Mau Mau uprising. They should be allowed to return home before the week is out with the heartfelt apologies of the government ringing in their ears. For the past 60 years Westminster has tried to evade its responsibility for the events of the Kenya emergency. It is time to stop wriggling and come clean.
So much easier said than done, of course. For there is something peculiarly chilling about the way colonial officials behaved, most notoriously but not only in Kenya, within a decade of the liberation of the concentration camps and the return of thousands of emaciated British prisoners of war from the Pacific. One courageous judge in Nairobi explicitly drew the parallel: Kenya's Belsen, he called one camp.
The uprising by a secret sect, the Mau Mau – impoverished Kikuyu demanding the return of their fertile lands – led to the deaths of maybe 20,000 men and women, many after torture and internment. Thousands more died in the violence that tore apart Kikuyu families on opposing sides of the dispute.
With the tacit consent of ministers at Westminster, a British administration in colonial Kenya chose to behave as if Africans had no human rights. Rattled by a handful of murderous attacks on planters, they tried to face down the rebels using the empire's default setting of brutality. Castration, sodomy, rape and beatings were everyday weapons in its unremitting defence of the rights of the white settlers. So much, so sadly familiar. But what is clear from the cursory scrutiny that historians, led by Oxford's David Anderson, have so far made of literally thousands of documents whose existence has only just been revealed, is that there was no doubt in the perpetrators' minds of how their actions would appear to posterity: among the itemised beatings and torture are repeated references to the risk of being caught. They knew their actions were indefensible. The government is not challenging the claims. Rather, it is seeking to find a legal pretext to avoid responsibility.
There are some who would like the empire itself to be on trial. But what matters most now is that the British government accepts responsibility. Without an apology, there is an enduring sense of complicity in the immoral actions of a racist administration that wantonly trashed a fundamental code. It reads across to other wars, in other countries and other continents. It legitimises the actions of other governments. And the longer its lawyers wrangle in the courts, the more shame it brings.
THE JAPAN TIMES
INSUFFICIENT EVIDENCE OF REFORM
A 15-member advisory panel to Justice Minister Satsuki Eda on March 31 prepared a set of proposals for reform of the prosecution system. Unfortunately, the panel, which includes four lawyers, two former judges, two former public prosecutors and two academics, failed to come up with strong-enough measures to prevent the filing of false charges against suspects.
Important issues were put off for discussion by another forum to be set up in the future.
The panel was set up after Ms. Atsuko Muraki, a former health ministry official, was acquitted last September of a charge of ordering fabrication of an official document to make an organization for disabled people eligible for a postal service discount. In the trial, the Osaka District Court quashed core evidence against her — oral statements by witnesses — saying it was produced as a result of prosecutors' leading questions and by coercion. It also surfaced that a prosecutor had tampered with an important piece of evidence, a floppy disk.
In the panel, two opposing groups clashed over a call for electronically recording the entire interrogation process. At present, only a fraction of the interrogation process is recorded.
The panel eventually came up with a proposal to increase the scope of the recording. But this proposal still allows the possibility that public prosecutors will record only that part of the interrogation process that helps them build their case. Electronically recording the entire interrogation process should be the first step toward preventing false charges.
The panel also called for establishing an in-house inspection team within public prosecutors offices to check on prosecutorial activities. As to investigations by elite special investigation squads, which exist only in Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya, the panel called for prosecutors from outside the squads to check on the squads' investigatory activities. One wonders whether public prosecutors can adequately check on other public prosecutors.
Regrettably the panel made no concrete proposals as to whether defense lawyers should be present during the interrogation of suspects and whether prosecutors should disclose all the evidence they have to defense lawyers.
THE JAPAN TIMES
MEDICAL CARE IN THE SHELTERS
With so many victims of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami still residing at temporary shelters, it has become all the more important to make sure that ill evacuees receive proper medical care and that the spread of communicable disease is prevented. Medicines and medical treatment apparatuses in the shelters are in short supply, and hygienic conditions are in an undesirable state.
Infants, young children and the elderly are particularly susceptible to influenza, pneumonia and norovirus infections. Infectious disease, including tuberculosis, can spread quickly in crowded shelters. At the very least, masks and alcohol for disinfection should be distributed.
Shortages of food and water, a lack of exercise and low body temperature can lead to cerebral infarction in elderly people. Those who have lost their dentures can develop pneumonia as their oral hygiene deteriorates. Some people are likely suffering from depression or loneliness because of the loss of their family or communities. Such people should be given counseling.
Not only must acute diseases such as cardiac and cerebral infarction be dealt with, but also chronic diseases such hypertension, rheumatism, inadequate kidney function and diabetes. Medication shortages will exacerbate chronic diseases.
Since doctors and medical workers are busy treating people who were injured or have infectious diseases, they cannot provide enough care to those who are suffering from chronic diseases. Diabetics who do not have access to insulin for a long period of time will be forced to undergo dialysis. It is encouraging that the city of Osaka has announced that it will accept some 400 people who need to undergo dialysis for treatment at some 40 medical institutions. Any other municipalities that can offer medical support should do so.
Nurses and nursing-care workers from all parts of Japan are arriving at temporary shelters to provide health guidance and nursing care. The health ministry and local governments across Japan should expand their help, including making local medical and nursing care facilities more available to evacuees.
THE JAPAN TIMES
FROM RUSSIA WITH LEVERAGE
Spiraling oil prices and the serious accidents at a major Japanese nuclear power station caused by the March 11 quake and tsunami are helping strengthen the position of Russia in the international community.
The prediction by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) that the oil price will soon go up to $120 a barrel is good news for Russia, which has based its national budget on the assumption that it would export crude oil at $75 per barrel. Any price above that level would be a windfall profit for one of the world's major oil exporting nations.
Russian Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin has stated that high oil prices will enable the Russian economy to grow by more than 4 percent this year, allowing more than a one-third reduction in the amount of issued bonds.
One indicator of an economic boom prevailing in Russia is the way its currency, the ruble, has appreciated against the dollar — greater than the currencies of the three other "BRIC" countries, Brazil, India and China.
Many Russian government officials hope for a prolonged political instability in the Middle East, which is the cause of the recent oil price spiral. There has been a correlation between Moscow's basic diplomatic stance and oil prices. In June 2008, for example, Russia launched a military invasion of Georgia at a time when crude hit a record $134 a barrel. Months later, the Kremlin shifted to a policy of reconciliation with the U.S. and Western Europe when the oil price plummeted to less than $50 amid the financial crisis triggered by the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers.
Russia holds a strong card against its neighbors to the west, as Finland and the three Baltic nations of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania rely on Russia for 100 percent of their natural gas needs. The European Union as a whole relies on Russia for 42 percent of what it pays for gas.
A Russian diplomatic source has confided that the Kremlin's strategy is ultimately aimed at "decoupling" Western European countries on the strength of its abundant natural resources. In April last year, Russia resolved the long-standing territorial dispute with Norway by equally dividing the disputed continental shelf, and the two countries agreed to develop resources in the Arctic Sea jointly.
This is one example of Moscow's attempt to create discord among NATO member countries and block any further expansion of NATO by promoting friendly bilateral ties with NATO signatories.
The EU member countries are countering these Russian initiatives by various means. One is to import liquefied natural gas (LNG) directly from countries like Qatar, Algeria and Nigeria using oceangoing tankers, a much less costly means than transporting Russian gas through long pipelines.
As of 2009, LNG sourced from the Middle East and Africa accounted for 14 percent of total European gas imports. An analyst said European imports of such LNG is believed to have increased further last year and that this trend could pose a threat to Russia.
In another bid to curtail Moscow's power, he adds, the EU in March adopted a new policy of banning the same business entity from engaging in both gas production and pipeline transport. This policy, due to come into effect after a two-year grace period, is aimed at liberalizing the market and lowering gas prices. Clearly the policy targets Gazprom, Russia's semi-national monopoly of gas production and transport. The analyst says this policy is a big business headache for Moscow.
As if to mitigate unfavorable consequences that might arise in Europe, Russia has lost no time trying to gain what it can. It offered assistance to Japan immediately after the devastating quake and tsunami March 11. On March 12, the day when a hydrogen explosion occurred in the containment building of the No. 1 reactor Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin ordered his deputy, Igor Sechin, to work toward increasing LNG exports to Japan.
Putin's ulterior motive is to raise Japan's reliance on Russian natural resources by selling fossil fuel to Tepco, which will inevitably be in dire need to boost thermal-power generation. Sechin is quoted as saying that Russia will double its combined exports of crude oil and LNG to Japan this year from last year's level.
Moscow's determination to sell more energy sources to Japan is reflected in its stepped-up pace of constructing East Siberia-Pacific Ocean oil pipelines. Russia now plans to complete the pipelines by the end of next year, two years ahead of schedule. Moreover, the Russians are trying to use Japan as a steppingstone for boosting exports of natural resources to other Asian countries. Their exports are now heavily concentrated on China. Diversification of export destinations is indispensable for setting export prices at levels advantageous to Russia.
An expert in Russian affairs has warned, however, that Japan would enter dangerous territory if it started buying more than 10 percent of its energy needs from Russia.
Even though Russia has sent a 161-man rescue team to the quake-devastated region, the same expert warns of what he calls the traditional Russian tactic of fishing in troubled waters by first assisting those in need of help. Unfortunately, nobody in the Japanese political arena or bureaucracy is aware of this danger, he adds.
A Kremlin insider even suggested that Russia is thinking of building a nuclear power plant on Kunashiri, one of the four islands or island groups northwest of Hokkaido that are claimed by both Japan and Russia but held by the Russians since the end of World War II, and supplying Japan with electric power from there.
Russia speculated that the present Japanese government, which has been troubled by the nuclear power plant crisis in past weeks, could very well jump on a plan to obtain electricity from the Kunashiri plant while giving up its claim to the Northern Territories.
The day could come when Gazprom, if equipped with enough financial resources, buys up Tepco. Such a scenario may well prove to be more than fantasy because, unlike broadcasting stations and news agencies, utility companies are not protected by regulations against foreign ownership.
This is an abridged translation of an article from the April issue of Sentaku, a monthly magazine covering Japanese political, social and economic issues.
THE JAKARTA POST
ASIA CAN TAKE CARE OF ITSELF
ASEAN and its three regional partners — Japan, China and South Korea — have decided to launch a surveillance mechanism in May in the light of their US$120 billion currency-swap facility that was established in 2009, to ensure sufficient US dollar liquidity in the event of a financial crisis caused by sudden, massive capital outflows.
The basic idea of the ASEAN+3 Macroeconomic and Research Offices (AMRO) seems to be for Asia to effectively look after itself with its own reserves under its own surveillance system, instead of depending on the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
The $120 billion swap facility itself is based on the Chiang Mai Initiative, which was taken in 2000 after the 1997-1998 Asian financial crisis. But in contrast to the initial initiative's bilateral format, the new pact is a multilateral agreement called the Chiang Mai Initiative Multilateralization (CMIM).
The fund will offer emergency balance of payments support to any country hit with extreme currency devaluation and capital flight, such as that which ignited the Asian financial crisis in 1997-1998.
For the 10 ASEAN member countries — Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam — AMRO, which will be headquartered in Singapore and chaired by Japan and China, reflects a dramatic change in their way of thinking regarding interference into domestic affairs.
Their agreement on AMRO means their willingness to accept external intervention into their macroeconomic and monetary management because AMRO will supervise financial management in the region and provide early warnings in case a member country needs support. Such surveillance is needed to prevent moral hazards with regard to the use of the Asian reserve fund.
Put another way, AMRO will replace the surveillance role of IMF, which in 1998 came under strong criticism for its mistakes in coping with the Asian financial crisis.
Emerging economies in Asia have been receiving a torrent of capital inflows from rich countries such as the US and Europe where sovereign debt woes seem to have worsened. However, this short term capital imposes risks of instability as the hot money could derail growth by sending currencies soaring, squeezing exporters and injecting volatility into local markets in case of a sudden reverse flow.
Indonesia's central bank has issued a set of monetary measures to prevent disorderly capital flight in case of a panic on the domestic or international market. Bank Indonesia also has steadily increased its international foreign exchange reserves to more than $104 billion as of this month. But past experiences show those are not enough. After the 1997-1998 crisis, the region learned it needed additional resources to independently weather any kind of economic storm.
Hence the role of the $120 billion Asian reserve fund is to provide emergency dollars to AMRO members that need such liquidity. We see the role of the Asian reserve fund and AMRO surveillance system as the second line of defense for the currencies of its member countries.
In the long run, though, the first-line of defense of the national currency against wild volatility caused by speculative attacks remains in prudent macroeconomic management, which is highly capable of bolstering exports and attracting high inflow of foreign direct investment.
THE JAKARTA POST
US DEFICIT WITH ASIA
To the relief of many Americans, United States President Barack Obama and the US Congress reached a deal over the 2011 budget. Had they missed the deadline, the US federal government would run out of money to finance its operations and would have been effectively shut down. That prospect was real until they reached a deal at the 11th hour on Friday.
Given the size of the US economy, a closure would not only hurt Americans — it would also be widely felt around the world. But the US is also one of the world's largest debtors. Asian countries, China in particular, are among the largest creditors through their sizable holdings of US Treasury Bills. They have an enormous stake in seeing a resolution of the problems associated with the burgeoning US budget deficit, which this year is expected to reach a record level of US$1.5 trillion.
While Obama and Congress debated how much to cut and what items in the budget to cut, the rest of the world is wondering how soon the US can exercise greater fiscal responsibility and make significant cuts to the budget deficit.
Instead, the budget deficit has become nothing more than Washington's political football. Obama, seeking re-election in 2012, is willing to make cuts in everything except his big social programs, including healthcare. Republicans, who control the House of Representatives, are calling for cuts all around, except in defense spending. With each side holding its ground, the pace of the cuts would likely be painfully slow, as we saw in Friday's deal to cut the budget by $38 billion.
Asia, and much of the rest of the world, would like to see the US economy recovering at a much faster pace. Much of Asia's exports, and therefore Asian jobs, depend on Americans continuing to buy Asian products. But with the US running huge trade deficits against the rest of the world, we are reaching the stage where America is living on borrowed time and money — much of which is financed by Asian lending.
Many Asian governments have grown restless over the last two years while watching their huge T-Bond holdings and reserves of American greenbacks losing value with decline of the US exchange rate against their currencies.
There is a limit to their patience. The US cannot expect the rest of the world will continue taking dollars.
THE JAKARTA POST
THE DIFFICULTY OF SAFEGUARDING INDONESIA'S MARITIME WEALTH (PART 1 OF 2)
Illegal fishing, deterioration of coral reefs, illegal sand quarrying, illegal mangrove logging and illegal immigrants are daily events in our seas.
According to FAO research in 2002, illegal fishing in Indonesian waters reduced Indonesia's total yearly fish resources of 6.4 million tons of fish by 25 percent. That is 1.6 millions ton of fish stolen in
Based on international fish prices, illegal fishing in our country caused a loss of about Rp 30 trilion (US$3.4 billion) in one year.
Indonesia exports less than $2 billion worth of fish every year. The world's biggest fish exporters are Thailand and the Philippines. The word on the street is that 80 percent of the fish that those countries sell is taken from Indonesian waters, in some cases legally, but mostly illegally.
Through the Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) it was deduced that fishing vessels operating in Indonesian waters brought their catches directly out of Indonesia — to Pattani and Samud Sakhon (in Thailand), General Santos (in the Philippines), Taipei (in Taiwan), some cities on the Malaysian coast and Hong Kong. The area where the most fish was stolen from was Indonesia's portion of the South China Sea, around Natuna. The majority of the illegal vessels that operated in those waters were carrying Vietnamese, Thai and Chinese flags.
In the sea to the north of Sulawesi, the majority of illegal vessels were from the Philippines; and in Arafuru Sea, the majority of illegal vessels were from China and Thailand. Other areas that attracted illegal fishing boats were the Indian Ocean — to the west of Sumatra — and in the Indian Ocean — to the south of Java, Bali and West Nusa Tenggara and East Nusa Tenggara.
Not all foreign vessels operating in our seas were illegal. Indeed, many foreign vessels were licensed to fish in Indonesian waters — among them 283 vessels from Taiwan and 230 vessels from Thailand.
However, those operating illegally were far greater in number. Many vessels used the same license number.
For Indonesia, the seas are a potential source of prosperity. This is because of the vast amount of economic resources in our seas. The state must be able to improve its control over our seas and enhance the capabilities of Indonesian fishing vessels.
Of the 20 archipelagic countries in the world, Indonesia is the biggest. The total area of its maritime territories is 3,166,163 square kilometers.
This does not include the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ — which stretches out 200 miles from Indonesia's territorial borders). This area alone is 2,700,000 square kilometers.
The vast maritime area should be protected 24 hours a day and 365 days a year. However, due to the limited number of patrol ships, only a mere 30 percent of Indonesia's territory is safeguarded.
Likewise, due to budget constraints, these vessels can only operate 180 days a year. As a result, Indonesia has less than 15 percent of the capacity it needs to safeguard its waters.
There are three institutions charged with maintaining our sovereignty — the Indonesian Navy (TNI-AL), State Water and Air Police (Polairud) and the Directorate General of Marine and Fishery Resources Supervisory (Dirjen. PSDKK) at the Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Ministry. The coordinating body of which is Bakor Kamla (Sea Security Coordinating Board). Polairud is in charge of the territorial sea regions and the Navy the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
We have to acknowledge the security mechanism of our sea guarding institutions, whose hard work and effort has been invaluable despite their limited resources. They seized an average of 200 foreign illegal fishing vessels a year from 2007 to 2009. In 2007, 184 vessels were impounded; in 2008, 242 vessels; and in 2009, 203 vessels.
The number of vessels caught was very small compared to the thousands of vessels that managed to steal fish and get away with it.
The government, aware that institutionally the country's sea safeguarding efforts are not what they should be, has planned to establish a Sea and Coast Guard unit. The Coast Guard would involve nine institutions, including the Navy, National Police, Directorate General of the Marine and Fishery Resources Supervisory (Dirjen PSDKK), Directorate General of Immigration and Directorate General of Customs and Excise.
The writer is chairman of the Pancasila University Foundation and member of the House of Representatives' Commission IV overseeing forestry, agriculture and fisheries.
THE JAKARTA POST
CAN NATIONAL BANKS SUSTAIN THEIR SOLID GROWTH?
The day Bank Rakyat Indonesia (BRI) announced its 2010 earnings, which had grown nearly 60 percent from the previous year, the market welcomed the announcement cheerfully, and the company's share price surged almost 6 percent.
BRI shares were not an exception as almost all shares of publicly listed banks did very well in 2010. On the back of strong economic growth and stable interest rates, the Indonesian commercial banks ended 2010 with stronger growth, marking a solid recovery from the depressed growth they experienced in 2009 in the aftermath of the global financial crisis.
Bank lending grew 23 percent, which was still below the peak in 2008, when their lending grew by
30 percent. But it was a strong growth from a depressed level of 9.9 percent in 2009. During the global financial crisis, the lending growth of the private banks fell more sharply than those of the state-owned banks.
But as private banks moved more aggressively to recover their lost ground after the crisis, their lending growth recovery was more robust than those of state banks. The ratio of state-bank loans to total bank loans slid from 38 percent to 36 percent.
From the current macro indicators it seems that the stage is set for more strong growth for the banks in 2011. GDP growth is expected to be stronger, and despite higher oil prices, the threat of inflation seems to be moderating, reducing the risk of monetary tightening by Bank Indonesia (BI), the central bank.
However, if banks are expected to maintain or even raise their loan growth this year, capital will be an important issue.
Indonesian banks have generally strengthened their capital to comply with a BI ruling on minimum capital requirement.
In 2010 banks were able to maintain their capital adequacy ratio (CAR) at 17-18 percent, far higher than the Basel II mandated level. Each bank has now more than Rp 100 billion of capital but the adequacy of these capital levels should be looked at in the context of high loan growth this year.
BI statistics show that there are still seven banks whose CAR are below 12 percent. As the CAR of
the state banks is lower than those of private ones, they would be under more pressure to raise capital.
For the state banks the most convenient way to strengthen their capital is by keeping retained earnings.
That's why the issue of the dividend pay-out of the state banks will likely be hotly debated by the government and the House.
The Finance Ministry is asking the state banks to maintain their dividend pay-out ratio at last year's level, because this has been used as the basis to estimate non-tax revenue in the 2011 budget.
The issue of loan growth is also related to the loan-to-deposit ratio (LDR), which is how much each bank loans per certain value of deposit. The overall LDR of all banks as of December 2010 was 75 percent.
This was below the minimum 78 percent required by the recent BI rulings.
This will force most banks to work hard to raise their LDR, otherwise they could face penalties by having to deposit more of their funds in the central bank to meet the required higher minimum deposit.
When the financial crisis hit in 2008, the net profit of Indonesian banks fell by 12 percent. The fall in earnings came mostly from the private banks, since they were apparently more exposed to global banking through their foreign ownership and networking compared to state banks.
The net profit of state banks surprisingly was only slightly affected by the crisis. But since the crisis, all banks have experienced robust growth.
In 2009 and 2010, they grew 47 percent and 27 percent, respectively. This growth surpassed the rate of growth before the financial crisis.
The high growth in bank profits has drawn criticism from the government and even from the central bank itself. The banks have been charged with charging their customers with too-high interest rates.
The net interest margin (NIM), the difference between interest received and interest paid by the banks, at 5.7 percent was considered too high, in fact the highest among their peers in the region. Critics said that high interest rates charged by the banks showed that the banks were actually inefficient.
The critics wanted to suggest that there was room for interest rate cuts by the banks by making bank operations more efficient. But data from BI actually showed that banks have been able to reduce their operating costs relative to their operating income.
The ratio of operating costs to operating income went down from 89.5 percent in 2005 to 86.1 percent in 2010.
The improvement in their efficiencies was made possible by their huge investment in Information Technology (IT) which has rewarded them with reduced transaction costs and has provided more convenience both to the banks and to the customers.
Banks have to keep abreast with the rapid development of IT and have to be ready to upgrade their
IT systems at any time. Otherwise they will be overwhelmed by fierce competition.
Now banks are facing pressure from authorities to raise their loan growth and at the same time to cut interest rates they charge to their customers. In other words the authorities are telling the banks that they should expand their lending but at reduced earnings growth. But for banks operating in Indonesia the problems of cutting interest rates is less related to efficiency.
The persistent high interest charged by banks reflects the structural problems of the economy
that is greatly influenced by extern-al factors.
In Indonesia bank lending constitutes the bulk of corporate financing, accounting for as much as 70 percent of corporate funding.
The rest is provided by the capital market either through public offerings or bond issuances. As long as bank lending dominates corporate financing, demand for bank loans will remain strong and keep interest rates high.
Historically, inflation in Indonesia has been high, and it remains so now. Because of this historical background, banks tend to include a premium for risk in their interest rates.
The risk also includes the difficulties of assessing the viability of their customers because of the opaque nature of their governance. Legal risk is another area that the banks have to deal with, since settlement of legal disputes through courts could be protracted for a long time.
Last year BI forced 14 major banks to cap their deposit rates in order to make lending rates lower.
Recently BI ordered those banks to announce publicly their base interest rate, that is the interest rate they charge to their prime customers in the hopes that open competition will ultimately bring down interest rates.
These kinds of measures would hardly succeed. Banks need a more favorable external environment to induce them to lower interest rates. That is why it is important for the government and BI to work together to create a better external environment for the banks.
The writer is an economist.
THE JAKARTA POST
WHEN 'SEXY', 'PRETTY' WOMEN ARE CRIMINAL SUSPECTS
Selly Yustiawati and Melinda Dee are two women who recently made headlines in the Indonesian media, along with Citibank debt collectors and the late Irzen Octa.
Selly, 26, is currently facing police investigations for her alleged crime of deceiving people in various cities in Indonesia to give her money, ranging from hundreds of thousands to millions of rupiah each, with the promise they would get jobs or profit from some businesses, which turned out to be fake.
Inong Melinda, 47, (aka Melinda Dee) was a senior manager at Citibank. She is also under police investigation for allegedly transferring billions of rupiah from customers' accounts into her personal accounts.
Octa was a Citibank customer who died at one of the bank's branch offices when trying to negotiate his inflated credit card debt. This case is also now under police investigation, as his death is suspected of being a result of violence at the hands of three debt collectors.
If you google "Selly Yustiawati" and "Melinda Dee" and you will find news report titles such as these: "Femme fatale, Selly and Malinda Dee" (detiknews.com); and "Selly, the pretty deceiver who escaped punishment since 2006" (detiknews.com).
There are many other such titles in both printed and online media. Reading through the reports has convinced me how terms such as "beautiful", "pretty" and "sexy" are often used to describe women who become criminal suspects.
If you turn on your TV, you will also find running text and presenters describing the two women in similar terms.
Sexist language and gender-biased media may best describe how the Indonesian media portrays women. In the case of Selly and Malinda, the media tends to have presented facts about crimes that are based more on the sex of the offenders than the crime itself.
Blogs and social-networking sites go further with some people commenting on the women's makeup and other physical appearance. Others warn of "the danger of pretty women".
Even the head of the public relations division of the National Police comments that Malinda is actually not as beautiful as she appears, since her beauty is a result of surgery "National Police PR chief: Melinda was not beautiful before her operation" (kompas.com).
Such comments have nothing to do with his authority as a high-ranking police officer who should focus on the criminal case and not on the physical appearance of the alleged perpetrator.
Now compare the reports on Selly and Malinda to those on Octa. In the latter, the media focus on what happened before and after he died at the bank's office according to witnesses; the possible punishment of perpetrators; and on a wider range of issues including banks' code of conduct in handling customer debts.
Unlike the reports on Selly and Malinda, as far as I am concerned, no media has described the debt collectors — who are all men — with terms such as "handsome", "macho" or "sexy". Nor have I found detailed comments on the physical appearance of the debt collectors.
In reporting crimes, the mass media should focus on the crime and not on unnecessary matters such as the physical appearance of offenders. It would be better too if the reports also highlighted the lessons learned and educate people, for example on how to use credit cards wisely (some media have done this).
Reports on Selly's and Melinda's cases indicate that mass media is not neutral in its reporting on women. Instead of becoming agents of change in portraying women, they strengthen cultural-misogynist notion of "liberated" women.
Culturally, good women are those who limit themselves to a life in the domestic arena and being dependent wives who look after their husbands and children. Selly and Melinda do not fit into this category; their alleged crimes are pictured as examples of the dark side of their liberation.
I am not against women who become stay-at-home housewives and mothers. Nonetheless, the domestic role is not the only role women play. Various circumstances have led them to engage in public life.
With gender-biased media, female alleged criminals are portrayed as examples of "dangerous liberated women". They have not only broken the law but also social norms on good women.
This does not apply to male criminals who are considered as breaking the law only and their criminal acts have nothing to do with violation of social norms.
As a result, female criminals are punished more severely than their male counterparts.
No media has described the debt collectors — who are all men — with terms such as "handsome", "macho" or "sexy".
The writer is a lecturer at Parahyangan Catholic University's School of Social and Political Sciences, Bandung.
Sri Lanka's relative and the world's largest democracy, is gearing up for the elections again with all its complexities and fanfare across the ocean.
It is sad that Indian political leaders have resorted again to include Sri Lanka in their election campaigns.
Just like the political leaders here find it hard to let the LTTE factor go in their struggle for survival, in India also, particularly in Tamil Nadu, the Sri Lankan (Tamil) Issue has become and had always been a crucial propaganda topic.
A recent statement by Sonia Gandhi, the widow of former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi has sent ripples of alarm in this country.
What politicians across the straits should realize is that this kind of acrobatics would never help in anyway soothe either the Tamils or the Sinhalese in this country and could only help further alienate the two groups rather than bringing them together.
Predictably, the Tamil Nadu politicians too have started singing the Sri Lankan Tamil concerns again in an effort to rope in any emotionally weak voters who could not be harnessed by other promises like free TV sets and free sarees.
On the opposite side Jayalalitha Jayaram has also started weeping for the Sri Lankan Tamils.
Many Sri Lankan Tamils would not forget the way how Jayalalitha, a ferocious LTTE critic, treated them when they went to Tamil Nadu during those days.
Unlike other election gundus the Tamil Nadu 'actors' can easily getaway with promises related to Sri Lankan Tamils once the elections are over.
It is pathetic that even Sonia Gandhi could not spare the Tamils here.
"In our neighbourhood, there is no issue closer to our hearts than the rights of the Sri Lankan Tamil people," she has said. She was addressing an election rally along with Dravida Munetra Kazhagam president and Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu M. Karunanidhi.
Sri Lanka and all communities of Sri Lanka welcome Indian help in the rehabilitation of the war affected on humanitarian basis.
But Indian political leaders should understand that their Tamilian tantrums only aggravate the problems in a war torn country across the strait.
Last week a parliamentarian here also had urged the Indian political leadership not to use Sri Lanka as a football to create political chaos in the country as they did during the 1984/89 period.
What Sri Lanka has seen since then (Since 1990-2009) was too painful an experience even to remember, let alone go through it.
"We ask the leaders of the Congress Party, the BJP and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and the Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam not to use Sri Lanka as a football for their interests," the MP had said.
It may be true that people are mere statistics when it comes to regional power politics. But it is sad how people's lives are affected by regional actors.
The policies initiated by J.R. Jayewardene and reactionary policies of the then Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had seen many Lankan political leaders, including an Indian Premier and innumerable innocent civilians dead and thousands (including the IPKF) maimed.
India should act with more maturity and wisdom befitting its antiquity.
It should be said to the credit of the intelligence and ingenuity of the Sri Lankan voter that he has adapted to all forms of electoral reforms, which has remained more complicated than the earlier one. It will be no different this time round, when a new election process is set in motion, based on the recommendations of the Dinesh Gunawardene Committee recommendations.
In a way, the average Sri Lankan voter has displayed his comfort levels with the existing scheme of 'proportional representation' (PR). It is the political class that is uncomfortable with the same. Maybe, both will get adjusted to the new scheme but then the trickle-down effect of Third World democracies would dictate new situations, for which the Sri Lankan scheme would have to – and, possibly would -- find new solutions.
To begin with, there was nothing wrong with the first-past-the-post scheme. Nor was the PR system any different when it came to the question of which party would win majorities and which party or leader would rule the nation. The inconsistencies and irregularities involved in the first were very much present there in the second scheme, too. It came to be felt with years of exposure and experience. It's doubtful if the new scheme would change all that, now or later.
Now, the nation is moving away from a wholesale PR scheme to a 'district proportionate representation' (DPR) system, which will form a part of the promised one. The voices of the otherwise unrepresented groups will be heard clearer, if not louder than in the past, we are being told. It was similarly said when the PR scheme came into being. It was even more so when Sri Lanka, then Ceylon, adopted universal adult franchise as far back as 1931, under the Donoughmore Constitution. It was the first country to do so in Asia as a whole. So, the expectations and hopes were higher still.
The question is if one should cut the cloth for the man, or the other way round. Still, there is the larger and more pertinent question of the sanctity of institutions in democracies. The election process, and thus the democracy process, as a whole are thus involved. To separate one from the other, and expect equal respect for both could be a fallacy.
It is much different from the dynamic constitutional processes that the needs and circumstances of developing Third World countries demand. The latter is about causing social re-engineering through the constitutional processes, particularly concerning societies where customs and traditions have addressed these issues, maybe even more effectively, in the historic past, near and distant.
The societal commitment to support the Sangha through the offering of alms to the bikkus and other religious initiatives from a hoary past is only an instance of the kind as far as Sri Lanka, particularly the Sinhala-Buddhists are concerned. Tamil literature and society have had similar traditions from time immemorial. So have the Muslims and Christians. This should not be confused, hence, with a theocratic State. That is where modern-day Sri Lanka is yet to get the balancing act together.
Whatever the electoral scheme the country has followed, the 'national problem' had remained in the past. It is so now. This owes to the realistic nature of the issues concerned and the half-hearted attempt of the Sri Lankan State to address the 'ethnic issue' effectively and meaningfully. The 'effect' of the State initiatives has had a negative impact, leading to war and violence. The 'meaningfulness' of the effort, and hence the effect' has remained meaningless.
Be it in 1949, 1956, 1977, or now in 2011, elections have not erased the ethnic divide.
Instead, they only drew the ethnic dividing-line even deeper. It also owed to the geographical contiguity of the Tamil-speaking areas on the one hand, and even those of the Muslims and the Upcountry Tamils, otherwise. Even the denominational differences among the Tamils have only widened, with intricate internal divisions getting thrown up every now and again.
It is no different in the case of the Sinhala majority, either. Independent of the professed political and ideological distinctions, the inherent class and caste differences too get often reflected in the electoral process. Rather than rendering such deep-seated social antipathies redundant, democracy has only been used to widen the process. To the extent that the autocracy of the JVP insurgents and the LTTE in the past sought to bridge the gap, the latter has outlived the former.
If under the DPR scheme today, you will have parliamentary representatives for minor groups whose voices cannot otherwise be heard in the Legislature, questions will still remain as to the political positions that these worthies will be taking on policy issues affecting those groups and communities. Experience in the matter has not been encouraging, for the electoral scheme to be amended, for the purpose.
In the post-war Sri Lanka, where migration(s) of Tamil-speaking people of all hues have altered the demography of the North and the East, where no head-count was taken over four long decades, Census-2011 could throw up challenges. Readjustment and delimitation of electorates in the Provinces under the new scheme should not introduce an element of further division.
Nor can perceived 'colonisation' of poor Sinhala-Buddhists, from which again the ranks of the armed forces have been drawn, a solution. It is a problem, instead, if one understood the rationale and philosophy of the two JVP insurgencies. The JVP militancy may be in the past, so is the LTTE terrorism, but the causes that they sought to address, albeit through wrong methods, remain.
Be it the first-past-the-post system or the PR scheme or the new one, the trickle-down effect of socio-economic deprivation, both real and imaginary, would find their own voices in a democracy. Sri Lanka is past the militant phase of self-assertion by various class and social groupings. While care and caution need to be applied continuously, yes, the cure should not end up being the ailment – or, worse than the ailment, still.
GULF DAILY NEWS
WIELD THE PEN...BUT TAKE THE PAIN!
BY ANWAR ABDULRAHMAN
"A truth that's told with bad intent beats all the lies you can invent"
- English poet William Blake
The prestigious New York Times three days ago, published a report headlined 'Editor silenced' highlighting statements made by Dr Mansour Al Jamri, claiming that he is Bahrain's 'voice of moderation'.
The article described how he was forced out of his editor's chair at Al Wasat newspaper offices.
For the New York Times to print such news without first carefully checking circumstances behind the dismissal, by his own board, is appalling.
Day after day we discover that once-revered giant Western publications seem totally isolated from the truth. So much so that their credibility is becoming paper-thin.
The reporter concerned, Clifford Krauss, probably based his story on a telephone conversation without digging into realities on the ground.
The New York Times needs to know that Dr Al Jamri's newspaper published a picture of a badly injured Moroccan man in a hospital bed in Morocco, with fictitious Al Wasat captions claiming he was a victim of 'police brutality' in one of Bahrain's hospitals! Similar untrue photographs, taken in a neighbouring country, claimed they depicted Bahrain.
These were screened by Bahrain Television and Dr Jamri was invited to appear and to give his opinion, but refused to attend. However, he later fully accepted responsibility for false reporting.
The chairman of Al Wasat Publishing House even rang the television authorities during the actual programme and assured them that a full investigation would be carried out. Within 24 hours a new Editor-in-Chief was appointed and installed.
This begs the question, is it normal practice for Western publishing houses to accept as valid gospel truth anything their reporters are told? Was it not this journalist's duty to at least check with officials in Bahrain and hear their side of the story? Or are we living in an era where all governments are wrong and wrongdoers right? Does this mean that no authority should take any action against any individual or group irrespective of the damage and terror they instigate in society?
If this was the case how could a government maintain law and order?
We stress to the New York Times that Bahrain faced, witnessed and suffered over six weeks from mid-February until the end of March, uncertainties, fear and disappointments - a situation unprecedented in its modern history. Now is a time when we welcome any support from the civilised world, and their honest understanding - not misinformation that certain foreign publications glean from political agitators.
Dr Al Jamri was never arrested, but like any other citizen, has to face justice.
In fact, for an Editor-in-Chief to be sued is part and parcel of his profession.
I personally, in the last 10 years, have been dragged many times to courts of law, and still have a long-running case that has not yet reached its final verdict.
Being in the dock is neither reason for victimisation nor a pretext for personal gloryseeking!
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