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Thursday, April 14, 2011

EDITORIAL 14.04.11

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Editorial

month april 14, edition 000806, csollected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul

 

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

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

 

THE PIONEER

  1. PA'S SHAMEFUL SLOTH
  2. IT WAS STATE-SPONSORED!
  3. BOGUS CRICKET DIPLOMACY - G PARTHASARATHY
  4. AL QAEDA SMELLS BLOOD IN YEMEN - BRUCE RIEDEL
  5. DARK FORCES OF ISLAMISM TO THE FORE - HIRANMAY KARLEKAR
  6. ARAB NATIONS FIND A VOLUNTEER FOR THE WAR IN LIBYA - YELENA SUPONINA

THE TIMES OF INDIA

  1. BOOST OR BUST
  2. ATOMISING RISK
  3. SPACE, ABOVE AND BEYOND - SASWATO R DAS
  4. RICHLY DESERVED DISAPPROVAL
  5. CORRUPTION STARTS AT HOME - SRIJANA MITRA DAS
  6. KAUN BANEGA CORRUPTPATI? - BACHI KARKARIA

HINDUSTAN TIMES

  1. IT'S POLITICS FOR POLITICS' SAKE
  2. QUITE TWO TO TYPE
  3. NOT LIKE THIS ONLY - SAMAR HALARNKAR
  4. WHY I DIDN'T GO TO JANTAR MANTAR - HARSH MANDER
  5. THE MYSTERIES OF PITTSBURGH - JM TYREE
  6. THE DIALOGUE - THIS ISI THE TRUTH

THE INDIAN EXPRESS

  1. COMBINATION LOCK
  2. ADMITTING IT
  3. GREY MATTER
  4. WHAT'S IN A SOLUTION? – PRATAP BHANU MEHTA
  5. THE WAR AGAINST GERMS - BISWAROOP CHATTERJEE
  6. WHY I DIDN'T JOIN ANNA HAZARE - JAVED ANAND
  7. ARAB GERMANYS, OR ARAB YUGOSLAVIAS? - THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
  8. TV WANTS TO KNOW HOW YOU'RE FEELING - SHAILAJA BAJPAI
  9. DON'T BIND BOOKS - MANOJ C G

THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

  1. POOR EARNINGS AHEAD...
  2. ...AND INDUSTRY'S SLOWING
  3. ANNA'S BARKING UP THE WRONG TREE - MK VENU
  4. SKIDDING ON OIL - PARUL BHARDWAJ

THE HINDU

  1. RENEWING THE TELECOM AGENDA
  2. REALISTIC ASSESSMENT OF TRADE
  3. STATUS OF MUSLIMS IN WEST BENGAL  - MAIDUL ISLAM & SUBHASHINI ALI
  4. COTE D'IVOIRE: ACCOUNTABILITY 'YES,' RETALIATION 'NO'  - IVAN SIMONOVIC
  5. FROM THE MOON TO THE MUSEUM  - KENNETH CHANG
  6. CAN INDIA PREVENT 200 CHILDREN DYING EVERY HOUR?  - POONAM KHETRAPAL-SINGH
  7. HILLARY PUSHES FOR REFORM ACROSS THE ARAB WORLD

THE ASIAN AGE

  1. TELECOM PSUS IN NEED OF REVIVAL
  2. GANDHIAN GUERRILLA - BHARAT KARNAD
  3. LEND A HAND, MORALLY - P.C. ALEXANDER

DAILY EXCELSIOR

  1. DYARCHY IN OUR NEIGHBOURHOOD
  2. NO MOCKERY PLEASE
  3. FOUNDING OF KHALSA PANTH - BY HARBHAJAN SINGH (IAS RETD)
  4. REMEMBERING BABA SAHEB - BY LOKINDER SINGH RAVI
  5. EMPLOYMENT IN PILGRIM SECTOR - BY SUDHANSU R DAS

THE TRIBUNE

  1. MANAGING THE GHAGGAR
  2. DAYLIGHT MURDER
  3. THE MADHU KODA CASE
  4. 'CRICKET DIPLOMACY' AT WORK - BY G PARTHASARATHY
  5. WEAKER? BETTER! - BY SS BHATTI
  6. ARE CELLPHONES DAMAGING OUR HEALTH? - SHALINI MARWAHA
  7. LAWS ARE LACKING

MUMBAI MIRROR

  1. THE HEART OF THE HILLS

BUSINESS STANDARD

  1. MANAGING EXPECTATIONS
  2. DR GULATI'S DEBUT
  3. HAS INDIAN CRICKET PEAKED?  SHANKAR ACHARYA
  4. CORRUPTION - TAKE TWO - KANIKA DATTA
  5. DESIGNS ON INDUSTRIAL PRODUCTS - T S VISHWANATH
  6. DIVIDE AND GROW - INDICUS ANALYTICS

THE ECONOMIC TIMES

  1. ABIDING FAITH
  2. BRAVO, TEMPING
  3. BUYING BRITISH
  4. DON'T DEMONISE THE POLITICIAN
  5. THE MISSING GANDHI IN THE ANNA MOMENT  - AMRITH LAL
  6. CORRUPTION, LOKPAL & DEMOCRACY  - SRIVATSA KRISHNA
  7. IT'S OKAY TO BE NICE - VITHAL C NADKARNI
  8. ON FINANCIAL INNOVATION - JOSH LERNER

DECCAN CHRONICAL

  1. TELECOM PSUS IN NEED OF REVIVAL
  2. GANDHIAN GUERRILLA
  3. REVOLUTION OVER, NOW TIME FOR EVOLUTION
  4. CITIZENS BHUSHAN & BHUSHAN
  5. THE POWER OF YAGAS
  6. LEND A HAND, MORALLY

THE STATESMAN

  1. WHO WILL BE CM?
  2. DUMB CHARADES
  3. GOA TURBULENCE
  4. AMENDED CONSTITUTION - BY NIRMALENDU BIKASH RAKSHIT
  5. NOT A PRETTY PICTURE  
  6. THE BRIDEGROOM ON A BUS  - NIRUPOM SOM
  7. AN IDEAL TRAINER  - SANKAR SEN

THE TELEGRAPH

  1. UNITED STAND
  2. CASE STUDIES
  3. OF FASTS AND FASTING
  4. GOPALKRISHNA GANDHI
  5. PAY A PRICE FOR TRUTH  - NEHA SAHAY
  6. HISTORICAL EXPERIMENTS  - PRABHAT PATNAIK
  7. BEWARE OF THE OLD GAMES

DECCAN HERALD

  1. NAILING A LIE
  2. UNSAVOURY ACT
  3. THE DAMNED TRIBALS  - BY DEVINDER SHARMA
  4. AFGHANISTAN ERUPTS OVER QURAN-BURNING -  BY DEEPALI GAUR SINGH
  5. MISCHIEVOUS ZUBIN -  BY B R PRAHLAD

THE SENTINEL

  1. COEXISTENCE DETERRENT  
  2. HIS POINT IS DIFFERENT  
  3. ELECTION 2011: WHAT ASSAM HAS WITNESSED  

TIMES FREE PRESS

  1. $800 BILLION JUST IN INTEREST?
  2. TROUBLES ON THE WATERFRONT
  3. SEEKING CLARITY ON WAR IN LIBYA
  4. ARE U.S. NUCLEAR PLANTS SAFE?

HARARETZ

  1. A WELCOME CELLULAR ADDITION
  2. THE PRICE OF SURRENDER  - BY ISRAEL HAREL
  3. FATAL STUPIDITY  - BY URI AVNERY
  4. WHAT THE LAW REALLY SAYS  - BY ALEXANDER YAKOBSON

HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

  1. FROM THE BOSPHORUS: STRAIGHT - THE NEED TO AVERT A NEW FLOTILLA CRISIS
  2. ERDOĞAN WALKS A DIFFERENT LINE THAN EUROPEAN VALUES - BARÇIN YİNANÇ
  3. FRANCE ON THE MOVE - SAMİ KOHEN
  4. GRACE UNDER STRESS- RICHARD REID
  5. WHAT WOULD HAPPEN IF THE CHP WAS TO SELECT CANDIDATES WITH A HEADSCARF? - MEHMET ALİ BİRAND
  6. NEVER-ENDING STORY - ERSU ABLAK
  7. THE EGGPLANT LAND! - YUSUF KANLI

THE NEWS

  1. A REPRIEVE
  2. UNSEEMLY CIRCUS
  3. LAW AND ORDER
  4. US IMPERIALISM  - DAVE LINDORFF
  5. A RELATIONSHIP GONE SOUR  -  TAJ M KHATTAK
  6. CONTESTING PARADIGMS  - TANVIR AHMAD KHAN
  7. ACCOUNTABILITY FOR ALL  - IKRAM SEHGAL
  8. SWAT SUCCESS  - BRIAN CLOUGHLEY
  9. OUR SEARCH FOR A FORGOTTEN IDENTITY  - KAMILA HYAT

PAKISTAN OBSERVER

  1. PASHA REFLECTS NATION'S ASPIRATIONS IN US
  2. SC PUTS HEC UNDER OXYGEN MASK
  3. SMOKE ALARM AT INDIAN NUCLEAR PLANT
  4. A PUPPET RULING AFGHANISTAN - ALI SUKHANVER
  5. EXTREMISTS IN OUR MIDST - YAHYA AHMAD
  6. REMEMBERING ZAB - BURHANUDDIN HASAN
  7. INDIAN ROLE IN AFGHANISTAN - ZOSHEEN RIAZ
  8. AN AFGHAN ENDGAME - DAVID MILIBAND

THE AUSTRALIYAN

  1. IT'S TIME TO SHOW US THE SCHEME, MR COMBET
  2. A SWEAR WORD IN YOUR EAR
  3. PROTECTING MORALE IN THE RANKS

THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

  1. CARROTS AND STICKS OF CARBON TAX
  2. ON YOUR OWN WITH DIY SUPER
  3. DEFENCE NEEDS A CULTURAL REVOLUTION
  4. ANOTHER WEEK, ANOTHER FAILURE OF STATE CARE

THE GUARDIAN

  1. ANOTHER WEEK, ANOTHER FAILURE OF STATE CARE
  2. BARACK OBAMA: RETURNING TO THE FRAY
  3. COUNCIL ELECTIONS: DISPARATE DEMOCRACY

THE JAPAN TIMES

  1. MEDVEDEV'S PURGE OF THE KREMLIN CHAIRMEN - BY SERGEI GURIEV AND ALEH TSYVINSKI
  2. PROSECUTOR SENTENCED
  3. ALMOST AS BAD AS CHERNOBYL
  4. CHINA'S HUMAN RIGHTS RECORD INVITES CRITICISM - BY FRANK CHING

THE JAKARTA POST

  1. WHEN CATERPILLARS ATTACK
  2. AFTER GBAGBO, WHO'S NEXT?
  3. CATERPILLAR OUTBREAK: ANOTHER BLACK SWAN? - DYNA ROCHMYANINGSIH
  4. UNDERSTANDING THE MALACCA STRAIT INCIDENT - I MADE ANDI ARSANA
  5. INTELLIGENCE BILL AND THE GOVERNMENT'S LIST OF PROBLEMS
  6. ANTON ALIABBAS AND IRSAN NUZULUDDIN OLII
  7. ASEAN STANDS WITH JAPAN IN CRISIS - S. PUSHPANATHAN

DAILY MIRROR

  1. NATIONAL NEW YEAR THE HEART OF UNITY IN DIVERSITY
  2. GOVERNANCE AND PROSPERITY AT THE DAWN OF A NEW YEAR
  3. THE LONG WALK TO ENDING ANIMAL CRUELTY
  4. AU'S PEACE PLAN IS WORKABLE
  5. THE TRANSITION FROM TERRORISM TO PEACE

GULF DAILY NEWS

  1. THE AMERICAN CIVIL WAR: WHAT IF?  - BY GWYNNE DYER

TEHRAN TIMES

  1. YES, SAIF IS A GADDAFI, BUT THERE'S STILL A REAL REFORMER INSIDE - BY BENJAMIN BARBER
  2. COULD DONALD TRUMP OBAMA? - BY LINDA S. HEARD

 

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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

PA'S SHAMEFUL SLOTH

WHY DID GOVERNMENT SIT ON CHILE'S INFORMATION?


It is simply astonishing that the Union Government should have sat on information provided by Chile about a certain Abdul Rauf being arrested on the basis of a Red Corner Notice issued by Interpol alerting countries around the world about the mastermind behind the hijacking of the Indian Airlines flight IC 814 from Kathmandu to Delhi in 1999. It is anybody's guess as to whether the person who has been taken into custody by Chilean authorities is indeed Abdul Rauf who organised the hijacking of IC 814 to secure the release of three Pakistani terrorists who were then being held in Indian jails awaiting trial for heinous crimes. But that does not in any manner condone or explain the Government's strange lassitude. Instead of taking more than three months to get its act together and decide to send two investigators representing the Central Bureau of Investigation (which inquired into the incident and is the prosecuting agency in this particular case) and the Intelligence Bureau to Chile to check the identity of the arrested man, the Government should have acted with greater alacrity. Little purpose is served by slyly suggesting, as the Government is now doing to cover up its stunning indifference, that there is no guarantee that the person who has been taken into custody by the Chilean authorities is the man wanted for hatching the conspiracy to hijack the aircraft, hold passengers to ransom, and secure the release of Masood Azhar (who went on to form the terrorist organisation Jaish-e-Mohammed), Omar Sheikh (who later kidnapped and murdered American journalist Daniel Pearl) and Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar. Irrespective of whether or not the person is the wanted terrorist, the Government should have shown far greater interest than it has; by leaving the information unattended, it has displayed more than callous disregard which raises certain questions.


More than a decade after the hijacking of IC 814, it is amazing that investigators working on the case have not been able to put together a credible profile of the man who masterminded that act of terror. This reflects how shoddily investigations are carried out, the short attention span of those pursuing a particular case of crime as well as the lethargy of the agencies they represent, and bureaucratic sloth in the relevant Ministries. The people have the right to know why a profile has not yet been prepared to identify the real Abdul Rauf; why the Red Corner Notice has not been updated on the basis of that profile; and, why interest has flagged in pursuing the man who held an entire nation to ransom for a week. In this day and age when forensic science enables elaborate profiling of wanted criminals, this should not have been difficult, leave alone impossible. There is no dearth of resources nor is there any bar to seeking the help of foreign agencies. If this was not done, then perhaps we need to look beyond the obvious. Did the current Government willingly allow interest in pursuing the investigations into the hijacking of IC 814 to its logical conclusion to dissipate? If yes, is it because of the Prime Minister's strange obsession with Pakistan which makes him blind to that country's numerous criminal misdeeds against India and Indians? More importantly, was the decision to virtually ignore the information provided by Chile dictated by American concerns? Let the Prime Minister explain his Government's inaction. Silence will only confirm that he has long ceased to be his own master.

 

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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

IT WAS STATE-SPONSORED!

RANA TELLS WHAT HAS BEEN KNOWN ALL ALONG


Pakistani-Canadian terror suspect Tahawwur Hussain Rana's statement in a US court that he had provided material support for the 26/11 attacks on the orders of the Pakistani Government and its intelligence agency, the ISI, and not on the instructions of the banned terrorist organisation, the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba, proves what has been known all along: The Pakistani establishment was directly involved with planning and executing the carnage. Pakistan's claim that the Mumbai attack was carried out by 'non-state actors' over whom the Government or its agencies had no control was always suspect; it now stands confirmed. In court documents that have emerged in the run-up to his April 16 trial in Chicago, Rana has argued that he was a "patriotic Pakistani" whose immigration agency provided cover for co-conspirator David Coleman Headley as the latter undertook several trips to India to scout for potential targets "at the behest of the Pakistani Government and the ISI, and not the LeT". This makes him eligible for a "public authority defence". Rana's defence proposition was rejected by the US court but has nonetheless served to debunk colourful theories meant to insulate the Government of Pakistan from charges of being involved with the ghastly bloodletting. Thanks to Rana's Grand Jury testimony and previous statements by Headley, it is now amply clear that 26/11 was the brainchild of the ISI, that the Pakistani military worked hand-in-glove with the LeT, and all of this happened under the auspices of the Government of Pakistan.


Seen against this backdrop, it is tragic that the Government of India, at the behest of the Prime Minister, has accepted Pakistan's fiction as fact. Minister for External Affairs SM Krishna's response to Rana's revelations — "We will take it up with Pakistan" — is more of the same bunkum we have heard ever since the Prime Minister's capitulation at Sharm el-Sheikh. This is borne out by the fact that Mr Krishna has hastened to add that Rana's statement will not affect the dialogue process which has been re-started by the Prime Minister who is clearly eager to appease both Pakistan and the US. Between the terrible assault on Mumbai and today, Pakistan has not conceded even an inch, nor has it admitted to any lapses on its part. In fact, it has remained as recalcitrant as ever and has been relentlessly spewing venom at India. Yet, the Prime Minister, for reasons that do not require either elaboration or reiteration, has chosen to turn the other cheek. There is no percentage in persisting with such flawed policy, if at all the Prime Minister's personal agenda can be called 'policy'. On the contrary, grave disservice has been done to those killed ruthlessly in Mumbai on the express instructions of the Pakistani Government and its terror-sponsoring agency, the ISI.

 

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THE PIONEER

COLUMN

BOGUS CRICKET DIPLOMACY

G PARTHASARATHY


Obsessed with Pakistan, Manmohan Singh failed to promote India's larger interests in the neighbourhood during the Cricket World Cup tournament.


India's neighbours like Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan and Maldives legitimately complain that they are ignored and SAARC Summits are reduced to a farce by turning such gatherings into India-Pakistan soap operas. They rightly claim that Indian political leaders, officials and mediapersons ignore the progress and achievements in fostering a feeling of South Asian togetherness, and behave as though all that matters is the bilateral meeting between leaders of India and Pakistan on the sidelines of SAARC conferences.

The 2011 Cricket World Cup tournament was scheduled to be hosted in South Asia by Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. Engulfed by terrorist violence, let loose primarily by outfits earlier backed by the ISI, Pakistan was ruled out as a host by the International Cricket Council. The tournament was, therefore, hosted by Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka. Rather than using the occasion to foster solidarity between the three hosts, our leaders and mandarins showed deplorable insensitivity in dealing with co-hosts Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

The World Cup was inaugurated in Dhaka on February 19 by Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed. It was an event which electrified the country, evoking an immense sense of national pride. It was the largest international event Bangladesh had hosted after its bloody war of independence 40 years ago. Sheikh Hasina is unquestionably one of the friendliest leaders we have in our neighbourhood.

Sheikh Hasina has extended a hand of friendship to us, proclaimed her country a secular republic, clamped down on extremist groups and handed over separatist leaders from our North-East who were hosted and feted by her predecessor. Wanted ULFA leader Paresh Baruah, earlier feted by Bangladesh and Pakistan, now hides along the borders of Myanmar and China, enjoying Chinese patronage. While India beat Bangladesh in the match, the hosts fought gamely and nearly made it to the Quarter Finals after beating England.

The World Cup inauguration was an ideal event for India to show its solidarity with, and empathy for, Bangladesh with our Prime Minister sharing the dais with Sheikh Hasina in Dhaka. Astonishingly, in a manifestation of callous diplomatic indifference and insensitivity, New Delhi chose not to send either a high-level goodwill delegation or, more appropriately, sponsor a goodwill visit to Dhaka by the Prime Minister for the event. Similar indifference and lack of imagination was shown towards Sri Lanka where cricketing legend Muthiah Muralitharan, whose contribution to the cricketing glory of his country were personally lauded by President Mahinda Rajapaksa, was playing his last World Cup.

If Team India fought for the coveted World Cup for Sachin Tendulkar, the Sri Lankans did so for 'Murali' as he is fondly known. Most importantly, Murali, a Tamil, is a symbol of how Tamils and Sinhalas can live together in a pluralistic Sri Lanka. An Indian Prime Minister lauding Murali in Colombo would have reinforced and driven home this message. Alas a Prime Minister, who is totally focussed on — some would say obsessed with — Pakistan, could obviously not entertain such thoughts. It is tragic that our diplomatic establishment and politicians could not also imaginatively look beyond their noses on neighbourhood diplomacy.

Many years ago, Mir Khalilur Rehman, the founder of the Jang newspaper, remarked to me during the course of an India-Pakistan cricket test match in Karachi, when the crowds were going berserk as Imran Khan decimated the Indian batting line-up, "The problem with my countrymen is that they treat the cricket field like a battlefield and a battlefield like a cricket field." He said it was this attitude that led them to disaster in the 1971 conflict with India, adding that they would feel similarly when the country's cricketing fortunes were reversed.

The Mohali World Cup semi-final pitting India against Pakistan was touted as the harbinger of goodwill and the elixir for eternal India-Pakistan friendship. But what was the reaction across the border when Pakistan, a remarkably talented but mercurial side, crashed to defeat? Much has been said about Pakistani captain Shahid Afridi's comment, "Indians will never have hearts like Muslims and Pakistanis. I do not think they have the large and clean hearts Allah has given us." Compare this with the gracious comments of Sri Lankan captain Kumara Sangakkara: "We didn't take enough wickets and in the end the best team won. Yes we are a bit sore that we lost. It will take a while to get over that feeling. That's cricket."

It has been argued that one should not take the comments of Shahid Afridi, who was dumb enough to get banned for chewing on and seeking to tamper with the seam of a cricket ball with half-a-dozen television cameras focussed on him during an international encounter with Australia, seriously. But anyone familiar with the media coverage in Pakistan would recognise that not merely the traditionally hostile Urdu Press but also mainstream English newspapers were severely and even irrationally critical of India.

Even a normally restrained person like Air Marshal Shahzad Chaudhry, who was Director of Pakistan's Strategic (Nuclear) Command Authority, commenced his article debunking Sachin Tendulkar's batting capabilities. He averred: "And yet this god of cricket was all at sea against Saeed Ajmal. He could not read Ajmal's doosra". He made the astonishing accusation that it was as a result of the tampering of the Hawkeye software by Indian IT experts that Tendulkar was not given out LBW. Chaudhury claimed: "The IT hubs of Bangalore worked overtime to provide Tendulkar the escape in the 'Decision Referral System' when he was actually plumb out on an arm ball by Ajmal." He implied that the Hawkeye software had been tampered with to show that an actually straight ball had spun to miss the leg stump.

The Mohali episode, based on the misplaced belief that 'cricket diplomacy' would bring people in India and Pakistan together, is symbolic of how South Block just has no understanding of how Pakistanis think about cricket. Diplomacy is a serious business, not to be based on wishful thinking. No one objects to serious dialogue which promotes people-to-people contacts, enhances mutual confidence and ends terrorism. The invitation to Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani pleased the Americans. But is pleasing the Americans the main criterion for determining our policies and priorities in India's neighbourhood? The internal turmoil in Pakistan and its problems in Afghanistan call for serious diplomacy and not gimmicks, grandiose gestures, or summits without meticulous preparatory work.

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THE PIONEER

OPED

AL QAEDA SMELLS BLOOD IN YEMEN

BRUCE RIEDEL


Enjoying a hiatus from Yemeni counter-terrorism operations since the start of political turmoil in the country, Al Qaeda is now consolidating its hold on safe havens in Yemen and plans to spread its tentacles across the Arabian peninsula. The AQAP hopes to exploit the 'wave of change' and subvert Saudi Arabia as the US gets sucked into more 'bleeding wars' in the Arab region


As President Ali Abdullah Saleh steadily loses support at home and abroad — including in Washington, DC and Riyadh — Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula seems increasingly poised to be a major winner in Yemen. The AQAP threat to American cities and to the other states in the peninsula is going to increase as Al Qaeda adapts to the new environment in the Muslim world.


A crafty survivor, Mr Saleh seems to be more in a corner than ever before in his almost four decades in power. He faces growing opposition from within the military; the street protests against his regime are unprecedented. The two outside powers with the most influence, the United States and Saudi Arabia, apparently are looking for a political solution that sends Mr Saleh and his family out of the picture.


AQAP has enjoyed a hiatus from Yemeni counterterrorism operations since the start of the country's revolution. The group has reportedly consolidated its hold on its safe havens in the southeast, with the makings of a mini-emirate there under its influence. Too weak to take over the country, Al Qaeda is nonetheless now making headway because the country's security forces are now entirely focussed on the succession fight in Sana'a. Other rebels in Yemen, like the Shia Houthis in the north, have also expanded their control while the fight rages over Mr Saleh's reign. Putting these uprisings back in the box will be a major challenge for his successor.

Now AQAP has released an extensive message from its new spokesman Shaykh Anwar al Awlaki, the New Mexico native and Colorado State graduate. The firebrand expresses his group's satisfaction with the "wave of change in the Muslim world". The latest edition of its English-language Internet magazine, Inspire, has a cogent and clever article by Awlaki entitled 'The Tsunami of Change,' about how the winter of Arab revolutions will benefit Al Qaeda.


Awlaki is honest enough to admit that the terror cell did not see the Jasmine revolutions coming, confessing that he was as surprised as everyone else by the toppling of the Tunisian and Egyptian regimes. Unlike his boss, Ayman Zawahiri, who seems befuddled by what is happening in Arabia in his public statements, however, Awlaki has adapted to the great Arab awakening of 2011 and put a new spin on what it can mean for Al Qaeda. He rejects the argument that the new Arab revolutions challenge Al Qaeda's emphasis on terror and jihad as the only means of effecting change in the Islamic world. Rather, he argues Al Qaeda can and should adapt to the popular uprisings and exploit them.


For Awlaki, the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak is the jihadists' biggest victory in Egypt since the assassination of Anwar Sadat 30 years ago. Mr Mubarak's downfall offers Al Qaeda and its sympathisers the chance to rev up again in Egypt, a country that has suppressed them for the last three decades. Awlaki predicts that what comes next in Egypt — even if it is "an Islamic Government" driven by the hated Muslim Brotherhood or one run by Arab League Secretary General Amre Mousa — will not be as "suffocating" for jihadism as was Mr Mubarak's dictatorship.


Awlaki argues that Al Qaeda's prospects elsewhere are brighter still. Whatever happens in Libya, he says, Al Qaeda does not believe it is possible to "produce another lunatic of the same caliber as Colonel" Gaddafi, who repressed Al Qaeda in Libya for two decades. Even if new regimes in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya want to continue with policies of "appeasing the West and Israel," Awlaki stresses, they will be much weaker and less capable of holding Al Qaeda back.

Still, Awlaki singles out Yemen as Al Qaeda's most promising prospect in the near term. He rightly notes Mr Saleh is weak and getting weaker and the collapse of the Central Government's authority directly benefits AQAP. A stronger Al Qaeda in Yemen could help subvert Saudi Arabia and the other gulf states. He predicts that the "thousands and thousands of mujahideen in Saudi prisons and elsewhere in the Arabian Peninsula" will eventually be freed to appease demands for reform and then can resume their "jihadi work".


The Al Qaeda leader also argues that an Arab Spring puts America in a difficult situation. The US has been forced to abandon some of its old friends, like Mr Mubarak. Awlaki notes that "the rest of America's servants, littering the scene from Morocco to Pakistan," have to pay attention and know they may be next. Al Qaeda understands that the revolution poses a difficult challenge for America, forcing it to choose between getting on the side of history and keeping intact ties to leaders like King Abdallah in Saudi Arabia or President Asif Ali Zardari in Pakistan.


In all of this, Awlaki, who styles himself an expert on Charles Dickens, sees "great expectations" for Al Qaeda. America is "already an exhausted empire" that will have to spread itself thin to fight jihad in new battlefields. The American homeland will be more vulnerable, Al Qaeda believes, as the United States gets sucked into more "bleeding wars" in Arabia and North Africa.


Of course, Awlaki is a spin doctor and a propagandist, so we should read his rantings with some skepticism. Al Qaeda is threatened by the success of democratic change in Egypt and elsewhere because it does strike at the heart of the terrorists' narrative, which has long repudiated democracy and popular movements. Awlaki doth protest too much to the contrary. AQAP is trying to put the best spin possible on the victory of Twitter and Facebook, not terror, in the Arab world. But Awlaki's assessment of the weakening of the counterterrorist capabilities of states like Egypt and Yemen is a graphic warning that Al Qaeda is adapting to the new environment it sees emerging in the Muslim world. Al Qaeda has always been a remarkably adaptive organisation, so we should be prepared for it to adapt even to an Arab Spring.


-- The writer is a Senior Fellow, Saban Center for Middle East Policy.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

DARK FORCES OF ISLAMISM TO THE FORE

HIRANMAY KARLEKAR


Al Qaeda in Yemen has a long record of terrorist activity, including suicide attacks against oil facilities in September 2006. The incumbent regime cracked down on this organisation, but now that it is under siege, the terrorists are celebrating


As the winds of change continue to blow across West Asia and North Africa, Yemen is rapidly emerging as major focal point of Al Qaeda's activity. According to reports, Al Qaeda fighters and lower-level commanders are steadily moving into the country from all parts of the world, including Pakistan. Meanwhile, counter-terrorism operations have come to a halt as Yemeni troops conducting these have either abandoned their posts or been recalled to the capital, Sana, to bolster President Ali Abdullah Saleh's beleaguered regime. This does not portend well for the country or the entire region as Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is perhaps the deadliest of Al Qaeda's affiliates.


Emerging in January 2009 when Yemeni and Saudi jihadis came together under its banner, it is a reincarnation of Al Qaeda in Yemen, which was formed by 23 Al Qaeda members who escaped from a prison in Sana in February 2006. One of the escapees, Nasir Al Wahishi, was proclaimed its Amir or leader, Sa'id Al Shihri, a former Guantanamo Bay detainee as its Deputy Amir and Qasim Al Rimi as military commander. Al Wahishi has been the leader of the AQAP since its formation. Anwar Al Awalaki, the extremist cleric, is its ideologue.


Al Qaeda in Yemen has a long record of terrorist activity including suicide attacks against oil facilities in Yemen in September 2006. It stepped up its attacks in 2008, targeting foreign tourists and Italian and American embassies in Sana. The attack on the latter, in September, involved the explosion of two vehicle bombs that killed 19 including six terrorists. AQAP too has been increasingly active from the very beginning. In 2009 itself, it was responsible for the suicide attack on Korean tourists in Yemen in March, an attempt to assassinate Prince Mohammad Bin Nayef, head of Saudi Arabia's counter-terrorism outfit, in August, and the attempt to blow up Northwest Airlines flight 253 over Detroit on Christmas day.


Yusuf Al Shihri was killed in a gun-battle in October 2009 after crossing into Saudi Arabia from Yemen disguised as a woman. But that had no effect on the AQAP's morale or capabilities. In 2010, it claimed responsibility for the crash of an UPS jet in Dubai that killed two pilots. While some question the claim's validity, there is no doubt that, in October, it had sought to despatch through a United Parcel Service cargo plane and two commercial flights, packages containing ink toner cartridges filled with PETN chemical explosives inside Hewlett-Packard printers. Loaded at Sana, and meant for out-of-date addresses of two Jewish synagogues in Chicago, these were detected on October 29 in Dubai and East Midlands airport near Nottingham in Britain, after Saudi intelligence officials had provided their American counterparts with the precise tracking number of the packages. If the manufacture of the bombs showed the remarkable sophistication achieved by the AQAP, so did editorial and production quality of its magazine, Inspire. Though the terror attack, codenamed Operation Haemorrhage, was aborted, Inspire, in its issue posted on the AQAP's website on November 17, claimed success in terms of the fear and disruption it caused. It claimed that the operation, which cost only $4,200 to launch, reflected a new strategy of low-cost attacks designed to cause widespread economic damage.

AQAP's surge is causing special concern in Washington, DC given its emergence as a major base of terrorist attacks outside Yemen. Apart from the attempted strikes against the United States, it has tried to hit targets in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon , Palestine and, of course, Saudi Arabia. Despite the latter's efforts to stanch illegal cross-border movement, drug traffickers and terrorists continue to sneak into Yemen and out. The Americans have a significant presence in Yemen. Pentagon planned to spend more than $155 million in equipping Yemeni troops with armoured vehicles, helicopters and small arms to curb insurgency and terrorism It has special forces personnel both as trainers and support staff for Yemeni forces and CIA operatives. They work in close cooperation with British special forces and intelligence officials. Much, however, would henceforth depend on whether President Saleh manages to hold on and, if he goes, who comes in his place. A dispensation that gives Al Qaeda a free run, will cause sleepless nights in Western and West Asian capitals.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

ARAB NATIONS FIND A VOLUNTEER FOR THE WAR IN LIBYA

BIG POWERS WOULD DO WELL TO LEARN FROM QATAR'S ABILITY TO SET GOALS AND ACHIEVE THEM AND NOT FROM ITS PARTICIPATION IN A DUBIOUS MILITARY OPERATION, SAYS YELENA SUPONINA


The coalition fighting in Libya is not a strictly Western affair. Muslim Turkey is one of the 28 Nato countries taking part, and Qatari aircraft have been patrolling Libyan skies since March 25. The small but prosperous Gulf state is also heading up the recently established Libya Contact Group. Qatari diplomats are currently organising the group's first meeting. "It will take place in our capital Doha, perhaps as early as next week," said a diplomat from Qatar who preferred to remain anonymous.


Although the Quran praises patience and Arabs are typically slow starters, in Libya time is of the essence. The longer the military operation lasts, the greater the backlash in Arab public opinion. Although Libyan rebels are more popular in the Arab world than Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, the war should be wrapped up quickly, before public opinion starts to turn. Not to mention the fact that the rebels are in need of rapid assistance.

The coalition needs the Libya Contact Group to define both the tactics and the strategy going forward. The group was formed at the international conference on Libya in London on March 29, which was attended by the Foreign Ministers of the world's leading powers, as well as the secretaries-general of the UN, Nato and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was not invited to London to discuss Libya's future with his colleagues.


Some Arab nations decided not to attend to be on the safe side. Algeria and Egypt did not send representatives. Saudi Arabia, which promised to provide the coalition with warplanes, is currently busy establishing order in Bahrain at the request of its monarch. Secretary-General of the Arab League Amr Moussa, a likely presidential candidate in Egypt, prudently sent his deputy to London.


Qatar, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates played the most active role at the conference. However, Jordan is only providing the coalition with logistical and intelligence support. UAE sheiks have so far failed to deliver on their week-old promise to send 12 aircraft (six F-16s and six Mirages) to Libya.


While other Arab nations have vacillated, preferring to err on the side of caution, oil-and-gas rich Qatar has stepped up. The population of this tiny emirate on the Gulf coast is merely 1.7 million, guest workers included. But Qatar has volunteered to be the face of Arab participation in the coalition.


Col Gaddafi disdainfully called Qatar a "mini-state", but this is unfair. The ambitions of its 59 year-old emir — the reformer Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani — extend far beyond the borders of his small country. The Al Jazeera television network, founded and based in Qatar, has become the mouthpiece for the Arab uprisings.

The emir is successfully marrying modernisation with local traditions. He is moving his country closer to the West, while at the same time remaining a patron of numerous Islamic organisations, including the Muslim Brotherhood. Qatar hosts prestigious tennis tournaments ever year. It was also selected to host the FIFA World Cup in 2022.


Egyptian Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, considered a spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, has lived in Qatar for many years. Chechen separatist Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev was given refuge in Qatar. The emir was so enraged by his assassination in 2004 that the two Russian suspects were almost sentenced to death. But the emir ultimately opted for a diplomatic solution. After difficult negotiations and a trial, the suspects were allowed to leave the country.


The emir came to power in 1995 as a result of a bloodless coup — he simply took his father's place while he


Qatar is helping the rebels in the east of Libya in other ways, as well. The emirate has agreed with the rebel National Council to sell oil produced in fields held by the rebels. The war has reduced oil production, and foreign contracts are not being honored. Specialists from Qatar will help the rebels organise the production and sale of its oil on the international market.


Ali Tarhouni, a spokesman for the rebels, said that the first delivery of about 130 thousand barrels of oil will be made later this month, or in early April. By the middle of April, oil production in the region could grow to 300,000 barrels per day. Considering that a barrel of oil costs more than a hundred dollars, the rebels are looking at over $13 million per day. Before the war, Libya exported 1.6 million barrels of oil each day.


But it was Qatar's offer to help enforce the No-Fly Zone that most surprised the world. Today, only two Qatari fighter jets — French-made Mirages — are taking part in the action. Arab nations are quick to point out that they are not participating in the bombings. Together with the French, they are patrolling the skies in northeastern Libya. The aircraft are based on the Greek island of Crete, primarily in Souda, the location of a Greek air base being used by Nato aircraft. Apart from two fighters, two military transport aircraft have also arrived in Souda from Qatar. Several dozen Qatari pilots and engineers are being trained there as they await the arrival of more fighter planes.


"The United States, Britain and France will not forget those who supported them in this operation," said Mr Shadi Hamid, a political scientist from Qatar. However, the Qatari Government is not seeking gratitude. This tiny country, once an Arab backwater, has used oil and gas dollars to realise its long-term strategy of becoming one of the region's leading nations.


The Qatari emir will encounter a great deal of criticism and problems on this road. Yet, some of the bigger powers would do well to learn from Qatar's experience — not from its participation in a dubious military operation but from its ability to set clear goals and achieve them.


-- The writer is a Moscow-based political analyst specialising in the Middle East.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

 COMMENT

BOOST OR BUST

 

India's economy is caught in a pincer. At one end, inflationary pressures - owing to high food and, more recently, fuel prices - have meant a series of mood-deflating interest rate hikes since March last year. The RBI's latest survey on inflation in fact suggests consumers are preparing for the long haul on steep commodity prices. At the other, though the government expects 9%-plus economic expansion this fiscal, India could be looking at moderating growth. Factory output clocking low single-digit growth for three successive months suggests this, especially the dip in capital goods production that's normally a pointer to industry being on a defensive rather than expansive mode.


On both counts, the IMF makes discomfiting forecasts. It signals that the economy is overheating and trims growth in 2011 to 8.2%. Given core inflation, further hardening of monetary policy seems unavoidable. This will impact growth by squeezing credit for the private sector whose productive capacities will be hard pressed to match demand-supply imperatives courtesy high borrowing and input costs. Clearly, the government should stop brushing uncomfortable economic data aside, and help private players keep up the growth momentum.

For starters, farm sector revival shouldn't make us unlearn the lessons of the recent past. High food prices have had to do with supply side bottlenecks, calling for urgent reform of agriculture. Whether to improve farming and irrigation practices with better technological inputs and R&D or to create a well-integrated farm-to-fork supply chain, big-ticket investment must issue from retail reform. The rural sector and industry both need a common market, which forward movement on GST and APMC reform will help create. Equally urgent is overhaul of antiquated land acquisition rules. Without private sector access to land, industrialisation and infrastructure building can't drive growth.


Land-related agitations and excessive green activism have combined with the corruption issue to spook investors. Tough action on graft-related red tape and reduction of discretionary authority are a must. To boost FDI, India's done well recently to ease rules for foreign firms in joint ventures to launch other partnerships or solo ventures in the same field. But, with FDI inflows falling 22% in 2010 compared to 2009, accelerated disinvestment, privatising areas of government monopoly like coal mining and opening up retail, financial services, education, etc, will buoy investor sentiment even more. Finally, to leverage India's demographic dividend, social sector spending needs linking to verifiable outcomes while the focus must shift to empowering instruments like education, health and job creation via labour reform. Keeping the economy on autopilot and complacently expecting high growth to continue is untenable. The government must lift its go-slow on reforms, starting now.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

COMMENT

ATOMISING RISK

 

The equating of Japan's Fukushima calamity to Chernobyl by upgrading the former to level 7, the highest threat level in a nuclear crisis, should trigger a wholesale re-evaluation of how Indian reactors are planned and maintained. Even in risk averse, industrially advanced Japan, a series of unwarranted events and human failure resulted in radiation leaks. Commendably the reactor withstood a 9.2 magnitude earthquake just 130 km away, but the resulting tsunami was 2.5 metres higher than planned for. This unimaginable barrage of water shorted the generators used to cool the reactor core. Despite everything, the release of radioactive material wasn't inevitable. The final straw was callousness. The Tokyo Electric Power Company delayed cooling the core with seawater because it would irreparably damage expensive equipment.


If anything, this chain of events demonstrates why we must plan on the basis of 'Murphy's law': if things can go wrong they will, and simultaneously. Contingency planning would benefit from informed public scrutiny of what's currently a closed governmental loop. A start would be reassessing risk for reactors, but there isn't any reason why every step of reactor design and building shouldn't be made transparent. Furthermore, safety demands breaking up coalitions of interests for the greater good. Most galling is that the nuclear watchdog, the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board, is part of the very entity that builds reactors - the Department of Atomic Energy. With proper scrutiny, the risks inherent to nuclear energy could be made irrelevant. They must because in terms of per capita power usage, India is ranked 150th in the world. Development requires power and while renewables can't be ignored, nor can nuclear energy be removed from our energy mix. What can be controlled are the risks.

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

TOP ARTICLE

SPACE, ABOVE AND BEYOND

 

Fifty years ago this week, at the height of the Cold War, a Soviet air force test pilot named Yuri Gagarin made history when he became the first human being to escape the shackles of Earth's gravity and enter space. Only four years earlier, the Soviet Union had stunned the world, particularly the United States, by launching Sputnik 1, the first man-made satellite. Nasa, the American space agency, was created by US President Dwight Eisenhower in response. By the time Gagarin went into orbit, the race to prove supremacy in space had begun in earnest. It would culminate eight years later with the moon-landing, when Nasa astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin would proclaim American superiority to terrestrial millions watching the historic feat live on television.

Fifty years after the first human spaceflight, the intoxication of those first heady days of space travel has worn off. Many pundits believe that the Space Age has fizzled out. We haven't been back to the moon in more than 40 years. Nasa'a missions have grown modest - and robotic. The US Space Shuttle fleet is being retired this year and there are no plans for manned space travel in the near future. The Russian space programme is in dire straits.

So what is the reality - and the promise - of space exploration half a century after Gagarin's history-making flight? If you had asked space enthusiasts back in the 1970s what we would achieve by 2011, they would have predicted that humans would have journeyed to some of the other planets in the solar system. Where are the moon bases, the hotels in orbit, and spaceports catering to regular spaceflights?


Yet the lack of those markers shouldn't be cause for too much pessimism. If one looks back at human history and examines the path of technological progress, we see that things don't always advance linearly at a constant rate. There are periods of accelerated growth, when some major invention spurs rapid development. Then come relative lulls, characterised by incremental progress, followed by big spurts again. Such was the case with the first iron tools, with the printing press, and the steam engine.


To those who think the promise of space has dimmed, i would draw a parallel between the first human spaceflight and the design of the first practical steam engine by James Watt in 1769. Both were momentous events in human history.


Gagarin showed us it was possibly to escape our earthly shackle, even if for only a short period. The steam engine allowed human machinery to finally escape the limitations of power drawn from a team of horses.

Fifty years into the Industrial Revolution, an observer would probably have felt that the initial momentum had slowed down. It wasn't until 1819 - 50 years after Watt filed his patent for the steam engine - that the first steamship, the Savannah, crossed the Atlantic.


It is hard to predict what the next 50 years will bring. Will human beings finally reach Mars? Will the two Voyager spacecraft, now having exited the solar system, on their way to the stars - the farthest any human machine has ever journeyed - discover something incredible? Now that so many planets are being discovered around other stars, will we lay to rest the question of alien life?


One thing is undeniable: Space is now part of our destiny.

Science writer and visionary Arthur C Clarke has said that later civilisations will remember the 20th century as the time when human beings made the first tentative journeys into space. More than anyone else in the 20th century, Clarke had a track record of being proven right when it came to forecasting technological progress.

I remember speaking to him shortly before he died in 2008. ''Before the current decade is out,'' he had predicted, ''fee-paying passengers will be experiencing suborbital flights aboard privately funded passenger vehicles, built by a new generation of engineer-entrepreneurs with an unstoppable passion for space. And over the next 50 years, thousands of people will gain access to the orbital realm - and then, to the moon and beyond.''

Already, some of his predictions seem to be coming true: Virgin Galactic is offering fee-paying passengers a chance to go to low-earth orbit in the near future, with first flights supposed to start in a couple of years. Last June, another private company, Space-X, successfully launched a rocket capable of carrying humans into space.

New nations,
India and China among them, are also making bold new forays into space, in some cases doing what the US and Soviet Union did in the 1960s.


However, there seems to be the sober realisation that interplanetary space travel is expensive - and may be too expensive for one nation to undertake. If we are to go to Mars, it may require a global compact to underwrite the cost of the trip. Besides, big technological challenges remain. We don't know how to get humans to Mars and back yet. The payloads involved will be too large for present-day rockets. The radiation exposure enroute to Mars might be too deadly for astronauts. Yet, if there is a lesson in human history it is that, time and again, human ingenuity has trumped what seemed impossible.


Prior to 1961, space travel would have seemed what it has seemed for most of human history: science fiction. Yuri Gagarin's voyage changed all that. We have reached for the stars. There can be no turning back.

The writer is a commentator on science and technology.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

VIEW

RICHLY DESERVED DISAPPROVAL

 

Stung by the recent Lokpal Bill agitation, which saw people slamming politicians, some publicly booed away, BJP leader L K Advani has voiced apprehensions about a 'climate of disdain' growing around politicians. Advani states India has 'upright politicians' generating 'confidence for the future'. It is wrong, in his view, to tar all politicians with one brush, dipped in public angst against corruption.


Hard facts belie his case. Politicians are elected to ensure good governance and high public standards like transparency, diligence and empathy. Indians usually look upon politicians' vainglory - armed security guards, red lights flashing imperiously on their cars - with amusement. However, they cannot extend this to corruption stemming from politicians. Lording over a byzantine empire of bribery and black money, Indian politicians seem to thrive on corruption. The malaise runs wide; if the Congress is hit by spectrum scams, the BJP is tainted by its refusal to shake its Lingayat vote bank and dismiss sullied Karnataka chief minister B S Yeddyurappa. Parliament as a whole avoids tackling corruption, the Lokpal Bill itself kept hanging for 42 years.


Further, as politicians repeatedly get away with malpractices, a noxious message spreads to others in power: take bribes, demand favours as 'perks' of your post. Instead of raising the nation's tone, politicians have pulled this down, making criminals out of public servants and victims out of the public. They may now try avoiding blame by spreading it around, stating corruption is a 'social problem'. But it is precisely their job to tackle such problems and improve systems by denying power to the corrupt, besides leading through example. They haven't done that. Meanwhile, consider this - 75 Lok Sabha MPs stand accused of cases of serious crime. With politicians like these, it's little wonder there's a 'climate of disdain'. The mystery is, why so late?

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

SECOND OPINION

CORRUPTION STARTS AT HOME

SRIJANA MITRA DAS


It's easy to slam politicians for corruption but also inaccurate. Like tennis or the tango, corruption takes two. Together, we make a system work or break. Each time you or i pay a bribe for a traffic offence, or grease someone's palm for a railway ticket, we are being corrupt. Of course there's a quantum of difference between those in power, with the ability to withhold what's needed, and the applicant before them. In that scenario, money sometimes seems the quickest way to avoid hassles, ensure services, escape questioning on why a 13-year-old is driving a car or an unqualified person helming a plane. This is our way of 'getting around' a system that denies us fair opportunities, we argue. But each time we pay a bribe, we break our system a little more.

Politicians are simply a reflection of our own tendencies. They too emerge from everyday India; many must raise large sums to fight their first election. Ideals stripped away at early stages of the electoral process, they pad their way to the top with larger bundles of cash. This is not to absolve politicians but understand why they act the way they do. It's because of us. Despite moaning about corruption, we don't hesitate to vote back the same tainted representatives. At times, we vote for cash, TVs or freebies. And sometimes, we don't vote at all.

It is our fault that corruption has become the monster it is today. The politician is an integral part of this problem but not the whole of it. Treating politicians with 'disdain' won't provide a silver bullet to cleanse the system miraculously. Until we fix our tendencies to slip cash and use 'contacts' for licences, degrees and connections, we will never be rid of corruption. We may be rid of politicians though, but find ourselves in deeper trouble.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

KAUN BANEGA CORRUPTPATI?

BACHI KARKARIA

 

Anna-ji, Hazare saal jiyo. You waved the magician's wand, and dared to say 'Jantar Mantar Chhoo' to the corruption that has swamped and strangulated us.


May the non-force be with you. And may the sips of juice you took that momentous Saturday squeeze out the institutionalised evil that has shamed our fair land, diluted the growth story and resulted in the global cooling towards our much-touted achievements. Well, you have unleashed a climate change on that score, and we must hail it. Heartily.


Look Pal, i'm not going to join the gripes over your Jan Lokpal Bill or make a case in defence of that too-clever Kapil Sibal who seems to be annoying you even more than the beat cop's hafta. No, sir, i have no quarrel with your crusade. My problem is with some of those who have leapt on to your platform. Swamis and sants who are neither, and several others who may wax eloquent on morality, but whose own personal ethics are on the wane. If not quite eclipsed.


A cause is known by the company it keeps, so, Anna-bhau, may i humbly suggest that, for the next stage of your war, you slash your friends as firmly as you do your foes. By all accounts, you have a groundswell of support, so you can well do without those who have jumped on to your brandwagon and could destabilise it with their own deadweight.


You have been the Anna-data, feeding our hopes for a clean society. Old cynics like me may doubt if any amount of deterrent can scrub away the long-ruling mantra of 'Daag achcha hai'. We may deserve to go down the drain with all that mucky water, but since you are a man of homespun and unfamiliar with trendy table thumping, may i also caution you against your cause getting tagged with a designer label. Methinks it already has been appropriated by our celebrated passionista fashionistas. Those who keep the white kurta always handy. One sigh fits all.


'Teleindignation' is its most stylish garb. Night after night, they ramp up the news channels. With the obligatory set-jaw-clenched-paw look, the sleek panellists hold forth on whatever is the platitude du jour. They work themselves up into a lather against the daag of the day - from murdered women to murdered democracy. In recent months, the groaning banquet of scams has so obligingly triggered the greatest feeding frenzy. The same ones which led to your gobsmacking - and slob-slapping - Hazare Effect.


But, Anna-ji, how many of your self-righteous celeb supporters are entitled to throw the first stone? Never jumped a signal and bribed the cop who jumps out from behind it? Never taken an out-of-turn or undue allotment? Never wanted a balcony illegally covered or tax dodged? And done so, bindaas, knowing that they could manage it with money or political influence? Maybe the watchdog should start by barking at its own door.

What worries me even more than the old hacks is the young packs who turned the "li'l ol' man in a topi" into their icon. With imagination fired on all cylinders, Jeans Next seized Anna Hazare's cause and made it viral. But how much of the rage burned simply because it seemed so 'cool', because they'd seen and heard how now globally 'power flows from the barrel of a Facebook'?

 

Long ago, Mao had also warned that Revolution is not a tea party. It needs reminding that it's much less a tee slogan. There may have been a seductive scent of Jasmine in the Delhi Spring, but Jantar Mantar wasn't quite Tahrir Square in a Gandhi topi.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

OUR TAKE

IT'S POLITICS FOR POLITICS' SAKE

If ever there was an election campaign full of sound and fury, signifying very little - to take liberties with Shakespeare - it is the recent one to five states, but notably to West Bengal, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. The only thing that people can be thankful for is that despite it being a make or break election for the main parties in the fray, there has been very little violence. The overriding feature of the campaign so far has been one of unrelenting negativity. In West Bengal, the challenger Trinamool Congress and its volatile leader Mamata Banerjee have not gone beyond telling people that the ruling Left Front is not up to scratch. Fair enough, but perhaps the Trinamool would have done a singular service to the people of the state if it had spelt out some kind of blueprint to revive the moribund economy, attract investment and improve the dismal development indices. The Left on its part has failed to point out its rival's spectacular lack of any agenda, confining itself instead to taking potshots at her potential inability to govern. Bengal is long overdue for a change of guard after years of Left misrule and apathy. It would be a pity if the change, if it comes, will not really shift the goalposts in any significant manner.

Similarly, in Tamil Nadu the debate has been on who is more corrupt. Since the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam has not covered itself in glory in this department, it has tried to redeem itself by flinging mud on the All India Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam alleging that it is no slouch when it comes to feathering its own nest. But barring sops, what do either of the parties have on the menu for the state which is crippled by water shortages, agricultural decline and an increasingly skewed sex ratio to list a few? In Kerala, hobbled by poor infrastructure, galloping unemployment and a stagnant economy, the United Democratic Front (UDF) and the Left Democratic Front (LDF) have gone little beyond bellyaching about each other's faults. An octogenarian chief minister leading the LDF has gone over the tired old Marxist rhetoric in an idiom which people of today no longer understand. The UDF which hopes to topple the Left has confined itself to telling people how irrelevant the latter has become.

It is little wonder than that there is a sense of resignation rather than excitement in the assembly elections this time around. In the background in all these states are vague promises of bringing about development, though quite how and when are not spelt out. The bottomline seems to be 'give us power and then we will do something for you'. And we all know how that works. In short, people in these three states have very little to chose from among the main contenders in terms of real issues. It would be a pity if the development agenda which has paid handsome electoral dividends was put on the backburner and we went back to politics for politics' sake. Elections, which are so keenly fought, have to signify something for the greater common good, else they will be fruitless exercises in sound and fury.

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

THE PUNDIT

QUITE TWO TO TYPE

People forget (and lie) about all kinds of things all the time and our netas are no different. A little bit of cash under the mattress, bars of gold in the barn and couple of crores in Swiss banks - these things are forgotten often, especially when the income tax sleuths are at the door. But, even by our standards, what Mangnilal Mandal managed to do was phenomenal. Mandal, a Janata Dal(U) MP from Bihar claimed in court recently that he did not remember how many wives he had! It seems he also suffered from selective amnesia when he had filed his nomination papers: one wife and a large quantity of assets were quietly tucked away somewhere. However, when it came to voting, he remembered a little too sharply: Mandal is accused of voting from two different Lok Sabha constituencies with different wives in the same election. For his tremendous commitment and passion to the cause of this democracy, the Election Commission must use Mandal as a model voter.

But, as you know, the world is an unkind place. A political worker, who probably knew 'Bhabhi No. 1' before he chanced upon 'Bhabhi No. 2's' existence saw something amiss and lodged a case against Mandal. And that is when the MP faced that nagging question: how many wives do you have?

While the world will now be accusing Mandal of lying in court, presenting false data to the poll panel and lying to the voters, the neta is actually not as big a liar as he is being made out to be. Under the glare of the media and the judges, he just could not think of a more convincing lie. A contrast to many of our netas to whom lying comes so much easier than telling the truth. But then that is the lie of the land.

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

NOT LIKE THIS ONLY

SAMAR HALARNKAR

On April 8, the middle-class lit candles, tweeted, sang and rallied around their new Gandhi. The ruling classes - politicians, officials and my colleagues in the media - sniggered and expressed outrage at the undemocratic nature of the Jantar Mantar pressure group.

That same day, villagers in Chhattisgarh's Champa district gathered to utilise a democratic tool, the public hearing. Since the Adhunik Group, a Rs 3,500 crore conglomerate with interests in steel, power and mining, wanted to construct a power plant there, the government was legally bound to first organise a public hearing before trying to acquire village land. Within 30 minutes, three villagers opposed the plant. The district collector stopped the hearing. The next day, when the villagers tried to find out when the hearing would continue, they were told it was over. "How can this be?" asks local Vipin Mishra. "This is against the law."

I got to know of the goings-on in Champa thanks to CGnet Swara. It's an innovative mobile-phone-based service that lends a voice to those whom democracy fails, primarily in India's tribal heartland. If you log on to cgnetswara.org, you can hear, in Hindi and Gondi (the main tribal language), hitherto unheard voices talking about everything from petty corruption to security excesses. These are a few of India's 90 million tribals, whose democratic rights have been so routinely jettisoned over the years that many now subscribe to the dark, violent ways of Maoism.

I talk of democracy's collapse in the tribal lands because before deriding Anna Hazare's movement as undemocratic and dangerous, two adjectives that appear time and again in criticism against Jantar Mantar, it is important to assess how undemocratic and dangerous India's administrative failures have become.

If the clandestine, undemocratic sale of their lands and resources push tribals to the dark side, a series of clandestine, undemocratic deals pushed new India to swarm Jantar Mantar: the cheap sale of 2G spectrum; the construction of the illegal 31-storey Adarsh Cooperative Housing Society in Mumbai, on land cornered by generals, politicians and bureaucrats in the name of war widows; and the inflated contracts of the Commonwealth Games.

Of course Jantar Mantar was a circus. Of course it bypassed the democratic process. Of course it was cleverly positioned during a lull in 24x7 news events. But do consider that the cosy, corrupt system challenged by the jamboree is itself a daily circus that undermines and bypasses the democratic process.

"The declining capacity of the State and its institutions is a major indicator of a governance deficit in India, compounded by a growth in corruption among state functionaries," says the India Chronic Poverty Report, released last month by the state-funded Indian Institute of Public Administration (IIPM). Two days ago, chief election commissioner SY Quraishi, endorsing Hazare's demand for electoral reforms, told my colleague Chetan Chauhan: "There is large-scale electoral corruption. The role of criminals and money power is rampant."

We condone criminal violations of the law and Constitution, wink and laugh at them or simply don't care because at the end of the day we smirk and say, "We are like this only". India's ruling classes, comfortable with the status quo, are supremely isolated from its administrative anarchy. So, Jantar Mantar felt like anarchy to them. So, they criticise endlessly instead of pushing for real, urgent change.

Jantar Mantar is no more than a slap to the ruling elite. Its genesis, the proposed legislation to create a national ombudsman to monitor administrative malfeasance, is no solution to corruption. India is flooded with corruption-fighting institutions. There are anti-corruption bureaus, Lokayuktas, the Central Vigilance Commission, the Central Bureau of Investigation, to name a few. Empower any of them, and you will not need a Lokpal. The IIPM report notes that "a surge in new institutions, networks and actors has led to the neglect of existing institutions. All have a tendency to encroach on the functions of one another, demonstrated by frequent squabbles among Parliament, the Supreme Court and the bureaucracy."

Jantar Mantar has also focused disproportionate attention on the Lokpal Bill. It is good that a redrawn Bill may make politicians, officials and perhaps judges accountable to the Lokpal. But many laws now before Parliament require similar scrutiny.

Consider just one example: the Whistleblowers Bill (or, The Public Interest Disclosure and Protection of Persons Making the Disclosures Bill, 2010). It has familiar flaws. It says a vigilance commission, in certain circumstances, can reveal the identity of a whistleblower. As an analysis by the think tank PRS Legislative Research points out, this means a whistleblower can be compromised and victimised. Worse, a superior victimising a whistleblower will not be punished. But make a false complaint, and you could pay a fine and go to jail. Despite recommendations made by the Law Commission 10 years ago, the Bill does not allow a whistleblower to act against a minister and it has no time limit for inquiries. People power can deliver limited scrutiny. Intricate checks and balances can only come from reformed, strengthened institutions.

What Jantar Mantar has done is make India aware that it cannot any longer waffle about drastically reforming what Harvard professor Lant Pritchett in 2008 called "the flailing state". If it needs a revolution to change this state of affairs, Jantar Mantar is not the revolution. But the slap it delivered may be timely enough for the chummy elite to realise that while India may be eternal, Indians will no longer eternally wait for change.

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

WHY I DIDN'T GO TO JANTAR MANTAR

HARSH MANDER

As young middle-class Indians gathered to express their anger at corrupt governance, it was a significant moment for Indian democracy. The country has witnessed many protests for wages and land, self-determination and human rights. But this campaign was different. It's decades since educated and privileged young people felt stirred enough to take to the streets, seeking hope of a better India. But this is not a one-time eruption and the political leadership can afford to ignore this message only at its own peril.

I believe that the addition of this new constituency, of a youthful and aspirational middle class, to democratic dissent, is healthy for the republic. Unlike the poor and toiling masses, their opinion matters to the political establishment, who learned to their dismay that these young people too want clean governance.

For four decades, repeated governments have demonstrated bad faith in failing to pass a law to constitute a Lokpal. All political parties demand it when in opposition, and subvert it when in power. The UPA's draft Lokpal Bill was another weak-kneed attempt. But I worry that the alternative Jan Lokpal Bill would instead create a statutory dictator, by bringing investigation, prosecution and recommendation for punishment under the Lokpal. It would sacrifice 'due process' of justice in its anxiety to ensure powerful policing of official corruption. There are few checks to prevent a dominant Lokpal from becoming oppressive.

I support the more general demand of the demonstrators that citizens must be consulted before laws and policies that affect them are framed and passed. The government conceded this in small part by constituting the National Advisory Council (NAC). But of course there are innumerable shades of opinion in civil society beyond those in the NAC. The governments must institutionalise a mandatory process of pre-legislative consultation with citizen groups before any major statute is considered by Parliament.

And yet why could I not actively join the demonstration at Jantar Mantar? First, the symbols and allies that the campaign chose disturbed me: the stage was decorated with a picture of Bharat Mata, almost identical to that propagated by the right-wing RSS. Baba Ramdev and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, the two 'god-men' who dominated the campaign and whose followers contributed the largest numbers at the protest, endorse many Hindutva causes including the construction of a Ram Temple. RSS leaders like Ram Madhav were welcomed on to the stage. My fears were further confirmed when Anna Hazare declared that Narendra Modi was a 'model' chief minister. It's difficult to comprehend how a campaign that claims to be Gandhian can extol a government responsible for the slaughter of its religious minorities. Is the condoning of violent retribution against communities, the complicity in slaughter of the official machinery, the systematic subversion of the criminal justice system to protect those guilty of the massacre, or extra-judicial killings not signs of corruption?

My notion of good governance includes but extends beyond cleansing governments of bribery and financial malfeasance. It is of a just, compassionate, democratic State, which is fair to all citizens regardless of their faith, caste, gender or wealth. Corruption has deeper causes than merely the absence of institutions to punish the corrupt. It stems from inequality and injustice, from illegitimate power and dispossession.

For many young people of privilege, their discovery of democracy began with this televised campaign against corruption. But Mahatma Gandhi taught us that fundamental to satyagraha is love, self-sacrifice and a firm adherence to truth. And that wrong means can't authentically deliver right ends. I can't choose allies to fight corruption who stand opposed to the egalitarian and secular democratic foundations of our Constitution. To me the battle against corruption must be intrinsically part of a larger confrontation against oppression, injustice, hate and fear. There are no shortcuts.

(Harsh Mander is director, Centre for Equity Studies. The views expressed by the author are personal.)

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

THE MYSTERIES OF PITTSBURGH

JM TYREE

 

Christopher Nolan's decision to film his third Batman movie on location in Pittsburgh has a perfectly rational business explanation. Many rustbelt cities, including Pittsburgh, Detroit (Transformers 3), and Cleveland (Spider-Man 3), are cheaper alternatives to New York and Chicago, offering tax-breaks to film companies that, in turn, meld their visually striking downtowns into larger-looking places with post-production wizardry.

Yet this region of America, with its grandly tumbledown cities and postindustrial landscapes, seems a fitting location for Nolanesque creepshows. When searching for locations for The Road, the filmed adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's novel about the end of the world in nuclear winter, the producers felt no need to add much CGI to the area outside Pittsburgh in winter. Of contemporary classics, two notable pictures filmed or set in the Pittsburgh area, The Deer Hunter and The Silence of the Lambs, aren't much more cheery. The premise of a third, Groundhog Day, is sweet, although the salvation of its protagonist, Bill Murray's Pittsburgh weatherman, depends on his inability to return to the city.

Nolan's choice of locations also returns him to the very region of America where the movies began, just at the moment when many critics believe that studio cinema has reached a dead end.

For Pittsburgh, film means jobs in a town that's always looking for ways to reinvent as its population continues to fall (8.6% since the last census), while its hipness quotient remains steady as a tiny but lovely-to-look-at City of Bridges. The riverside area around the Cascade in nearby New Castle has seen better days: the Cascade Centre mall built on the site of the Warner brothers' cinema is now for sale, its website a dead link. Visit town on a Sunday, and you can peek through the glass at the recreated cinema entrance, flanked by vintage movie cameras. As with anywhere in the rustbelt, vacant storefronts, empty houses, and abandoned cinemas lie beyond the reach of boosters and developers. All the more appropriate for Nolan's deep strains of human darkness: his blockbusters, whatever their genre, are rarely uplifting.

Batman was a character designed as a pulp fiction detective at the tail end of the last economic depression. But his split identity as billionaire playboy and traumatised witness to urban collapse resonates with foreclosed America in the wake of the great recession. Batman's original red costume was changed to dark grey to "make it look more ominous". Nolan has done something similar with the Batman cycle. Ominous, dark grey, and staggeringly wonderful to photograph, Pittsburgh makes a far more compelling Gotham than Manhattan.
Only dreamers believe that a comic book character can save a city -or that an artist can save an industry singlehandedly -but that never stopped anyone from projecting the Bat-signal into the night sky. The Guardian

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

THE DIALOGUE - THIS ISI THE TRUTH

 

You there, distributing syrupy sweetmeats around the neighbourhood. It's been a while since India won the cricket World Cup, right?


Oh, haven't you heard the good news?


Our pesky neighbour, the one across the LoC that is, has been finally nailed.


Glory be to the divinity of all religious denominations! I didn't even know that we were at war.


Oh no, it's not a battlefield triumph but a courtroom one. Do you remember Tahawwur Hussain Rana?


Wasn't he a side-kick of that David Coleman Headley, who helped the latter secure an office in Mumbai so that he could scout around for potential terror targets?


The very same. Documents have surfaced, ahead of his trial, of Rana claiming that he acted at the behest of the Pakistan government and its intelligence agency ISI, and not Lashkar-eTayyeba, in the Mumbai terror attacks.


In a bit of a spot then, eh, given that Headley too had implicated the ISI in his testimonial?


Well, that does depend on how eager the US is in exposing its carefully nurtured pet, sorry, ally as a rogue State that sponsors terrorism.


Do say: Blood money for Raymond Davis can't be paid by the citizens of Mumbai.
Don't say: I can hear the roar of US fighter jets as they try and effect a regime (and regimen) change in Pakistan.

 

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

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

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

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

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

COMBINATION LOCK

 

As Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Puducherry cast their votes in a single decisive day and as voters in West Bengal prepare to cast their ballot, the UPA has much at stake. It is always unwise to second-guess the Indian voter, and the only near-certainty is that the Left will take a hit in West Bengal and possibly Kerala, though the extent of the loss is unclear. The campaign has for weeks cast a shadow at the Centre, with Parliament's budget session being wound up prematurely so that parties could concentrate on the elections. So, how may this clutch of assembly polls impact the national government?

More importantly, can the elections pull the UPA government out of the perceptible drift it's slipped into? It depends on the Congress's capacity to see the looming eclipse of the Left for the opportunity it is. Because of the Congress's reluctant embrace of coalition politics, the UPA still lacks a unified sense of self, and treats its alliances as provisional, rather than outlining shared interests and a common logic. If it managed to use the political ballast provided by its partners to push through its policy agenda, these assembly elections could mark a real change.

In Tamil Nadu and West Bengal, the Congress is not a significant player. Seen nationally, however, it is the glue that keeps various parts together, and that is a liberating position, if it manages to articulate a cogent politics for this alliance. It's been a mystery why UPA-2 looks so directionlessness, despite its political heft. It has let important bills languish, even as it pleads for consensus over the insurance and GST bills. Executive authority has been enfeebled, and scams of all sizes have undermined the government's credibility. Its own missteps over the CVC's appointment, and the opposition's relentless attacks have further sapped the coalition's will. Which is too bad, because this battery of scandals comes at a crucial juncture, when the government was poised to push for wide-ranging reforms, especially in the financial sector, but also including important legislation like the women's reservation bill, the food security bill, and the land acquisition bill. If these elections work out well for the UPA, as they are widely expected to, then it must learn to work what it's got, and use its numbers to give greater coherence to its policy agenda. It needs to know how to use the combined strength of its partnerships to assert itself at the Centre.

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

ADMITTING IT

 

Trying to become an undergraduate at the University of Delhi has traditionally required you to slog through what seems like a blizzard of forms, stand in snaking queues in hot June weather and dash from campus to campus checking lists of names.

It is a frazzling experience, and requires students and parents to conduct optimisation exercises complex enough to exhaust economic professors — and many wind up applying for courses which they aren't interested in, purely in order to have safety options, which greatly increases the load both on them and on the overworked teachers scrutinising admissions forms. Sometimes, according to the principal of Deen Dayal Upadhyaya College, colleges had over a lakh applications to go through — and it is quite possible that only a fraction of those students were genuinely interested.

This is a system crying out for reform. In a meeting with the principals of the university's constituent colleges on Monday, the new vice-chancellor, Dinesh Singh, suggested that the university move to a system which formalised the cut-offs already in existence. Each college will come out with a cut-off list, and interested students will approach them directly. This is a welcome move towards decentralisation, even though it has to be approved by the university's admissions committee, and some are likely to want to be made exceptions. The usual naysayers will line up against it — though there may be some reasoned objections, too, which must be taken on board by the admissions committee.

The larger point, which universities like DU should not lose sight of, is that they must be able to streamline processes. The vast expansion in higher education that will be necessary to deal with

India's expanding and aspirational population will need to be accommodated — and that will not happen if we do not take a good hard look at outdated and archaic hoops that young people have to jump through in order to get an education. Nor can we continue with procedures that get exponentially harder to maintain as numbers expand. Money must be spent on teachers and resources, not on processing paperwork.

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

GREY MATTER

 

How old should one be to be old? There was a poet who was horrified at the prospect of turning six-and-twenty: "Is there anything in the future that can possibly console us for not being always twenty-five?" he cried. He died at 36. What indeed is old age? Immaculate self-containment would suggest that old age is that which is nowhere near your age; sarkari records would coldly calculate it as the age of retirement, anything between 55 and 65, when you take leave of a buzzy professional life and can supposedly live off superannuation and the distraction your grandchildren provide. But what about politics or business or indeed poetry, where you determine your age of retirement? V.S. Achuthanandan, 87, M. Karunanidhi, 86, Manmohan Singh, 79, and Pranab Mukherjee, 76, have yet to decide on that.

The relevant but still oh-so-touchy issue of aging politicians in India has gained traction — less from two octogenarian chief ministers leading their respective front in the assembly polls of Kerala and Tamil Nadu, than from Rahul Gandhi delivering his last blow to VS just before the campaign wound up, telling Kerala voters that they would end up with a 92-year-old CM if they voted the Left back to power. The young Gandhi may have spoken to the wrong audience, for Kerala is fast turning into a paradise of pensioners. And the logic of supporting Karunanidhi and deriding VS, separated by a few months, may be questionable. But he has nevertheless touched off an issue that is only tangentially and warily spoken of in Indian politics.

What, however, remains a mystery is why in a political culture in which leaders in their fifties are considered young, Rahul Gandhi's Congress has taken such offence to him being called a "baby"? Age is indeed a complicated affair.

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

WHAT'S IN A SOLUTION?

PRATAP BHANU MEHTA

 

It would be a professional betrayal to let a revolution come in the way of academic pedantry. Public discourse in India often demands "solutions". This is an entirely legitimate demand. We need to figure out what will deliver us from the spiral of problems that confront us. The more pressing the demand, the more urgent is the need for a solution. But what are we looking for in our quest for a solution? It is often our sense of what counts as a solution that leads us astray. Here are some roads better avoided in the search for solutions.

First, there is often no single focal point for a solution. In confronting a problem, we do need to figure out what the most important aspect of a problem is. What is the source of the problem? But it does not follow that there is a one-shot solution to the problem. Claims like "setting up a Lok Pal will solve 90 per cent of the problems of corruption" are premised on the fallacy that there is a single focal point from which the solution emanates.

Second, do solutions confront symptoms or do they address causes? Often in case of anti-corruption measures, there is a great effort on what might be called ex-post-corruption fighting. Here the emphasis is on mechanisms of investigation and punishment. But an emphasis on ex-post-solutions can leave the prior structures that occasion corruption intact. Often greater gains accrue by examining the nature and structure of laws and policies that create the occasions for corruption. Good laws and policies do not, by any means, guarantee the elimination of corruption. Bad laws and policies certainly guarantee its perpetuation.

Third, effective solutions are sometimes more indirect than direct. For example, removing the conditions that make a particular good scarce can often combat corruption more effectively than imposing price controls on the good and then trying to punish those who profit from the black market. An incentive-compatible tax structure like the GST may help reduce tax evasion more than a focus on discovering offenders.

Fourth, effective solutions should not underestimate human ingenuity. Often anti-corruption measures simply shift the form and site of corruption, not eliminate it. This is often, for example, true of measures to root out corruption simply by using technology. Moreover, never presume to know how human beings will respond to signals. Even countries that have the death penalty for corruption, like China, do not eliminate the temptation simply on account of those measures. In short, solutions cannot always be engineered from the outside; they depend upon larger social and cultural transformations.

Fifth, effective solutions require a proper understanding of the full range of conditions under which they can succeed. A lot of institutions that fail in India do so not because of venality, but because the simplest preconditions for their success do not exist. Sometimes this can be something as simple as the right staff to do proper drafting in preparing a prosecution.

Sixth, the demand for a solution is often too abstract. It does not ask the question with respect to specific agents. The answer to the question, what should be done, depends on where and who you are. What a judge in the Supreme Court needs to do is different from what the prime minister needs to do, the police need to do, which in turn is different from what the media needs to do, which in turn is different from what someone in charge of the PDS needs to do and so on. The abstract demand "give us a solution" actually distracts from assigning the right responsibility to the right agents.

Seventh, the demand for solutions is often a demand for being seen to be doing something than taking effective measures. Most aspects of a "solution" set would bore most citizens to tears, which is why there is no public pressure to implement them.

Eighth, the solution must take into account the heterogeneity of the problem. In the case of corruption, the architecture that enables it varies a great deal. Since forms of corruption vary, the potential solutions will vary as well.

Ninth, solutions need to confront the way values come to be embedded in society. The blunt truth is that corruption is often the consequence of the fact that the state is seen as the route to social mobility; it is genuinely regarded as a source of social mobility. Why, for so many people, does the state and the rents it provides remain the only potential source of social mobility is a large structural question about the economy.

Tenth, solutions that ignore proper historical narratives will be blindsided. A growing economy has made the scale of corruption staggering; but it is not clear that its frequency has increased. Some institutions have improved, others have declined. A lack of historical perspective leads us to focus excessively on the bad cases, not on the successes. Just as in the legal sphere hard cases often make bad law, generalising from certain kinds of cases can lead to bad institutional design.

Eleventh, the manner in which solutions are described and defended can have unintended consequences. In the current conjuncture, part of the difficulty is the fact that the whole idea of the "public" has come to be delegitimised. A sense of professional mission, an important ingredient in cultivating the right kinds of motivations, is seriously imperiled if generalised invective about particular institutions becomes the norm.

Twelfth, the serious challenges of corruption in a democracy are not just about money. They are about the subtle and unsubtle ways in which we compromise to take advantage of particular political occasions. Integrity is not just about money. It is as much about a refusal to sacrifice intellectual honesty and openness for the sake of limelight or gain. Arguably, the credibility of even well-meaning solutions is weakened when they enact the same instrumental motivations that underlie monetary corruption.

The point of all this is not to suggest that there are no solutions for corruption. The point is simply to insist that there is no such thing as a general solution. And we often look for a solution in the wrong places. When we demand a solution what we are usually looking for is an easy solution. The constant refrain, "what is the solution", can itself be a symptom of corruption when it becomes a means of avoiding that straight truth that is staring us in the face: we all have to do the duties appropriate to where we stand.

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

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

THE WAR AGAINST GERMS

BISWAROOP CHATTERJEE

 

Do you know of a relative or a friend who died of typhoid? Or tuberculosis? Or fever after childbirth? Not very likely, unless you were born before the 1940s. The discovery of the sulfonamides in 1936, then penicillin and streptomycin in the 1940s, and then a whole range of "cillins" and "mycins" and "floxacins" from the 1950s onwards changed all that by letting us treat most common infections.

Our victory over germs has never been a cakewalk because bacteria become resistant to any widely used antibiotic with remarkable alacrity. For example, most strains of Staphylococcus aureus (a nasty germ that can infect almost any part of the body) were sensitive to penicillin when that antibiotic was first introduced in 1943. By 1950, 40 per cent of hospital-acquired strains of staphylococcus in the US were resistant to penicillin; by 1960 this figure went up to about 80 per cent. Fortunately, methicillin, a chemically modified form of penicillin, came in the late 1950s to save the day for us.

Let's take a quick look at how bacteria develop resistance. To begin with, most antibiotics are natural compounds (or their derivatives) that are produced by soil-dwelling bacteria in minute quantities as biological weapons. Bacteria that have been exposed to such compounds for millions of years have evolved ways to resist their lethal effects. When we produce the same antibiotics by the tonne and spread them all over the world, we give the naturally resistant bacteria a chance to flourish at the expense of the sensitive bacteria, which are killed off by the antibiotic. When the naturally resistant bacteria come in contact with disease-causing bacteria, they sometimes swap their antibiotic-resistance genes. Many bacteria are not choosy about where they get their genes from. Add to that the fact that bacteria can divide as often as once every 30 minutes, copying their DNA every time they divide, with each copy of DNA having a random chance of acquiring copying errors (a.k.a. mutations) and you have the perfect recipe for every possible combination of genes on the planet.

So, the typical sequence of events has been like this: a new antibiotic comes in the market, bacteria become resistant to it in several years' time, then a newer antibiotic comes on the block. It has been a win-win situation for all parties concerned: patients and doctors are happy because infections continue to be treatable; the pharmaceutical industry is happy because their newly discovered antibiotics sell at a premium.

Now, if bacteria have been developing resistance to antibiotics all along, then why the commotion over the germs that produce the newfangled enzyme called New Delhi Metallo-beta-lactamase-1 (NDM-1)? Well, part of the reason is that NDM-1 makes bacteria resistant to an extremely useful group of antibiotics called the carbapenems. The carbapenems, while frightfully expensive, are able to kill a remarkably wide range of bacteria. They are like machine guns: no need to aim, just shoot. Besides, the bacteria producing

NDM-1 are automatically resistant to all penicillin derivatives and cephalosporin derivatives. Many NDM-1-producing bacteria are simultaneously resistant to most other antibiotics, except the polymyxins and tigecycline. The polymyxins are extremely toxic and tigecycline is expensive, so it is really Hobson's choice. Besides, we are now face-to-face with the uncomfortable question: after tigecycline, what?

New drug discovery has failed to keep pace with the development of antibiotic resistance over the last two decades, especially for Gram-negative bacteria, a group that includes E. coli, Salmonella typhi and many other well-known germs.

Where do we go from here? The only option is antibiotic stewardship. The best of antibiotics will lose all clinical utility unless used judiciously.

Antibiotic stewardship mainly consists of using antibiotics as sparingly as possible. And there are many ways to go about it:

a) Many infections do not call for antibiotics at all. For example, most episodes of sore throat in adults are caused by viruses where antibiotics are worse than useless because the risk of drug-allergy and antibiotic-associated diarrhoea outweigh the nonexistent advantages.

b) Avoid polypharmacy. If a patient has uncomplicated malaria, treat with antimalarials only; no need to add an antibiotic.

c) Antibiotics are not needed after a lot of planned surgery on "clean" sites; at the most, use two doses.

d) Keep some drugs strictly in reserve for desperate emergencies when other drugs don't work and only on the advice of an infectious diseases specialist.

When antibiotic-resistant bacteria are detected, utmost caution is to be taken to prevent them from spreading. That does not require rocket science; standard hygienic procedures developed over the past hundred years are good enough.

And if all this sounds utopian, let us remember that countries like Sweden and the Netherlands have been able to maintain the efficacy of "old" and inexpensive antibiotics such as penicillin and amoxicillin by these means till today. The system requires money to run, but that is offset by the money saved on expensive antibiotics, and the lives saved from untreatable infections.

The writer is a microbiologist, express@expressindia.com

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

WHY I DIDN'T JOIN ANNA HAZARE

JAVED ANAND

 

A few weeks ago, I received a call from Mayank Gandhi, Mumbai coordinator of 'India Against Corruption', invting me to be part of a panel in Mumbai to address a press conference on the then upcoming fast by Anna Hazare. "Your name has been suggested to me by Swami Agnivesh. We want Muslims like you, not fanatical Muslims. So please join us and suggest other Muslim names", I was told.

Great, I thought: Which Indian is not sick of corruption? Here was a budding movement, clearly focused on a single issue but not blind to related concerns. The Mumbai coordinator of the campaign was very clear that they were only interested in "good Muslims" like me and did not wish to get mixed up with the fundamentalist lot. So I thanked him for the invitation and promised to get back in a day or two.

But something I read in the newspapers the next morning made me uneasy, a question popped up from nowhere. Who is presently facing the heat over corruption and who is leading the charge against this malaise? No prizes for getting it right: tainted by scam after scam, the Congress and its DMK ally are the sinners, the BJP are the saints (forget the kalyug in Karnataka).

One doubt led to another. Haven't we lived through two nationwide anti-corruption movements before, the JP movement in the early '70s, the V.P. Singh movement in the late '80s? Neither of them succeeded in rooting out corruption. But both, however innocently and unwittingly, contributed to the poisoning of national politics. JP's movement and the Janata government that followed gave respectability to Hindu communalism. The V.P. Singh government, opportunistically supported by the BJP from the outside, paved the way for the meteoric rise of the BJP — from two seats in the Lok Sabha in 1984 to 79 in 1989 — which in turn laid the foundation for the first ever Hindutva-led government in New Delhi. No one in his right mind would accuse JP or V.P. Singh of being communal. I admired and identified with the movements they led. But do ponder the outcome of their movements.

So I called back two days later and said I was keen on joining the movement against corruption but conditions apply: I would be keen on the company I would be required to keep. For example, I was happy to know we wouldn't have to rub shoulders with "bad Muslims" but what about "bad Hindus"? Or, for that matter, would I find myself sharing a platform with people known for their promotion of "Mr Clean" Modi as prime ministerial candidate? If so, do I have the freedom to declare from the same platform that to me, sponsorship of mass crimes was the worst form of corruption?

The answer was unhesitating, clear and precise: "We are only concerned with ending corruption. No one will be allowed to talk politics from our platform. Beyond that we are not concerned with people's political affiliation." Why then the concern about "fanatical Muslims"? But that seemed like a rude question. So I wished the movement success while expressing my inability to join.

That was then. I do not wish to spoil the show for those celebrating the "second movement for Independence" that Anna has won for us. But I cannot hide the fact that I with my missing foreskin continue to feel uneasy about the Anna revolution, for more reasons than one.

Though V.D. Savarkar and Guru Golwalkar thought otherwise, we are all her children. So I am okay with "Bharat Mata" providing the backdrop to the fasting Anna. But did the mahatma in our midst have no problems with the Hindu Mahasabha jumping onto his bandwagon? Did he have to apologise to Uma Bharti (who had jumped on Murli Manohar Joshi's back in ecstasy as the domes of the Babri Masjid were knocked down), when his own supporters showed the good sense of preventing her from joining the dharna at Jantar Mantar? Did Anna feel any discomfort on seeing Baba Ramdev descend on Jantar Mantar in the company of Ram Madhav of the RSS? If he did, why did he not speak his mind?

Nor did Anna speak when Gujarat's chief minister Narendra Modi proclaimed that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's statement on Anna's fast had "created an Emergency-like situation in the country." Since Modi is no political ignoramus what could that statement possibly mean?

But thank you, Anna, for speaking up now. I was assured that no one would be allowed to make political use of your anti-corruption platform. But who can stop the leader from speaking? So we know now that in your post-corrupt utopia, we should look forward to leaders like Narendra Modi.

Am I being unfair to you since you have quickly clarified that you are against "communal disharmony". Modi never proclaimed himself in favour of "communal disharmony" either. But your own close associates, lawyers Shanti Bhushan and Prashant Bhushan and Swami Agnivesh could tell you more. Interested?

The writer is general secretary, Muslims for Secular Democracy

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

ARAB GERMANYS, OR ARAB YUGOSLAVIAS?

THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN

When I was in Cairo during the Egyptian uprising, I wanted to change hotels one day to be closer to the action and called the Marriott to see if it had any openings. The young-sounding Egyptian woman who spoke with me from the reservations department offered me a room and then asked: "Do you have a corporate rate?" I said, "I don't know. I work for The New York Times." There was a silence on the phone for a few moments, and then she said: "Can I ask you something?" Sure. "Are we going to be OK? I'm worried."

I made a mental note of that conversation because she sounded like a modern person, the kind of young woman who would have been in Tahrir Square. We're just now beginning to see what may have been gnawing at her — in Egypt and elsewhere.

Let's start with the structure of the Arab state. Think about the 1989 democracy wave in Europe. In Europe, virtually every state was like Germany, a homogenous nation, except Yugoslavia. The Arab world is exactly the opposite. There, virtually every state is like Yugoslavia — except Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco.

That is to say, in Europe, when the iron fist of communism was removed, the big, largely homogenous states, with traditions of civil society, were able to move relatively quickly and stably to more self-government — except Yugoslavia, a multiethnic, multireligious country that exploded into pieces.

In the Arab world, almost all these countries are Yugoslavia-like assemblages of ethnic, religious and tribal groups put together by colonial powers — except Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco, which have big homogeneous majorities. So when you take the lid off these countries, you potentially unleash not civil society but civil war.

That is why, for now, the relatively peaceful Arab democracy revolutions are probably over. They have happened in the two countries where they were most able to happen because the whole society in Tunisia and Egypt could pull together as a family and oust the evil "dad" — the dictator. From here forward, we have to hope for "Arab evolutions" or we're going to get Arab civil wars.

The states most promising for evolution are Morocco and Jordan, where you have respected kings who, if they choose, could lead gradual transitions to a constitutional monarchy.

Syria, Libya, Yemen and Bahrain, countries fractured by tribal, ethnic and religious divisions, would have been ideal for gradual evolution to democracy, but it is probably too late now. The initial instinct of their leaders was to crush demonstrators, and blood has flowed. In these countries, there are now so many pent-up grievances between religious communities and tribes — some of which richly benefited from their dictatorships while others were brutalised by them — that even if the iron fist of authoritarianism is somehow lifted, civil strife could easily trample democratic hopes.

Could anything prevent this? Yes, extraordinary leadership that insists on burying the past, not being buried by it. The Arab world desperately needs its versions of South Africa's Nelson Mandela and F.W. de Klerk — giants from opposing communities who rise above tribal or Sunni-Shia hatreds to forge a new social compact. The Arab publics have surprised us in a heroic way. Now we need some Arab leaders to surprise us with bravery and vision. That has been so lacking for so long.

Another option is that an outside power comes in, as America did in Iraq, and as the European Union did in Eastern Europe, to referee or coach a democratic transition between the distrustful communities in these fractured states. But I don't see anyone signing up for that job.

Absent those alternatives, you get what you got. Autocrats in Syria, Yemen, Libya and Bahrain shooting their rebels on the tribal logic of "rule or die." Meaning: either my sect or tribe is in power or I'm dead. The primary ingredient of a democracy — real pluralism where people feel a common destiny, act as citizens and don't believe their minority has to be in power to be safe or to thrive — is in low supply in all these societies. It can emerge, as Iraq shows. But it takes time.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia, which is 90 per cent Sunni and 10 per cent Shiite, has made clear that it will oppose any evolution to constitutional monarchy in neighboring Bahrain, where a Sunni minority rules over a Shiite majority. Saudi Arabia has no tradition of pluralism. When we say "democratic reform" to Saudi Arabia or Bahrain,

we might as well be speaking Latin. What their rulers hear is "Shiites taking over from Sunnis." Not gonna happen peacefully.

Even evolution is difficult in Egypt. The army overseeing the process there just arrested a prominent liberal blogger, Maikel Nabil, for "insulting the military."

Make no mistake where my heart lies. I still believe this Arab democracy movement was inevitable, necessary and built on a deep and authentic human quest for freedom, dignity and justice. But without extraordinary leadership, the Arab transitions are going to be much harder than in Eastern Europe. Pray for Germanys. Hope for South Africas. Prepare for Yugoslavias.

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

TV WANTS TO KNOW HOW YOU'RE FEELING

SHAILAJA BAJPAI

 

The gentleman had just swallowed 21 long knives and survived their sharp edges. Just as he began to breathe easy again, he was asked television's most popular question: "Aapko kaisa lag raha hai?" Can't swear to it, but I think he gave the most popular answer to that question: "Bahut achcha".

The show is Guinness World Records Ab India Todega (Colors), the host is actress Preity Zinta and the man had just set a new world record by doing what no one had done before — at least in recorded time, for who knows what they swallowed in the prehistoric era? The same question-and-answer routine could have followed other world record setters or breakers: the 300-odd children who chain-kissed, the youth who rode a cycle with his feet on the handle bar and the biped moving on the front pedal only, the Mumbai dabbawallah who carried three rows of dabbas weighing approximately 90 kg on his head. Preity Zinta was suitably impressed and appreciative, her dimple deepening with the challenge's degree of difficulty. Chris, the Guinness arbiter, strained every sinew of his cheek muscles to match her enthusiasm with a smile and before he declared: "This is a Guinness Vorld Record."

The show is an eye-stopper. When last did you see so many kids kiss or a human being jam his throat with so many sharp instruments? What kept you watching was not triumph or defeat, but the nature of the tasks and what they say about human nature — that we will do anything to set a record. The show should be renamed The World's Weirdest Records by the Weirdest People.

The woman had just undergone an extreme makeover of her teeth, her hair, when the lady with the hidden mic asked how she was feeling (yes) and she replied "bahut achcha." She was about to be married, so perhaps that was the reason for her feel-good factor but Band Baajaa Bride (NDTV Good Times) took it as a compliment to their efforts to improve her looks. Maybe. The show is the kind of reality show which participants love to appear on because they are all winners — they get a new look, new clothes, or, with a bit of luck, a spa visit. All things bright and beautiful, and all you have to do is to accept them? Obviously you will feel "bahut achcha."

Shaadi 3 Crore ki (Imagine) is a little more hard work. You have to spend that amount on the wedding; visit, say, a shop in Delhi's Karol Bagh, and decide on whether you want to spend lakhs on a gold set to bedeck your daughter-bride or a diamond one. Decisions, decisions. The families we watched returning from such shopping sprees looked less than delighted, although hosts Mona Singh and Ali Asghar did everything to jolly them along. The show took you through the motions of preparing for a wedding with a sangeet, a mehendi, and so on, where you saw members of both families dancing, partying — I told you it was hard work. As a viewer, I did not feel "bahut achcha", just envious. Wish someone would give us Rs 3 crore.

Since India won the cricket World Cup, the team has been repeatedly asked "kaisa lag raha hai?" ("how does it feel?"), and because — like the rest of us — they have watched enough TV news to know what's expected of them, they immediately reply (all together now), "bahut achcha." Yuvraj Singh, last seen on Tuesday's Headlines Today interview, has run out of ways to say this in different words, so either they have to stop interviewing him or else someone please gift him a thesaurus. And while you're at it, send a copy to TV news channels.

This particular question-and-answer routine has become so habitual and meaningless, it is asked so automatically that you half expected an intrepid reporter to put it to the only person who really deserved to be asked it: "Anna Hazareji, aapko kaise lag raha hai?" Would he have replied with the standard two words?

shailaja.bajpai@expressindia.com

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

DON'T BIND BOOKS

MANOJ C G

 

Don't bind books

The Gujarat governement may have banned Joseph Lelyveld's controversial book on Mahatma Gandhi, but the RSS appears to disagree. An article in the latest issue of its journal, Organiser, claims that irrational demands for banning books, without having read them, have become a habit.

It says that while it is a relief that the Union government decided against banning the book, the reason given — that the author has clarified that he has not written what had been attributed to the book — was disturbing. "Its implication is that the government would have been justified in banning the book had it contained what was objected to by sections of society," it says.

The writer notes that the complexity of Gandhiji's sexuality has been debated for decades. "He was for total transparency and never tried to hide his life behind the concept of privacy," he says, citing his secretary Pyarelal Nayyar's accounts of his life. He argues that most of those demanding a ban are unlikely to have read the book. "Censorship is counter-productive. It was proved beyond a shadow of doubt during the hated Emergency during which even wild rumours were believed as gospel truth. Same is true with films and books. The more you suppress, the higher the curiosity." Interestingly, the article cites the example of James Laine's book on "Hindu icon" Shivaji, which was banned in Maharashtra. "Traditionally, Hindu society has been open and has encouraged thinkers and philosophers to raise questions about fundamental issues pertaining to religion and society. Tolerating, even respecting, contrary viewpoints has been our ancient tradition. People's anger can be understood if the intention were to malign an icon or to heap insults on deities and faiths. That is not the case so far as Great Soul (Lelyveld's book) is concerned. Hence censorship or ban is totally uncalled for and unjustified," it argues.

Free play

The RSS claims that the UPA is trying to use cricket mania as opium for the masses, attempting to conceal its governance failure and the despair in society. An Organiser editorial notes that today's politicians put the maharajas of yore to shame, in "giving away cash and other generous gifts — from public money, taxes paid by the hardworking and rule-abiding Indians, without any accountability whatsoever — to cricketers, who are anyway paid for what they are doing."

It slams the tax exemptions given to the ICC and the Indian Premier League. "Both these bodies are commercial ventures. They market and sell their product and earn crores of rupees from their activities. The general Indian public pays for all the entertainment provided by these so-called sports bodies," it says.

As for the World Cup win, it says Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi "unabashedly tried" to make India's win some sort of victory for the government. On the other hand, various state governments announced awards and the Delhi government exempted the players from house tax. The editorial, however, did not name the other states which announced cash and other rewards for the cricketers, namely BJP-ruled Karnataka and Jharkhand.

"Cricket is just a sport and it so happens that a vast majority of Indians enjoy it. Call it the colonial hangover if one must. But it stepped out of the sports category when politicians entered, in hordes, the various controlling institutions of the game. And they invaded these bodies because there is money in it," the editorial says.

Meanwhile, the sports ministry gets a paltry allocation in the Budget and only a few rupees reach the lower levels where talent has to be identified and promoted in a range of sports. It adds that the members of the Maharashtra assembly crossed all limits of good sense in demanding a Bharat Ratna for Sachin Tendulkar. "Marathi pride should also have some tinge of respect for the highest civil award of the land. It has been bestowed on such eminences as M.S. Subbalakshmi, Ustad Bismillah Khan and Bhimsen Joshi. These awardees lived lives of tapasya and did not convert their talent into venture capital," it argues.

Finally, it appeals that cricket be treated as only a game. "This politicisation of sports must stop and the government should refrain from giving lavish gifts, tax exemptions selectively to associations because of the sectoral interests of individuals."

Implicating Aseemanand

The Panchjanya editorial focuses on Swami Aseemanand's recent statement accusing the investigating agencies of pressuring him to confess his involvement in the Ajmer dargah, Mecca mosque, Malegaon and Samjhauta Express blasts.

It says Aseemanand's affidavit in an Ajmer court stating that his earlier confession was a result of police torture, death threats and pressure to turn approver, has vindicated the misgivings that had been earlier expressed about the confession. This has exposed the anti-Hindutva consipracy of the government, and its attempt to paint nationalist organisations as Hindu terrorists, it argues.

The editorial claims that the Aseemanand episode has turned out to be yet another example of Muslim appeasement and anti-Hindutva propanda emanating from 10, Janpath. It says the story that had been spread about a Muslim boy — accused in a blast case — changing Aseemanand's heart had sounded suspect, and now Aseemanand himself has clarified matters.

Compiled by Manoj C.G.

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

POOR EARNINGS AHEAD...

With prices of coal and fuel oil, and of commodities like steel and aluminium refusing to come down, India Inc is going to find it hard to protect its operating profit margins. That's the single biggest reason why corporate earnings' growth will continue to moderate; earnings for the Sensex are estimated to grow at 12% year-on-year in the three months to March 2011, compared with 27% year-on-year in December 2010, and 33.6% year-on-year in the nine months to December 2010. Brokerage house CLSA says that for its broader universe (ex-oil and gas), the increase in earnings will be just 12%;

Citigroup is more pessimistic with a growth forecast of just 9%. There's little that companies can do in what is an extremely hostile macroeconomic environment. While FMCG firms have to pay more for palmolein or copra, IT majors have wage inflation to contend with. Although the salary hikes may not be very significant—a 15% wage inflation typically translates into a roughly 5% rise per employee—every penny counts at a time when currencies are volatile. This time around, companies would also be shelling out more by way of interest, never a big chunk of costs, but nevertheless impacting smaller firms. In a fiercely competitive market, and at a time when food inflation is high, few companies want to risk losing volumes or market share by resorting to price hikes. That means the costs will not be passed on. In the

December quarter, giants like Hindustan Unilever barely held on to the bottom line and the prediction this time around is that profits could dip because of the price cuts that it has taken to sustain volumes.

Auto majors like Mahindra & Mahindra, who have a predominant share of the UV market and therefore some pricing power, could fare better than peers but two-wheeler makers will most certainly be absorbing the costs. The Street has pretty much pencilled in the impact of rising input costs and what it will be looking for is some positive commentary on order flows at engineering firms; in the December 2010 quarter, both BHEL and L&T reported a 25% year-on-year fall in orders and the news flow in the three months to March has been rather weak. Since fixed capital formation has been slowing down in the last six months, there's a real chance that growth could get stymied if companies don't move ahead with capacity expansion plans. The good news is that consumer confidence remains high as seen in the good volumes sold of both commercial vehicles and passenger cars; a rise in retail credit is also evidence that consumer spends aren't coming off. But despite this, it appears likely that earnings estimates for 2011-12 will need to be downgraded further.

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

...AND INDUSTRY'S SLOWING

The 3.6% growth in the Index of Industrial Production in February 2011 marks four consecutive months of an unexpected slowdown. Although the overall industrial growth was still at a respectable 7.8% in April-February 2010-11, the numbers fall short of the levels needed to pull up GDP growth rates to over 8%. While one can attribute the deceleration in growth to the impact of high growth rates in the base period (when growth was in the 16-23% range), the widely disparate trends in crucial sectors do cause some concern. Numbers show that despite the slowdown, the consumer goods segment has done fairly well, with growth picking up to double digits in the most recent months. The pick-up is much more substantial in the consumer durable goods sector (white goods), with production increasing by more than 23% in each of the last two months. The growth in the consumer non-durables segment (articles of daily consumption) has not fared too badly either. Growth of this large segment, which accounts for close to a quarter of the industrial output, has climbed up by above 6% in each of the last two consecutive months, pushing up the growth to the highest levels in the past 14 months.

However, the impact of the sharp pick-up in the consumer goods sector is rather skewed. It has been positive on the intermediate goods segment—which are consumed in production of higher value products—where growth rate has picked up from a low of 2.7% in November to a high of 8.4% in February. However, surprisingly, the basic goods sector, which produces most of the raw materials and which ought to benefit from the pick-up in the consumption and intermediate goods sectors, has seen growth marginally decelerate from 6.8% to 5.9% in the last four months. The worst performer is the capital goods sector, which produces the machinery and equipment used for production. Output of this sector has declined in four of the last six months, with the production shrinking by more than 18% in each of the last two months. This points to weak investment sentiments and slack business confidence, probably on account of the high interest rates and expectations on monetary policy in the coming months, given that the manufactured goods prices have remained sticky at around 5% over the last two years. Reverting to double-digit growth in the industrial sector will require reviving investments and pushing up business sentiments back to the pre-slowdown levels with a focus on all-round reforms.

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

ANNA'S BARKING UP THE WRONG TREE
MK VENU

The engagement between the representatives of the government and those of civil society in the new Lokpal drafting committee will be quite interesting. The government side has ministers who have impeccable credentials as lawyers. Home minister P Chidambaram, communications minister Kapil Sibal and water resources minister Salman Khurshid are all sharp legal minds who will try to take a more conservative approach to the highly contentious legislation to ensure that the existing balance between the powers of the legislature, executive and judiciary, as designed by the Indian Constitution, do not get disturbed. After all, it is partly for this reason that the idea remained in the works for 42 years.

The civil society representatives led by Anna Hazare are impatient and want a Lokpal that acts as a super judicial authority and that will autonomously investigate, prosecute and judge corrupt bureaucrats, MPs, MLAs and ministers, including the Prime Minister. The Lokpal Bill remained a subject of debate because earlier it was felt by many that the autonomy and privilege of Parliament requires that the prime ministers, ministers and MPs be accountable to Parliament only. This is the most contentious issue about the proposed Lokpal that remained unresolved all these decades.

The new drafting committee is unlikely to come up with a quick solution to this impasse. Already, there are ample signs that the two groups on the drafting committee will lock horns over this matter.

In some ways, the water resources minister gave it away in an interview to CNBC TV 18 when he said: "We will seek views of Parliamentarians on the proposals made by the civil society members appointed on the drafting committee." And there lies the catch. How do you expect the leaders of various parties in Parliament to agree with the idea that some of the legislature's authority is vested in a new body called Lokpal. If Parliament members across parties do not endorse such powers being handed to a super-judicial authority, then the Lokpal Bill cannot be passed.

Will Anna Hazare do another fast unto death to coerce political parties to endorse the Lokpal Bill in Parliament? This take us back to the fundamental point that in a democracy, however messy, the elected representatives wield the final veto on all such issues.

So, while Anna Hazare did stir the middle-class consciousness against corruption during the days he went on hunger strike, the next logical step for him is to form a new political party that fights elections on the single issue of corruption. Of course, this will be a long haul and will need mass mobilisation based on an organisational structure. If Hazare feels so strongly about Sharad Pawar's "lack of integrity", he must challenge Pawar in the next Lok Sabha elections in Maharashtra. That is the only way to go in a democracy.

Hazare must learn from Mahatma Gandhi, who was a master tactician and never believed in throwing the baby out with the bathwater when it came to dealing with the British. Gandhi would do a fast unto death only in crunch situations and often withdrew tactically to fight another day. To follow this approach, Hazare must first recognise that winning smaller battles along the way is very important to reach the bigger goal subsequently.

Indeed, there is a small battle to be won after having succeeded in making civil society representatives part of the drafting committee of Lokpal. The big battle cannot be won through Lokpal as Parliament will reject any draconian proposals that the civil society group places before the committee. It is important for Hazare and his colleagues on the drafting committee to recognise this reality.

The drafting committee has two good legal luminaries from civil society in Justice Santosh Hegde, the Lokayukta from Karnataka, and the former law minister Shanti Bhushan. They would certainly help in getting the best deal out of the current exercise.

Anna Hazare must recognise that those who rallied around him were essentially frustrated about the delivery of public goods and services, which is ridden with corruption. The Lokpal could have a sharper focus on the corruption that dogs spending on public goods and services, which affects the day-to-day lives of the people. This will require bringing all government officials at the Centre and state levels under the purview of Lokpal. Here the Lokpal could have special powers to investigate and prosecute corrupt officials without seeking prior approval of the government.

A pragmatic approach would see even this mechanism as a small but significant victory for Hazare, especially when nothing at all materialised in the form of Lokpal over the past 42 years. The government will have to concede this without demur as it would want to be seen as giving something substantive. In a sense, if bureaucrats are brought under the purview of an independent Lokpal, a lot of other problems will automatically get addressed.

This will put the fear of god in the mind of the bureaucrats and they would stop taking irregular instructions from their political masters, if only to cover their backsides. It is believed that former CVC PJ Thomas was not personally corrupt and he looked the other way only to let his political masters do as they wished under his authority. He did that because he was certain he would be protected, and indeed he was till the very end. Under a strong Lokpal authority covering all officials, the PJ Thomases will have no incentive to look the other way. They are more likely to turn whistle-blowers when they know the Lokpal will catch them sooner or later without seeking government sanction.

In some ways, if the bureaucracy is well covered by Lokpal, many other ills will be automatically addressed. As for ministers, MPs and the Prime Minister being covered by Lokpal, it is best to deal with them in the electoral arena. Any Lokpal draft Bill with jurisdiction over them will never go through Parliament. This is the bitter truth about any democracy.

mk.venu@expressindia.com

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

SKIDDING ON OIL
PARUL BHARDWAJ

Brent crude prices are currently trading above $120/bbl, their highest levels since October 2008, thanks to the growing political unrest in the Middle East and North Africa. With reports of growing political unrest in more major oil producing regions like Yemen, oil will remain in the spotlight for some more time. Fears that Japan would need to import more oil to generate power, as its nuclear reactors have been damaged, also pushed up oil prices.

The impact of the rise in oil prices has emerged as a key downside risk to global growth. In addition, costlier oil could push up inflation across the globe, particularly in Asian economies where it already exceeds official targets and comes under the backdrop of elevated food prices. High oil prices have also threatened to push up food prices further through its second-round effects on higher input costs like fertiliser etc.

Will the escalation in oil prices have a uniform impact across Asia? We have studied 13 major Asia-Pacific economies, which together accounted for close to 80% of the total GDP of the region in 2009. Our analysis is based on the countries' oil intensity, which is defined as the number of barrels of oil required to generate $1,000 of GDP.

Many countries in Asia have brought down their oil intensity in the last decade, spurred by high oil prices, moved to alternative fuels and measures to curb global warming. India's oil intensity decelerated to 2.6 times in 2009 from 4.7 times in the early 2000s, but it continued to be much higher than the world average of 1.5 times. Similarly, Thailand had an oil intensity of 3.7 times in 2009 as compared to Korea's intensity of 2.8.

According to our analysis, Korea, Thailand, India and Taiwan are the most vulnerable to rising oil prices in the Asia-Pacific region. Korea (-8.2%), Thailand (-6.9%) and Taiwan (-6.9%) have high negative oil balance (net oil exports expressed as a percentage of overall GDP), too. India's oil balance stood at -5.3% in 2009. The weak fiscal position of governments in India, Thailand and Taiwan could hamper their ability to cushion the impact of the rising crude through further subsidies. Korea, on the other hand, is relatively well placed in terms of its fiscal leeway.

Singapore, too, has high oil intensity, but it can be safely excluded from this list, as its overall oil consumption tends to be overstated because it is a major oil refinery and transport hub. Developed economies in the region like Japan, Australia and New Zealand have relatively low oil intensities, suggesting that they will be least affected by the high prices. Although the oil intensity of China and Hong Kong is near the world average, Hong Kong has high negative oil balance (-5.3%) implying its high dependence on oil imports. While China has relatively low negative oil balance (-2.2%), thus the impact of high oil prices will be at best limited on its economy. Malaysia and, to some extent, Indonesia are the only two countries in the region that stand to benefit from an increase in oil prices, as they are net importers of oil and also enjoy low oil intensity (see chart).

The Asia-Pacific region's impressive growth rates have translated into huge demand for oil from the region. In 2009, Asia-Pacific consumed close to 30% of the global oil production, and accounted for 32.3% of the world's GDP (on a PPP basis). From 2001 to 2009, the total oil consumption of the region grew from 0.7% to over 1%, while that of the world contracted from 0.8% to 1.7%. In the region, Chindonesia's (China, India and Indonesia) oil consumption has grown at the fastest pace. These countries jointly accounted for 15.6% of the world's total oil consumption in 2009.

Many of these countries, notably Indonesia, Malaysia and India, subsidise energy consumption by controlling prices of electricity and oil. Malaysia and Indonesia have large oil subsides as they produce oil domestically, while India has the largest subsidy among the crude-oil importing countries in the region. Although this practice has shielded them from the inflation caused by energy price increases, it has adversely impacted their trade balances by inflating their import bills and consequently worsening their current account balance position and fiscal balance. Going ahead, these subsidies are likely to diminish, as most of these countries lack adequate fiscal strength to sustain them. China and India have already started moving towards market-oriented regimes to phase the controls on oil prices. The Asian adjustment in prices should help curb demand for oil in the region, thus enabling global conservation, and hence, moderation in prices.

The author is economist, CRISIL Ltd. These are her personal views

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

RENEWING THE TELECOM AGENDA

When it comes to telecommunication gadgets, obsolescence is measured in months rather than years, not to mention decades. That was not the case with governance in the telecom industry, considering that the Indian Telegraph Act of 1885 is still the law that applies to the use of telephones, telegraph, and communications across the land. But the 2G scam has laid bare the disastrous consequences of persisting with an outdated and ambiguous policy framework, which a succession of Telecommunications Ministers handled questionably and which A. Raja used to scandalous effect, resulting in the biggest scam in the history of independent India. It is not difficult to see why this industry needs a periodically fine-tuned policy regime. India's telephone-using population is swelling phenomenally: it took a hundred years for the number of telephone subscribers to touch 20 million; now 20 million subscribers are added every month. The mode of connectivity has changed: 96 per cent of the 826 million subscribers use mobiles, which were unseen just 16 years ago. Indeed, even among the wireless services that became available in the 1990s, pagers and mobile radio trunking phones, which ranked quite prominently in the New Telecom Policy of 1999, have passed into oblivion. The value of the wireless spectrum has skyrocketed in consonance with the number of subscribers connected.

It is hardly surprising that post-scam, Telecommunications Minister Kapil Sibal wants to draft a new telecom policy to replace the one that was set 12 years ago. Mr. Sibal does not have some of the challenges NTP 1999 faced, especially the challenge of increasing the tele-density in the country. The industry has over-delivered on targets, with 154 phones today for 100 people in urban areas and 30 phones (against a target of four) for every 100 people in rural India. But Mr. Sibal needs skillfully to draft the policy in a manner that will let consumers continue to enjoy the benefits of low tariffs and of access to the latest technologies. Ensuring that there is a sufficient number of service providers competing in each area will take care of the former. Mr. Sibal has talked of having a minimum of six, but that is no problem for now since most areas have almost twice that number of service providers. He has also talked of granting a unified licence, which one trusts will be agnostic to technology choice. This will be crucial in letting companies offer their subscribers the benefit of technology as it changes and improves. But the more intractable issue will be that of spectrum and its pricing, given the proliferation of mobile devices and the increased demand on the air waves. Mr. Sibal wants to separate the issue of the telecom licence from the grant of spectrum. Yet that does not solve the problem fully. Since spectrum is commonly owned but scarce, a transparent mechanism must be devised to let phone companies pay the appropriate price to the government for the slices they use. That was the issue that trapped Mr. Raja; let not his successors also trip on it.

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

REALISTIC ASSESSMENT OF TRADE

The impressive trade performance during 2010 helped in no small way in checking the global economy's slide into recession. Highlighting this and certain related aspects, the World Trade Organisation in a recent report has cautioned that expectations of trade growth in 2011 ought to be more subdued. After the record-breaking 14.5 per cent surge in terms of volume in 2010, the expansion in world trade is unlikely to exceed 6.5 per cent during 2011. In 2010, trade was essentially bouncing back from the sharp drop of almost 12 per cent during the previous year. The 14.5 per cent increase was the highest since 1950 and was buoyed by a 3.6 per cent growth in the global output. Such a performance returned trade to the 2008 peak. The WTO's muted expectations are rooted in the realisation that the "hangover from the financial crisis is still with us." High unemployment in the developed economies and sharp belt-tightening in Europe have fuelled protectionist pressures. The Doha development round shows no signs of moving forward. The earthquake, the tsunami, and the nuclear disaster in Japan have added to the uncertainty surrounding the trade outlook while the spiralling prices of commodities, especially petroleum, and the continuing unrest in major oil exporting countries have added to the risk factors.

But that is not all, according to the WTO. The factors that contributed to the unusually large drop in world trade in 2009 may have also boosted the rebound in 2010. The proliferation of global supply chains is one factor. The product composition of trade compared with output is another. Global supply chains cause goods to move across national boundaries several times during the production process, thereby increasing measured trade flows. Certain goods such as consumer durables and industrial machinery, which were severely affected during the downturn, have a larger share in world trade than in global GDP. Consequently, while they exaggerated the magnitude of trade slump relative to the GDP in 2009, they had a positive effect the next year. The trade recovery needs to be sustained by sound policy measures. Exhorting its members to be vigilant against protectionist forces, the WTO has said that salvation lies in opening, not closing, markets.

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THE HINDU

LEADER PAGE ARTICLES

STATUS OF MUSLIMS IN WEST BENGAL

MISLEADING DATA CITED IN A SEMINAR PAPER ON THE SITUATION OF THE MINORITY COMMUNITY IN THE STATE TEND TO DETRACT FROM THE LEFT FRONT GOVERNMENT'S EXCEPTIONAL RECORD ON THIS COUNT.

MAIDUL ISLAM & SUBHASHINI ALI

Abusaleh Shariff, the Chief Economist of the National Council of Applied Economic Research, who was the Member-Secretary of the Sachar Committee, presented a paper on the socio-economic development of Muslims in West Bengal, at a seminar organised by the Institute of Objective Studies in March. A newspaper report of his presentation claimed that the situation of Muslims in West Bengal was worse than in Gujarat.

This is an erroneous and shocking statement. The ghettoisation and marginalisation of Muslims in Gujarat since the state-sponsored pogrom of 2002 is well-documented. West Bengal, on the other hand, has had no communal violence since l964, and Muslims enjoy security.

The figures of Muslims' access to government employment and education in West Bengal as presented by Mr. Shariff are based on outdated data. He has relied on Census 2001 figures. In fact, the West Bengal government seems to be among the few governments that have taken both the criticism and recommendations contained in the Sachar Committee Report seriously.

The newspaper report said: "Shariff's figures on education, sourced, according to him from the census database and the Planning Commission, show that 50 per cent Muslim children attend school at the primary level, 26 per cent remain in middle school and only 12 per cent complete matriculation against 54 per cent, 30 per cent and 13 per cent respectively for SC/STs and 80 per cent, 58 per cent and 38 per cent for others." These are data from the Sachar Report (pages 295-299), based on Census 2001. Since then, there has been a significant improvement in the matter of enrolment of Muslims in school in the State. Latest data from the District Information System for Education, which is a joint initiative of the National University of Educational Planning and Administration (NUEPA), the Department of School Education and Literacy, the Ministry of Human Resources Development and UNICEF, show West Bengal in a good light.

According to the NUEPA report, in the last three years (2007-08, 2008-09 and 2009-10), respectively 28.13, 28.28 and 32.30 of every 100 primary school children in West Bengal were Muslims, while 25.25 per cent of the State's population is Muslim. West Bengal's figures for Muslim students' enrolment at the primary level are better than the national average of 10.49 per cent (in 2007-08), 11.03 per cent (in 2008-09) and 13.48 per cent (in 2009-10) respectively, while Muslims form 13.43 per cent of India's population. West Bengal's record is far better than that of Gujarat. There, Muslim students' enrolment at the primary level was 4.57 per cent (2007-08), 4.73 per cent (2008-09) and 6.45 per cent (2009-10). Among all States and Union Territories, West Bengal ranks sixth in primary school level enrolment among Muslim students.

In 2009-10, upper primary school enrolment among Muslim students in West Bengal was 26.46 per cent. At the elementary school level it was 30.56 per cent, more than the proportion of Muslims in the State's population. The State thus occupied the sixth position among all States and Union Territories. The figures for West Bengal are better than the national average of 11.89 per cent and 13.02 per cent respectively, and far ahead of Gujarat: for that State the corresponding figures are 6.44 per cent and 6.45 per cent respectively.

On employment of Muslims in West Bengal, Mr. Shariff has again quoted from the Sachar Report (page 370), which had said its data for West Bengal were incomplete (pages 170, 173). The Report ignores the employment of Muslims in secondary and primary educational centres, which, according to the State government's data is 37 per cent of the total teachers employed. Since more than 20,000 teachers in registered madrasas receive the wages and benefits of government school teachers and the majority of them are Muslims, they should be counted as government servants. For the expansion of madrasa education, the State budgetary provision has increased from only Rs.5.6 lakh in 1976-77 to Rs. 574 crore in the current year. The Central government's allocation for madrasa education (SPQEM) was Rs. 127 crore in the 2011 budget.

In 2010, West Bengal reserved 10 per cent of all State government jobs for OBC Muslims, as per the recommendation of the Ranganath Misra Commission. The newspaper report quotes Mr. Shariff as saying: "A look at OBC statistics in Bengal shows only 2.4 per cent of its Muslims belong to that category." In truth, after the recommendations of the Misra Commission were made public, a list of 56 'more backward communities', 49 of them Muslims, was included in the OBC list in West Bengal. As a result, of the 2.02 crore Muslims in West Bengal, 1.72 crore, or 85 per cent of the total, were notified as OBCs. West Bengal is the first State to implement the Misra Commission recommendations.

The Central government's commitment to the Sachar Committee recommendations is half-hearted and meagre. Whereas the Committee recommended increased spending on Muslim minority educational, health and other needs to the extent of about 15 per cent of the Union Budget, and West Bengal demanded a sub-plan for Muslims on the lines of the SC/ST sub-plans, the Centre has allocated less than 0.5 per cent in the Budgets it has presented since the Committee's Report was tabled in Parliament. In Budget 2011, the Centre reduced the allocation to the Multi-Sectoral Development Plan of minority-dominated districts by Rs. 100 crore. West Bengal, which accounts for 12 of the 90 MSDP districts, has the best record with respect to the implementation of the scheme.

West Bengal's track record in other welfare measures is also impressive. The West Bengal Minority Development Corporation had disbursed term-loans and micro-credit to 1,82,646 persons till January 2011. This is the best record of credit disbursement among all minority finance corporations. The share of bank loans for the minorities in the total priority sector loans of banks in the State increased from 7.89 per cent as on March 31, 2009, to 14.76 per cent as on March 31, 2010. This grew to cross the national level target (15 per cent) and reached 15.01 per cent as on September 30, 2010. At the national level, it is still to reach 10 per cent.

West Bengal is the topper in implementing the Prime Minister's Employment Generation Programme. Among self-employed business persons who benefited from PMEG, over 30 per cent are from among the minorities. Among all self-help groups in West Bengal with access to institutional credit, 21.8 per cent are groups with Muslim members.

An important aspect of the backwardness of the Muslim minority is landlessness. In most parts of India, landlessness among Muslims has increased after l947. West Bengal is an exception. The success of land reforms under Left-led governments here has significantly benefited Muslims. Among rural households in West Bengal, Muslim households, which constitute 30.9 per cent, have access to 25.6 per cent of the total cultivated land. This is second only to Jammu and Kashmir, which has a much higher percentage of Muslim citizens who have access to 30.3 per cent of cultivable land in the State. Of the land pattas distributed in West Bengal during the period 1977-2010, 18 per cent went to Muslim households.

While more needs to be done for the Muslim minority in West Bengal and, indeed, all over India, it is important to set the record straight. At a time when incorrect data are being used as part of a propaganda offensive against the Left Front government, this has become even more essential.

(Maidul Islam is a D.Phil candidate in Politics at Brasenose College, University of Oxford. Subhashini Ali is a Central Committee member of the Communist Party of India-Marxist)

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THE HINDU

OPED

COTE D'IVOIRE: ACCOUNTABILITY 'YES,' RETALIATION 'NO'

WITH PRESIDENT OUATTARA ASSUMING EFFECTIVE CONTROL, THERE MAY BE A CHANCE FOR PEACE. A FIRST-HAND ACCOUNT OF THE GROUND REALITY.

IVAN SIMONOVIC

Travelling around Abidjan and the west of Côte d'Ivoire last week, as the push to dislodge former President Laurent Gbagbo reached its climax, it was difficult to escape the stench of death.

In the Carrefour neighbourhood of Duékoué, I peered down a deep well at the abandoned headquarters of one of the warring militias. No bodies were visible but the smell was unmistakable. No one knows how many bodies lie inside. The grisly work of recovering and identifying the dead lies ahead.

Elsewhere, the extent of the bloodshed is already emerging. In two deadly incidents, the most recent on March 28 more than 300 people were killed. The Moroccan peacekeepers sent to the site of these massacres have so far counted 255 bodies, but more lie in dense bushes and other inaccessible places. A United Nations human rights team is also present at the scene, gathering evidence and trying to establish the chain of events.

The picture is not black and white. Information available to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights indicates that the first incident took place in the area controlled by forces loyal to the now captured Laurent Gbagbo. The victims were mostly members of the Dioula ethnic group, which has tended to support Gbagbo's rival, Alassane Ouattara, who is widely recognised as the winner of last year's elections and the legitimate president of the country. The second took place in an area under the control of forces loyal to Ouattara, and the victims were mostly Gueré, who tend to support Gbagbo. The dead were found in civilian clothes.

Crisis situation

It is not known exactly how many people have died in Abidjan. The UN human rights team in Côte d'Ivoire puts the likely number at more than 400. Bodies have not been collected systematically, because of the persisting security risks. Hospitals have run out of many basic medical supplies and food is scarce, leaving many people hungry and afraid. UN peacekeepers used armoured personal carriers to evacuate diplomats and journalists caught in fighting in Cocody, the neighbourhood close to the Presidential residence where Laurent Gbagbo made his last stand. Local people had no such escape route.

Ouattara's pledge

President Ouattara has said he would do everything in his power to break the vicious cycle of ethnically-based violence.

"I will establish a truth and reconciliation commission and ensure accountability of everyone who committed crimes, no matter their political affiliation or ethnicity," he told me Thursday in Abidjan. "I want reconciliation. I will form a government in which all regions and ethnic groups will be represented." He has since repeated the pledge in public statements.

If the truth about crimes committed since the start of the conflict in September 2002 had been established earlier and perpetrators held to account, perhaps Côte d'Ivoire could have been spared the situation it faces.

An international commission of inquiry was established in 2004, but its report was never made public, nor taken up by the UN Security Council. Hopefully, that will not be the case this time. The Security Council has already requested Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to present it with the report of the independent investigation commissioned by the Human Rights Council, and to share it with other international organisations. The report is due by the middle of June, but how many people may have lost their lives by then? Will further retaliation be averted?

With President Ouattara assuming effective control of the reins of power following this Monday's arrest of Mr. Gbagbo, there is renewed hope that the long-suffering people of Cote d'Ivoire will finally see peace. This is by no means assured.

President Ouattara and other political leaders across the country need to embark, immediately, on the long and difficult but necessary road of accountability but, in doing so, they must avoid any form of retaliation.

Former President Gbabgo must be treated with dignity and, if charged, tried in accordance with international human rights standards. He should not be made a scapegoat: all individuals implicated, no matter their political affiliation, should equally face justice. Truth and justice are prerequisites for reconciliation and sustainable peace.

Cote d'Ivoire is a rich country with strong infrastructure, most of which remains intact. But it will need substantial help from the outside world, both in the form of immediate humanitarian relief and longer-term assistance to jump-start its economy. One hopes that it will not struggle to secure international attention and funding in the face of the upheavals in North Africa and the earthquakes in Japan.

( Courtesy: UN Information Centre, New Delhi. Ivan Simonovic is United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights.)

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THE HINDU

OPED

FROM THE MOON TO THE MUSEUM

NASA CHOOSES RETIREMENT HOMES FOR SPACE SHUTTLES.

KENNETH CHANG

NASA's space shuttles, which have been carrying astronauts aloft for 30 years, were assigned to their final destinations on April 12: one will head to the nation's capital, another to Los Angeles, and the third from its current home at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida to the centre's visitor complex next door.

In a ceremony commemorating the shuttle programme, Maj. Gen. Charles F. Bolden Jr., the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) administrator, made the long-awaited announcement of where the soon-to-be museum pieces would end up.

The Discovery, which completed its final flight last month, is headed to the Smithsonian, for display at the spacious Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center near Washington Dulles International Airport. The Endeavour, currently on the launching pad for its final space trip, will go to the California Science Center. The Atlantis, scheduled for its last mission in June, will go to the Kennedy visitor complex.

The audience at the Kennedy ceremony erupted into cheering and whooping as General Bolden announced the Atlantis's destination. "I guess I got something right today," the general said with a laugh.

Those who were unsuccessful

Conspicuous among the unsuccessful hopefuls were the Museum of Flight in Seattle, which had already begun construction of a wing that it hoped would house an orbiter; the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Ohio; and NASA's Johnson Space Center in Texas, the site of mission control for the 135 shuttle missions.

The disappointment in Houston was pronounced. Representative Pete Olson, a Republican whose district includes the space centre, said in a statement, "This oversight smacks of a political gesture in an agency that has always served above politics."

With the Discovery headed to the Smithsonian, the museum will no longer have need for the Enterprise, the shuttle that has been on display there since 2003. The Enterprise, which was used for early glide tests but was never sent into orbit, will now go the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in Manhattan.

Twenty-one institutions across the country had put in bids for one of the orbiters, and in recent weeks, General Bolden was inundated with letters and phone calls from members of Congress and others advocating various sites.

"There were many, many worthy institutions that requested an orbiter, and only four to go around," General Bolden said.

NASA also announced on April 12 that hundreds of other pieces of hardware from the shuttle programme would be heading to various museums. The Seattle museum, for example, will not receive a flown orbiter, but it will get a full-size mock-up that is now at the Johnson Space Center and is used for astronaut training.

NASA had been expected to make its museum choices last year, but that was when the final shuttle flight had been scheduled for last September. As the schedule for the final missions was stretched out, so were the preparations for the shuttles' post-flying careers.

Historic moments

Finally, General Bolden chose April 12 for the announcement to coincide with the anniversaries of two historic moments in space flight: the 50th anniversary of the flight of Yuri Gagarin, the Soviet cosmonaut who was the first human in space, and the 30th anniversary of the first launching of a space shuttle, the Columbia, in 1981.

Two shuttles — and the astronauts aboard — were lost in the last 30 years. The Challenger disintegrated upon liftoff in January 1986 because of a leaky booster rocket, and 17 years later, the Columbia broke up as it returned to Earth because of wing damage caused by falling insulating foam during liftoff.

In the aftermath of the Columbia, President George W. Bush decided to resume flying the three remaining shuttles — the Discovery, the Atlantis and the Endeavour, which had been built as a replacement for the Challenger — but then to retire them as soon as construction of the International Space Station was complete.

NASA inquired a few years ago whether any museums or other institutions had an interest in acquiring a shuttle. Potential bidders were told that educational programmes would have to accompany the exhibits, and that the shuttles would have to reside in an indoor, climate-controlled environment.

The winning institutions will now have to negotiate with NASA over the cost, estimated at $28.8 million apiece, of preparing the shuttles for display and moving them to their destinations. But not all of them will have to find that much money: Congress exempted the Smithsonian, and the transportation costs for the Kennedy Space Center visitor complex — instead of travelling piggyback on an aircraft, the Atlantis is to be towed just a short way down the road — will be significantly lower.

Some of the orbiters may go on a farewell tour. NASA is looking into "possibly taking them on a tour around various locations throughout the country while they're en route to their final destinations," said Michael Curie, a spokesman for the space agency.

NASA expects to deliver the shuttles next year.— © New York Times News Service

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THE HINDU

OPED

CAN INDIA PREVENT 200 CHILDREN DYING EVERY HOUR?

POONAM KHETRAPAL-SINGH

It is estimated that India lost 1.8 million children under five in 2008. That is more than 200 child deaths every hour, each day, or more than three deaths every minute. Out of about 25 million babies born every year in India, one million die. Most who survive do not get to grow up and develop well. About 48 per cent are stunted (sub-normal height) and 43 per cent are under-weight. Additionally, about one-third of babies are born with a low birth weight of less than 2,500 grams.

MDG target

In South-East Asia, the Maldives, Sri Lanka and Thailand have reduced newborn and childhood mortality significantly. India has also demonstrated steady progress. Under-five mortality decreased from about 150 per 1,000 live births in 1990 to 74 per 1,000 live births in 2005-06. But at this rate of decline, India will not be able to achieve the Millennium Development Goal 4 (MDG) target of 50 under-five deaths per 1,000 live births by 2015. Moreover, progress has been uneven in various States in the country.

Causes

The causes of death among children are well understood in India. Newborn mortality (death within the first 28 days of life) contributes to more than half of under-five mortality. In newborns they are asphyxia (inability to breathe at the time of delivery), infections and prematurity. After 28 days of life, they are the result of acute respiratory infections (pneumonia) and diarrhoea. Undernutrition contributes to 35 per cent of deaths. In addition to these, immediate causes of childhood deaths, there are several socio-cultural factors including poverty, poor water and sanitation facilities, illiteracy (especially among women), the inferior status of women in society, and pregnancy during adolescence (that can be attributed to early marriage). Child mortality rates are also higher among rural populations when compared to their urban counterparts.

We know what needs to be done to save these precious lives. Newborn deaths can be prevented by ensuring nutrition of adolescent girls; delaying pregnancy beyond 20 years of age and ensuring a gap of three-five years between pregnancies; skilled care during pregnancy, childbirth and post-natal care; and improved newborn care practices that include early (within first hour of birth) and exclusive breastfeeding; preventing low body temperature and infections; and early detection of sickness and prompt treatment. Childhood deaths can be prevented by exclusive breastfeeding for six months and complementary feeding from six months of age with continued breastfeeding for two years; immunisation; and early treatment of pneumonia, diarrhoea and malaria. In addition, it is important for the mother and other caretakers at home to invest in appropriate child caring practices, right from birth to support early childhood development and lay a foundation to maximise human potential.

India needs to provide these life-saving interventions to most, if not all, newborn and children who need them. However, their (interventions) coverage has been quite low. For example, in 2005-06 (the National Family Health Survey – NFHS 3 report), the rate of initiation of breastfeeding within an hour of birth was only 26 per cent and exclusive breastfeeding at six months was just 46 per cent. Yet these two interventions have the potential to prevent 19 per cent of deaths. The use of oral rehydration salts in cases of diarrhoea, the most recommended treatment, was just 43 per cent and only 13 per cent cases of suspected pneumonia received antibiotics. Immunisation coverage has been relatively better, suggesting that high coverage is achievable.

Intervention

The main causes of poor coverage of interventions include ineffective planning and implementation, mainly due to weaknesses in the health system. To address the systemic challenges, India launched a flagship programme, the National Rural Health Mission in 2005-06, to strengthen the health system in rural areas. Commendable initiatives have been put in place such as training about 8,00,000 village level health volunteers (Accredited Social Health Activist, or ASHA), hiring additional staff, strengthening the infrastructure of health facilities, augmenting programme management capacity at State and district levels, and enhancing community participation. However, much more needs to be done to minimise health inequities that exist among different subpopulations in the country.

Public health expenditure in India has remained at a low — about one per cent of GDP — for quite some time. This needs to be scaled up. Considering that about 70 per cent of health care is accessed from the private sector in the country, better regulation and participation of private health service providers must be ensured. Synergy between the health and nutrition sectors must be fostered through better coordination between the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Women and Child Development, which are responsible for the ICDS (Integrated Child Development Services) programme.

To reach unreached newborns and children, there is a strong case for providing home-based newborn care as well as community-based management of non-severe pneumonia and diarrhoea in children by trained ASHAs and other community health workers. This initiative needs to be supported by provision of incentives, necessary drug supplies, close supervision and appropriate referral linkages. At the same time, the quality of health services at first-level health facilities and referral hospitals must continue to be strengthened.

Fortunately, there is renewed commitment at the global and national levels towards achievement of MDG 4. To save newborns and children, national governments, development agencies, civil society and other stakeholders must work in close collaboration.

( Dr. Poonam Khetrapal-Singh is WHO Deputy Regional Director for South-East Asia Region.)

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THE HINDU

OPED

HILLARY PUSHES FOR REFORM ACROSS THE ARAB WORLD

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton says that the Arab world's revolutions could be remembered as "just a mirage in the desert" if leaders fail to make good on demands for greater democracy and economic opportunity.

Ms Clinton spoke on April 12 night in Washington at the annual U.S.—Islamic World Forum. Her warning comes amid increased signs of a backslide in the so-called Arab Spring, as Libya's Muammar Qadhafi persists with a bloody war against Libyan rebels, and leaders from Yemen to Syria to Bahrain violently resist calls for a democratic transformation.

She said upheaval in the Arab world presents the first real chance in decades for fundamental change in the region. In January, she warned Arab governments that they risked "sinking into the sand" if they did not meet their people's needs. "Governments need to diversify their economies, open their political systems, fight corruption and ensure the rights of women and minorities."— AP

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THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

TELECOM PSUS IN NEED OF REVIVAL

One can have no quarrel with the contours of the telecom policy that communications minister Kapil Sibal promises to put in place before the end of the year. He has correctly identified several issues, including unified licences, audit of spectrum held by telecom players, reduction in tenure of renewed licenses from 20 years to 10, liberalising norms for mergers and acquisitions, etc. These issues are still ambiguous: for instance, if the licences are only for 10 years, their cost will have to come down, else they will be prohibitively expensive. The unified licence scheme will be welcome as different circles now have different licences, plus factors like NLD and ILD and a lot of procedural hassles. A single national licence would be more rational. It is to be expected that only national players will finally remain in the picture. Mr Sibal will also simplify M&A procedures. There is some ambiguity on what will happen now to spectrum when two parties merge. How much can the merged entity retain? For example, though Spice Telecom merged with Idea nearly two years back, there are still unresolved issues over the spectrum owned by the merged entity. Mr Sibal will also form a committee to draft the National Spectrum Act.

The skilful lawyer that he is, Mr Sibal has cleverly first tackled issues on which there is little opposition from the existing major players. Next is the question of spectrum charge, for which there will be a committee, with backup from the telecom regulator. Another matter requiring the minister's urgent attention is the need to keep an alternative plan ready in case the Supreme Court decides to cancel all 122 licences given by disgraced former communications minister A. Raja. These licensees were simply hoarding spectrum, and they also caused the government a considerable revenue loss in fees and service charges. Some of them may have had valid reasons, which the court will look into, but most appeared to have been in the business of waiting to resell the licences they secured through political clout or other means. Further, the minister must find ways to encourage the more serious players to remain in the field, but the uncertainty should be reduced.

One of the most important issues that Mr Sibal must tackle without further delay is that of local manufacturers of telecom equipment. He will need to find ways to encourage the use of local equipment and give relief if a certain percentage of indigenous equipment is used by the telecom operators. Turning around the existing telecom PSUs and manufacturers like ITI and Telecom Consultants India Ltd will be a major challenge. BSNL suffered losses of `5,000 crores, MTNL `2,800 crores and ITI `360 crores this year, and this affects the livelihood of over three lakh people. Salaries are said to be increasing at the rate of 10 per cent annually, while revenues are falling at the same rate. The wage bill in relation to total revenue in public sector telecom companies like BSNL and MTNL is around 40 per cent, compared to just 3.9 per cent for Bharti Airtel and 4.5 per cent at Reliance Communications. Mr Sibal is new to the communications portfolio, but there are several well-intentioned and knowledgeable people whose experience he can draw on to tackle these difficult problems. BSNL, for instance, has an invaluable underground network, from which it can easily earn revenue of at least `20,000 crores if used rationally. Mr Sibal's predecessor had appeared more interested in almost killing the public sector, and his senior bureaucrats went along with him, leading to the neglect of these companies.

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THE ASIAN AGE

OPINION

GANDHIAN GUERRILLA

BHARAT KARNAD

 

'Twas in truth an hour
Of universal ferment; mildest men
Were agitated, and commotions, strife
Of passion and opinion, filled the walls
Of peaceful houses with unquiet sounds.
The soil of common life was, at that time,
Too hot to tread upon.
— William Wordsworth on the French Revolution

Last week, the common man in India experienced, perhaps, a bit of the excitement that must have gripped Parisians and provincials alike in revolutionary France as Anna Hazare brought the Congress Party-led coalition government to its knees. Long used to the comforts of power in a system gilded by corruption it has helped entrench in the country and popularise among the political class, the Congress Party, its coalition partners and the Opposition all nervously hope the extant system somehow survives. But the Hazare protest gathered critical mass around the country as young and old, sensing the purity of his motive, mobilised behind the 73-year-old ex-Army havaldar. The initial dismissal of his fast by Kapil Sibal, Union HRD minister, and Abhishek Singhvi, Congress spokesperson, as yet another Jantar Mantar tamasha, turned in short order into abject acceptance of Mr Hazare's terms — an adjustment in sync with the gathering, but entirely unanticipated storm.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi apparently weighed the political cost of obduracy against the uncertain outcome of the proposed Jan Lokpal Bill process and opted prudently for the latter. Mr Sibal believed the Hazare phenomenon was a hollow "media creation", but nudged by law minister Veerappa Moily, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh fell in line. The government, however, expects that as co-chair of the joint civil society-government committee drafting the Lokpal Bill, the crafty Union finance minister Pranab Mukherjee will cut a deal that will retain, for those so inclined among the politically privileged and the armies of facilitator bureaucrats, the "perks" of bribe-taking and thievery on the side. All the while, Dr Singh, who has seen at close quarters how the system has been milked by its minders, predictably sidestepped responsibility. Like Herod, he washed his hands off the mess — the umpteenth time he has done this — by mouthing banalities, such as: "(Corruption) is a scourge that confronts us all".
By the end of the second day of the fast, it became clear that Mr Hazare was no Right-wing religious stooge as Mr Singhvi had implied and that his personalised fight against omniscient corruption had touched a raw nerve and was fast snowballing into an uncontrollably bad situation for the Congress. But critics questioned the legitimacy of Mr Hazare's tactics, railing against the dangers of lawlessness and disorder inherent in seeking system and course correction outside Parliament. Behind the joyous, optimistic, resolute, but determinedly peaceful movement at Jantar Mantar, it was darkly hinted, hid Jacobin terrors. Such hyperbollicised commentaries missed the obvious.
Mr Hazare is a throwback to the genuine Gandhian, to an age when the Mahatma's fasts brought British India to a screeching halt even as the colonial authority fretted impotently. Some 70 years later, the Indian government seems no better equipped to tackle such methods. Mr Hazare's track record of persuading authorities to comply with demands for probity in public life, combined with a guerrilla sensibility — his insistence that all proceedings of the joint committee be videographed was a brilliant move to cut off all avenues of escape and dissimulation by the government — makes him a formidable political protagonist, but not a latter day Indian avatar of Maximillien Robespierre, who, as head of the dreaded Committee for Public Safety, unleashed the Jacobin "Reign of Terror" in France of 1792.
Gandhian methods are deeply unsettling to those presiding over the extant order as well as to outsiders who have learned to pull the strings in the main because of their unpredictable consequences. Mr Hazare admitted he had not foreseen the mass appeal of his fast unto death. But it has spawned unease. Liberal sceptics — in some ways the counterpart of the Girondists in the French Revolution — fear that system overhaul induced by pressures from the street would cause ruction and instability, undermine the "democratic" functioning of the state and put the country a step closer to mob rule. Their cry that if Mr Hazare wants change he should contest parliamentary elections, begs the question: How does a reformer get elected without being contaminated by the system and relying on money power and, in any case, as a collective can Parliament sever its moorings and pass laws to banish corrupt practices? The futile four-decade-long wait and that too for an Anti-Corruption Bill with more loopholes than restraints suggests otherwise.
The larger question is the one involving philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau's notion that animated the likes of Robespierre of sovereignty resting with the "general will" of the people. Mature democracies have evolved to a point where elected legislatures do reflect such will. In India, once elected, representatives by and large join the ruling class of self-aggrandisers supported by an administrative and legal system that fans their worst instincts. To imagine that the remedies for grave social, economic and political ills afflicting the country will be generated by this lot is to expect too much.
In the event, Mr Hazare manifests the "general will" of the people and his promise of future agitations to shame politicians and compel the system to right itself, may be no bad thing. Indeed, his civil society campaign serves as precisely the check and balance that constitutionalists crave against the venality and "grab as grab can" mentality of many of our elected rulers and their minions in the bureaucracy. True, some of his civil society allies may have dubious antecedents, but they are nowhere as critical to realising his agenda as Mr Hazare himself. The enduring impact on the polity of his campaign will depend on how it conditions the attitude of the masses to the imperatives of good governance. At a minimum, the youthful activists will be able to recall in tones mirroring Wordsworth's awe: "Bliss was it in the dawn to be alive, but to be young was very heaven!"

Bharat Karnad is professor at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi

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THE ASIAN AGE

OPINION

LEND A HAND, MORALLY

P.C. ALEXANDER

Different people follow different types of protests to rid themselves of their miseries from the tyranny of self-appointed dictators. But in most such struggles the victims of oppression expect at least sympathy and moral support from all those who believe in the values of democracy. However, our sensitivities about America's intervention in other countries seems to have blinded us to the cause of human rights in countries like Libya. India takes pride in claiming to be the largest democracy in the world and it is in an altogether different position than Russia and China who may have their reasons for not extending support to Libya's fighters. It is important to remind ourselves of some of these reasons instead of blindly pursuing an anti-US stand in international developments.

It will be presumptuous on the part of proponents of the "hands off policy" in Libya to conclude that a few reverses suffered by the protesters indicate a collapse of the Libyan people's revolution, and that supporting the failing side even morally is not a prudent step for India.

But what counts more in these revolts is the spirit of the people and their readiness to sacrifice their lives for achieving their own liberation and liberation for their successive generations. India cannot appear to be indifferent to the aspirations of the victims of tyranny in Libya.

Some critics of the policy of support to the UN resolutions have expressed the view that the Arabs may not have the same zeal for freedom as people in some other countries. There can be nothing more erroneous than this conclusion. The Arabs have already demonstrated in half-a-dozen states that they are willing to face any hardships to achieve their legitimate rights as in a genuine democracy. It would be quite unfair to the Arabs to condemn them as lacking full faith in democracy or to conclude that they can be easily suppressed by the tyrants of the deserts who usurped power to rule over them.

What's going on in the streets of Libya now is a totally unequal fight. It is in this context that the UN resolution on the "no-fly zone" over Libya is crucial. We in India may not always agree with the stand taken by various Presidents of the US on international issues, but even President Barack Obama's sharpest critics cannot but admire the courage he has shown to stand up boldly against the tyrant in Tripoli and provide the moral lead to other leaders in the world who agree with him on the basic issue of saving people from being slaughtered. Mr Obama announced a few days ago in plain language that "some nations might be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries", but "the US is different and as President I refuse to wait for the images of slaughter and mass graves before taking action".

How unequal are the two sides? According to reliable statistics, Col. Muammar el-Gaddafi's Air Force is 18,000 strong with 13 bases. Also, he has quite a large number of Russian attack helicopters and transport aircraft. Without effective enforcement of the no-fly zone and allied aerial attacks as found necessary, the rebels will be unable to continue their march to Tripoli or to protect their hold on the Cyrenaican region. This region is very important as it's the main source of oil revenues for Libya and if Col. Gaddafi regains control over Cyrenaica it will be a major blow to the cause of democracy for the Libyan people. This time the US has very wisely left the leadership of the Libyan operations with the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) and therefore implementation of the UN resolutions is mainly a Nato-led effort rather than a US-led one.
There has been a genuine fear among some supporters of non-intervention that the no-fly zone or airstrikes by the allies against the mercenary forces of Col. Gaddafi will trigger off escalation in the international price of oil and it would be inadvisable to invite such a crisis now when the Western world is just recovering from one of the severest economic crises. However, this apprehension is quite unjustifiable. Today's oil market has plenty of buffer and it is reported that technically Saudi Arabia alone has the capacity to replace Libya as supplier of oil in the international market.

If we in India love our democratic way of life, in spite of various distortions in its implementation by us, we must develop a sympathetic attitude to the aspirations of the people in West Asia to end savagery. It would be difficult to justify our commitment to our own democratic values if we have no sympathy to such values in other places. Nobody is demanding that Indian soldiers fight side by side with the protesters or that they should force a change of regime on the Western models; these should be done by the Libyan themselves. However, we should not hesitate to express our sympathy and moral support to the people of Libya who had suffered so much for so long if we are genuinely committed to the values respected by all democratic nations.

P.C. Alexander is a former governor of Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

DYARCHY IN OUR NEIGHBOURHOOD

 

ISI chief Shuja is in Washington meeting with his counterpart, Panetta the CIA chief. Relations between them have soured on drone issue. Kiyani, in a rare public statement of March 17, demanded US not to use drone attacks in war on terror for the reason that it kills civilians. Who allowed US air bases in Khoshab to fly the drones and shoot missiles at Al-Qaeda and Taliban targets, obviously, the Army? The US has been reminding Pakistan that it is not doing much to suppress terror in Af-Pak region. The case of Raymond Davis, the CIA contractor further damaged relations. More than thirty CIA agents working in Pakistan had to be packed up for return to home. It is getting increasingly difficult for the USA to trust Pakistan Army's intentions of resisting the terrorists on home soil and on the border. Traditionally, Pak Army has had a clout with the Pentagon, and Pak Generals have friends, well-wishers and supporters there. But then, complex and complicated as the situation on ground is in Af-Pak, the White House does not necessarily see eye to eye with Pentagon in many aspects of relationship. The Pentagon has always come into picture whenever relations between the Pakistan Army and its civilian government are in a confrontational mood. For example, Gilani government does not want escalation of animosity with India and in a recent statement he has had all praise for the Indian Prime Minister asserting that Dr. Manmohan Singh sincerely wants to do something which would help restoration of peace in South Asia. Gilani government is eager to reciprocate the sentiment. It has a vision of future and believes that all outstanding issues including Kashmir can be resolved through dialogue. He is right in saying that the two countries cannot afford another war. But the problem is of a deep divide between Pakistan army and her elected government. Confessions made by Tahavvur Hussain, the co-accused with Headley in Mumbai attack case before a court of law in New York, shows that terrorist attack conspiracy had been hatched by the ISI and Army. It will also be remembered that in the matter of Kargil war, Nawaz Sharief, who happened to be the Prime Minster at that time, also said publicly that General Musharraf had kept him uninformed about latter's incursion plan. Thus it is rightly said that there is a government within a government in Pakistan. It is this covert government that is talking to its counterparts in the Pentagon.
New Delhi is aware of this situation in Pakistan and that is the reason why India would want to continue dialogue with the government in Islamabad despite latter's severe constraints. Pakistan's diarchy has history and social trappings, and it is a phenomenon far more frightening than what ordinary Pakistanis may think of. The turning point of state formation in Pakistan was General Zia-ul-Haq's "reconstruction" of key institutions and political processes in accordance with Islamic values. Whatever Zia stood for, his 'Islamization' crusade rendered Islam into a divisive force and created political space for the rise of religious groups, including the violent ones, some of which morphed into dangerous terror machines that destabilise Pakistan - and the region - and threaten international security. The rising tide of 'anti-Americanism' and the deepening economic crisis radicalised the youth and spawned a large number of extremist groups, while the state's abdication of its responsibility to strike a balance between human capital and physical capital has been capitalised by the Islamists. In the absence of secular ideologies, Islam became the vehicle for political mobilization.
Though the country plays the Islamic card in its political discourse, yet, paradoxically, Islam is also proving to be insufficient as a force that can hold Pakistan together, as current developments in Baluchistan, the tribal areas in the northwestern region, and in the metropolis of Karachi would show. All this increasingly raises the question of Pakistan's very survivability as a state. The tragedy of Pakistan is that even in the face of this existential challenge, it is the military establishment that continues to define national interest, and that interest is overwhelmingly defined in terms of confrontation with India, exclusion of civilian government from decision-making on core areas of foreign and security policies, and gaining 'strategic depth' in Afghanistan.

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

NO MOCKERY PLEASE

 

Reports are coming in of making Panchayat polls a mockery: this is unacceptable. The polls are preceded by a nation-wide anti-corruption stir that was close to turning into a mass movement but for the quick capitulation of the Congress-led UPA government. Corruption is rampant in almost all walks of life including our much-boasted democratic arrangement. Looked at from social and political prism, Panchayat Raj philosophy entails both empowerment of the people and prevention of corruption. The reason why Lokpal bill could be seen through in the parliament for last 43 years is that those who would support the bill would not want to be governed by the punitive measures which the bill would imply. From here, we come to the fundamental question of why people should elect such representatives as would not want to be called to national accountability. As it is their right to elect the representatives, the electorate has the mandate to choose the right persons. Theoretically speaking, it is fine but practically impossible. Money power, intimidation and insensitivity towards national interests are the main causes of a subverted electorate. Fair Panchayat elections would be a stepping stone to new approach to parliamentary elections. But alas, again despite the state announcement that these are non-party based elections, party stalwarts and their cronies are reported to be playing their usual spoil game. It will be travesty of our democratic system if the establishment is unable to cleanse the Panchayat polling of fraud on electorate. Literacy rate in our country and the state has increased as per the recent census report. But what is needed is that it should have impact on our voters to use their priceless treasure judiciously. If the electorate decides to elect only honest and clan candidates, they will be doing great service to themselves and to the nation. We would tell them with all earnestness," Countrymen please don't make a mockery of Panchayat elections."

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

FOUNDING OF KHALSA PANTH

BY HARBHAJAN SINGH (IAS RETD)

 

The Khalsa Panth is an evolute from Guru Nanak's Nirmal Panth, both terms meaning the way of pure spirituality, unadulterated, without ritualism and free from the clutches of the priests. The word Khalsa is derived from Arabic word Khalisa, means pure/devoted. In Sikh tradition, the term appears in a Hukumnama (order) by Guru Hargobind Ji, the sixth Guru, which refers to a sangat as ''Guru Ka Khalsa''. it also appears in a letter by Guru Teg Bahadur, the ninth Guru. The term acquired a more specific connotation after Guru Gobind Singh introduced Khande-di-Pahul (initiation with a double edged sword) in 1699. All those baptized Sikhs have collectively been designated as the ''Khalsa Panth''. Baisakhi is celebrated as birth day of Khalsa and as a Sikh new year besides being a harvest festival.


Early Mugal Emperors had been tolerant and had peaceful relations with Sikh Gurus; the Sikhs started facing religious persecution during the reign of Jahangir. In the year 1606 Guru Arjan Dev, the fifth Guru was arrested and executed by Jahangir. In 1675, Guru Teg Bahadur, the ninth Guru was executed by Aurangzeb. The religious policy of Aurangzeb was totally against non Muslims. He discouraged the teaching of Hinduism and was against Shias, sufi saints and liberal minded religious leaders. In 1659 Mullah Shah Lahori, a disciple of Mian Mir was persecuted. In 1661, for believing in sufi principals Monsur-e-Sani sufi, Muhammad Siad Samad and sufi saint Qalander were executed. In 1683 Mir Hussain was exiled from Kashmir for liberal interpretation of Islam.


After the determined meditation of state of affairs, Guru Gobind Singh came to the conclusion that to tyranise was bad, but to bear the tyranny was worse. Mugal rule was becoming unbearable. The spirit of brave Jats of Mathura and Delhi had been crushed. The heroic Satnamis had been completely wiped out of existence. The Rajput resistance was broken, Maratha were subdued. The Guru's own house was no exception. His great grandfather Guru Arjan was tortured to death. His grand father Guru Hargobind had suffered 12 years of imprisonment. His father Guru Teg Bahadur was executed.


To exterminate the religious oppression, Guru made up his mind to prepare himself for struggle against injustice. To infuse martial spirit amongst his followers and prepare them to stand up against tyranny and forcible conversions, he raised the khalsa and inspired them with the feeling of patriotism and nationalism.
Guru says : ''Kou kise ko raj na de hai
Ja lai hai nij bal sit lai hai''


(No people can have self rule as a gift from another, it is to be seized through their own strength)
Guru Gobind Singh decided to create a national awakening. He first tried to plant his ideas in the mind of the warrior class of Rajputs of Shivalik hills. He soon discovered that caste ridden and class dominated feudal lords would not respond to his appeal and they would not fit in his ideology, he therefore turned his attention to downtrodden masses who suffered the most.


He was going to create a new community braver and bolder to liberate the country from oppression and tyranny. To stage resistance against Mugals he sent Hukumnama (Letter of authority) to his followers through out the regions, asking them to congreate at Anandpur then known as Chak Nanki at the foothills of Shivaliks on the day of Baisakhi of 1699.


Guru Gobind Singh on the day fixed addressed the congregation from the entry way of a tent pitched on the hill now called as Keshgarh Sahib. At the outset the Guru asked all of them to utter the following call after him (the salute of Sikh was invented by him right then).


''Jo bole so nihal, sat sri akal''


(who ever utters, the immortal God is true, will be blessed)


Guru made most stirring oration on saving religion which was in great peril and stated his divine mission. Guru narrated the stories of Government's tyranny, humilation, tortures, forcible conversions. He explained that in order to safeguard their spiritual and temporal rights, the people should not depend on fate. They ought to entrust this duty to themselves. Told weakness is the greatest sin, asked cast away all kind of weaknesses. bravery is to be motto, everybody should individually feel and collectively organize men to resist it. He sang praises of the sword ''God subdues enemies, so does the sword, therefore sword is God and God is sword.''
After his oration, the Guru flashed his sword and asked for a volunteer who was willing to sacrifice his head. No one answered his first call or the second call but on the third invitation a person called Daya Ram came forward and offered his head to the Guru, then Guru Gobind Singh took the volunteer inside the adjoining tent and emerged shortly with blood dripping from his sword. He again demanded another head, one more volunteer came forward and entered the tent with him and Guru emerged again with blood on his sword. This happened three more times. Then the five volunteers after some time came out of the tent unharmed. Those five who were willing to sacrifice their life for their Guru were called Panj Piare (The five blessed ones). These five were the first Khalsa Sikhs. All five men were robed in similar new dresses having five symbols, the unique Skh identity i.e (1) Kesh or long hair, (2) Kanga or comb, (3) Kirpan or dagger, (4) Kara or steel bangle and (5) Kacha (Shorts) . The five were garlanded and then brought into the assembly, they were :


* Daya Ram, a Khatri

* Dharam Dass, a Jat
* Sahib Chand, a barber or nai
* Himat Chand, a water carrier or Kahar
* Mohkam Chand, Chhimba
Guru Gobind Singh then took an iron bowl and poured some water in it. Sahib Devan (latter Mata Sahib Kour) added some sugar crystals (patase) to the water in the bowl and Guru stirred the mixture with double edged sword reciting, five Banis, which are as under
Guru Nanak's Jap Ji
Guru Amar Das's Anand
And 3 to 5 his own (Guru Gobind Singh's) Jap, Chaupai and Swayyas.
The five Sikhs were asked to kneel down on their left knees and look into the eyes of Guru. The Guru then gave every one of them five handful of Amrit prepared to drink and sprinkled Amrit in their eyes five times and each time they repeated the phrase: ''Waheguru ji ka khalsa, waheguru je ki fateh''
(The Khalsa belongs to the God, the victory belongs to God)
Then they received five sprinkles in their hair and sipped from the same bowl of Amrit. The Guru gave them all the middle name ''Singh''.
After administering baptism, the Guru stood before these five beloved ones and requested them to baptize him in the same manner. they pleaded their unfitness for such a performance. The Guru replied he was not supeiror to his devoted disciples. The Guru said ''The Khalsa is Guru and the Guru is Khalsa, there is no difference between you and me.'' They baptized him. He added ''Singh'' to his own name in place of Rai. Some body in the congregation observed.
''Wah Wah Guru Gobind Singh, ape Guru te ape chela''
(Bravo Guru Gobind Singh, him self divine as well as disciple)
The Guru then addressed the five beloved (panj piare)
''You are now of one creed, followers of one panth. You are above all castes and classes. This country's honor and liberty is entrusted to you by Wah Guru. You are the first members of Khalsa brotherhood, now you are reborn in the Gurus family and have lost all past caste. Singh is your denomination and now onwards symbolically regard Guru Gobind Singh as their father and Mata Sahib Kour your mother. Anandpur is your birthplace. In your four classes have been merged to one. You are all brothers, all equal, eat from one dish. The independnece and security of your country is entrusted upon you. Work for it with one mind, success is sure. Cast off the false belief of numerous God and goddesses instead spend time on one lord. You all in unison mediate on God. From today your salutation will be : ''Waheguru ji ka Khalsa, waheguru ji ki fateh''. On the day of Baisakhi among the gathering thousands of men and womens took the baptism and became members of the newly formed Khalsa. All males given surname ''Singh'' means lion and female the name ''Kour'' mean princess.
With thye creation of Khalsa Guru Gobind Singh had abolished all existing social division as per the teachings of Guru Nanak. In their new order the lowest of the low would stand with the highest, all would become one and drink from same vessel. In Khalsa Guru combined in him the knowledge, wealth, and service i.e four talents traditionally belonging to the caste hierarchy of Brahmins, Kshatriya's, Vaishya and Shudra in the given order. Two pillars of Khalsa spirituality are
Naam, inner spirituality and
Kirpan, the symbol of outer spirtuality or valor
Naam is the Guru's gift to his disciples to remember God with loving gratitude and feeling him around. Kirpan (the sword) also called Sri Sahib in the Khalsa parlance which is not unsheathed in anger or out of vengeance. It rises only out of compassion. It does not take away life but protects it. it does not slaughter, it only saves. The fusion of Naam and Kirpan is witness in the initiation cermony of the Khalsa.
He created Khalsa in order that the good and innocent people might live in peace and enjoy reasonable happiness. He worked against cruel Government and not against any community. He was embodiment of love and affection for all. It was for this reason that both Hindu and Muslims were attracted towards him. Pir Buddhu Shah of Sadhura fought along Guru's forces in battle of Bhangani. Mir Beg and Mamun Khan commanded a section of Guru's forces in fighting against Mugal forces.
The creation of Khalsa marked the culmination of 240 years of training by ten Guru's to their Sikhs. The Guru wanted to create the ideal people who should be perfect in all the respects. That is the combination of devotion (Bhakti) and strength (Shakti). He combined charity (Deg) with sword (Teg) in the image of his Sikh.
Guru Gobind Singh at the time of departure from this mortal world conferred Guruship itself upon the Khalsa along with the holy Guru Granth Sahib :
The Khalsa was praised highly by Guru himself saying
''The Khalsa is my special form
Within Khalsa I'll ever abide
The Khalsa is the life of my life
The Khalsa is the breath of breath
The Khalsa is my worshipful Lord
The Khalsa is my saintly knight''

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

REMEMBERING BABA SAHEB

BY LOKINDER SINGH RAVI

 

Bharat Ratan, Dr B R Ambedkar or Baba Saheb was one of the towering personalities in the history of modern India who made outstanding contribution to human equality. He will always be remembered for advocating the fundamental principle based on justice, liberty, equality and fraternity for which he fought throughout his life time. He is known as the father of Indian Constitution for his pivotal role in formulation of constitution. Dr Ambedkar was conferred with Bharat Ratan award for contribution in alleviating the condition of downtrodden, unprivileged or so called "untouchables" and get them their constitutional rights in social, educational and economical equality at par with other citizens of the country. It is only due to his dogged determination that he relentlessly and consistently fought for his fellow-countrymen from lower strata of the society that he emerged as father - figure or Messiha of unprivileged/downtrodden/untouchable people constituting bulk percentage of population. Dr, Ambedkar through his pains-taking efforts steered his mission with an aim to alleviate the condition of the depressed and downtrodden class of society who had been suffering at the hands of their counterpart high caste Hindus.
Dr B R Ambedkar was born on 14th April at MHOW (Military Headquarter of War) near Indore in the present Madhya Pradesh, there his father Subedar Ramaji was posted. His mother Bhimabai was a pious and dynamic lady who was immense source of inspiration to Dr B R Ambedkar during the early childhood. Dr. Ambedkar started his schooling at Dapoli soon after Subedar Ramaji moved to Satara after his retirement from army in 1894. In 1900, Dr Ambedkar was enrolled in Govt Middle School at Satara in Standard - I. His teacher changed his name from Bhima Rao "Ambadvekar" to "Ambedkar". In 1907, Dr B R Ambedkar passed the matriculation examination from the University of Bombay. In Jan 1908, he joined the Elphinstone College, Bombay and passed BA in 1912 from Bombay University.
In 1913, he went to New York and joined Columbia University in the Faculty of Political Science. Maharaja of Baroda sanctioned a Scholarship of 11.50 Pound per month to Dr Ambedkar for duration of three years. Dr. Ambedkar passed Master of Art Degree in Economics from Columbia University. He submitted his dissertation on Administration and finance of "East India Company". In 1916 he read his thought provoking paper on caste in India before Prof. Goldenweiser's Anthropology seminar. That was the first published work of Dr Ambedkar. He left America to join London School of Economics and Political Science for Master's degree of Political Science and Doctor of Economics and for Barrister-at Law.
Movement against Untouchability
It was in 1919 when Dr Ambedkar started active participation and commitment to the movement for the upliftment of 'Untouchable' while he was still a student abroad.
On 31st January, 1920, Dr B R Amebdkar started a weekly paper "Mook - Nayak" (The leader of the Dumb or the voice of the Dumb) to highlight the evils of caste and untouchability. This weekly paper could survive just for few months only and subsequently he launched another fortnightly paper the "Bahiskrit Bharat" (out caste India) in July, 1920 which continued till end of 1925.
In September, 1930 he was invited to the "Round Table Conference at London. He could visualize the significance of the conference from depressed class point of views. The Principle emphasis laid by Dr. Ambedkar was to secure social and political rights for depressed class vis-avis the caste - Hindu rather than depending on sweet will and mercy of the Hindus. He spelt out these objectives before Simon Commission and subsequently during deliberations of the round table Conference at London. The recommendation of Dr Ambedkar in the eighth Subcommittee of the Round Table Conference include various aspect of feudal structure, Provincial Constitution, Minority, Franchise, etc. Dr Ambedkar also presented the case of Depressed classes, at Round Table Conference which had tremendous effect on the morale of the "untouchables", since then Depressed classless began to regard Dr Ambedkar as "father figure". It was in September, 1927, the noted biographer C B Khaimoday and his associatae mooted the idea to use the sobriquet "Baba Saheb" alongwith Dr Ambedkar' name.
Dr Ambedkar put forth his own theory of the origin and growth of the castes in India in his book "Caste of India" from a casteless society to the development of the Brahmin, Kshatriya and Vaishyas in the Indo-Aryan Society. The detailed study of the caste in India made him to take interest in Buddhism. Baba Saheb observed the vast ideological difference between Hinduism and Buddhism. In 1935, Dr Ambedkar was invited by Jat - Pat-Todak Mandal (Society for breaking of the caste) of Lahore to preside over its conference. His views prepared for presidential address were subsequently published in Annihilation in 1936 in which he distinguished between religion of rule and religion of principle, and advocated the annihilation of the religion of rules. In May 1936, Baba Saheb addressed another important conference at Bombay. His well known speech on "Mukti Kon Pathey? (Which way to Emancipation?) In that speech he vindicated his resolve for conference. Dr Ambedkar defined the term religion as "that which hold the people together." Dr Ambedkar further advocated "the religion which does not recognize the individuality of man, is not acceptable to me." Later on, Baba Saheb wrote and spoke at several occasions on Buddhism and allied matters. Dr Ambedkar reiterated the need of the religion of humanity must be founded on the principle of liberty, equality and fraternity: - Buddhism gives every individual the liberty to examine every thing in the light of religion. Dr Ambedkar said "Buddha was the only founder of the religion to all, irrespective of race, caste and sex. Budha did not claim to be God he claimed to be a "Marg - Data" (One who shows the way).
He is also known as "father of Indian Constitution" for his immense contribution in the making of the constitution.
Conversion to Buddhism
Dr. Ambedkar was much influenced by the teaching of the Buddha that on 23rd September 1956 Baba Saheb announced that he would accept Buddhism. Accordingly on 14th October 1956, Baba Saheb accepted and embraced Buddhism at Nagpur from Mahasthavira Chandramani of Burma in presence of lacs of people from various parts of the country after his own conversion. Baba Saheb administered the Buddhist Diksha to over five lacs of his followers.
On the saddest day of 6th December, 1956, one of the greatest sons of India, great philosopher, scholar, thinker, a visionary figure, messiah of the depressed classes and "Father of Indian Constitution" breathed his last at Delhi leaving thousands of his followers and admirers in deep shock.

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

EMPLOYMENT IN PILGRIM SECTOR

BY SUDHANSU R DAS

 

When global warming threatens lives and property world over, many surviving natural sectors offer clue to reverse climate change. Over the years pilgrim tourism has been recognized as one of the most vibrant natural sectors of economy. In the western and European nations, Christian religious tourism is a thriving sector. There are around 117 Marian shrines in Canada, 181 shrines in the United States for Roman Catholics and thousands of sites connected to various Protestant denominations and ancient religions of the Native Americans. Majority of those places have become important global destinations for pilgrims. It happens because those countries have a sound approach to pilgrim sector. In India, there are hundreds of pilgrim destinations connected to the Hindu, Budhist, Jain, Sikh and the Muslim religion, which have potential to generate employment on a sustainable basis.
More than 15 crore Indians visit pilgrim places across the country. The nation's ancient history and mythological past have sprung up hundreds of pilgrim centers across the country. Many have origins traced in the mythologies. Pilgrim tourism serves the greatest purpose of integrating people from different regions as people from farthest east travel to southern corner and the west to north enjoying the hospitality of one another. The Badrinath, Kedarnath, Mount Kailash, Vaishno Devi, Rishikesh, Haridwar, Amritsar in the north, the Sabarimal, Rameswaram, Madurai and Tirupati in the south, the Puri Jagganath temple in the East and Shirdi Sai Baba temples, the magnificent churches of Goa in the western part, the Ujjain, Omkareswar, Sanchi and Ajmeer in the central India and a host of other famous pilgrim spots keep more than 15% of India's population moving.
When people move out of their houses in pilgrimage it triggers a host of economic activities right from their doorsteps. Travel agencies, hotel chains, restaurants, sale of religious artifacts, handicrafts, floriculture activity, health sector, and shops selling travel kits etc get activated. The Tirupathi Devasthanam in Tirumala requires more than 20 tonnes of flowers every day during the peak season. Bangalore city transports flowers worth Rs 30 lakh every day to Tirumala. Faith is the greatest stimulant for economic activities, which could generate revenues on a sustainable basis without putting pressure on environment.
The famous patta chitra, palm leave carvings, appliqué work, painting on tassar clothes originate from the religious practices in the Lord Jagganath temple of Puri. In ancient time people believed a pilgrimage to Puri is not complete unless one carries a piece of patta chitra or an appliqué work with them. Today handicraft traders have carried those traditional crafts to international craft bazaars. A 40 sq feet patta chitra made by a senior artist sales at price ranging from Rs 5 to Rs 7 lakh in international craft bazaar. Nearly 15 lakh pilgrims gather in Puri to watch the spectacular Rath Yatra, widely known as the journey of the mankind. More than 20 million people gather in Kumbhamela, which is the largest congregation of pilgrims in the world. Though millions more want to travel, uncomfortable journey, lack of clean and economy class accommodation, poor quality of food and water served in many pilgrim centers dissuade pilgrims to travel. Many pilgrim centers in India have become too commercialized and caught up with making money only. Business opportunities let economics over shadow the very purpose of spiritual places, which ultimately affects pilgrim sector.
Unlike tourists who come to spend and enjoy, the pilgrims generally come to have spiritual experience. Natural surroundings, cleanliness and ethnic culture always provide the spiritual aura. The magnificent hills of Sahyadri range in Maharashtra attracts more than six lakh pilgrims to walk 261 k.m to have a darshan of their revered god Panduranga at Pendarpur. Recently Maharashtra Government has decided to develop 261 km roads with huge public expenditure. This is actually unnecessary and it may destroy the natural environment of the route. Amarnath yatra would not fascinate lakhs of people without those snowcapped mountains, forests, springs and vallies.
A well thought out pilgrim policy will undoubtedly help millions of Indians to rise above the poverty line. Children from school must learn how to tap the pilgrim tourism potential. Public awareness about pilgrim sector should be created among people for cleaner and greener environment in pilgrim places. Documenting the myths, mysteries, history and folklore of pilgrim places is the first step towards making a thriving pilgrim sector in India..

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

MANAGING THE GHAGGAR

A COMMENDABLE CENTRAL INITIATIVE

 

The Rs 1,150 crore Central project for the Ghaggar should bring relief to Haryanvis and Punjabis living along the river. Whenever there is excess, or even normal rain, the Ghaggar gets flooded. The river has gathered silt over the years. Its embankments have not been repaired. Since it is a seasonal river, encroachments have come up on its bed at many places. As floods wreak havoc every other year, there is much hue and cry. It dies down once the situation normalises. The Centre too washes its hands off by handing over small amounts of compensation to flood victims in the two states.

 

For Akali leaders the ruinous floods provide another reason to berate the Centre. The Akali leadership accuses the Centre of pro-Haryana tilt in the decades old river water dispute. The inter-state river dispute is pending in court after the Amarinder Singh government unilaterally annualled the river water agreements. The Punjab leadership blames recurrent floods on the construction of the Hansi-Butana canal by the Haryana government. The canal acts as an artificial dam and diverts the natural flow of rainwater in Punjab, causing floods. Given the sensitive inter-state disputes over river waters, it would be interesting to see if the political leadership in the two states signs the MoU as required by the Centre.

 

Then there is the issue of river pollution. Industrial units in Himachal towns release their untreated effluents into the river, which originates in the hill state. Punjab and Haryana towns and units too contribute to the poison in the Ghaggar. Haryana Environment Minister Ajay Singh Yadav had recently sought Central help to stop the contamination of the Ghaggar and Yamuna rivers. The three states will, hopefully, agree to curb river pollution too. The Central project can collapse if any of the three states fails to contribute 10 per cent of the cost for building check dams, which are meant to control floods and recharge groundwater. Given its tight fiscal position and the elections ahead, the Badal government, it is hoped, will not play spoilsport. Himachal may hesitate as it has a limited stake in the project.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

DAYLIGHT MURDER

GUN CULTURE IS ALARMING

 

Every murder is reprehensible. All the more so when the victim is a man of religion like Avtar Singh Tari, a staunch follower of Satguru Jagjit Singh of the Namdhari sect, avowedly a votary of non-violence and vegetarianism. What is particularly alarming is that the 57-year-old Mr Avtar Singh Tari was trailed and shot dead by motor cycle-borne killers in broad daylight, as if they had no fear of the law. Such violent incidents increase the sense of insecurity among the common men, especially those who have witnessed the lawless days of the terrorism era. Ironically, the weapon used in the crime was also the dreaded AK-47.

 

From initial reports, it appeared that the murder was a result of an intense succession battle among two factions of the powerful dera –although its functionaries have refuted the allegation strongly. The police needs to unravel the mystery quickly so that the disquiet that the incident has caused can be addressed.

 

Unfortunately, the gun culture is an inescapable feature of the Punjab countryside where numerous deras hold sway. Last May, the head of Dera Mai Dass (Nirmali sect), Sant Pradhan Singh, was shot dead at Baddan village of Hoshiarpur district. In 2009, suspected terrorists managed to kill the head of Dera Sachkhand in Vienna, leading to widespread violence in Punjab. Before that, the chief of the Rashtriya Sikh Sangat, Rulda Singh, was shot dead in his Patiala home. Many such crimes have remained unsolved. What complicates the situation is the fear that such killings may be part of a larger plot to target self-styled religious leaders.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

COLUMN

THE MADHU KODA CASE

A SPEEDY TRIAL IS REQUIRED TO RESTORE FAITH

 

The belated but welcome move to attach property worth Rs 130 crores, amassed allegedly by a former Chief Minister of Jharkhand, Madhu Koda, and his associates, is a significant development in the fight against corruption. Koda, an Independent MLA who headed a coalition government, is surely not the only Chief Minister to have been guilty of making a fortune out of public funds and dispensing favours through misuse of public office. Being a political lightweight having no support of established political parties, it was easier to move against him. The fact that he and three of his cabinet colleagues have been behind bars since November, 2009 is also indicative of their relative lack of political and legal muscle. But just because enforcement agencies lacked the gumption to go for bigger sharks does not in any way lessen the gravity of the charges against Koda and his associates. The case provides an opportunity to prosecuting agencies to dispel the perception that they neither have the will nor the ability to get politicians convicted of corruption.

 

Koda, who was the state's minister for mines before becoming the Chief Minister, is widely suspected to have misused the state's power to grant mining leases in order to feather his own nest. He could not have done so without the active connivance of bureaucrats in both the state and at the Centre. But under the prevailing anti-corruption laws, neither the mining companies favoured by him nor his accomplices in the bureaucracy have been booked so far. What's more, the case against Koda has given rise to the unfortunate impression that while the law deals severely with simple and less worldly-wise tribal politicians like Koda, it is extremely lenient while dealing with others. This would explain the ease with which Koda's wife won a seat in the state Assembly riding on 'sympathy'.

 

It is, therefore, of utmost importance to conduct a fair but speedy trial. While the ED has filed a charge sheet, the Central Bureau of Investigation, the Income Tax Department and the state's own Vigilance Bureau seem to be taking their own time to complete the investigation. Further delays would erode whatever little credibility the anti-corruption mechanism still retains. 

 

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THE TRIBUNE

ARTICLE

'CRICKET DIPLOMACY' AT WORK

SAARC SOLIDARITY REDUCED TO A FARCE

BY G PARTHASARATHY

 

India's neighbours like Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan and the Maldives legitimately complain that they are ignored and SAARC summits have been reduced to a farce by turning such gatherings into India-Pakistan soap operas. They rightly claim that Indian political leaders, officials and media ignore the progress and achievements in fostering a feeling of South Asian togetherness, and behave as though all that matters is the bilateral meeting between the leaders of India and Pakistan on the sidelines of SAARC meetings.

 

The 2011 Cricket World Cup was scheduled to be hosted in South Asia by Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. Engulfed by terrorist violence, let loose primarily by outfits earlier backed by the ISI, Pakistan was ruled out as a host by the International Cricket Council. The tournament was, therefore, hosted by Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka. Rather than using the occasion to foster solidarity between the three hosts, our leaders and mandarins showed deplorable insensitivity in dealing with the co-hosts Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

 

The World Cup was inaugurated in Dhaka on February 19 by Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed. It was an event which electrified the country, evoking an immense sense of national pride. It was the largest international event Bangladesh hosted after its bloody war of independence 40 years ago. Sheikh Hasina is unquestionably one of the friendliest leaders we have in our neighbourhood. She has extended a hand of friendship to us, proclaimed her country a secular republic, clamped down on extremist groups and handed over separatist leaders from our Northeast who were hosted by her predecessor. ULFA leader Paresh Baruah, earlier feted by Bangladesh and Pakistan, now hides along the borders of Myanmar and China, enjoying Chinese patronage. While India beat Bangladesh in the match, the hosts fought gamely and nearly made it to the quarter finals after beating England.

 

The World Cup inauguration was an ideal event for India to show its solidarity with and empathy for Bangladesh, with our Prime Minister sharing the dais with Sheikh Hasina in Dhaka. Astonishingly, in a manifestation of callous diplomatic indifference and insensitivity, New Delhi chose not to send either a high-level goodwill delegation, or more appropriately, sponsor a goodwill visit to Dhaka by the Prime Minister for the event.

 

Similar indifference and lack of imagination was shown to towards Sri Lanka, where cricketing legend Muthiah Muralitharan, whose contribution to the cricketing glory of his country was personally lauded by President Rajapakse, was playing his last World Cup. If Team India fought for the coveted World Cup for Sachin Tendulkar, the Sri Lankans did so for Murali, as he is fondly known. Most importantly, Murali, a Tamil, is a symbol of how Tamils and Sinhalas can live together in a pluralistic Sri Lanka. An Indian Prime Minister lauding Murali in Colombo would have reinforced and driven home this message. Alas a Prime Minister, who is totally focussed on, and some would say obsessed, with Pakistan, could obviously not entertain such thoughts. It is tragic that our diplomatic establishment and politicians could not also look imaginatively beyond their noses, on neighbourhood diplomacy.

 

Many years ago, Mir Khalilur Rehman, the founder of the "Jang" newspaper, remarked to me during the course of an India-Pakistan cricket Test match in Karachi, when the crowds were going berserk, as Imran Khan decimated the Indian batting line up: "The problem with my countrymen is that they treat the cricket field like a battlefield and a battlefield like a cricket field". He said it was this attitude that led them to disaster in the 1971 conflict with India, adding that they would feel similarly when the country's cricketing fortunes were reversed.

 

The Mohali World Cup semi-final pitting India against Pakistan was touted as the harbinger of goodwill and the elixir for eternal India-Pakistan friendship. But what was the reaction across the border when Pakistan, a remarkably talented, but mercurial side, crashed to defeat? Much has been said about Pakistan captain Shahid Afridi's comment: "Indians will never have hearts like Muslims and Pakistanis. I do not think they have the large and clean hearts Allah has given us". Compare this with the gracious comments of Sri Lankan captain Kumara Sangakkara: "We didn't take enough wickets and in the end the best team won. Yes we are a bit sore that we lost. It will take a while to get over that feeling. That's cricket".

 

It has been argued that one should not take the comments of Shahid Afridi, who was dumb enough to get banned for chewing on and seeking to tamper with the seam of a cricket ball, with half a dozen television cameras focussed on him, during an international encounter with Australia, seriously. But anyone familiar with the media coverage in Pakistan would recognise that not merely the traditionally hostile Urdu press, but also mainstream English newspapers were severely and even irrationally critical of India.

 

Even a normally restrained person like Air Marshal Shahzad Chaudhry, who was the Director of Pakistan's Strategic (Nuclear) Command Authority, commenced his article debunking Sachin Tendulkar's batting capabilities. He averred "And yet this God of cricket was all at sea against Saeed Ajmal. He could not read Ajamal's Doosra". Chaudhry made the astonishing accusation that it was as a result of the tampering of the Hawkeye software by Indian IT experts that Tendulkar was not given out LBW. Chaudhury claimed: "The IT hubs of Bangalore worked overtime to provide Tendulkar the escape in the "Decision Referral system" when he was actually plumbed out on an arm ball by Ajmal". He implied that the "Hawkeye" software had been tampered with to show that an actually straight ball had spun to miss the leg stump!

 

The Mohali episode, based on the misplaced belief that "cricket diplomacy" would bring people in India and Pakistan together, is symbolic of how South Block just has no understanding of how Pakistanis think about cricket. Diplomacy is a serious business, not to be based on wishful thinking. No one objects to a serious dialogue, which promotes people-to-people contacts, enhances mutual confidence and ends terrorism. As a first step, we should unilaterally revoke the ludicrous visa restrictions we have imposed on visits by foreign academics, students and other visitors in the aftermath of the 26/11 attack. The invitation to Prime Minister Gilani pleased the Americans. But is pleasing the Americans the main criterion for determining our policies and priorities in our neighbourhood? The internal turmoil in Pakistan and its problems in Afghanistan call for serious diplomacy and not gimmicks, grandiose gestures or summits without meticulous preparatory work.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

WEAKER? BETTER!

BY SS BHATTI

 

Imagine Adam doing everything all by himself — facing up to the whole world to earn a modest livelihood, combined with the thankless job of bearing and rearing children also. Struck by the dismal prospect of such an onerous task, it seems to me, God must have decided in His exalted wisdom, in the early stages of the Genesis, to effect division of labour in favour of Adam who He had created in His own image. That must be the reason why He promptly produced from His rib Adam's counterpoint: Eve.

 

Woman (wo-man) as she is now called is actually man with a womb. It is a case of confusion of categories that the biologists distinguish this division by the term 'sex', and the sociologists by the more ambiguous epithet 'gender'.

 

Woman is a riddle impossible to solve. For instance, how the 'weaker sex' can suddenly become the 'better half' in nuptial nexus is beyond my comprehension. Yet the fact remains that woman has emerged as a force to reckon with, Manu's codified exhortations to the contrary notwithstanding. Woman has risen to her formidable stature even without the breathtaking blandishments of American women-libbers. For, she is shakti without which even the redoubtable Lord Shiva is a shava (dead body).

 

Woman has made serious inroads into the once-entirely-man-dominated world. She is as good as, if not better than, man in driving and flying. When learning how to drive, though, she can easily drive her instructor mad. But as soon as she is on her own, she is quite innovative. When she suddenly decides, after having taken a half-right turn, to go left — she makes a cross in the air with her right index finger to warn other drivers that she has cancelled the previous signal. As a pilot, she is equally fantastic except that she can land the plane anywhere, anytime, when she suddenly remembers she has to attend a kitty party at her friend's place.

 

Woman's capacity for work is boundless, too. In our pre-middle-school classes we used to be given sums in work, time, and wages. If so many men and women can do a piece of work in 10 days, how much time will it take so many more men and women to complete the same job? We had learnt these sums by rote and could solve even the hardest one with relative ease. But once we were asked if one woman can do a piece of work in a fortnight, how many days will it take two women to do it? A fellow, stunned by the disarming simplicity of the sum, answered: The work will never be done because, he reasoned, the two women will forthwith start quarrelling.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

ARE CELLPHONES DAMAGING OUR HEALTH?

LATEST SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH SHOWS THAT UNLESS SOME EFFECTIVE PREVENTIVE MEASURES ARE TAKEN AT THE EARLIEST, THE WORLD IS GOING TO FACE A NEW HEALTH EPIDEMIC FROM THIS BIOLOGICALLY UNTESTED TECHNOLOGY

SHALINI MARWAHA

 

It is unfortunate that most of the people are not aware of the damage being done to their health due to the radiations generated from the cell towers, cellphones and other similar gadgets. Several studies worldwide have documented tremendous increase in various adverse effects on human health due to the exposure to the mobile phone radiations. Headaches, sleep disorders, cognitive disorders and memory disturbances, visual and hearing disorders, brain tumours, cancer and damage to the DNA are being reported. According to scientists, the exposure to electromagnetic field (EMF) or radio frequency (RF) radiation is the reason for modern ailments given the name of "21st Century Syndrome". Out of different sources of unnatural radiation causing pollution such as electrical equipment and wiring, metallic objects, micro-wave or radio frequency technology as used in cellphones, digital TVs, microwave ovens, mobile phones and mobile phone towers and Wi-Fi systems are turning out to be the biggest enemy of human health. Due to massive proliferation of RF/microwave technology, both the personal and public environment is saturated with these manmade invisible radiations increasing threat to our health manifold. It is believed that we are exposed to around one billion times more unnatural radiations than our forefathers who lived a century ago. Consequently, we are becoming electro sensitive, which means that we are reacting to electro-magnetic radiations that surround our lives in every possible manner.

Generally, the whole body human absorption of RF energy varies with the frequency of the RF signal. The most restrictive limits on whole body exposure are in the frequency ranges of 30 to 300 Mhz where the human body absorbs RF energy most effectively. Electromagnetic radiation absorbed in human body is measured in units called the specific absorption rate (SAR) which is usually expressed in units of Watts per Kilogram (w/kg) or mille Watts per Gram (mw/g). SAR level is commonly used to describe the radiation absorbed close to the body, that is the head, with respect to mobile phone usage. SAR is also used to determine whole body exposure and reflects more to exposure to Wi-Fi and cell phone towers.

In the US, the maximum SAR level limit for general public whole body is 0.08w/kg and partial body is less than 1.6w/kg. The National Council for Radiation Protection and Measurement there has recommended a public exposure limit of 200 micro watts per square centimetres in the 30 to 300 MHz. In India, the Department of Telecommunication (DoT) and the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), set up in 1997, has formulated the draft guidelines on the basis of International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) guidelines in respect of SAR levels. ICNIRP allows emission of radiation rate of 9.2 watts per square metres and as per its 2008 report, mobile phones are low powered RF devices transmitting maximum peak powers in the range of 0.6 to 2.00 W/kg. In India, the prescribed SAR limit is 2 watt per kg which is averaged over a six minute period.

 

Safety standards

Existing safety standards as recommended by ICNIRP are solely based on thermal or heating effects of RF/microwave radiation. Thermal effects are the damage done to the human body by heating that occurs at levels above the maximum of exposure to microwave radiation. These 'safety' levels are only to ensure that you don't cook your skin or internal organs from the heat that microwave generates. These standards don't give protection from non-thermal biological effects of radiation.

One latest research from Austria has revealed that non-thermal biological damage occurs at SAR levels of only 0.1 w/kg, which is much below the accepted SAR levels. Latest scientific researches show that unless some effective preventive measures are taken at the earliest, the world is going to face the new health epidemic from this new biologically untested technology.

 

Another quite shocking revelation is regarding Wi-Fi technology which was introduced to the US public in 1997 without being subjected to any prior tests. No testing has been done even to determine the safety of digital broadcast format, whereas the digital signals which are modulated radio waves are said to be 250 times stronger than the previous un-modulated analog based signals and emits more harmful radiation posing the greatest threat to our health.

 

No legislation

 

In India, despite having constitutional protection to human's right to life under Article 21 which includes in its ambit right to health, we do not have any specific legislation to combat this emerging challenge to our health and eco-system from the invisible pollution of EMF radiation. The State is directed under Article 47 and 48-A to take steps to improve public health and protect and improve the environment. The existing Environmental Protection Act 1986 does not cover microwave radiation as an 'environment pollutant' in its definition under section 2(b). It only covers "any solid, liquid or gaseous substance present in such concentration as may be or tend to be, injurious to environment", whereas radiation is neither solid nor liquid or gaseous substance.

 

Similarly, radio frequency waves as used for mobile phones are not covered under the definition of 'radiation' as given in section 2(h) of the Atomic Energy Act 1962. One can only resort to the provisions of the AIR (Prevention & Control of Pollution Amendment) Act 1987.

 

 

It is also true that this technology has become a necessary evil, addictive in nature. Saving human civilisation from its own ignorance is an uphill task. It requires efforts from intelligent forward-looking leaders from all walks of life that genuinely care about future. Unfortunately, the business leaders, the big corporate giants in this profession who have been constantly, till now, refuting any ailments resulting due to exposure from this radiation, are only concerned about their profits and not of next generation. The fact that our economic activity is fundamentally based on consumption rather than conservation demonstrates how humanity is doomed towards self-destruction.

 

Frankly, a profit-based economic model cannot smoothly coexist with the environmental protection as the two concepts are opposite. The very idea of consuming less is the antithesis of corporate profit and expansions. Let us not mortgage our collective future in the hands of these big corporate houses that in connivance with corrupt political leaders do not realise their corporate social responsibilities.

 

Till the time strict legislation and a regulatory regime exist to address this challenging issue, each one us should in the light of our fundamental duty to protect and improve the natural environment as provided in Article 51 (a)(g) of the Constitution, should resort to the "precautionary principle" of the environmental jurisprudence which is even recommended by WHO in this context. This principle, being the risk management policy, is applied in circumstances with high degree of uncertainty and reflects the need to take action for a potentially serious risk without awaiting the results of scientific research. It is time to religiously adopt and implement the concept of sustainable development in the field of modern technology in order to protect future generations.

 

If we recall the history of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire, one of the factors that attributed to its collapse is the lead poisoning of the Romans due to the excessive use of which drove the Romans mad. Let us not repeat the history by now poisoning ourselves with unnatural EMF/RF radiation and follow the path of self destruction by excessive use of mobile telephony. It is necessary to strike an effective balance between technology, law and our health.

 

The writer is Professor, Department of Laws, Panjab University, Chandigarh

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

LAWS ARE LACKING

 

Despite substantial changes and growth in the telecommunication sector since 1992, the Indian telecommunication system is still being governed by the provisions of the Indian Telegraph Act 1885 and the Indian Wireless Telegraphy Act 1933. The Indian Telegraph (Amendment) Act 2003, in section 3(i) includes 'radio waves' in the definition of the word 'telegraph' and explains that 'radio waves' means electro-magnetic waves of frequencies lower than 3,000 giga cycles per second propagated in space without artificial guide. The Wireless Act 1933 includes 'radio waves' as means of wireless communication under section 2(i).

 

Both these statutes do not deal with the issue of ill effects of the radiation on the environment. TRAI has been set up to provide an effective regulatory framework and adequate safeguards to ensure fair competition and protections of consumer interests, but individual customer complaints do not come under the purview of the TRAI (Amendment) Act 2000. Individual consumers can file a complaint only before the consumer court as provided under Consumer Protection Act 1986. A number of measures taken by TRAI to safeguard the interests of the consumers nowhere covers the aspect of ill effects of radiations on the health of consumers.

 

The Telecom Policy only focuses on facilitating India's vision of becoming as IT superpower and developing a world class telecom infrastructure in the country. In short, neither the telecom policy nor the statutes regulating telecommunication sector show any concern for the fundamental right to health.

 

The Kerala High Court in 2006 gave a general direction to TRAI to make periodical inspections to ascertain whether radiation emanated from the mobile phones base stations would cause any health hazards to the people who are residing nearby. The court relying upon the report of the committee headed by Dr N.R. Ganguly, DG, ICMR as constituted on the direction of the division bench of the Bombay High Court in the year 2004 for evaluating this issue, held that in absence of conclusive documentary scientific evidence to this effect, the permission granted for installation of mobile phone base stations to Reliance InfoCom Ltd. would neither cause any health hazard nor effect the fundamental Right to life of the citizen as enshrined in the Constitution of India.

 

Even the apex court in 2006 admitted public interest litigation to this effect as filed by an NGO, Karma Jyot Sewa Trust of Gujarat, and issued notices to the Union of India and many ministries such as Health and Family Welfare, Environment and Forest, Telecommunication, IT, Science and Technology. Now the report of the eight-member inter-ministerial Committee has not only acknowledged the ill effects of cell phone radiation on our health but has also admitted the shocking flouting of SAR levels as per Indian guidelines standards.

 

There is need for banning all cellphones not adhering to the permitted SAR levels. In the US every cellphone manufacturer has to list its SAR standards for each of the models of phones in their manual but simply specifying SAR levels is also not going to prevent the ever-increasing use of this technology. The Ganguly Committee in its report mentioned that the height of mobile base station antenna is nominally 36 metres and is a safe distance from RF exposures. But in Chandigarh no cell towers are installed at the said height, and are also located in residential areas. All this is happening due to non-existence of astringent law and regulatory mechanism to check these violations.

 

— SM

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MUMBAI MIRROR

VIEW

THE HEART OF THE HILLS

KOCHARETHI GOES BEYOND THE TYPICAL MONOCHROMATIC FIGURE OF TRIBALS TO CAPTURE MANY SHADES OF MALAYARAYAR COMMUNITY

 

Catherine Thankamma, translator of Narayan's novel Kocharethi (The Araya Woman 2011) says that there are several reasons for recognising the work as a landmark. Among them: it is the first Malayalam novel to be written by a tribal about his community—the Malayarayar who inhabit the Western Ghats where they border the districts of central Kerala.

 

Narayan "discards the script-less, oral, almost extinct Araya language, for the regional variety of Malayalam spoken in central Kerala, confining the presence of Araya language to a few words and expressions." His language "is stark, to the point of being bald. The narrative often has a telegram-like abruptness…"

I found the writing absorbing because the characters are convincing, individual human beings, not ethnic curiosities on display. And the writing has many shades to reflect the experiences of the community—the brutality of those who prey on the hill people, the terror of small pox, but also affectionate relationships, and pride in who they are and what they do. The fact that the members of the community "don't know about weights, they can't count or calculate," means that they are often cheated by tradesmen and money-lenders. But Narayan can turn this into an amusing episode. Kochuraman decides he wants to have a blouse made for his wife Kunjipennu. "Kochuraman went to the tailor as he had planned. 'Can you give me a rough description?' the tailor asked. 'Height and weight are just right.' Kochuram described his wife. It was left to the tailor to translate this into measurements."

 

Pepper is the chief crop, but there are times when the heat is so merciless that nothing can protect the vines. Drought dries the grass on the hillsides, and "rascals from the plains" set fire to it, not caring about the consequences: Kunjipennu "turned to see what was happening and froze. The grassy slope on the southern side had caught fire…the crackling sound of dry grass filled the air as the fire spread, spurred by a strong breeze. Rocks and lumps of mud were flying all around…banana trees hurled down, transformed into balls of fire…Once in a while a lone voice was heard—desperate, forlorn, as if emanating from a ghost land."

 

Later in the novel, a wandering teacher comes to meet Kochuraman, sent by a lawyer who helped the tribals. He introduces himself. "I'm an Aashan who teaches children to write. I know the Puranic stories and the Neethisaram. I don't have any money. I have a son but his wife doesn't like me. So I left the place." Listening to Aashan talk about the importance of learning to read and write, Kochuraman "felt as though a crack had appeared in the darkness that weighed upon his soul." They build a little school. "It was as though a small hand-held wick had been lit in the heart of the hill."

 

In an interview with the translator, included at the end of the novel, Narayan says that one of the reasons that prompted him to write it "was the growing realisation that creative writing was in the hands of the elite upper classes; the communities portrayed in those writings belonged to these classes. The adivasi when represented, appeared as a monochromatic figure…It was always a negative picture; he was depicted as apathetic, unable to react to injustice or worse, inhuman or sub-human, vicious…"

 

Asked for a message for the reader, Narayan says, "Just this—we Arayar are children of the hills. We are a hardworking, close-knit community. We are not parasites. Therefore we do not ask for favours but for the right to live with dignity."

 

Kocharethi is the first of Narayan's five novels. It has won several awards, He has also published two collections of short stories.

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

EDITORIAL

MANAGING EXPECTATIONS

BRICS DOING THEIR BIT, US AND EU MUST DO MORE

The good news is that the Indian economy is likely to grow at around 8 per cent in fiscal 2011-12. The bad news is that the Indian economy is likely to grow only at around 8 per cent this fiscal. The other good news is that India, along with China, Brazil and a few other emerging economies, is likely to be among the fastest-growing economies in the world. The bad news is that with 8 per cent growth, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee will have to re-work his Budget arithmetic that was based on a 9 per cent rate of growth. There are no surprises in the reports emanating from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on the eve of the Fund's annual spring meetings, but these reports, especially the Fund's fiscal monitor, draw attention to the need for sustained fiscal consolidation and inflation expectations management in India.

When Mr Mukherjee presented his Budget, many informed analysts, including this newspaper, expressed scepticism about the fiscal projections made at the time. It is now increasingly clear that the Union finance ministry was being excessively optimistic projecting a 9 per cent-plus rate of growth. Chances are the number will be closer to 8 per cent, which is also a good number. Hence, rather than worry overly either about "over-heating" or "slowing down", the right lesson to draw would be to rework the fiscal numbers and arrive at a more meaningful fiscal consolidation strategy based on the assumption of lower growth. The threat of high global oil and food prices should make the government sit up and take a more realistic view on growth-inflation dynamics. If the finance ministry can ensure better fiscal consolidation and enforce stricter monitoring of spending, the government should be in a position to adhere to fiscal parameters even if growth rates slow down.

 

 The urgency and importance of fiscal stabilisation are underlined by the fact that the Reserve Bank of India's (RBI's) households' inflation expectations survey, conducted in December 2010 across 12 cities, shows persistently high inflation expectations. An important reason for this seems to be the widely-shared view that not only has the RBI not done enough, but even the government has not done enough. The numbers may be partly dated since the survey was conducted towards the end of the previous calendar year, when high food inflation shaped overall thinking about inflation. More recent data suggest a slowing down of economic activity and, hence, a possible cooling down of the economy. India need not panic, but it must get realistic, both on growth and inflation, and take appropriate policy measures. If the economy can sustain 8 per cent growth with 6 per cent inflation, the only thing to worry about would be getting public expenditure in line, to keep the deficit numbers down. That remains the macro-economic objective for this fiscal.

It is neither India nor any of the other BRICS economies – Brazil, Russia, China and South Africa – that ought to worry the IMF as much as the OECD economies. IMF must do more to improve economic governance in the US and the European Union. Economic mismanagement in the West poses a bigger threat to the world economy than weak policy reform in BRICS.

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

DR GULATI'S DEBUT

CACP HAS SENSIBLE IDEAS ON FOODGRAIN TRADE

The new chairperson of the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP), Ashok Gulati, has used the very first opportunity available to impart his professional imprimatur to a policy report. The CACP's report on kharif prices, presented to the government last week, has gone beyond just recommending an increase in minimum support prices (MSPs) of paddy and other kharif crops. The report has drawn attention to fundamental flaws in official policies, which continue to hurt farmers and impede agricultural growth. The CACP believes that regulations imposed by the government on trade in agricultural products prevent farmers from securing better prices and better incomes. Freer trade, including external trade, says the CACP, will benefit farmers. Many agricultural commodities, including rice and wheat, are barred from being exported. This means Indian farmers are not benefiting from rising global commodity prices. The government's granaries are already brimming over and the Food Corporation of India (FCI) expects to pick up an additional 26 million tonnes of wheat in the next one month. In the case of rice, too, stockpiling is more than double the buffer requirement, thanks to the government's policy of mopping up a sizeable part of the marketed surplus through either direct purchases or from rice mills as mandatory levy. Barring some varieties of basmati, no other variety of rice is allowed to be exported, though international prices are currently about double the domestic price.

The CACP has, therefore, recommended lifting the curbs on rice exports and is in favour of allowing private traders to directly buy produce from growers. Such measures can relieve the government of the needless burden of procuring and stockpiling grains far beyond its needs to feed the public distribution system and maintain a reasonable buffer for food security. More importantly, this will allow farmers to realise better returns for their produce. Higher purchases by private traders, coupled with a waiving of the mandi tax on foodgrain – which will narrow the gap between wholesale and retail prices – as proposed by the CACP, will help keep domestic rice prices at reasonable levels. The CACP report also rejects the view that liberal increases in MSPs have fanned food inflation. In fact it is non-MSP food items, especially vegetables, fruit, milk, meat and fish, that have driven recent food inflation.

 

 Given the limited scope of FCI's procurement operations, the CACP is in favour of non-price instruments for improving livelihood security of farmers. More effective marketing support for farmers is one such idea. Taken together, the ideas in Dr Gulati's first CACP report offer a framework for policy reform in agriculture and can herald the much-talked about second Green Revolution. Both medium- and long-term issues as well as short-term issues, like reducing the excessive build-up of grain inventories through exports, are sensible. The CACP has rightly demanded replacing the open-ended grain procurement system with a need-based one, and letting private trade play its due role in food marketing, storage and distribution (read retail sale). This will be in the best interests of the government, farmers and consumers.

 

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 BUSINESS STANDARD

HAS INDIAN CRICKET PEAKED?

EVERY INDIAN HAS VIEWS ON TWO SUBJECTS: PAKISTAN AND CRICKET. I AM NO EXCEPTION

SHANKAR ACHARYA

 

Every Indian has views on two subjects: Pakistan and cricket. I am no exception. India's thrilling win in Mumbai to lift the 2011 cricket World Cup is perhaps an opportune moment to write my first cricket column. First, let's state the obvious. It was a terrific tournament. Even expert, non-Indian commentators have expressed that view. There was so much to admire and celebrate: Kevin O'Brien's fantastic century which powered Ireland to win against England; Bangladesh's heroic win against England; Lasith Malinga's superb hat-trick against Kenya; the amazing India-England tie in Bangalore; New Zealand's spirited victory over South Africa in the quarter-finals; Shahid Afridi's splendid bowling and captaincy, including the convincing win against Australia; outstanding centuries by Ricky Ponting and Mahela Jayawardene in the final stages … the list is endless. And, of course, there were India's three successive nail-biting victories against Australia, Pakistan and Sri Lanka in the knockout stages, which won India the crown after 28 long years.

 

 Surely, this is the oddest moment to worry about the future of Indian cricket. It's more appropriate to ask the question that a well-known TV news anchor was asking a panel of former international cricket captains the day after India's fabulous win : Has the period of India's dominance over international cricket begun? The panel of cricketing greats politely acknowledged India's unrivalled batting strength but gently wondered about the penetrative capacity of the bowling — Allan Border did enter a caveat about our batting skills on non-Asian pitches.

My answer to the TV anchor's triumphalist query is more forthright. The Indian team has peaked. Perhaps we can stay at or near the top in International Cricket Council (ICC) Test and one-day international (ODI) rankings for a year or two but it's downhill thereafter. Here's why. Take the bowling first. Even today, the bowling attack would struggle to bowl out a quality opposition twice in a five-day Test match. That we recently topped the ICC Test rankings has a lot to do with three years of excellent bowling by Ishant Sharma. And where is he now? Without a pace bowler of his quality, Zaheer Khan cannot be expected to shoulder the burden of the pace attack almost single-handed. And even Khan, though he was terrific in this tournament, is a medium-pacer with a bag full of swing and seam tricks. India simply lacks a really good fast bowler (consistently above 140 km/hr). Sreesanth has the pace but lacks accuracy, control and variation. Can Khan, who turns 33 in October, be counted on as a top-flight pacer for more than two years? Ergo without a couple of new quality fast bowlers, our pace bowling attack is in trouble.

Even in the spin department, our attack may be over the hill. Anil Kumble has gone. Harbhajan Singh still takes wickets but fewer than in the past. In this World Cup, India's second best (after Khan) wicket-taker was Yuvraj Singh, usually described as a part-time bowler. The good news is that, unlike with pacers, there is a visible bench strength in the likes of Piyush Chawla, R Ashwin and others who can develop into match-winning performers.

Let's turn to our vaunted strength: batting. The line-up certainly did well in this tournament, barring the astonishing late inning collapses against South Africa and England. But our highest run-getter was the redoubtable and iconic Sachin Tendulkar, who turns 38 this month — another two years at the most for this great man in international cricket? Just think, three years from now our Test team will probably not include Tendulkar, Laxman and Dravid, three batsmen who are generally credited with the best technique to play on all surfaces and who have contributed hugely to our past Test match successes. Sehwag still destroys opponents' opening attacks at times but the frequency is diminishing. He has made up for lack of technique with his superb hand-eye coordination. But how long can that extraordinary gift last? The Nawab of Najafgarh also turns 33 in October. Without these four giants, our batting line-up will look a lot less formidable, especially in Test matches. Can the likes of Gautam Gambhir, Yuvraj Singh (often out of the Test side), Virat Kohli, M S Dhoni, Suresh Raina and others fill the gap? In my view, it's a very tough task. Three years from now we may still field a strong ODI batting unit, but for Test matches – especially outside the subcontinent – the prospects look a lot more bleak.

So I think we have peaked. But there is a silver lining. The exhilarating triumphs of this World Cup will motivate thousands of young cricketers. Money could pour into coaching and facilities. Who knows, five years hence there may be a fresh cohort of talented youngsters vying to play for India. Let's hope they include some good fast bowlers of the quality that Pakistan routinely produces. Then we can climb a new summit.

Let me now mention a few things that caught my attention and sometimes detracted from these wonderfully uplifting and exhilarating past few weeks.

First, I certainly agree with all those who rank Dhoni's captaincy in this tournament as simply outstanding. And his 91-not-out in Mumbai under huge pressure was a stellar captain's knock which won us the Cup. But this gifted skipper could show more grace in victory. At the award ceremonies in the last two big matches the opposing captains, Shahid Afridi and Kumar Sangakkara, were most gracious in praising the performance of the winning Indian team. In neither case did Dhoni return the compliment. It would have been so easy and so fitting to say a few words praising our worthy opponents, who came so close to beating us.

Second, what is the need for the ICC, the Board of Control for Cricket in India, and central and state governments to shower money, tax breaks, land plots, and lifetime free passes for train and air travel on an already rich group of cricketers (many of whom earn huge fees from endorsing products and services)? Isn't winning the World Cup its own reward?

Third, after the tournament was over, why the rash of resignations from captains of competing teams? I can understand Ponting's ; his captaincy had been questioned for a year or more. But why did Afridi and Sangakkara have to tender resignation after superb individual performances and great captaincy?

Finally, on a positive note, there was the Holmesian "dog that didn't bark". In none of the high-profile matches, especially the ones at Mohali and Mumbai, was there a terror attack. In theory, such events must be high on the target list of terrorist groups. Luck may have played a big role. But we should thank enormously the massive security apparatus that was marshalled to deter and screen out potential threats. After all, if things had gone wrong, they would have been in the cross hairs.

The author is Member, Board of Governors and Honorary Professor, Icrier

 

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BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

CORRUPTION - TAKE TWO

CIVIL SOCIETY MAY BE BETTER OFF LOBBYING FOR FASTER LIBERALISATION THAN ANOTHER CUMBERSOME INSTITUTION

KANIKA DATTA

 

In the anti-corruption sentiment that has overcome the general public, the corporate sector has somehow managed to get sympathetic billing as a victim of venal governments and bureaucrats. This is a notion that was initially reinforced by Ratan Tata with his tantalising half-disclosure last November that a fellow industrialist suggested he pay an aviation minister Rs 15 crore to acquire approval to operate an airline. More recently, Infosys' Mohandas Pai said the company had also been asked by the government (he didn't specify whether it was the Centre or state) for a bribe to clear projects, which they refused.

 

 Both complaints may be authentic but the impression they have created is not. The private corporate sector is not always a hapless bribe-giver in the interests of doing business. The current scandal over telecom spectrum allocations is a case in point. Much has been made of the throwaway price at which these government-controlled airwaves were sold to new mobile operators. But the bigger scandal was the abrupt change of the cut-off date for applicants to pay their licence fees, which benefited some operators at the expense of others. It is former minister A Raja who now must explain this inexplicable haste but the needle of suspicion has pointed as directly, as it must, to the handful of companies that benefited from the advanced deadline. This is not a case of coercive bribe-giving but active collusion.

Speaker after speaker in last week's nationally televised Jantar Mantar jamboree raised the demand that corruption be "rooted out" and many upheld the renunciatory integrity of Anna Hazare as the model to emulate. This is naively utopian. Hazare attracts attention and approbation because he is an outlier, so to speak, among human beings. Corruption cannot be "rooted out" in any society – even the developed western ones that we hope to emulate – simply because people are not saints. But there is certainly a range of policy options available to minimise corruption. People in western democracies or even south-east Asian countries are not, as many Indians enviously think, intrinsically more honest than Indians. They are less inclined to be dishonest because public policies have been shaped in such a way that they have less incentive to be so; rules are enforced, access to resources is relatively easy and contracts are honoured.

One of the reasons younger entrepreneurs in India Inc were quick to appreciate economic liberalisation is that it shrank the government's powers in the conduct of business. It is telling that many older businesses were initially dismayed because they stood to lose the enormous rents they derived from limited competition and preferential access to resources. As a result, a range of companies in the private sector that operated monopoly businesses – whether it was automobiles, steel, power or cement – could scarcely boast of being squeaky clean. This, as we know, is hardly novel, the documented side-effect of the licence raj.

But the striking point then was that in some cases the dismay over liberalisation went deeper than the promoters. Many executive also secretly mourned the passing of the licence raj and the rentiering opportunities that it offered in distributing scarce resources to customers. Old timers in the corporate world will recall the openly lavish lifestyles of many corporate executives that were quite "disproportionate to known sources of income", to use the income tax department's quaint euphemism.

Little of this came from fiddling the bills for allowance claims. The bulk came from outright bribery. For large consumers of infrastructural materials paying for an overseas family trip or sending gifts of gold and diamond jewellery to senior executives' wives in return for preferential allocations was fairly standard practice, to name just two. In one corporation, the problem of internal corruption became so rampant that an outgoing director was moved to exhort young executives and their wives to "cut your coat according to your cloth" in a farewell speech.

These practices were well known at the time but are rarely mentioned if only because the opportunities for such corruption have abated and corporate salaries have risen to such a point as to render corruption unnecessary. But the issue then as now is that corruption is almost inevitable whenever access to resources and materials is left to the discretionary power of a few individuals, whether it is a minister, bureaucrat or an executive in a private corporation. Efficient economies seek to reduce such monopolies by encouraging competition or establishing alternative structures of distribution. In India, we have only gone some way towards that, which is why our global "Doing Business" ranking only crawls. Hazare became a hero in his village because his water harvesting projects not only provided villagers with easier access to a scarce resource, they freed them from the coercion of local officials. Civil society may be better off lobbying for faster liberalisation than another cumbersome institution.

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BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

DESIGNS ON INDUSTRIAL PRODUCTS

WIPO IS MULLING A TREATY TO HARMONISE PROTECTION OF INDUSTRIAL DESIGNS

T S VISHWANATH

The World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) held a meeting in Geneva recently to discuss the possibility of creating a treaty to harmonise protection of industrial designs at the national and international levels. The protection of trademarks on the Internet was another topic of discussion. These discussions were held at the 25th session of the Standing Committee on the Law of Trademarks, Industrial Designs and Geographical Indications (SCT).

The Development Agenda Group consisting of 20 members like Brazil, India and Egypt also proposed the addition of a new item to the draft Agenda entitled "Work of the SCT", under which SCT could discuss its contribution to the implementation of the Development Agenda Recommendations. In 2007, the WIPO general assembly had adopted 45 development Agenda recommendations out of the 111 that were submitted.

 

 Some of the members who support a treaty on industrial designs like the European Union were of the view that there is a need to have a diplomatic conference at the highest level to conclude such a treaty. However, a number of countries including Japan were of the view that there is a need to study the matter further before moving to conclude a treaty. The developing countries group pointed out that there was a need to look at the developmental dimension before concluding any such treaty. The Chair Park Seong-Joon from the Republic of Korea in the summary suggested that a diplomatic conference for the adoption of a design law treaty could be convened only after sufficient progress has been made and the time was ripe for recommending the holding of such a diplomatic conference.

The Chair requested the WIPO secretariat to prepare a working document for consideration at the next session of SCT in October, 2011. That document, the Chair said, should reflect all comments made at the present session and highlight the issues that needed more discussion. Furthermore, delegations were requested to consult extensively with national user groups in order to obtain their views and to inform the work of the Committee.

The protection of industrial designs is not new to countries. The TRIPS agreement of the World Trade organisation (WTO) requires protection for industrial designs, and members are to provide protection for a minimum period of 10 years for industrial designs that are "new or original".

The conditions that need to be satisfied to get protection for industrial designs are that they should be "independently created and should be new or original". Countries could provide against protection, on the ground of lack of novelty or originality if the design does not significantly differ from known designs. The TRIPS also requires that in the industrial designs for textiles, the coasts and examination or protection should not unreasonably impair the opportunity to get protection.

The new WIPO treaty will look at expanding the scope and commitment of countries on industrial designs. It is, therefore, important to understand these proposals completely to analyse the impact for companies in developing countries like India.

Another important area for developing countries was the discussion on trademarks on the Internet. This also requires close analysis by industry since the WIPO is looking at a joint recommendation that aims to provide a clear legal framework for trademark owners who wish to use their marks on the Internet and to participate in the development of electronic commerce.

The paper prepared by the secretariat for the meeting states that the "recommendations are intended to facilitate the application of existing laws relating to marks, and other industrial property rights in signs, on the Internet, and to be applied in the context of: determining whether, under the applicable law, use of a sign on the Internet has contributed to the acquisition, maintenance or infringement of a mark or other industrial property right in the sign, or whether such use constitutes an act of unfair competition; enabling owners of conflicting rights in identical or similar signs to use these signs concurrently on the Internet; and determining remedies."

Different aspects of protecting intellectual property will soon become an important issue for Indian industries with several bilateral agreements on trade coming into force. Indian industries will need to follow the developments at WIPO closely to understand new issues on intellectual property that future FTA partners are considering.

(The author is Principal Adviser APJ-SLG Law Offices)

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BUSINESS STANDARD

DIVIDE AND GROW

INDICUS ANALYTICS

Agriculture is the main source of livelihood, but growth in the sector has been stubbornly slow

India's growth story has rested primarily on the services sector. However, agriculture continues to be the main source of livelihood for more than half the country's population, making growth in this sector critical for the majority of Indians. Over the last six decades, agriculture has grown at 2.6 per cent a year. This is considerably lower than all the other sectors, bringing its share in the GDP down from 49 per cent in the 1950s to 16 per cent in 2008-09. Yet agriculture continues to contribute more than a fifth of the state income in 12 states. Though the agriculture sector saw an annual growth rate of 2.9 per cent due to a significant increase in the area under cultivation in the fifties, the sector was hit by stagnation and low productivity in the sixties. High foodgrain imports necessitated the Green Revolution, which ensured food sufficiency, but growth continued at less than two per cent a year through the seventies. It was only in the eighties that growth moved to a three per cent-plus level with heavy investments in irrigation and an increase in the use of fertilisers, among other measures. However, despite concerted efforts and a multi-pronged strategy in recent years, the target of a sustained four per cent growth in this sector has been elusive.(Click here for graph)

Regional variations in the growth of agriculture are wide as only two states have broken through with high growth in this sector, according to the latest data from the Central Statistical Organisation (CSO). Taking the latest years for which data on all states are available, 2000-01 to 2007-08, Gujarat is the only state to record double-digit growth of 11.7 per cent, with Chhattisgarh trailing slightly at 9.4 per cent growth. According to research by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), the key drivers for Gujarat's performance have been technology development and diffusion, increased access to water (critical in a drought-prone state), investment in roads, rejuvenation of research in agriculture and innovative extension systems; in effect public investment in infrastructure and institutions have been vital for the high growth in the state. In Chhattisgarh, an intensive crop diversification strategy and increase in double-cropped areas have yielded results. Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Sikkim have reported growth of more than five per cent a year over this period, while at the other end are Kerala, Goa and Assam with less than one per cent annual growth. Jharkhand stands out as the only large state with negative growth in agricultural gross state domestic product (GSDP) — a result of acute shortage of irrigation water, shrinking watershed areas and contamination of surface and ground water. In Punjab, where agriculture contributes to more than 30 per cent of the state income, the rate of growth has slowed considerably, causing concern in the "grain bowl" of India. Then there is Bihar – which has the largest share of population engaged in agriculture – where agricultural income grew at a low 1.5 per cent a year during this period.

HARNESSED
Compound annual growth rate of agricultural GSDP 

Period

At constant 
prices %

1950-51 to 1959-60

2.9

1960-61 to 1969-70

1.3

1970-71 to 1979-80

1.9

1980-81 to 1989-90

3.1

1990-91 to 1999-00

3.4

2000-01 to 2007-08

3.2

Source: CSO

It is evident that in the era of economic planning, agricultural income growth in India has not been in consonance with the high proportion of population engaged in agriculture. For a pro-people development, high growth in the agriculture sector and an increase in incomes of farmers are as crucial as enabling the transition of the workforce towards non-agricultural occupations.

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

sumita@indicus.net 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

ABIDING FAITH

DESPITE A CYNICAL CHATTERATI, INDIANS TURN OUT EN MASSE TO VOTE FOR DEMOCRACY

 

Voting is over in three of four major states and tiny Puducherry, though we'll have to wait another month till elections are over in West Bengal, for results to be known. Whatever the outcome, one thing is blindingly clear: despite Anna Hazare and the chatterati's disdain, Indians retain their enthusiasm for, and faith in, electoral democracy. The turnout on the day of polling is a measure of people's keenness to vote. Tamil Nadu and Kerala, which reported 71% and 73% voter turnout in 2006, rank high on that measure. This year too, the turnout numbers are fast converging to 70% levels in both states, proving that the uproar over scams has not dented their faith in multi-party democracy. In Assam, where the voter turnout was a staggering 76%-plus this year, the elections are a beacon of hope. After several decades of violence, the state now has prospects of genuine and lasting peace. The entire leadership of Ulfa, except Paresh Barua who's suspected to be in Myanmar, has surrendered and is free from captivity. It's expected that it will join the democratic mainstream soon, deepening the currents of electoral politics in India. The fact that even after Barua issued a call to boycott elections, people turned up in such large numbers to vote is a slap in the face of extremists as well as of cynics who feel India's democratic system is a sham.


But the biggest electoral exercise of this summer, the elections in West Bengal, is yet to start. Bengal has a long history of political violence and this election is expected to shift the tectonic plates of its politics by dislodging a 34-year old Left regime from power. The Election Commission wants to take no chances and has decided to conduct the polls in six phases, stretching over more than three weeks. We cannot predict how Bengalis will vote, but we can say that they'll vote in large numbers: in 2006, 82% of the electorate turned up to vote the Left back to power for its seventh successive term. It's likely that they'll form equally long queues this year. After all, the Bengali's enthusiasm for politics is matched only by her love for adda. Of course, we need to grow serious political reform on this ground for optimism provided by voters

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

BRAVO, TEMPING

LAWS AND THE UNIONS SEEK PERMANENT WORK WHILE FLEXIBILITY IS WHAT WE NEED


The move by the temporary staffing industry to come together to press for reform of India's archaic labour laws is welcome. Its immediate goal, no doubt, is to escape the daily harassment it faces at the hands of labour inspectors who view the entire temping business as verging on the illegal. Yet, temping plays a vital role. It helps enterprises deploy staff with the flexibility they need. Simultaneously, it helps jobseekers to move from the unorganised to the organised sector, often with added skills. The changing structure of manufacturing and services and their global linkages make it imperative for companies to constantly readjust the size of their workforce at short notice, send some workers off for training, hire new skills, scale up or down, depending on which way demand moves. Such flexibility, a prerequisite of competitiveness, is precisely what our current labour laws preclude. Rigid employment norms feed capital intensity and destroy jobs. The responsibility for the standstill on labour laws has to be shared by trade union leaders and the political class with their misplaced faith in rigid labour laws such as the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 and the Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act, 1970. Rigid laws have only pushed enterprises to hire large numbers on an ad-hoc basis. Most recent high-profile strikes by workers have centred on the demand to make permanent workers who have served for many years as temporary hands. Most temporary workers are denied social security and health benefits. Thus the quest for permanence of work, through rigid labour laws, in an age that calls for flexibility and constant skill upgradation, has only ended up hurting workers. Union leaders would do well to turn their energies away from permanence to securing decent work while in employment and for constant upgradation of skills.


In globalised sectors such as software, enterprises struggle to retain talent while workers move jobs. This indicates the trend, if not the new normal. Portability across jobs and geography of their retirement savings matters more to the new workers than permanence.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

BUYING BRITISH

WITH EVEN BRITISH FOOTBALL TEAMS ON SALE, WHAT REMAINS THAT IS STILL TRULY BRITISH?

 

The buyout of Arsenal by an American (who beat a Russian to it) last week shows that more and more foreigners are gunning for British icons with a vengeance. After all, the takeover of the Blackburn Rovers by India's Venkateshwara Hatcheries was proof enough that the British are turning chicken when it comes to safeguarding their national assets. The British royal family has been German for generations anyway, and the famous English 'corner shop', selling groceries, newspapers and other daily odds and ends, has long become the preserve of Indians, Sri Lankans and Pakistanis. Now with half the teams in the English Premier League already in foreign hands — a phenomenon presciently preceded by chicken tikka masala supplanting fish and chips as the national dish — the time is nigh for a redefinition of Britishness. Harrods to Heathrow, Jaguar to Tetley Tea, Corus to Cadbury, Asprey to Abbey National Bank, Glenmorangie to Grosvenor House, Hamleys to P&O, more and more brands and institutions identified with the former Empire have passed into foreign hands. In fact, according to a report last year by a London law firm, 44% of mergers and acquisitions targeting UKlisted companies since 2008 feature overseas bidders.


At the end of the day, the only thing that the British may have left to hawk is, well, Britishness. India would be the obvious market for curiosities such as English butlers — as esoteric a concept as their prime tourist attraction, English tea — and the English accent, a strong contender for inclusion in Unesco's list of humanity's intangible cultural heritage, given its imminent endangered status. But given the current popular disenchantment with the English parliamentary system sold to us, India may be wary of buying anything just yet.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

DON'T DEMONISE THE POLITICIAN

TO VILIFY OUR POLITICAL CLASS ALONE FOR ALL THE CORRUPTION IN SOCIETY WILL BE VAST OVERSIMPLIFICATION

 

There was great jubilation last week over the government's decision to concede Anna Hazare's demand for a joint committee to draft the Lokpal Bill. The political class had been humbled, the ordinary citizen had won or, that's how a section of the media and the middle class saw it.


The episode raises issues that we need to debate dispassionately. One, as some commentators have pointed out, whether it is legitimate for groups outside Parliament to ask for a say in the framing of laws. A broader issue is whether it makes sense to denigrate the politician and look to non-political actors for solutions to political problems.


In the present case, the activists insisted on a say in the drafting of the Lokpal Bill on the ground that the present version does not adequately address corruption. But, then, that is a point that can be made about any piece of legislation. Unions can ask for a say in the framing of banking laws; environmental activists in laws pertaining to the environment; academics in laws related to education; and so on.


Drafts of legislation must certainly be made available for public comment. But what happens when every interest group seeks to encroach on Parliament's power to frame laws? Is it legitimate to ask that those interested in or affected by legislation seek to frame it? How do we choose from amongst several groups that lay claim to framing legislation?


The democratic answer to such a situation is to assume that Parliament represents the will of the people and to vest it alone with the power to make laws. Whichever way we look at it, the recent episode cannot be treated as a precedent. In general, the drafting of legislation must be the sole prerogative of Parliament.


The finalisation of the Lokpal Bill is likely to prove a contentious affair. The Jan Lokpal Bill, drafted by the activists, envisages sweeping powers for the Lokpal. One wonders whether any set of individuals, however exalted, qualifies to be vested with such powers. Abuse of power is not the monopoly of the politician.
At the root of solutions such as an omnipotent Lokpal is the belief that the politician is the arch-villain in our system and that we must look to non-political actors to solve our fundamental problems, including corruption. This is an offshoot of the neo-liberal ideology that government is evil and all is best left to the market. If government is evil, then so are those who run government.


The majority of people see the politician as the most venal element in Indian society. They are wrong. The fountainhead of corruption is more likely the businessman. As a friend, who happens to run a business put it to me, 'In any illicit deal, the politician gets a cut of only 10-15%. It's the businessman who appropriates the bigger chunk.' It is ridiculous that today some of the loudest rants against corruption should emanate from businessmen.


Corruption in the corporate world would not be possible without the participation of the middle-class. The middleclass is happy to both abet the corrupt practices of businesses and partake of the spoils of these. Those in other professions — doctors, lawyers, chartered accountants, journalists, members of the teaching fraternity — can hardly claim to have higher standards of conduct. The politician can at least plead that he needs large sums of money to practise his vocation; not so, others who point the accusing finger at him.

 

 The politician is seen as not only corrupt but incompetent. One is struck by the general lack of appreciation of the abilities of politicians and the contributions they make. Few people are aware that debates in Parliament are often of high quality. So are the reports of various parliamentary committees. Question hour can be very illuminating. Those who habitually denounce politicians would be well-advised to visit Parliament's website and browse through the material posted there.


Cynicism about politicians reflects a lack of awareness of their nation-building activities, their ceaseless interactions with constituents, their attempts to address grievances, the efforts they put in towards developing their constituencies if only so that they can get re-elected. Indian society needs to be educated about the political process. Alas, the Indian media is not up to the job; it is largely responsible for perpetuating the stereotype of the politician.


It would make sense to have students serve as interns with politicians and for professionals to be deputed to government. They will get a sense of the energy levels of politicians; their ability to take quick decisions; and their grasp not only of problems in their constituencies but of broader issues of development and national security. Academics too could profit from interaction with politicians. The chief minister of a state, who has to cope with a baffling diversity of problems in an area the size of a European country, would have valuable lessons in management to offer B-schools. This is not meant to be one long eulogy of the Indian politician. It is intended to make a short point. There is little substance to the notion that politicians lack the ability or the character to respond to national problems, including corruption, and that social activists or other professional groups are better-placed to do so. To demonise the politician is not only to betray ignorance of the Indian political system, it devalues one of most precious assets, our democratic process itself.

 

T T RAM MOHAN PROFESSOR, IIM AHMEDABAD

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

NEURAL NET

THE MISSING GANDHI IN THE ANNA MOMENT

AMRITH LAL


Thousands rallied behind Anna Hazare, when he sat on a hunger strike at Jantar Mantar demanding an improved version of Lokpal Bill, the government's latest anti-corruption initiative. Clearly, a slogan that exhorts to fight corruption struck a chord among large sections of the population. Anna, whose long years of village reconstruction work in Ralegon Siddhi have given him great moral standing, emerged as the symbol for the janata to rally around. The media, always willing to manufacture and promote a spectacle, enhanced that moral standing many times. What unfolded after that, was described as nothing less than a revolution. People, blessed sometimes with a short historical memory, were convinced that the demand for a civil society-directed Lokpal Bill was the greatest public event since the freedom struggle. Even the Emergency and the JP movement were conveniently forgotten.


Anna, of course, is not to be blamed. He didn't seek this mantle of the apostle of civil society activism: it was thrust on him. He spoke and acted within the limits of his worldview, shaped by some aspects of Gandhism, especially the focus on the village as the basic economic unit and the individual satyagraha as a tool of resistance. The satyagraha rattled the government, already reeling under a spate of corruption scandals, and forced its representatives to negotiate with Anna. However, the limits of Anna's anti-politics vision was exposed immediately after he called off the strike and returned to his village in Maharashtra.


In Anna's world of action, the leader knows the best and demands uncritical obedience. A few good men are all that is required to change the world. The disdain for public action through political agents and admiration for certain "efficient administrators" that Anna seems to hold stem from this limited worldview. Administrators, and not politicians, make up the desired category of public servants in Anna's vision. Governance is not seen as an extension of the political process, but an activity that should be kept separate of politics. So, efficiency, in itself a dubious term, becomes the parameter of evaluation and ethics, which is a political category, is ignored. Is it any surprise that Anna found Narendra Modi an admirable leader?


Such a depoliticised idea of governance is hardly Gandhian. Truth and morality were political categories for Gandhi. They are meant for self-purification as well as collective transformation. Gandhi associated intimately, first, with the Home Rule movement and, then, with the Indian National Congress, because he recognised the importance of organisations with well-defined political ideas and aims. Congress, under his influence, turned both a mass movement and a political outfit that offered membership and elected leaders. Most importantly, Gandhi engaged with his fiercest critics and opponents and the terms of engagement were never shaped by a populist sense of morality. Put simply, nothing was too dirty to be excluded, including shit, in Gandhi's understanding of public affairs.


Ram Manohar Lohia has talked about three kinds of Gandhisms; governmental, priestly and heretical. Of the heretical Gandhism, he said, the time has not yet come to speak. Governmental and priestly Gandhisms are well integrated with the state that it has not struggled against any kind of injustice in many years. But the Anglo-Saxon liberal has been pleased with it, because it did not strive to end the tyrannical use of their language or alter the routes of its trade or diplomatic and imperial relationship, he wrote.


Can the developmentalist Gandhism represented by the likes of Anna Hazare be any better than the governmental or priestly Gandhisms that Lohia talked about? The anger at public corruption is understandable. But will or can the angry take on social and economic structures that breed corruption? The middle class, which made up the bulk of dissenters with candles last week, is a major beneficiary of the very structures that perpetuate various inequities, of which the most recognisable is monetary corruption. Can it introspect, put self-interests aside and build alliances with less empowered people, who are far more oppressed by the excesses of a "corrupt" system?


The attempt here is not to belittle attempts to bring in legal measures to rectify flaws in the system or suspect the sincerity of all those who gathered at various public places in support of Anna. But for public mobilisations to become public action, there has to be organised and sustained efforts that question the practices of the state and capital. Hence, the case for politics and politicians.


Gandhi was a politician and Gandhism, heretical of course, political praxis.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

GUEST COLUMN

CORRUPTION, LOKPAL & DEMOCRACY

SRIVATSA KRISHNA


A 74-year old man, leading a revolution of 24-yearolds is one of the most striking aspects of our democracy and Anna Hazare deserves our unequivocal salute for engendering this movement. Anna Hazare is doing a national service and the cause he is fighting for — eliminating corruption in government through the institution of Lokpal — is of far greater value than the methods he is choosing, which some may disagree with. However, any rational criticism of the Jan Lokpal Bill or for that matter the government's Lokpal Bill must not be taken as "if you are not with us, you are against us" or worse still "if you are not with us, you are not against corruption". The key issues that need a nuanced response are:


First, today the pendulum has swung too far to one side. Dishonest officers in the civil services openly plunder the system for personal gains. Having said that, there are some risks with the proposed Jan Lokpal Bill that it might swing way too far the other way, aka giving it too much of unfettered freedom to go after honest officers. Jan Lokpal Bill says it can take suo motu cognisance of suspicious behaviour or references through CAG reports. There are any number of CAG reports citing procedural violations by Delhi Metro. If these went to the proposed Jan Lokayuta, will they immediately start investigations against someone of unimpeachable integrity like E Sreedharan? On many occasions he has violated government procurement rules by not picking L1 (or the lowest bid). My contention is, without the procedural violations that he did — such as paying a vendor additional money to get the project completed, after a particular commodity's prices rose in the global market, thereby violating a signed contract — the metro could not have been completed under budget, in time, given the convoluted systems of government accountability. Going by the letter and spirit of the Jan Lokpal Bill, it would mean that action should be initiated against Sreedharan! Is this desirable? Thus, the route of seeking permission before initiating proceedings against civil servants must remain to be able to protect the honest or else it would completely kill all initiative and lead to enormous delays in decision-making. So much so that soon we would find that the cost of delays would be as high, as the cost of corruption itself — hardly a desirable outcome.
Second, the Constitution has mandated separation of powers between the various organs of our democracy to keep in place checks and balances, a much-used and even moreabused phrase. Version 4 of the Jan Lokpal bill wants to roll CBI and CVC into one and is against the basic structure of the Constitution. All that a smart Prime Minister needs to do is to insist on including the judiciary within its purview and in all likelihood, the courts themselves would strike it down as being ultra viresof the Constitution.

 

Third, while the composition of the committee to draft the Jan Lokpal Bill has been the matter of debate that is a much smaller issue than whom the Lokpal should eventually be. Imagine a scenario when after careful drafting we have Justice K G Balakrishnan or Justice Y K Sabharwal as the first Lokpal of India. Wouldn't that cause a huge disservice to the nation, for armed with a powerful Lokpal Act, a combination of the clever, the venal and the corrupt can cause even more harm than the dumb and corrupt Lokpal? How many times will Anna go on a hunger fast? Would he do that again and again to ensure videography of proceedings, inclusion and exclusion of the right members and finally for the choice of the right Lokpal?


Fourth, again with the caveat that extraordinary circumstances do call for extraordinary measures like Anna-ism but it still does raise the troubling question what if India suddenly sees a mélange of fasts for various causes? Chandrasekhar Rao has already shown what his fast can do to divide a perfectly good state. What if Syed Ali Shah Geelani goes on fast to demand a separate Kashmir? What if Imam Bukhari goes on a fast demanding a new state for all Muslims within India? Or Jats led by a fasting Tikait, though I suspect they have far more effective means of protest by simply jamming India Gate in thousands, asking for an independent Jatland? Fasting and civil disobedience as a means of protest against a foreign government is one thing but using that as a weapon against an elected government comprising our own is quite something different. Where do the boundaries of direct action in representative democracy lie is a question for which we the people need to search for answers. Unarguably the agents have become principals or masters and the principals who send them to Parliament, have been reduced to helpless bystanders but even then, do such direct action augur well for an elected democracy? Can mobocracy become a substitute for democracy? Ever? Anna and India both can ignore the above questions only at their own peril.


(The author is an IAS officer. Views are personal)

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

COSMIC UPLINK

IT'S OKAY TO BE NICE

VITHAL C NADKARNI


It's one of those moments of cosmic, or comic, serendipity: the voice of the nerd-bird Blu in the animation movie Rio can be traced to Jesse Einsenberg. He played the role of the nerdish founder of Face-Book in the Oscar-nominated movie Social Network. Blu is a happily domesticated macaw who doesn't think it's odd he's never learned to fly. His contentment almost brims over as Blu dips his beak into a mug of steaming hot chocolate and melting marshmallows. The fact that he's the last surviving male macaw of a critically endangered species does not, therefore, seem to make the same kind of impact as the prospect of leaving the urbane delights of snow-bound Minnesota for the steamy chaos of a Brazilian rainforest. In Brazil, Blu is alternately kidnapped, rescued, terrified, and then frankly molested by a series of odd events and odder characters including Nigel, the roguish sulphur-crested cockatoo. The film works as an allegory of an individual's odyssey in the big bad world. Of course, they would be scarcely bearable without loyal friends and staunch allies such as Rafael the wise and peaceful toucan or Pedro, the red-crested cardinal and Nico the canary. That's the really redemptive moral of the story: that survival of the species would be impossible without the loyalty and friendship of nurturing social networks. So, forget the red in tooth and claw view of Nature. Celebrate co-operation and the role it's played in emergence of humanity from ape-like, hominid ancestry: Trick is to find the balance between being nice and being suckered.

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

CITINGS

ON FINANCIAL INNOVATION

JOSH LERNER


Financial innovation has been both praised as the engine of growth of society and castigated for being the source of the weakness of the economy. Financial innovation is defined as the act of creating and then popularising new financial instruments, as well as new financial technologies, institutions and markets.
In this paper, we propose a research agenda to systematically address the social welfare implications of financial innovation. To complement existing empirical and theoretical methods, we propose that scholars examine case studies of systemic (widely adopted) innovations, explicitly considering counterfactual histories had the innovations never been invented or adopted. Economists initially tended to consider financial innovation in the same way that they consider manufacturing innovation. However, financial innovation differs from other types of new product development in several ways: predicting the social consequences of the innovation can be challenging, due to how interconnected the financial system is; the consequences of the innovation may change over time, due to the dynamic nature of the business; and new financial products and services are especially susceptible to regulation.... Several promising approaches for future research include using counterfactual "thought experiments" to explore systemic impacts…

 

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                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

TELECOM PSUS IN NEED OF REVIVAL

 

One can have no quarrel with the contours of the telecom policy that the communications minister, Mr Kapil Sibal, promises to put in place before the end of the year. He has correctly identified several issues, including unified licences, audit of spectrum held by telecom players, reduction in tenure of renewed licenses from 20 years to 10, liberalising norms for mergers and acquisitions, etc. These issues are still ambiguous: for instance, if the licences are only for 10 years, their cost will have to come down, else they will be expensive. The unified licence scheme will be welcome as different circles now have different licences, plus factors like NLD and ILD and a lot of procedural hassles. A single national licence would be more rational. It is to be expected that only national players will finally remain in the picture. Mr Sibal will also simplify M&A procedures. There is some ambiguity on what will happen now to spectrum when two parties merge. How much can the merged entity retain? For example, though Spice Telecom merged with Idea nearly two years back, there are still unresolved issues over the spectrum owned by the merged entity. Mr Sibal will also form a committee to draft the National Spectrum Act. The skilful lawyer that he is, Mr Sibal has cleverly first tackled issues on which there is little opposition from the existing major players. Next is the question of spectrum charge, for which there will be a committee, with backup from the telecom regulator. Another matter requiring the minister's urgent attention is the need to keep an alternative plan ready in case the Supreme Court decides to cancel all 122 licences given by the former communications minister, Mr A. Raja. These licensees were simply hoarding spectrum, and they also caused the government a considerable revenue loss in fees and service charges. Some of them may have had valid reasons, which the court will look into, but most appeared to have been in the business of waiting to resell the licences they secured through political clout or other means. Further, the minister must find ways to encourage the more serious players to remain in the field, but the uncertainty should be reduced. One of the most important issues that Mr Sibal must tackle without further delay is that of local manufacturers of telecom equipment. He will need to find ways to encourage the use of local equipment and give relief if a certain percentage of indigenous equipment is used by the telecom operators. Turning around the existing telecom PSUs and manufacturers like ITI and Telecom Consultants India Ltd will be a major challenge. BSNL suffered losses of `5,000 crores, MTNL `2,800 crores and ITI `360 crores this year, and this affects the livelihood of over three lakh people. Salaries are said to be increasing at the rate of 10 per cent annually, while revenues are falling at the same rate. The wage bill in relation to total revenue in public sector telecom companies like BSNL and MTNL is around 40 per cent, compared to just 3.9 per cent for Bharti Airtel and 4.5 per cent at Reliance Communications. Mr Sibal is new to this portfolio, but there are several people whose experience he can draw on to tackle these difficult problems. BSNL, for instance, has an invaluable underground network, from which it can easily earn revenue of at least `20,000 crores if used rationally. Mr Sibal's predecessor had appeared more interested in almost killing the public sector, and his senior bureaucrats went along with him, leading to the neglect of these companies.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

GANDHIAN GUERRILLA

 

'Twas in truth an hour Of universal ferment; mildest men Were agitated, and commotions, strife Of passion and opinion, filled the walls Of peaceful houses with unquiet sounds. The soil of common life was, at that time, Too hot to tread upon. — William Wordsworth on the French Revolution Last week, the common man in India experienced, perhaps, a bit of the excitement that must have gripped Parisians and provincials alike in revolutionary France as Anna Hazare brought the Congress Party-led coalition government to its knees. Long used to the comforts of power in a system gilded by corruption it has helped entrench in the country and popularise among the political class, the Congress Party, its coalition partners and the Opposition all nervously hope the extant system somehow survives. But the Hazare protest gathered critical mass around the country as young and old, sensing the purity of his motive, mobilised behind the 73-year-old ex-Army havaldar. The initial dismissal of his fast by Kapil Sibal, Union HRD minister, and Abhishek Singhvi, Congress spokesperson, as yet another Jantar Mantar tamasha, turned in short order into abject acceptance of Mr Hazare's terms — an adjustment in sync with the gathering, but entirely unanticipated storm. Congress president Sonia Gandhi apparently weighed the political cost of obduracy against the uncertain outcome of the proposed Jan Lokpal Bill process and opted prudently for the latter. Mr Sibal believed the Hazare phenomenon was a hollow "media creation", but nudged by law minister Veerappa Moily, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh fell in line. The government, however, expects that as co-chair of the joint civil society-government committee drafting the Lokpal Bill, the crafty Union finance minister Pranab Mukherjee will cut a deal that will retain, for those so inclined among the politically privileged and the armies of facilitator bureaucrats, the "perks" of bribe-taking and thievery on the side. All the while, Dr Singh, who has seen at close quarters how the system has been milked by its minders, predictably sidestepped responsibility. Like Herod, he washed his hands off the mess — the umpteenth time he has done this — by mouthing banalities, such as: "(Corruption) is a scourge that confronts us all". By the end of the second day of the fast, it became clear that Mr Hazare was no Right-wing religious stooge as Mr Singhvi had implied and that his personalised fight against omniscient corruption had touched a raw nerve and was fast snowballing into an uncontrollably bad situation for the Congress. But critics questioned the legitimacy of Mr Hazare's tactics, railing against the dangers of lawlessness and disorder inherent in seeking system and course correction outside Parliament. Behind the joyous, optimistic, resolute, but determinedly peaceful movement at Jantar Mantar, it was darkly hinted, hid Jacobin terrors. Such hyperbollicised commentaries missed the obvious. Mr Hazare is a throwback to the genuine Gandhian, to an age when the Mahatma's fasts brought British India to a screeching halt even as the colonial authority fretted impotently. Some 70 years later, the Indian government seems no better equipped to tackle such methods. Mr Hazare's track record of persuading authorities to comply with demands for probity in public life, combined with a guerrilla sensibility — his insistence that all proceedings of the joint committee be videographed was a brilliant move to cut off all avenues of escape and dissimulation by the government — makes him a formidable political protagonist, but not a latter day Indian avatar of Maximillien Robespierre, who, as head of the dreaded Committee for Public Safety, unleashed the Jacobin "Reign of Terror" in France of 1792. Gandhian methods are deeply unsettling to those presiding over the extant order as well as to outsiders who have learned to pull the strings in the main because of their unpredictable consequences. Mr Hazare admitted he had not foreseen the mass appeal of his fast unto death. But it has spawned unease. Liberal sceptics — in some ways the counterpart of the Girondists in the French Revolution — fear that system overhaul induced by pressures from the street would cause ruction and instability, undermine the "democratic" functioning of the state and put the country a step closer to mob rule. Their cry that if Mr Hazare wants change he should contest parliamentary elections, begs the question: How does a reformer get elected without being contaminated by the system and relying on money power and, in any case, as a collective can Parliament sever its moorings and pass laws to banish corrupt practices? The futile four-decade-long wait and that too for an Anti-Corruption Bill with more loopholes than restraints suggests otherwise. The larger question is the one involving philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau's notion that animated the likes of Robespierre of sovereignty resting with the "general will" of the people. Mature democracies have evolved to a point where elected legislatures do reflect such will. In India, once elected, representatives by and large join the ruling class of self-aggrandisers supported by an administrative and legal system that fans their worst instincts. To imagine that the remedies for grave social, economic and political ills afflicting the country will be generated by this lot is to expect too much. In the event, Mr Hazare manifests the "general will" of the people and his promise of future agitations to shame politicians and compel the system to right itself, may be no bad thing. Indeed, his civil society campaign serves as precisely the check and balance that constitutionalists crave against the venality and "grab as grab can" mentality of many of our elected rulers and their minions in the bureaucracy. True, some of his civil society allies may have dubious antecedents, but they are nowhere as critical to realising his agenda as Mr Hazare himself. The enduring impact on the polity of his campaign will depend on how it conditions the attitude of the masses to the imperatives of good governance. At a minimum, the youthful activists will be able to recall in tones mirroring Wordsworth's awe: "Bliss was it in the dawn to be alive, but to be young was very heaven!" * Bharat Karnad is professor at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

REVOLUTION OVER, NOW TIME FOR EVOLUTION

 

When I was in Cairo during the Egyptian uprising, I wanted to change hotels one day to be closer to the action and called the Marriott to see if it had any openings. The young-sounding Egyptian woman who spoke with me from the reservations department offered me a room and then asked: "Do you have a corporate rate?" I said, "I don't know. I work for the New York Times". There was a silence on the phone for a few moments, and then she said: "Can I ask you something?" "Sure." "Are we going to be OK? I'm worried." I made a mental note of that conversation because she sounded like a modern person, the kind of young woman who would have been in Tahrir Square. We're just now beginning to see what may have been gnawing at her — in Egypt and elsewhere. Let's start with the structure of the Arab state. Think about the 1989 democracy wave in Europe. In Europe, virtually every state was like Germany, a homogenous nation, except Yugoslavia. The Arab world is exactly the opposite. There, virtually every state is like Yugoslavia — except Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco. That is to say, in Europe, when the iron fist of communism was removed, the big, largely homogenous states, with traditions of civil society, were able to move relatively quickly and stably to more self-government — except Yugoslavia, a multiethnic, multireligious country that exploded into pieces. In the Arab world, almost all these countries are Yugoslavia-like assemblages of ethnic, religious and tribal groups put together by colonial powers — except Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco, which have big homogeneous majorities. So when you take the lid off these countries, you potentially unleash not civil society but civil war. That is why, for now, the relatively peaceful Arab democracy revolutions are probably over. They have happened in the two countries where they were most able to happen because the whole society in Tunisia and Egypt could pull together as a family and oust the evil "dad" — the dictator. From here forward, we have to hope for "Arab evolutions" or we're going to get Arab civil wars. The states most promising for evolution are Morocco and Jordan, where you have respected kings who, if they choose, could lead gradual transitions to a constitutional monarchy. Syria, Libya, Yemen and Bahrain, countries fractured by tribal, ethnic and religious divisions, would have been ideal for gradual evolution to democracy, but it is probably too late now. The initial instinct of their leaders was to crush demonstrators, and blood has flowed. In these countries, there are now so many pent-up grievances between religious communities and tribes — some of which richly benefited from their dictatorships while others were brutalised by them — that even if the iron fist of authoritarianism is somehow lifted, civil strife could easily trample democratic hopes. Could anything prevent this? Yes, extraordinary leadership that insists on burying the past, not being buried by it. The Arab world desperately needs its versions of South Africa's Nelson Mandela and F.W. de Klerk — giants from opposing communities who rise above tribal or Sunni-Shia hatreds to forge a new social compact. The Arab publics have surprised us in a heroic way. Now we need some Arab leaders to surprise us with bravery and vision. That has been so lacking for so long. Another option is that an outside power comes in, as America did in Iraq, and as the European Union did in eastern Europe, to referee or coach a democratic transition between the distrustful communities in these fractured states. But I don't see anyone signing up for that job. Absent those alternatives, you get what you got. Autocrats in Syria, Yemen, Libya and Bahrain shooting their rebels on the tribal logic of "rule or die". Meaning: either my sect or tribe is in power or I'm dead. The primary ingredient of a democracy — real pluralism where people feel a common destiny, act as citizens and don't believe their minority has to be in power to be safe or to thrive — is in low supply in all these societies. It can emerge, as Iraq shows. But it takes time. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia, which is 90 per cent Sunni and 10 per cent Shia, has made clear that it will oppose any evolution to constitutional monarchy in neighbouring Bahrain, where a Sunni minority rules over a Shia majority. Saudi Arabia has no tradition of pluralism. When we say "democratic reform" to Saudi Arabia or Bahrain, we might as well be speaking Latin. What their rulers hear is "Shias taking over from Sunnis". Not gonna happen peacefully. Even evolution is difficult in Egypt. The Army overseeing the process there just arrested a prominent liberal blogger, Maikel Nabil, for "insulting the military". Make no mistake where my heart lies. I still believe this Arab democracy movement was inevitable, necessary and built on a deep and authentic human quest for freedom, dignity and justice. But without extraordinary leadership, the Arab transitions are going to be much harder than in Eastern Europe. Pray for Germanys. Hope for South Africas. Prepare for Yugoslavia.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

CITIZENS BHUSHAN & BHUSHAN

 

DC Debate: Civil society lowers the bar by sending father & son to the same panel Choice makes panel vulnerable By Santosh Desai The civil society has rendered itself no service in sending a father and son duo — Mr Shanti Bhushan and Mr Prashant Bhushan — to the joint committee established to draft the Lokpal Bill. Although I have no doubt about the credentials and legal expertise of the two, the group leading the Jantar Mantar agitation should have avoided nominating them both. We need to understand that the civil society has made itself vulnerable to criticism from several quarters, including the government, with the inclusion of both together. Over the past few days we have seen that the move has already come under severe attack from some highly influential and articulate people who have tried to raise questions about the credibility of the committee itself. The civil society group was demonstrating against corruption that has been prevalent in the country over the past few decades. And one of the charges made by the activists against the political class was that of nepotism. Instead of including the father-son pair, civil society could have short-listed some other legal luminaries. The country doesn't have a shortage of legal experts. Not having a father-son team together could have saved the protesters from facing awkward questions. Let me again say that the doubt here is not about the legal stature, capability and aptitude of the two legal experts. But there was a definite need to involve more people in the process and to hold a wider discussion on the issue. This would have led to inclusion of more views on the issue of fighting corruption, which is of paramount importance to our country. Sending a father-son duo to the same committee leaves the civil society vulnerable to the charge that the group, which is spearheading the movement, is confined to a few people. We are given a sense that this small group controls every decision or move that is being made on such an important issue. In fact, an impression is created that decision-making is confined to those who were demonstrating at Jantar Mantar. What is, in fact, true is that the issues raised are of vital concern to a very large constituency. Hence, the need for wider consultation and inclusion from amongst a vast array of civil society groups, rather than confining the matter to a privileged few. (As told to Nitin Mahajan) * Santosh Desai, social commentator * * * It's a service, not a privilege By Anand Kumar To fight the menace of corruption we need legal expertise as well as the courage of conviction. Mr Shanti Bhushan is a legal stalwart who has been constantly engaged in fighting the corruption of the high and mighty since the days of the Jayaprakash Narayan movement. His role in the case against Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and various high-profile people in India, including bureaucrats and corporates, is one of the most inspiring examples of legal activism. He has also served the country as a member of Parliament and Union law minister. On the other hand, when we look at his son Mr Prashant Bhushan, the latter emerges as a person who is second to none in the legal community. He, too, combines legal expertise and activism. Mr Prashant Bhushan has been a trouble-shooter not only for civil society groups but also the Press Council of India and the Supreme Court who have utilised his services for drafting several laws and rules. Mr Prashant Bhushan was also one of the leading figures in the fight for the Right to Information Act. Since his engagement with the People's Union for Civil Liberties, he is trusted by the entire community fighting against corruption. The civil society has been depending on him for the past two decades, and he has honoured their trust despite heavy odds. Thus, in individual terms, both these legal luminaries are most suitable to represent the civil society in the historic partnership between a democratic government and a disenchanted voting community. Let us now consider the charge of nepotism. Nepotism has been one of the main causes of corruption in the country. In a situation of sharing of power and privilege, it must be avoided. However, in the matter of facing risks and challenges, the issue has to be seen in a different light. Serving on the joint committee to draft the Lokpal Bill is not an opportunity to wield power and enjoy privileges. Being on the committee involves getting targeted by the nexus of corrupt politicians, unethical corporate groups, power- peddling media icons, and corruptible bureaucrats. Therefore, we have to recognise the father-son duo as harking back to our freedom struggle when fathers encouraged their sons and daughters to join the struggle against the British and fulfil their duty towards the country. * Anand Kumar, professor of sociology, Jawaharlal Nehru University

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

THE POWER OF YAGAS

 

Athirathram, which is now being held with much fanfare in Thrissur, Kerala, is the most splendid of all yagas. It is perhaps the most ancient and most powerful ritual in the Indian tradition. Every Namboothiri family in Kerala is supposed to perform a yaga representing their generation. But Athirathram is not one such yaga. Only those who can afford need to perform this yagna since it is complex and requires much preparation. The rites of an ordinary yaga get completed in six days, whereas those related to Athirathram lasts for 12 days. In the yajnjasala, a floor known as chithi is prepared to conduct homas. The observance karmas in Athirathram are Kriyarambham (the beginning rite), Somakrayam, Vedeekaranam, Agnishomeeyam, Sathyam and Avabhruthasnanam. Selected verses from Rig Veda are chanted while performing Athirathram. In the ancient days, Athirathram required "vapa" (fat) of the cow. However, in modern times, animal sacrifice is avoided. Iron is a taboo in all yagas and in Athirathram too. Vessels of earth or wood are used. These vessels are made in the shape of tortoise or chameleon. Athirathram requires yajamanan (the one conducting yaga), his wife, 17 rithwiks and their assistants. The presence of yajamanan, his wife and one of the rithwiks is essential for all karmas. The yagam begins with the invoking of Threthagni (holy fire) brought from the home of yajamanan. It is then taken to the yajnjasala. Some of the rites performed there are Varana, Deeksha, Praayaneeya, Somakrayam, Aathithyam, Pravargyam, Upasatha, Vedeekaranam, Somahuti, Saamasthuti and Rigvedasasthram. The construction of the chithi is to be completed in five days while chanting mantras from Yajurveda. Hymns from Samaveda is also required. The presence of black and white horses, offerings of holy objects in the fire, and vigorous chanting of powerful mantras give Athirathram an awesome appearance. The chief performer keeps his fingers folded all the first nine days. During these days, he is denied rice food, salt and tamarind. At the end of the Athirathram, the yajamanan is crowned as Akkithiri, a highly honourable title. It is believed that the performance of Athirathram purifies the environment and fills the atmosphere with immense quantity of positive energy. Scientists from the West are usually in attendance at the yaga precincts to measure its effect on the environment. It is indeed a spiritual purging of the earth — of its malaises and impurities, evils and imbalances. It is a humble yet effective venture to restore the worth and values of our rishi tradition. Yadyadaacharathi sreshtasthatha devetharo jana Sa yal pramaanam kuruthe lokasthadanu varthathe (What the noble man practices, others follow suit. What he takes for a dictum, the world accepts it.) This verse in the Bhagvad Gita is true for Athirathram also. This yaga is conducted for the benefit of the entire world and never for the wellbeing of an individual or a sect of people. It is very important that Athirathram is being performed at this juncture when the world is surging with materialism and people are suffering from stress and tension and are lacking peace of mind. This yaga is a ritual representation of the core Indian thought: "Loka samastha sukhinao bhavanthu" (let the whole world enjoy wellness and prosperity). — Dr Venganoor Balakrishnan is the author of Thaliyola, a book on Hindu beliefs and rituals. He has also written books on the Vedas and Upanishads. The author can be reached at drvenganoor@yahoo.co.in

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

LEND A HAND, MORALLY

 

Different people follow different types of protests to rid themselves of their miseries from the tyranny of self-appointed dictators. But in most such struggles the victims of oppression expect at least sympathy and moral support from all those who believe in the values of democracy. However, our sensitivities about America's intervention in other countries seems to have blinded us to the cause of human rights in countries like Libya. India takes pride in claiming to be the largest democracy in the world and it is in an altogether different position than Russia and China who may have their reasons for not extending support to Libya's fighters. It is important to remind ourselves of some of these reasons instead of blindly pursuing an anti-US stand in international developments. It will be presumptuous on the part of proponents of the "hands off policy" in Libya to conclude that a few reverses suffered by the protesters indicate a collapse of the Libyan people's revolution, and that supporting the failing side even morally is not a prudent step for India. But what counts more in these revolts is the spirit of the people and their readiness to sacrifice their lives for achieving their own liberation and liberation for their successive generations. India cannot appear to be indifferent to the aspirations of the victims of tyranny in Libya. Some critics of the policy of support to the UN resolutions have expressed the view that the Arabs may not have the same zeal for freedom as people in some other countries. There can be nothing more erroneous than this conclusion. The Arabs have already demonstrated in half-a-dozen states that they are willing to face any hardships to achieve their legitimate rights as in a genuine democracy. It would be quite unfair to the Arabs to condemn them as lacking full faith in democracy or to conclude that they can be easily suppressed by the tyrants of the deserts who usurped power to rule over them. What's going on in the streets of Libya now is a totally unequal fight. It is in this context that the UN resolution on the "no-fly zone" over Libya is crucial. We in India may not always agree with the stand taken by various presidents of the US on international issues, but even President Mr Barack Obama's sharpest critics cannot but admire the courage he has shown to stand up boldly against the tyrant in Tripoli and provide the moral lead to other leaders in the world who agree with him on the basic issue of saving people from being slaughtered. Mr Obama announced a few days ago in plain language that "some nations might be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries", but "the US is different and as President I refuse to wait for the images of slaughter and mass graves before taking action". How unequal are the two sides? According to reliable statistics, Col. Muammar el-Gaddafi's Air Force is 18,000 strong with 13 bases. Also, he has quite a large number of Russian attack helicopters and transport aircraft. Without effective enforcement of the no-fly zone and allied aerial attacks as found necessary, the rebels will be unable to continue their march to Tripoli or to protect their hold on the Cyrenaican region. This region is very important as it's the main source of oil revenues for Libya and if Col. Gaddafi regains control over Cyrenaica it will be a major blow to the cause of democracy for the Libyan people. This time the US has very wisely left the leadership of the Libyan operations with the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) and therefore implementation of the UN resolutions is mainly a Nato-led effort rather than a US-led one. There has been a genuine fear among some supporters of non-intervention that the no-fly zone or airstrikes by the allies against the mercenary forces of Col. Gaddafi will trigger off escalation in the international price of oil and it would be inadvisable to invite such a crisis now when the Western world is just recovering from one of the severest economic crises. However, this apprehension is quite unjustifiable. Today's oil market has plenty of buffer and it is reported that technically Saudi Arabia alone has the capacity to replace Libya as supplier of oil in the international market. If we in India love our democratic way of life, in spite of various distortions in its implementation by us, we must develop a sympathetic attitude to the aspirations of the people in West Asia to end savagery. It would be difficult to justify our commitment to our own democratic values if we have no sympathy to such values in other places. Nobody is demanding that Indian soldiers fight side by side with the protesters or that they should force a change of regime on the Western models; these should be done by the Libyan themselves. However, we should not hesitate to express our sympathy and moral support to the people of Libya who had suffered so much for so long if we are genuinely committed to the values respected by all democratic nations. * P.C. Alexander is a former governor of Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

WHO WILL BE CM?

UDF, LDF KEEP VOTERS GUESSING


Neither the Congress-led United Democratic Front nor the CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front in Kerala has named its candidate for chief minister in the event of victory. The obvious UDF choice is former Congress chief minister Oommen Chandy, but the possibility of getting implicated in the two decades-old palmolein case, which has already claimed Central Vigilance Commissioner PJ Thomas, is hanging over his head like Damocles' sword. Chandy was finance minister in the UDF government headed by the late K Karunakaran which imported palm oil from Malaysia at an inflated price, and investigation is still on. Chandy did not want to contest the Assembly election this time but was coaxed into accepting the party nomination. He is being opposed by Suja Susan George of the CPI-M in Puthupally, a constituency that has returned Chandy for the last 10 consecutive terms with thumping majorities. Waiting in the wings to step in if Chandy is named an accused in the palmolein case is the KPCC president Ramesh Chennithala, who managed to secure nomination for a safe Congress seat in Alappuzha district.


As far as the LDF is concerned, the national leadership of the CPI-M wanted Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, a Politburo member and Home Minister in the Achuthanandan cabinet, to be projected as chief ministerial candidate. Finding that he lacks the halo and charisma of Achuthanandan, the party asked the Chief Minister to lead the LDF electoral battle on the understanding that he would not stake claim to a second term. The veteran is contesting again from Malampuzha and is being opposed by Lathika Subash of the Congress. Though fit as a fiddle and active, Achuthanandan is already 87 and is keen on retiring from active politics.
The convention of naming leaders before the polls gives people an opportunity to know who is going to rule them for the next five years. In mature democracies, a complete prospective cabinet is announced before the election. The inability of both Fronts to name their respective leaders is an indication of nervousness in the two camps.

 

DUMB CHARADES

ISI SEEKS US PERSONNEL CUT

AT a recent meeting with CIA director Mr Leon Panetta and Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Pakistan's Intelligence chief Lt-Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha is reported to have sought a drastic cut in the number of CIA and US operatives working in his country. The New York Times, quoting Pakistani officials, reported that as many as 335 American personnel ~ CIA agents, contractors and special  forces men ~ had been asked to leave the country. The timing of the spy chief's request is crucial. It comes shortly after the USA, in a rare public admonition, described Pakistan's efforts to contain terrorism as disappointing. It also comes against the backdrop of sensational assassinations ~ over and above continued militancy ~ which saw the elected government in Islamabad foundering, right-wing fanatics gaining ground and a growing disquiet over the Pakistani army's uncharacteristic passivity which historians have come to regard as precursor to a coup. But most importantly, Lt-Gen Pasha's demand comes at a time when the Obama administration is locked in a bitter debt debate with Republicans who control the House of Representatives and are refusing to raise the limit of the loan the US treasury can obtain to keep the country's economy afloat. Mr Barack Obama has already promised a $38-billion cut but the Republicans want more. And, in the event expenses are pared seriously, overseas commitments, especially those dedicated to intiatives already acknowledged as "disappointing", will be among the first to suffer.

ISI ~ the spy agency that Lt-Gen Pasha heads ~ knows this. It had been likely looking for an opportunity to hit back after the arrest of CIA agent Raymond Travis in Pakistan and subsequent revelations about his brief to infiltrate terrorist organisations generally known to depend on ISI and army munificence for their existence. As Republicans kept tightening the purse strings after taking control of the House of Representatives, the US administration may well have thought a bit of fact-finding was in order given that it granted Pakistan $1 billion a year to curb terrorism without any results in sight. Did Mr Travis dig too deep for the ISI's comfort? Otherwise, there is no reason why Pakistan army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, via Lt-Gen Pasha, would specifically ask for a 25-40 per cent reduction in the number of US special operations troops, most of whom are training Paramilitary Frontier Corps in areas bordering Afghanistan, home to Al Qaida and Taliban militants. While the charade may be ending, and couldn't have happened at a better time for a cash-strapped USA, where does it leave the elected government of Pakistan?

 

GOA TURBULENCE

A LAYMAN'S QUESTION

AVIATION experts have cause to quibble over the Directorate General for Civil Aviation's attempt to crack the whip on pilots and four airlines for operating at Dabolim airport when some of the landing aids were not available as they were under maintenance. Is it mandatory for the Precision Approach Path Indicator (PAPI) to be functional at all times at all airports used by commercial jets of the Boeing 737/Airbus A-320 class? Are "blind", or more accurately "visual" landings totally prohibited? And don't technical terms like "Notam" (notice to airmen), "advisory", "warning", "directive" or "curfew" have a difference in terms of grade or severity ~ the head of the DGCA seems to think they are inter-changeable. While technically it is the pilots who committed the violations ~ if any ~ why were they singled out for the first lashes while the airlines for whom they operate are merely being issued notices. At this point in time there is little reason to be impressed by the Indian Commercial Pilots Association directing its members not to fly to Goa till 30 April ~ that is more likely to be rooted in its "trade union" activity rather than concern for safety. A professional evaluation of all these factors is critical to determining the degree to which flight safety has been compromised, or whether there is some playing to the gallery ~ the DGCA would be keen to divert attention away from the fake pilots it has licensed.


The layman ~ the paying passenger ~ has just one simple query: if Dabolim was unsafe when PAPI etc were unavailable, why was the airport not closed to commercial traffic? After all flights operate as per the instructions of Air Traffic Control, it is not as though they take off or land as per a pilot's whim. So, if "the tower" did allow the take-offs/landings the airport was functional. Whether it is the Navy or the DGCA, who controls Dabolim is immaterial. What matters is why the airport was not shut down when presumably it was risky. Regrettably the passenger will get no satisfactory answer, only his lack of faith in the DGCA's competence will be reinforced. Replacing Praful Patel with Vayalar Ravi has had less than cosmetic effect ~ Rajiv Gandhi Bhawan requires comprehensive overhaul, a highly technical sector must be "regulated" by professionals not babus.

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THE STATESMAN

ARTICLE

AMENDED CONSTITUTION

AND THE DECLINING POWERS OF THE PRESIDENT

BY NIRMALENDU BIKASH RAKSHIT


IN his article on 23 January, Rajinder Puri rightly pointed out that the country's political masters  have, very unwisely, introduced two constitutional amendments, designed to curtail the powers of the President. The 42nd and 44th amendments have reduced him to a mere rubber stamp of the Cabinet, grossly repudiating the intention of  those who framed the Constitution.


Unlike in America, we have adopted the office of a titular President. Those who framed the Constitution were familiar with Britain's monarchist system. But instead of creating the office of King, they provided for a President without accepting America's presidential model. Dr BR Ambedkar, the chief architect of the Constitution, told the constituent assembly that though India has, like America, made the President the Head of State, 'there is nothing common between the system that is prevalent in America and that proposed by the draft Constitution.' In his reckoning, ours is a parliamentary system and, hence, the Cabinet would exercise real powers. 'Our President will occupy the same position as the King under the British constitution.'
There is, of course, a measure of flexibility in our Constitution for the occasional expansion of the President's powers. There are, in fact, certain provisions which, in normal times, help the Prime Minister to become the decision-maker. Yet there is also scope for presidential intervention in the wake of a crisis. In a Constitution as flexible as ours, much depends on the personal equation and the political situation.


The Constitution is not wholly modelled on  the British system. Some provisions have been incorporated from the American Constitution as well. For example, Article 86(1) empowers the President to send his message to Parliament. Obviously, this provision enables him to legally persuade the legislators to give a second thought on a certain matter raised by the Cabinet. Dr VD Mahajan has remarked that our Constitution envisages a 'parliamentary-cum-presidential' system.


Moreover, there are certain Emergency provisions (Article 352, Article 356 and Article 360), quite similar to the Articles incorporated in the Weimar Constitution of Germany. And it bears recall that Adolf Hitler became the dictator in 1933 on the strength of these Articles. Clearly, we have borrowed different provisions from different sources and the Constitution is primarily a conglomeration of the British, American and German systems (Dr SC Dash, The Constitution of India).


Dr Rajendra Prasad, the first President, had a clear grasp over his powers and functions. No wonder he once claimed that he was not a mere puppet-ruler. But, Nehru, the Prime Minister, thought differently and didn't always agree with the President. In particular, Nehru disapproved of Dr Prasad washing the feet of  pandits in Varanasi, his presence at the funeral of Sardar Patel, and his visit to the Somnath temple. That rift widened with the resignation of General Thimaya, the introduction of the Hindu Code Bill and the imposition of President's rule in Kerala in 1959.  In November 1960, Dr Prasad told the Indian Law Institute that in equating the President with the British monarch, our Constitution had been wrongly interpreted. The statement annoyed Nehru who immediately sought the opinion of MC Setalvad, the Attorney-General, in order to strengthen his own position. At this juncture, he even decided to bid farewell to Dr Prasad after the expiry of his term. He had tentatively decided that Dr Radhakrishnan would be the next President. It was Maulana Azad who had earlier persuaded Nehru to grant Dr Prasad a second term. But when, in 1962, Dr Prasad sought another term, Nehru did not budge and promptly nominated Dr Radhakrishnan. The Prime Minister thought that the distinguished philosopher-President would be immersed in his books and would merely sign on the dotted line. But he was disillusioned as Dr Radhakrishnan was not willing to accept a  docile role. He was extremely upset over the ineptitude of the government in the face of  the Chinese aggression in 1962. Indeed, he wanted to dismiss Nehru (CL Datta, With Two Presidents).


Dr Radhakrishnan even criticised the government for 'corruption, inability and mismanagement' during his Republic Day speech in 1964. He also failed to get on with Indira Gandhi. He was graciously eased out at the end of his first term.


In 1967, Zakir Husain was appointed as President. He was a passive Head of State and had a fair chance to remain in office for a long time. But his sudden death in 1969 offered an opportunity to Indira Gandhi to choose VV Giri. Though the new incumbent was a personal choice of the Prime Minister, the rift soon appeared and he too had to leave after the end of his first term.


It was increasingly felt that a constitutional amendment was necessary in order to reduce the President to a passive functionary. The 42nd amendment brought about a major change in Article 74(1) which in the original form read, 'There shall be a council of ministers with the Prime Minister at the head to aid and advise the President in the discharge of his functions.'


It is clear that while the provision had mentioned that it was the duty of the Cabinet to aid and advise the President, it did not expressly lay down that the latter would be bound to act upon the ministerial advice. The reason is that the founding fathers intended to retain a degree of flexibility. They thought that the President would, normally, abide by such advice, but in the event of a grave crisis, he should have the opportunity to act differently in the greater interests of the nation.


The 42nd amendment of 1976 re-wrote the Article to mean that the President would always be legally bound to act upon such advice. The 44th amendment added a proviso to it in 1978. It stated that in case of a difference of opinion with the Cabinet, the President might once ask it to re-consider its advice, but he must acquiesce in it if the Cabinet stuck to its stand. Thus, these amendments sought to downgrade the status of the President, though this was not actually contemplated by the framers of the Constitution. Such amendments are totally ill-conceived and  ineffective because an exalted functionary can hardly be subjugated by such a written arrangement.


Article 74(1) legally asks him to accept the Cabinet's advice; but if such advice is illegal, unrealistic, capricious and puerile, then it cannot be expected that a sensible and prudent President would abide by it. Moreover, it makes Article 143 superfluos and, even, meaningless. Under this Article, the President can seek the advice of the Supreme Court on any matter 'of law'. But he is not bound to accept it for his own reasons. The most damaging feature of this change is often overlooked. The original Constitution envisaged that he would act as the Cabinet's friend, philosopher and guide and, hence, could rectify its errors. But now, he is almost a captive head with ornamental majesty.


Of course,  under Article 60 he is bound by oath to 'preserve, protect and defend the Constitution and the law' and to ensure 'the well-being of the people'. Therefore, he has a moral duty to resist an alleged attempt of the Cabinet to subvert the Constitution, the law and the well-being of the masses. The fact is that Article 74(1) has been amended, and it may not be easy for the President of India to be suitably assertive.
The writer is former Reader, New Alipore College, Kolkata

 

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THE STATESMAN

ARTICLE

NOT A PRETTY PICTURE

THE WEST BENGAL FINANCE MINISTER INSISTS THAT THE STATE MUST NOT BE DESCRIBED AS BANKRUPT BECAUSE THE CENTRE AS WELL AS UTTAR PRADESH AND MAHARASHTRA HAVE A FAR WORSE RECORD OF FISCAL MANAGEMENT. BUT FACTS TELL ANOTHER STORY, WRITES BISWADEB CHATTERJEE

During his election campaign at Khardah constituency for the forthcoming Assembly election, Mr Asim Dasgupta, the finance minister of West Bengal for 24 years, demanded of the media that if the Central government, with a public debt of Rs 39 lakh crore and states like Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra with public debt of more than Rs 2 lakh crore each are not tagged bankrupt, how did West Bengal qualify for the dubious distinction?
It is ironic that Mr Dasgupta should take umbrage with the description despite public borrowing having assumed gargantuan proportions during his tenure. As far as the Central government is concerned, the debt-to-GDP ratio stands at more than 60 per cent while it is 26.2 per cent for Maharashtra, 45.0 per cent for Uttar Pradesh and 49.4 per cent for West Bengal though both Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra are bigger than West Bengal in terms of size and population. In fact, among the states, West Bengal has the highest debt-to-GDP ratio as the average state index is 26.6 per cent. This is because West Bengal's rate of growth of borrowing outstrips its state domestic product. In case of the Central government, the story is a little different as a significant portion of its borrowing goes to the states in different forms to meet both their Plan and non-Plan needs. In keeping with the provisions of the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management Act, which imposes limits on fiscal and revenue deficit, the Centre has been waiving since 2003-04 substantial portion of the states' loan so that they could reduce fiscal deficit. The FRBM Act of 2003 requires a reduction of fiscal deficit by 0.3 per cent of GDP every year.

But Mr Dasgupta did not take advantage of the FRBM Act and kept on incurring huge unproductive expenditure. One may well ask what has West Bengal accomplished with the funds that it kept borrowing given its dismal showing in the socio-economic sector, especially with regard to primary education and health care. For one thing, Bengal has always had a very small Plan outlay. While it stood at Rs 17,985 crore for the just-concluded fiscal of 2010-11, it was Rs 42,000 crore for Uttar Pradesh and Rs 37,916 crore for Maharashtra over the same period. And, in that outlay, Bengal's capital expenditure was Rs 11,789 crore while for Uttar Pradesh, it was Rs 29,683 crore and for Maharashtra, Rs 21,801 crore. With Bengal's capital expenditure trailing that of the two states Professor Dasgupta referred to by miles, no wonder the state is lagging so much behind in terms of infrastructure development. In fact, Bengal's committed expenditure on interest payments and administration, including salary and pension, claimed as much as 103.0 per cent of its revenue during 2010-11. For Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra, the share was 63.8 per cent and 45.3 per cent, respectively. Of that 103.0 per cent for West Bengal, 59.6 per cent went towards debt servicing followed by 26.6 per cent towards pension payment and 16.8 per cent towards salary commitments. These committed expenditures claimed 40 per cent of the revenue expenditure of West Bengal as against 33 per cent for Uttar Pradesh and 32 per cent for Maharashtra.

West Bengal has been suffering from a growing mismatch between meeting committed expenditures and earned revenue. As per the last fiscal's budget estimate, the state could mobilise Rs 35,214 crore as tax revenue which puts its contribution to the national kitty at 5.6 per cent. At the same time, Uttar Pradesh contributed 12.4 per cent and Maharashtra 11.8 per cent. While West Bengal could garner only Rs 20,008 crore from its own taxes, Uttar Pradesh could collect Rs 42,306 crore and Maharashtra collect Rs 63,838 crore. In respect of non-tax revenue, West Bengal contributed 4.3 per cent at the national level compared with 11.8 per cent for Uttar Pradesh and 7.8 per cent for Maharashtra. From the state-level non-tax revenue sources, while West Bengal could collect Rs 3,518 crore, Uttar Pradesh generated Rs 14, 985 crore and Maharashtra Rs 10, 885 crore. But even then, West Bengal got the larger share of Central taxes and received larger devolution and transfer of other resources from the Centre when compared with Maharashtra, thanks to its underdevelopment. In fact, West Bengal has always enjoyed more Central funds than Maharashtra in the form of grants, special grants and interest-free loans from finance commissions. For example, the per capita transfer from the Centre, as recommended by the 10th to the 13th Finance Commission, to West Bengal has increased from Rs 440 to Rs 2,973 as against a similar rise of Rs 1,873 from Rs 347 for Maharashtra. This refutes Prof. Dasgupta's customary allegation that the Centre discriminates against West Bengal while providing financial assistance. Almost all Left leaders harp on the "step-motherly attitude" of the Centre to explain Bengal's underdevelopment.

Paucity of funds and mismanagement of whatever little had been made available have pushed West Bengal behind many states in respect of infrastructure ~ both physical and social. The Educational Development Index (EDI) rankings for all 35 states and Union Territories for 2005-06, prepared by the National University of Educational Planning and Administration for the human resource ministry on the basis of 20 indicators relating to four broad aspects of infrastructure, educators, access and outcome, put West Bengal at the 32nd position, just ahead of Arunachal Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand. For 2006-07, West Bengal ranked 33rd, ahead of Bihar and Jharkhand. While Bengal slipped, both Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh improved their respective rankings from 12th to 10th and from 31st to 26th over the same period. As for health infrastructure in the state, 28 per cent of primary health centres and more than 58 per cent of government hospitals are not to be found within a distance of 10 km in the rural areas.

As per official estimates, poverty reduction has been substantial in the state but hasn't exactly marked the best showing among states in the past three decades. When Mr Jyoti Basu relinquished the chief minister's office in 2000, 23 years after the Left Front first came to power in 1977, he said that his greatest achievement had been to reduce the state's poverty ratio by half, from 52 per cent to 26 per cent during the hitherto Left Front rule. But as per a 1973-74 estimate, poverty ratio in the state during the period in consideration was 63.4 per cent. This suggests that in the five years that the Congress ruled Bengal till 1977-78, poverty declined in the state by more than 10 per cent. Moreover, the latest estimate for 2004-05 shows that the state's poverty ratio stood at 24.7 per cent. It means that during the five-year period since 1999-2000, it shrank by only 1.3 per cent. During the same period, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh posted more than 15 per cent shrinkage. The Planning Commission compared poverty reduction by states for periods between 1987-88 and 1993-94 and between 1993-94 and 1999-2000 to reveal that while West Bengal, among major states, achieved the largest shrinkage (9.0 per cent) during the first period assessed, its shrinkage of 8.7 per cent during the second period assessed put it behind as many as 10 other states.

In a federal set-up that India has, it is quite impossible for a state to go bankrupt. In effect, Bengal had to depend on ways and means advances and overdrafts from the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) for 172 days in 2010-11 till 18 March, 2011 while Maharashtra took no such favour and Uttar Pradesh availed of this facility ~ extended by the RBI to states banking with it to help them tide over temporary mismatches in the cash flow of their receipts and payments ~ for just four days in the last fiscal. Clearly, Mr Dasgupta hadn't checked his facts before defending his fiscal governance of Bengal.


The writer is Associate Professor of Economics, Durgapur Government College

 

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THE STATESMAN

ARTICLE

THE BRIDEGROOM ON A BUS

NOW & AGAIN

NIRUPOM SOM


More than five decades ago, I was posted in undivided 24-Parganas as an additional superintendent of police. While serving there, I was required to probe charges of misconduct against a sub-inspector (SI) allegedly committed by him while posted as the officer-in-charge (O-C) of the Swarupnagar police station (PS). On perusal of related files, I realised that the inquiry would have to conducted at Swarupnagar as all witnesses resided there. At that time, there was no railway connection to Swarupnagar nor had the Ichhamati running between Bashirhat and Swarupnagar been bridged. As such, after fixing the dates of inquiry, I reached Bashirhat by road and spent the night at a bungalow there with plans to go to Swarupnagar by bus after crossing the Ichhamati in a boat. I reached Swarupnagar the next morning in a public bus after a 40 or 50-minute drive. After recording the deposition of all witnesses who had turned up, I returned to Bashirhat by catching a bus that left Swarupnagar at 6.30 p.m. The next day, I hoped to wrap it up  in time for the 6.30 p.m bus but was held up as the SI under probe subjected the last witness to a prolonged cross-examination. The bus stop was opposite to the PS and the driver and passengers were getting impatient. The O-C kept urging me to complete the inquiry as soon as possible or to adjourn it for another day. Fortunately, the SI completed his cross-examination and I was free to go.

 

In public buses plying in rural areas, the prized seat is the one to the left of the driver and government officials and other dignitaries, as it were, usually occupy it. But as I got in, I saw a short, dark youth in his early twenties with a garland of hibiscus around his neck and sandal paste dots on his forehead occupying that seat. The driver and a few passengers immediately asked the young man to vacate it for me. At the same time, a middle-aged man holding a topor ~ a pith headgear sported by Bengali bridegrooms on their wedding day ~ inched towards the front mumbling that he would find the young fellow a rear seat. I urged all to quieten down and asked the man holding the topor who the bedecked young fellow was. "My son," came the reply with a broad grin accompanying it. "He is getting married in Basirhat this evening." I told the father that his son, undoubtedly, was the most important passenger that day and had every right to keep sitting where he was. At this point, the bus driver said: "Sir, I think the seat can accommodate two. It's a short journey so if you could please squeeze in…." I obliged and took a close look at the bridegroom for the first time. He was wearing a dhuti and a white shirt ~ washed but not pressed, blue socks and laced shoes and was redolent of some inexpensive perfume. The garland of hibiscus around his neck was likely making him uncomfortable and so he was fidgety, sweat already having smudged the sandal dots on his forehead. To put him at ease, I asked if he had seen the young woman he was going to marry that evening. He gave me a look of incomprehension ~ as if the mere suggestion was unthinkable. I gave up trying to strike up a conversation with him and turned to his father who was sitting nearby. I asked the older man why his son was wearing a garland of hibiscus flowers on his wedding day. "Sir, white flowers don't bloom in our village at this time of the year. But since his mother insisted that he wear a garland before setting out, we gathered whatever we could from my garden and that of my neighbours. Since almost everyone grows hibiscus locally for offering to home shrines, it was easy. But I plan to purchase my son a garland of white flowers on reaching Bashirhat."


At Bashirhat, a welcome team from the bride's family was waiting. The bridegroom's father invited me to attend the marriage but I declined, saying it would likely cause unnecessary worries to the bride's father. While bidding farewell to the bridegroom's father, I wished him well and shook hands with him. The bridegroom then came up to me wearing a shy smile on his lips for the first time and bent down to touch my feet. I pulled him up and held him close. The hibiscus was no longer non-descript on him.

 

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THE STATESMAN

AN IDEAL TRAINER

SANKAR SEN

Most of police training institutions across the country today are in a poor state. Besides inadequacies of infrastructural facilities, they have become dumping grounds for inefficient and often discredited officers and men who command little respect from the trainees. Many of them, instead of motivating the trainees, spread the message of frustration and cynicism. However, there are some refreshing exceptions ~ some titans among the minnows. One such was EL Stracey, who was the deputy commandant of the Central Police Training College, (CPTC) Mount Abu, where we had undergone our police training after joining the Indian Police Service.
CPTC was a makeshift institution hurriedly set up after Independence. Training facilities were inadequate, if not poor. In the training curriculum, there was overemphasis on drill, parade, horse riding and physical exercises. To many probationers, CPTC was indeed an acronym for Constant Physical Torture College. Many of the trainers in both indoor and outdoor sections were inadequately equipped to train IPS officers and many suffered from various limitations and complexes.

But one person, who stood tall and commanded respect and awe, was Stracey, an IPS officer of the Tamil Nadu cadre. Smart, handsome and ramrod-straight, Stracey was an inspiring model; one of those ideal trainers, who took joy in imparting training to the budding leaders of the Indian Police Service. He took this training assignment with almost a missionary zeal and imparted to it some rare grace and flavour.

Stracey was a stickler for correct etiquettes and manners and took great pains in teaching the raw probationers how to hold forks and knives correctly at the dinner table, how to greet a woman and how to salute smartly in uniform. We used to call EL Stracey "Etiquette Loving Stracey". He could be stiff and blunt at times but always sought to inculcate among the probationers officerlike qualities. He had an eagle eye and was quick to detect the lapses of probationers at the parade ground and malapropisms in the classroom. He would teach us how to salute properly and how to conduct ourselves befittingly on and off the parade ground. Socks not matching the shoes and trousers, hastily shaven cheeks and loose tie knots never escaped his eyes. We learned from him many a social grace and nicety. Though punctilious, he was never a heartless martinet. Behind the apparently-tough exterior, there was warmth and concern for the wellbeing of the trainees. Once he noticed that one of the probationers was lowering his head too much while taking soup. He advised him not to do so and humorously added that horses did that.

He used to take classes on police administration. He was not very sound on the rules and procedures of police manuals or sections of the Indian Penal Code but clear on fundamental ethical issues concerning policing. He always emphasised that short-cut, extra-legal methods were impermissible and counterproductive and sullied the image of police thereby hampering good and efficient policing. After nearly four decades, when I had the privilege to join as the director of the National Police Academy in Hyderabad, Stracey became my role model.
At the entrance of the National Police Academy's office building on the black piece of marble the following lines are inscribed: "Michelangelo was once asked, 'How do you produce statues that are so full of life?' Michelangelo said: 'It is just a matter of extracting them. The rough marble already contains the statue.' There is already a fine officer in you. Help us to chisel it."

Whenever, my eyes fall on those lines inscribed on marble, I think of Stracey. We heard from Stracey the vicissitudes of his service career and the sea of troubles he faced for not being a pliant officer. But ultimately, he made the Director General of Police, Tamil Nadu. In Odd Man Out in Indian Police, Stracey traced the high and low watermarks in his service career and the difficulties he encountered for crossing swords with politicians. And, he narrated all this without any rancour.

So far work is concerned he would not spare anyone. But streaks of sadism and vindictiveness, which we have witnessed in many senior officers, were conspicuously absent in him. He would tick off not not only the probationers but also the instructional staff and even the senior officers coming for training in advance courses. He once pulled up a senior officer who later became a Member of Parliament for coming late as a player in the cricket field which he said had set a bad example for junior officers. He would also chastise senior outdoor trainers for using swear words in the parade ground. However, he also made it clear that IPS probationers would have to follow the discipline of the parade ground and unquestioningly obey the directions of the field trainers. Once admonishing some errant probationers, he said that sometimes one needed to be cruel in order to be kind. Firmness and fairness should go side by side, he said.

Our training in Mount Abu also included a programme of Bharat Darshan to enable us to catch fleeting glimpses of the different parts of the country and understand its bewildering diversities and the underlying thread of unity. Our Bharat Darshan program involved a visit to Delhi and a meeting with home minister Pandit Govind Bhallabh Pant. A stalwart of the freedom struggle, Pant was a venerable and powerful leader, enjoying a position only second to Nehru in the Central government at that time. During our interactive session, Pantji, with shaking hands (a consequence of blows received in police lathicharge during the British rule) expounded on the new role of police in Independent India. In course of the discussion, Stracey pointed out how political masters wanted quick results against crime and criminals, indirectly pressuring police to adopt short-cut and quick-fix methods. Pantji misunderstood Stracey and upbraided him, calling him an officer of the old school. The meeting ended on a sour note. We came out sadder but not wiser.

Nearly 20 years later, when I was serving as a deputy inspector-general of police (Western Range) in Rourkela, I received a letter from MIS Iyer, the then deputy director of the National Police Academy mentioning that Stracey's sword would be displayed at the Central IPS Mess. He asked me to suggest some appropriate inscription to mark the display. I wrote to Iyer that Stracey was a living legend and would occupy a place of honour in the annals of the Indian Police Service. I suggested he inscribe following lines of Shakespeare: "Be just and fear not. Let all the ends then aimst at be thy country's, thy God's and truths." I sent a copy of the letter to Stracey, who was then serving at the director-general of police, Tamil Nadu. Stracey wrote back: "The compliments you pay are very touching; all the more because they are sincere. I only hope I deserve them."
I shall always remember Stracey as the role model of a trainer. His handsome appearance, dignified bearing, graceful movements, eye for detail, total commitment to training and unremitting endeavour to improve an institution made him the ideal head of a training college. Today, many of police training institutions are in a bad shape and some of them are crumbling. We need outstanding, committed officers like Stracey to head these institutions and impart to their dry bones the Promethean spark of life.

The writer, a retired IPS officer, is a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Social Sciences

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

UNITED STAND

From being a mere idea in 2001, Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China and now South Africa) has made steady progress to become a distinct entity. As the group huddles together in Sanya, China, for its leaders' meeting, there is apprehension, particularly in the West, about its growing clout, which may determine the shape of the world's economy and, possibly, its politics as well. The member-countries make no bones about their ambition to become politically more influential. At the recent vote in the United Nations security council on the use of force in Libya, they had held together and abstained from the procedure. The Sanya meet, in fact, is seen as a preparation for the forthcoming G20 summit in Cannes, where the Brics nations are expected to work as a bloc, pushing forward favourable financial and economic policies for developing countries, especially with respect to commodity price fluctuations. Although the Brics nations are yet to evolve a consensus on introducing alternate exchange currencies, which was part of the original idea of its evolution into a counterweight against established Western interests, the Sanya meet is expected to produce a unique credit agreement that will allow the nations to give loans on credit to one another in their own currencies instead of US dollars.

For all this to happen, Brics has to work as a coherent entity. That, unfortunately, is a problem. Suspicions about China's global ambitions continue to act as a road block. Some member-countries — Brazil and South Africa, for example — believe that China's sudden interest in strengthening the group has more to do with the promotion of its own economic interests than political substance. Thankfully, other member-countries, especially India, have decided to keep aside issues of conflicting interests and work instead on areas of mutual interest. The prime minister, Manmohan Singh, has clearly stated his intention to focus on sustainable development, balanced trade, energy and food security. The Chinese, too, have expressed their willingness to accommodate the economic interests of the other members. That is easier said than done. China's reluctance to reform its exchange rate and reconsider policy decisions that are the result of its longterm strategic goals may continue to sound a discordant note in Sanya and beyond. At the same time, the Brics nations cannot afford to ignore the tremendous power they can collectively wield.

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

CASE STUDIES

Japan has raised the severity level of its nuclear crisis to the maximum seven on the International Atomic Energy Agency's nuclear and radiological event scale. So far, the only other accident to have merited this grade was the 1986 Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine. However, the differences between the two events seem to outweigh the similarities. The situation at Fukushima Daiichi was triggered by natural calamity, whereas Chernobyl began with an explosion in a nuclear reactor after a surge in power. The intensity of the latter was such that it killed the workers instantly, caused cancer in the surrounding population, and spread radioactivity so far that livestock restrictions are still in place in some farms in Britain. But the most unique feature of the Chernobyl tragedy was the reaction of the Soviet authorities — they simply refused to acknowledge it for days, letting people stay on in the vicinity until it was too late. The regime even allowed children to drink milk contaminated with radioiodine, which caused an outbreak of thyroid cancer among a generation of Ukrainians. In contrast, Japan has acted with remarkable alacrity to arrest the release and spread of radiation from the affected site. As a result, the magnitude of radioactivity that has escaped from Fukushima Daiichi so far is a fraction of what came out of Chernobyl, 25 years ago.

The common factor between these incidents is the uncertainty over assessing the risks of using nuclear energy for civilian purposes. Even as nuclear energy is on its way to becoming the most viable source of power for many countries across the world, the dangers accompanying its production can assume deadly forms, especially for its supposed beneficiaries. It is revealing that in spite of being a major proponent of civilian nuclear energy, Japan is still grappling with the challenge of restoring Fukushima Daiichi's cooling system, weeks after the meltdown started. Hence, even in a different era of technological advancement and state-of-the-art disaster management strategies, there is perhaps a compelling reason to evoke the memories of Chernobyl in relation to the crisis in Japan. These incidents may have been caused by different agents, but the final outcome, in each case, has been the same — lingering agony and a painful death for thousands of innocent people. Wherever in the world it may take place, a tragedy is always tragic, and that is all there is to it.

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THE TELEGRAPH

OF FASTS AND FASTING

CYNICS MUST SEE THE TRUE VALUE OF ANNA HAZARE'S ACTION GOPALKRISHNA GANDHI

Gandhi resorted to some 30 fasts, of which one-third were directed at himself, for 'atonement' or self-purification, one-third were directed against the raj and one-third at India's social mores. A more honest trinity cannot be imagined.

The latter two kinds of fasts were meant to make an impact on the 'other side'; they were part-fasts and part- hunger strikes, part anashan and part bhukh-hartal, though he derived from each a sense of spiritual self-renewal.

He was asked: is fasting not coercive, not another form of violence? He gave interesting answers, but none as eloquent as the character of his fasts and the fasting method itself. The absence of violence in thought and word, especially towards the perceived 'adversary', marked his fasts. The viceroy or the viceroy's executive council, for instance, were not to have their persons or their prestige threatened. Challenged, yes, but not threatened. The purity of his motive, the lack of animosity towards the targets of his fasts and, above all, the readiness during the fast to engage with the other side raised his fasts to moral heights even as they caused the 'adversary's case' to plummet.

Fasting for a public purpose became, with him, a science and an art, as introspective as it was out-bound. Its success was important not just for the instant cause, but for the method as well. If a fast were to fail for any reason, much more than the cause would fail; the very example of moral persuasion would fail. Not surprisingly, Gandhi discouraged people from rushing into fasts. Fasting was not a technique to be used too easily, lightly.

Would Gandhi have resorted to a 'fast unto death' over corruption today?

No one can say. He was so unpredictable, so original. Perhaps — and this is as good a guess as anybody's — he would have impleaded Indian society into his case for a fast: corporate organizations, ravenous for profits, trusts, societies, institutions which misuse funds, contractors, developers, middlemen devoid of scruples, and not just corrupt functionaries in the government of the day. That issue would have brought into it land rights, tribal rights, Naxalism. And ending that fast would not have been easy.

Others have borrowed Gandhi's method. Have they borrowed the rules of the game as well? Potti Sriramulu died in 1952 fasting for a separate Andhra Pradesh that was conceded immediately thereafter. Sant Fateh Singh's fast for a Punjabi Suba in 1960 catalysed that separate state. There have been many others, with regional and even national importance, some achieving partial success, some long-lasting ones.

Anna Hazare's self-denial of food for five days — no ordinary thing in a 73-year-old — without question belongs to the scroll of great fasts undertaken for great purposes.

Only cynics would fail to hail the following accomplishments of his:

1. Dispelling the smog of despondency regarding corruption that had descended over us.

2. Challenging thereby two cynical beliefs — first, that corruption has become a way of life in India and second, that corruption is an issue only among the educated elite, not the rural poor.

3. Showing us how the young, the urban elite and the professional classes can respond on an equal footing, to a 73-year-old village-based Gandhi-capped activist's call for action to end corruption.

4. Demonstrating the power of one man's resoluteness, backed by personal integrity, to take on the might of official disdain and public despondency and overcoming, in a mere five days, an almost 50-year-old amnesia about a potentially powerful instrument against corruption.

But since Gandhi's name and satyagrahic methods have been invoked in this movement and Anna Hazare has been spontaneously described by many as a "second Gandhi", it may be worth their pondering if the following accord with Gandhi's way:

1. The deep distrust in the agitation of the other side and a polarization between 'us', the people of India and 'they', the government.

2. The miniaturizing of India's constitutional edifice on the one side and the monumentalizing of 'people's power' on the other, when Indian society too has to answer a few questions on its own contribution to the rise of corruption in India.

3. The portraying of politicians en masse as corrupt and bureaucrats as their collaborators-in-crime, forgetting that it is politicians in Parliament, catalysed by persons like Aruna Roy, that have given us the Right to Information Act, with civil servants like Wajahat Habibullah operationalizing it with such telling effect.

4. The publicly aired contemplation of punishments for the corrupt that go well beyond existing penologies and include the garland of the gallows.

Anna Hazare's fast has created a wholly new, wholly unexpected, moral dividend. To have been able to create this dividend from out of the lowest imaginable stock of public confidence is an extraordinary achievement. This must be invested in a closely reasoned and responsible new lok pal bill and a new Lok Pal and Lok Ayukta regime, not dissipate into several uncoordinated agitations.

It needs to be appreciated by the governing classes that Anna Hazare's public fast to connect the popular mood to the political mindset is in the nature of a coronary bypass. When arteries are choked, what can avail other than a stent, an angioplasty or a bypass?

But the agitation also needs to appreciate something. A bypass clears the conduits, it does not seek to replace the heart itself. A bypass does not mock the heart, it energizes it.

The joint committee will therefore require constructive, not confrontationist, discussions on the draft bill. It will require, on the part of the 'government team', respect for the public mood that has tired of alibis. And it will require, on the part of the 'Hazare-Bhushan team', respect for the procedures of legislative enactments.

What is being tried now is a novel combination, wholly compatible with our Constitution, of ex-cameral negotiations with persons drawn from civil society, leading to a text that will go through the legislative process. This is a creative enlargement of the process of select committees of legislators going to stake-holders and the public for opinion-gathering before taking up a bill in the House. The only difference being that here, the 'public' is not being asked for its opinion by the select committee; it has been inducted into the select committee, it has been made part of the pre-legislation in-house process. This novel arrangement requires proportionate originality in the spirit of the deliberations. There will be hard-liners and nay-sayers in both sections of the committee. Hopefully, there will be realists in both as well. Everything will depend on the committee realizing that it has to cease thinking of itself in terms of two halves, that, once formed, it is a single entity and that the people of India expect this single gestation to yield a long-sought result, not two parallel results.

If the joint committee fails, the public's faith in the power of peaceful protests will fail and that will be a tragedy and a danger of incalculable proportions. Opportunities for democratic self-healing on a mega-scale like this one come but rarely. It must be seized, not just to install a fearless Lok Pal and re-energize our Lok Ayuktas, but to end the money-spinning link between political dons and our mineral resources, forest resources and land. Without that, the Lok Pal will be mopping the floor without turning the tap off.

For this larger result to come about, those who have been cynical about Anna Hazare's successful fast, especially within government, will need to see its value for the good.

Those who are enthused by it will need to remember that Gandhi did not permit either distrust or ego to mar the follow-up. He did not make slogans or shibboleths his negotiating vocabulary.

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THE TELEGRAPH

PAY A PRICE FOR TRUTH

NEHA SAHAY

The theme of a YouTube video conceived by Ai Weiwei, dissident blogger and artist, who was detained at Beijing airport while on his way to Hong Kong recently, is "[unprintable expletive] you motherland". His arrest has become a cause célèbre in the West. Ai's exhibition is currently on in London, another was planned in Germany. In a recent interview, he spoke of wanting to work from Berlin, while maintaining his Beijing studio, given the lack of freedom in his homeland.

Not many Chinese would mourn this shift. A picture of Ai showing his middle finger at Tiananmen Square has appeared on the internet, along with a recent quote in an interview with The Economist: "What they (China) did in past 30 years is just produce cheap labour, and there's nothing, absolutely nothing, creative or nothing which shares the ideology or values of the other parts of the world." Earlier, he tweeted, "People born in the 80s and 90s, prepare your English and leave this nation. This will be your best choice.'' This denigration of their country by dissidents is what makes one section of politically conscious Chinese furious with the West for heaping adulation on the former. Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo is still to be forgiven for the statement he made decades ago: that China could have done with some more colonization by the West.

Ai Weiwei, who is 53 years old, is, however, a class apart. Son of the poet, Ai Qing, who was banished to the countryside during the Cultural Revolution, but reinstated with honour after Mao died, Ai Weiwei fits the stereotype of the bohemian artist. His works are irreverent and barely understood. He studied art in New York, built an avant-garde artists' collective in Beijing and a studio in Shanghai which was demolished last year, apparently for flouting norms. Ai's picture on his blog shows him jumping mid-air in the nude, a figurine of a grass mud horse used as a fig leaf. On the internet, the term, "grass mud horse", has come to signify defiance of censorship.

Another picture

But Ai is more than just a maverick — the term used to describe him by an official newspaper. He resigned on ideological grounds from the international team that designed the 'Bird's Nest'— the 2008 Olympics Stadium. He has produced a number of video documentaries, the most memorable among them focusing on the children who died in the Sichuan earthquake. Angered by the authorities' refusal to name the dead children, Ai Weiwei called for volunteers to visit the affected villages and record these deaths. The documentary records over 5,000 names, and shows parents talking about the shoddy construction of schools. Recently, Ai's team interviewed the parents of the student killed on campus by a drunk youngster driving a Mercedes; the case became famous as the 'My dad is Li Gang' case. In 2009, Ai was prevented from deposing in defence of another dissident being tried in Sichuan; he recorded his confrontation with the police.

The question everyone's been asking is this: how has Ai got away with his open criticism for so long? Just before the anniversary of the Sichuan quake, Ai's blog was deleted from the Chinese website that had invited him to write it, and he began relying on Twitter. His arrest may be the result of the paranoia in the Communist Party about the Jasmine Revolution taking off in China, though Ai has not been associated with it. The government's statement that he has been detained for "economic crimes" has few takers. Since his detention, he and his assistant have been incommunicado. His office and home have been searched, his computers seized, and his wife and staff have been interrogated. His arrest was acknowledged four days after it had taken place.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

HISTORICAL EXPERIMENTS

TWO DISSIMILAR MEN WITH DIFFERENT GOALS CAN STILL HAVE A LOT IN COMMON, WRITES PRABHAT PATNAIK

At first sight no two persons could have been more dissimilar. One was a Cambridge don, with more than one foot in the British government; a supporter of the Liberal Party, staunchly opposed to the Bolshevik Revolution; an aesthete and a member of the Bloomsbury Group; a life peer in imperial Britain, and a solid, if sensitive, member of the British establishment. The other was a Russian revolutionary, spending years in exile in acute penury, immersed in bitter conflicts among the émigrés, until suddenly confronted with a revolutionary uprising whose strivings and possibilities he comprehended with such clarity that he came to lead it, facing a civil war, a typhus epidemic, and an assassination attempt that ultimately claimed his life. The secure tranquillity of the life of the one contrasted sharply with the tempestuous violence that continuously haunted the life of the other. What could these two have in common?

For a start each felt a deep intellectual respect for the other, despite their political differences. In his report to the second congress of the Communist International, having called John Maynard Keynes "a British bourgeois pacifist", "a petit bourgeois philistine" and "an implacable enemy of Bolshevism", V.I. Lenin went on to base his entire thesis about why conditions were ripe for a world revolution on Keynes's analysis in The Economic Consequences of the Peace. He even paid Keynes the compliment that "nobody had written about the condition of capitalism better than Keynes". Keynes, on his part, not only referred in several places to Lenin's "brilliance", but, in this same book, said apropos of inflation: "Lenin is said to have declared that the best way to destroy the capitalist system is to debauch the currency; ...Lenin was certainly right."

But mutual intellectual respect among bitter adversaries is neither unusual nor particularly remarkable. What is really common to both these thinkers is their belief that the hegemony of finance in the period of maturity of capitalism had brought about a denouement where it became impossible for the system to go on as before. Of course each had his own understanding of why finance had made capitalism impossible, and each had his own reading of where to go from there. But the belief that a sheer continuity of the existing order was no longer possible was common to both.

Keynes saw the hegemony of finance as saddling capitalism with such extraordinarily high levels of unemployment that people, he feared, would not for long tolerate such an inhumane system. Under this hegemony, speculation was no longer a mere bubble on a steady stream of enterprise, but became a torrent that buffeted enterprise around. This became particularly so after the prop that had sustained 19th-century capitalism, namely the pushing of the frontier, had reached its limits. Not only did employment get determined largely by the whims and caprices of speculators, but in the absence of this prop would remain much higher than before, of which the Great Depression was a manifestation. He wanted the system to become more humane in order to survive the challenge of socialism. And this it could do by ensuring, through systematic State intervention in demand management, that the level of employment was made independent of the whims and caprices of financial speculators.

Lenin by contrast saw finance capital as striving everywhere for domination and for the acquisition of "economic territory" at the expense of rivals. Hence the rivalry between different "national" finance capitals (belonging to big "nations"), each backed by "its" State, would henceforth take the form of bloody inter-imperialist wars, of which the First World War was a manifestation. Escape from this predicament was possible only by overthrowing the entire system of finance-dominated capitalism and by ushering in socialism.

The turn of events was such that the ideas of both these thinkers were tried out in practice, a fate denied to most and another element that is common to both. Keynes's proposal for State intervention in demand management in capitalist economies had few takers in the beginning, a fact that allowed the Great Depression to persist outside of the fascist countries right until the eve of the war when military preparations against the threat of fascism finally pulled up levels of employment and activity. But in the post-war period, with the balance of class strength shifting in favour of the working class across the advanced capitalist world, of which the emergence of social democracy was a manifestation, State intervention in demand management got institutionalized, producing the so-called "Golden Age of capitalism". And as regards Lenin, the response generated by his call for the overthrow of capitalism, the Bolshevik Revolution and the formation of the Communist International, the struggle of the Soviet Union against fascism, its contribution to post-war decolonization and the spread of socialism, constitute together the epic saga of the 20th century.

But, again by an irony that unites both these thinkers, the historical experiments unleashed by them, despite remarkable early promise, could not reach successful fruition. The process of globalization of finance made the nation state that was supposed to override the whims and caprices of finance, subservient precisely to these very whims and caprices for fear of capital flight; as a result we have the current bizarre spectacle of capitalist countries enacting one after another 'austerity measures' in the midst of a recession, which will only accentuate the recession. Keynes would be turning in his grave at this absurd course of events. Likewise, the Soviet Union founded under Lenin's leadership no longer exists; communist parties, barring a few, have dwindled into insignificance; the socialist credentials of China and Vietnam are barely visible and have to be established by the committed few through elaborate theoretical and statistical exercises; and a question mark hovers over the fate of Cuba, buffeted by imperialism. Those who invoke either Keynes or Lenin today are few and far between.

Does this mean then that the projects of both Keynes and Lenin are equally passé? The answer is no, and this constitutes the big contrast between the two. Because Lenin's project was grand, nothing short of bringing about a wholly new world order, the like of which mankind had only dreamt of but never seen, and that too against the bitterest possible opposition from the propertied classes, he was acutely aware of the prospects of the failure of his particular experiment. In fact, after Soviet power had lasted three months, he had remarked gleefully: "We have lasted longer than the Paris Commune!" Because of the grandeur of his project the possibility of the failure of his particular experiment was anticipated by Lenin. But not so with Keynes.

Since his objective was to defend the system of private property against socialism, he not only expected no systematic opposition from the propertied classes, but even attributed whatever opposition he actually encountered from them to mere intellectual failure on their part. After all, if demand management by the State increased the level of activity and employment in the economy, then that would benefit both the workers (through larger employment) and the capitalists (through larger profits). So the predicament of late capitalism was one from which, if one had the correct intellectual comprehension, one could improve everybody's condition. What Keynes did not see is that State intervention in capitalism is something which sets off a dialectic of its own that ultimately subverts the domination of capital over labour. Not that Great Depression-levels of mass unemployment are necessary for capitalism but the elimination of such levels of mass unemployment through State intervention undermines the social legitimacy of the system. The setback to Lenin's project would not have surprised Lenin; the setback to Keynes's would have surprised Keynes. Lenin's project will be revived, but not Keynes's, except as a staging post in the march towards Lenin's goal.

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THE TELEGRAPH

BEWARE OF THE OLD GAMES

DANGER AHEAD THE GLOBAL ECONOMIC RECOVERY IS NOT AS STABLE AS IT SEEMS

Beginning from the globalization in the early 1980s, there took place three major economic shifts worldwide that ended in the September 2008 crash and the ensuing recession. These are from regulated to de-regulated markets, from production to finance, and from the West to the East. The present global recovery needs to be seen in this context. World economic growth fell from 5.3 per cent in 2007 to 2.8 per cent and (-) 0.6 per cent in 2008 and 2009, respectively. It bounced back to 4.8 per cent in 2010. But its regional distribution is very uneven worldwide. Further, in the regions where growth is low, as in the United States of America and the European Union, the rate of unemployment is high. Where growth is high, as in China and India, inflation is high. India — growing at 8.5 per cent in 2010 with high unemployment — touched double-digit inflation by May 2010 and stayed put throughout last winter. Will it be a stable global recovery?

Post-September-2008 crash, a rare worldwide cooperation was achieved, when practically all countries agreed to stand behind their banks with the taxpayers' money. And the world did turn around. But once the major economies were on their way to recovery, they began playing their old games. Thus, austerity hawks have gained sufficient political power in the West to cut public spending on welfare projects and to slash even maintenance expenditure for infrastructure in the US. For the weaker economies of the euro zone, with their large public debts, the situation is grim. They can neither devalue nor raise trade barriers against their stronger counterparts, and thanks to austerity, their incomes and tax revenues are falling. So debt-servicing and repayment have become far more difficult while unemployment rises and the bond price falls.

Exports from China took a severe beating after September 2008, when employment and income declined steeply. It pumped a massive $580 billion to stabilize the economy that restored the double-digit growth. Since then, the interest rate has been raised and the stimulus withdrawn, notwithstanding the official claim that push-domestic-demand policies are still being followed. In reality, the 'export-led growth' model has been adopted. This is why China refuses so stubbornly to raise the yuan. The US has effectively devalued the dollar by flooding the market with liquidity. And the EU, the largest economic entity, is on a severe austerity path and is also following the 'export-led growth' model. The outcome of all this, when global trade is not growing fast, would be global deflation, not expansion.

To return to the point of economic shifts, there has hardly been any change in the three areas. In finance, even the managements of the institutions that had to be rescued with public funds have not changed. The rebound of stocks, commodity futures and currency trade in the developing economies in 2010 reveal the makings of new bubbles and the consequent threat of a new round of financial crisis.

Finance still dominates production because the world economy is saddled with colossal amounts of excess funds that are moving all over the world for short runs. Whenever a shortage and/or excess demand appears in any market, these funds move in for speculative hoarding and gains. This colossal speculative fund is the real 'commanding height' of the world economy these days.

DIPANKAR BOSE

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DECCAN HERALD

FIRST EDIT

NAILING A LIE
''THE ROLE OF PAK GOVT AND THE ISI IN 26/11 IS CONFIRMED.''

There is more confirmation now of the Pakistani government's involvement in the terror attacks in Mumbai in 2008 and that too straight from the horse's mouth. Tahawwur Hussain Rana, a Pakistani-Canadian accused of assisting David Headley in carrying out the reconnaissance missions ahead of the 26/11 terrorist attacks, has implicated the Pakistani government and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) for their role in the carnage.

He has pleaded that in providing assistance he had acted on 'public authority' at the behest of the Pakistani government and the ISI. Hitherto, links between Rana-Headley and the Pakistani government had been described in sections of the western media in rather loose terms, as a nexus between the duo and 'rogue elements of the ISI,' rather than with the ISI itself.

Rana's disclosure now confirms that Rana and Headley had acted on the directions of the ISI and the Pakistani government and that the links were substantial. It confirms the allegations India has been levelling: the Pakistani government and the ISI did mastermind the attacks.

Rana's revelations will embarrass several governments. Rana's disclosure is a powerful indictment of the Pakistani government. The blame for 26/11 has been laid clearly at its doorstep, not just by India but by one of the key conspirators. The US, which is struggling to justify to its public its alliance with Pakistan will be hard pressed to defend its friend in the wake of the damning disclosure.

As for India, although Rana's plea confirms its allegations, it will deal a blow to the Manmohan Singh government's strategy of re-engaging the Pakistani government. Singh will come under pressure again to go slow on the dialogue with Pakistan. Bilateral relations which warmed perceptibly in recent weeks could cool again.

Rana's disclosure notwithstanding, it is unlikely that the Pakistani government and the ISI will find themselves in the dock. The Chicago court has rejected Rana's plea on the grounds that it is 'objectively unreasonable,' signalling that the US could ease the way for its ally, Pakistan, to slip off the hook.

Relations between the US and Pakistan seriously soured in the wake of the arrest and then release of suspected CIA spy Raymond Davies in Pakistan. At a time when Washington is desperately trying to mend ties with the Pakistani government, it does seem unlikely that the important issues raised by Rana's revelations will be pursued honestly or energetically by the US government.

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DECCAN HERALD

SECOND EDIT

UNSAVOURY ACT

''THE LAW HAS NOT BEEN ABLE TO ERADICATE UNTOUCHABILITY.''


Disclosed reports that the office car and the furniture used by a senior Dalit officer of the Kerala government were ritually cleansed by some members of his office staff on his day of retirement on March 31 and the next day is shameful.


The officer, A K Ramakrishnan,  who was Inspector General of Registration, has complained to the state human rights commission that holy water mixed with cow dung was sprinkled by  some employees on his car and the chair where he sat. The act is a traditional rite of purification. The commission has sought an explanation from the revenue department and the National Scheduled Castes Commission has told  the home department to investigate the matter. If the charge is true it is reprehensible and is a serious offence which brooks no countenance.

Kerala once had the unsavoury distinction of being a 'madhouse' of casteism and social discrimination. Swami Vivekananda had described the state with this unflattering sobriquet. Gandhiji  once associated himself with a satyagraha in the state for the right of way for Dalits near a major temple.


Another major satygraha had to be held  in the Guruvayoor temple for entry of dalits and backward caste persons there.  But decades of social reform and education were considered to have driven away evils like untouchability from the society. This does not seem to be the case. Incidents like the one at the registration IG's office show that the prejudices are still alive in society. The Kerala incident is not an exception. Untouchability  and other forms of discrimination are common practice in most parts of the country. The law has not been able to eradicate them.


It  may be argued that the act of cleansing was not directed at the caste of the officer but at the person. But such explanations do not hold water. The investigation should be completed without delay and those found responsible for the act should be given the strictest punishment. Law on its own cannot reform human beings. But it should not be found wanting in dealing with such retrograde and dehumanising conduct. No society can claim to be decent and civilised if such abhorrent practices are resorted to and tolerated and the rights of people are so humiliatingly violated.

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DECCAN HERALD

MAIN ARTICLE

THE DAMNED TRIBALS

BY DEVINDER SHARMA


As a nation, we have forgotten those who made the supreme sacrifice for development. We can't leave them in the lurch.
G­­­­­­­­­ive it a thought. If you had been displaced in the name of development by a big dam project and had not been rehabilitated even decades after being ousted from the submerged land, you would have probably committed suicide by now. If not, you would have certainly waged a violent struggle to seek justice.  

For 50 years, 9,913 families displaced from the Hirakud dam in Orissa have gone from pillar to post seeking compensation. Imagine the human suffering these families have undergone all these years. While they wait for a paltry compensation of Rs 10,000 per acre for the submerged land, many of them are to be displaced again for the sake of industries coming up in the Mahanadi basin.


As a nation, we have forgotten those who made the supreme sacrifice for the sake of our development. We have left them in the cold to await their death.


I fail to understand why the Orissa high court for instance cannot take suo moto the issue of Hirakud dam resettlement?

Why is that none of the successive governments have cared to bring justice for those who sacrificed their livelihoods for the sake of development? Why can't Orissa government award these oustees with at least Rs 10 lakh per acre as the compensation now? The answer is simple. We have relegated human suffering as the inevitable cost of development. Some people, and invariably they are poor, must pay with their lives for the sake of development of the majority population.   
 
Hirakud dam displacement is not an isolated case. Almost all mega dams in India have left behind a trail of misery and suffering that cannot be put in words. Generations born after they were originally displaced certainly feel as if they are the children of a lesser god. They have lived as environment refugees in their own country, and have grown up seething with anger and hatred. And yet, they continue to struggle peacefully for their getting their legitimate due. Hats off to them.    

Even from the Bhakra dam, which Jawaharlal Nehru christened as the temples of modern India, there are still 700 families from Bilaspur district who are awaiting compensation. Similarly, hundreds of Pong dam oustees have still to be paid their dues. Far away in Andhra Pradesh, a large number of displaced communities from the Nagarjunasagar dam on Krishna river are still fighting for compensation. In fact, as social activist Rolly Shivhare found it from an RTI, the Madhya Pradesh government for instance does not even know how many people have to be rehabilitated.

Adivasis' plight

A few days back I joined Medha Patkar and a few hundred adivasis, farmers, fish workers and potters representing thousands of families affected by the series of 30 large dams that have sprung up on the Narmada river. They were demonstrating outside the Ministry for Environment and Forests in New Delhi drawing attention to their plight. Asserting their right to life and livelihood, the oustees were simply demanding rehabilitation and environmental compensation that has been promised to them by various Tribunals and Court judgements.

Although environment minister Jairam Ramesh did come down to listen to them, what was shocking was the indifference and damming attitude the passerbys exhibited.

Barring a few, not many even cared to stop and inquire as to why these adivasis were staging a dharna. They could hear the slogans but they quietly passed by looking at them in disdain and contempt. The apathy towards the rights of the displaced is primarily the reason why thousands continue to suffer.

For over 25 years, the oustees of Narmada dams have waged a non-violent struggle. While only 10,500 families have been provided with agricultural land after years of struggle, several thousand more still await land based rehabilitation.

A year back, along with Justice (retd) A P Shah and Prof Jaya Sagade, I had submitted a report of a people's tribunal looking into the issue of massive displacement, rehabilitation, environmental compliance, and overall cost benefits of big dams like Sardar Sarovar, Indira Sagar, Omkareshwar and Jobat on the Narmada river. The report disclosed that nearly 200,000 people displaced from the rising waters of Narmada have waited endlessly for a rehabilitation package. 

We were shocked to note that while the Narmada Control Authority and the Narmada Valley Development Authority have stated that there are 'zero families' that await rehabilitation, hundreds of families had greeted us in village after village when we visited them.

This was a clear cut violation of the supreme court judgement of Mar 15, 2005, whereby it had reiterated that land based rehabilitation of project affected persons (PAF) along with provisions of house sites with requisite amenities must be completed one year before submergence. The judgement admitted the entitlements of minimum of 2 hectares of cultivable, irrigable and suitable agricultural land to all major sons and unmarried daughters of affected landholder.

At a time when the Centre is in the process of bringing in a rehabilitation and resettlement policy, the foremost effort should be to first settle all pending claims. This must be executed under a time bound programme. Let us accept it, the lack of political will is a reflection of the callous neglect and apathy that the educated and the elite nurse towards the poor.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

IN PERSPECTIVE

AFGHANISTAN ERUPTS OVER QURAN-BURNING

 BY DEEPALI GAUR SINGH


It is seen as reflection of resentment that has been simmering against the American govt.
T­he riots in different parts of Afghanistan in early April claimed 23 lives – including seven aid workers – leaving over 150 injured. Anger spilt across the streets of the country from Mazar to Kandahar, Kunduz to Nangarhar, Kabul to Herat, with thousands articulating anti-America and anti-foreign troops' sentiment through their slogans. In fact in Jalalabad, protesters even burned an effigy of the American president.

The violent protests, in retaliation to the burning of the Quran by an American pastor, and the symbolic burning of Obama's effigy are seen by many as reflection of the resentment that has been simmering against the American administration for a decade now.

Previous instances of this kind of rioting were witnessed in Kabul in 2006 after international forces caused a deadly traffic accident. In 2009 too rumours of the desecration of a Quran had sparked riots in the central eastern province of Wardak; and as recently as March this year thousands of people in Kunar demonstrated against the killing of nine children by Nato forces. As the foreign troops prepare their exit from the country and attempt to handover the reigns to the local police their return might not be as celebratory as perhaps they had hoped for.

Tragically, the latest demonstration of civilian anger found at its receiving end, as always, innocents as has been the case with the occupying forces as well. And ironically, the epicentre of this bloodbath was located almost 12,000 km away in Florida when, on March 20, 2011, Pastor Wayne Sapp conducted a swift staged 'trial' of a kerosene-soaked Quran and set it alight after declaring it guilty of 'crimes against humanity.' He had support in Pastor Terry Jones who had made a similar abortive attempt to burn copies of the Quran on the anniversary of 9/11 in 2010 but severe condemnation had called a halt to his plans.

Even as president Obama has simultaneously condemned both the desecration of the Quran in the US and the accompanying violence in Afghanistan that claimed the lives of UN staff, for many Afghans who have lived through the decade long Nato presence too many civilian lives have already been lost in the constant pursuit of the elusive Osama bin Laden.

And even though many Afghans condemn the killings but against the background of the mood of the ordinary civilian in response to the foreign presence this latest act of emotional violence against them - attached to the defilement of the Quran – has the potential of being used insidiously by the Taliban to tip popular support towards them.

Having witnessed years of ceaseless conflict in Afghanistan it is not uncommon for protesters to react much more strongly to blasphemy and acts of disrespect to the Quran or their religion rather than to killings and suicide attacks.

For many critics of Washington the question remains as to why the administration did not do enough to prevent the incident considering it would be an emotive issue for the thousands of American-Muslims even if they did not care enough for Afghan sensitivities.

The religious scholars of Afghanistan have also had to bear their burden of the blame as many believed that it is they who incited the people to violence in the aftermath of the desecration since religion is a critical and potent political tool in this nascent struggling democracy.

Those with more faith in the Afghan civil society believe that while the demonstrations themselves were spontaneous outpourings of anger by ordinary people the bloodshed was the result of the infiltration of insurgents amidst the protesters.

Political analysts have not left the Afghan president completely off the hook either stating that the growing anti-American sentiment has been fanned by his own double-edged politics as he has been quick to blame the foreign forces for civilian casualties like his repeated condemnation of the Kunar killings of the children by Nato forces while being silent on the Taliban attack on Kabul Bank in Jalalabad. In the meantime, the controversial US pastor has called for the killing of the people who attacked the UN staff.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

IN RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE

 

MISCHIEVOUS ZUBIN

 BY B R PRAHLAD


I quietly entered the 'live' studio to investigate what had gone wrong.


When I joined the Bombay station of All India Radio in 1946, I little anticipated the strange encounters I would have with celebrities – both present and future. It happened one night when they used to broadcast western classical music live between 10 pm and 11 pm on its main channel.


Assembled in the studio were well known violinists Mehli Mehta and Homi Kanga accompanied by George Lester on the cello and Mario Pagliarin on the piano. Mehta, who was also an eminent conductor for the Bombay Philharmonic Orchestra, asked me to position the microphone in order to balance the different instruments.

I did not know much of western music, but I opened the sound board of the piano, placed the mike in front of it and told the violinists and cellist to sit facing it at the correct distance to get a proper equilibrium of the ensemble. I then placed myself in the control room and waited for the programme to begin.


When it did, to my horror, all I could hear were the violin strings minus the piano notes! Thinking that the microphone may have got disturbed, I peeped through the 'spy hole' of the studio. I was shocked to discover that the sound board of the piano which I had just opened had been shut again. The artistes were already halfway through the opening piece and could not do anything but continue playing.


So, I quietly opened the door of the control room and entered the 'live' studio to investigate what had gone wrong. I went straight to the piano and opened the sound board. Imagine my shock to see two youngsters impudently grinning at me. I could not make out when or how they had gatecrashed into the studio. I caught hold of them and tweaked their ears soundly before dragging them out.


After that, the programme went off with no hitch. When the concert was over, I learnt that the two boys whom I had chastised were the sons of the violinist Mehli Mehta.


Fortunately for me, he took my action in the right spirit and even apologised for their mischievous behaviour. The rest is history. The elder boy, Zubin, went on to become a world famous conductor himself. I sometimes wonder if the distinguished maestro Zubin Mehta remembers that night in the studio of All India Radio in Bombay when a junior engineer tweaked his ear and dragged him out for disturbing his father's concert!

 

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THE SENTINEL

EDITORIAL

 

COEXISTENCE DETERRENT  

Before leaving for the Chinese coastal city of Sanya to attend the BRICS summit involving Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh said that the relationship between India and China ''has acquired global significance''. He said that he looked forward to meeting Chinese President Hu Jintao and that the India-China relationship ''is a key relationship''. The signals from China have been positive too. It says that it is ''ready to work'' with India to have ''friendly consultation'' and properly handle the row over the stapled visa issue. A senior Chinese foreign ministry official has told the media in Beijing that his country is ready to solve issues relating to people-to-people exchanges between it and India. This statement has come in the backdrop of Beijing granting normal visas to four Jammu and Kashmir journalists covering the BRICS summit. China usually issues stapled visas to people from Jammu and Kashmir as it drives home the point that the State is a ''disputed'' area.

So is China really prepared to accept things as they are and explore new horizons? Has a realization dawned upon it that it cannot afford obduracy at a time when the dynamics of international politics is evolving in a manner as to have India play a crucial role and when India is the only country that is poised to challenge China as the world's fastest growing major economy in a few years from now? Has it also struck China that democracy is a huge advantage for a rising nation as India, despite the aberrations of the system? Is China gradually acknowledging the potential of India's young population? And, perhaps most importantly, has it occurred to China that a mere reliance on Pakistan to further the strategic interests of both by ignoring or going against India in so-called disputed areas as Jammu and Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh — integral parts of this country — is not going to work out any miracle?

One is reminded of what Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said last year: that the world is not as small as not be able to accommodate the aspirations of both the rapidly growing states of India and China. He had hinted at a platform that both the countries could share and, by virtue of which, they could coexist. There is no denying that possibility — there is no alternative to peaceful coexistence other than war, which none can afford at this stage. Only, intentions have to be right; there has to be honesty in the approach to bilateral ties; people-to-people contacts must grow; and the enemies of such peaceful existence in the neighbourhood must be located. The last point inevitably takes us to the epicentre of jihadi terrorism, Pakistan, mainly its Army's rogue Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). It is time, in other words, China called a spade a spade in the matter of the sustained ISI shenanigans. The Communist state must realize that the many Frankensteins in Pakistan could launch diabolic assaults on it too and that the ISI will never accept an India-China coexistence trajectory. The crux of the matter is that as long as China fails to appreciate India's concern stemming from the export of terror by Pakistan to India, the ultimate aim with which attacks such as 26/11 are launched against India, the ISI's continued proxy war in Jammu and Kashmir, and the same spy agency's bid to destabilize India's northeastern region through its Bangladesh wing, relations between India and China will continue to be short on trust and goodwill. The question, in that sense, is whether China can ever be India's friend in the real sense of the term.

The message must go out that India would have absolutely no problem with China if the Communist state were to value our concerns and just aspirations; that we can be anything but expansionist and terror-sponsoring. China has nothing to lose by being our friend.

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THE SENTINEL

EDITORIAL

HIS POINT IS DIFFERENT  

A controversy is brewing in the wake of acclaimed social activist Anna Hazare's take on ordinary voters: ''(The) ordinary voter does not have awareness. They cast their vote under the influence of Rs 100 or a bottle of liquor or a sari offered by candidates. They don't understand the value of their vote''. Members of the political class — great votaries of democracy as they would have one believe — are naturally offended, and so too are sections outside that class, including some in the metropolitan media, who must pretend that our 'representative' democracy remains an asset and that a participatory dimension to it, as has been attempted rightly by Hazare, will prove to be pernicious to the health and flourish of this democracy. Such sham will not do. Hazare's is not a sweeping generalization. He is harping on the voter who is ordinary in the sense that he is illiterate, extremely poor, gullible, and for whom a 100-rupee note or a bottle of liquor or a sari indeed means a lot! Is there any dearth of such people in this country — and of politicians bent on perpetuating such poverty so that the poor and the gullible lot remain purchasable? Let us be realistic.

 

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THE SENTINEL

EDITORIAL

 

ELECTION 2011: WHAT ASSAM HAS WITNESSED  

Did the ordinary voter get motivated by the development rhetoric or the outcry against the corruption issue? If yes, how much? If no, why?

T he busy schedule is over. The birds have returned to the nests. After some anxious hours, the polling personnel are also back to their near and dear ones. The politicians, the media and the administration have all heaved the much-deserved sigh of relief. The hurly-burly of Election 2011 is no more. All eyes are now on May 13 when the results of this democratic exercise will get disclosed. Till then, speculations will continue.

But this is spring in Assam. This is the time to paint the conscious part of life with the colour of truth and express devotion to our hoary tradition. All eyes are sparkling with joy and excitement. Assam is about to convert into a big dance floor when dhol, pepa and gogona will sound once again, for which people wait eagerly throughout the year. This is Rongali Bihu. So whatever be the outcome of this election, people do not have time to care for that at this point of time. Their indomitable urge to get lost in this ecstasy does not allow them to pause and brood.

Still then, what did Assam see during this election? This question is relevant as every election conveys a definite message. What was the message this time? How far has the society in Assam developed politically? Have the political parties really tried to touch the right string of popular concerns? Did the contentious issues get true reflection in this election? Things should be observed from that angle.

It is said that the most unique aspect of this election was that both corruption and development were the main issues for both the ruling parties and the opposition. This was something unprecedented. If elections are fought on such realistic issues, we can claim that Assam has developed politically and become truly mature.

But was it the reality? No doubt, the tune of development and a corruption-free Assam was heard when high-profile political leaders blew their trumpets. But did it reach the grassroots level who are the real kingmakers? Did the ordinary voters get motivated by the development rhetoric or the outcry against the corruption issue? If yes, how much? If no, why?

Voting behaviour and poll psychology are intricate affairs. But one thing is clear that in an election, conversion of popular support into votes is a completely different phenomenon. Here rhetoric proves to be more effective than the reality; prejudices work and not the larger interests of the society. Our politicians know this. They are efficient enough to manipulate this. Was the case different this time?

In Assam, prejudices over caste and community, majority and minorities, and over religious fanaticism always prove to be decisive in elections. The rise of political parties on communal basis brings to the fore the undercurrent of communal politics in the State. No one is unaware of the fact that without buttering respective communities, these political parties have nothing to deliver for Assam.

Then what was the situation when someone went to the polling booth this time? Before going there he heard and saw corruption allegations against the Congress; AGP's shaky stand and policy; the communal tune of the AIUDF and BJP; BPF's or BPPF's red eyes towards the non-Bodo voters; baseless All India Trinamool Congress and many other parties. How could a conscious voter make up his mind as there was small choice among rotten apples? Still, he exercised his franchise. But that was not for development or for a corruption-free society. He went with the tide. That stream was obviously narrow sectarian interest.

Ask anyone who participated in this election process about the poll manifestoes of different political parties. He is definitely either not sure or completely ignorant about it. The majority section of voters cast their votes without having any idea why he or she decided to vote for a particular political party. Perhaps no one expects much from this political system. This may be one of the reasons. A section of voters still do not know how to cast vote in the electronic voting machine (EVM). In the polling booths they often ask the polling personnel about it and create a embarrassing situation. This happened during this election too. So supporting or opposing a political party on the basis of ideology or for the issues related to the lives and livelihoods of ordinary citizens is still a far cry not only in Assam but all over the country as well.

A section of political analysts in Assam who share their views regularly in the electronic media in the so-called talk-shows feel that there was a viable and united opposition this time. Another section is of the opinion that people spontaneously came out in favour of a change of guard in Assam this time. It provided oxygen to the non-Congress parties and boosted their confidence that they can win. What is the reality?

Such simple logic is not befitting in an election process. First of all, the opposition had only floor-coordination since the ruling Congress went to the back foot. But why? This was neither the credit of the opposition leaders nor the people of the State who prefer to be in an utopian world. The whole credit goes to the general secretary of the Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS), Akhil Gogoi, who reminded the people of Assam of the language of protest, once again, after the 1980s. This man single-handedly initiated a mass movement against the corruption issue. The opposition parties only manipulated this sentiment during the election.

Some other trends were also witnessed during the election. That was the craziness of all political parties to win the election by any means. They applied all possible means to entice the voters. There was sharp division among the voters based on community and sectarian affiliations. There was mud-slinging throughout the poll campaign. Reports of violence between the groups of political loyalists got a lot of media coverage.

If this was the situation, how can there be a place for all-round development of the State or for a corruption-free Assam? From this angle it seems that Assam is still where it was. Rather, further deterioration has taken place in moral values, and ideology has made a shameful departure. Then where are we headed to? Can the opposition parties deliver anything at this juncture if voted to power? One needs to ponder.

Shibdas  Bhattacharjee

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TIMES FREE PRESS

OPINION

$800 BILLION JUST IN INTEREST?

 

Congress and the president may be able to dodge serious financial consequences from reckless spending longer than an individual who spends recklessly could. But whose taxes and borrowed money is it that Congress — with the president's approval — misspends year after year? It's ours — and our grandchildren's!

The severity of the situation should be evident from our current national debt of some $14.2 trillion, on which we are spending hundreds of billions of tax dollars annually just to cover interest payments. The Congressional Budget Office has starkly warned that that interest figure may jump to $800 billion by 2020!

In the current fiscal year alone, irresponsible federal spending is threatening to add more than $1.5 trillion to our debt.

So what is Congress doing about it? Not nearly enough.

There was agreement last week to cut spending about $38 billion. That's a big amount — but it's not a drop in the bucket when Congress is spending $1.5 trillion more than even too-high taxes are taking in.

And even those cuts are at best shaky.

The "historic" cuts "were accomplished in large part by pruning money left over from previous years, using accounting sleight of hand and going after programs President Barack Obama had targeted anyway," The Associated Press reported. The agreement has "a lot of one-time savings and cuts that officially 'score' as cuts to pay for spending elsewhere, but often have little to no actual impact on the deficit."

In fact, "As a result of that sleight of hand, Obama was able to reverse many of the cuts passed by House Republicans in February when the chamber approved a bill slashing this year's budget by more than $60 billion."

Are those the actions of a president who really wants to control spending?

We can't solve the overspending problem instantly, not in one year nor a few. But the solution to excessive spending clearly isn't more spending and higher taxes, as the president wants.

There are many things the federal government must do to keep our country going. But there obviously are many spending items that should be eliminated or reduced.

Would that be hard to do? Some of it would be painful — but not as painful as the calamity bearing down on our nation if we don't stop the wild spending.

Congress has the responsibility — but many of its members are failing to do their duty. Shouldn't we insist that all members of Congress examine every item of spending in the federal budget, then reduce some and eliminate others?

If we don't face the unpleasant financial truth, we will surely suffer terrible consequences.

 

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TIMES FREE PRESS

OPINION

TROUBLES ON THE WATERFRONT

It is no exaggeration to say that the magnificent development of Chattanooga's waterfront has been a key part of the city's economic growth in recent years. Tourists flock to the eye-catching natural and man-made attractions near the scenic Tennessee River, bringing in tax revenue and making the city more appealing to potential businesses.

So there is general agreement that the $120 million 21st Century Waterfront project — which included, among other things, the rebuilding of Ross's Landing and the construction of a water feature called the Passage, beside the Tennessee Aquarium — was a boon to the city.

But some serious problems have plagued areas of the project since it was completed in 2005. For example, an inspection found electrical wiring that was not made to be in or near water, actually was under the water of the Passage.

"The above wiring condition is one of the most potentially dangerous that I've seen of this type in years," the city inspector wrote.

The Passage had to be closed two years for repairs. The city has spent $1.5 million repairing the Passage and may have to spend an additional $1 million fixing concrete problems along the waterfront.

What makes the issue more troubling is that it appears the city had an early understanding of some of the problems, yet less costly repairs proposed by the architect in 2005 were apparently rejected. And for reasons that are unclear, the city lacks any record of code inspections or oversight reports during the period of construction, 2003-05.

In 2009, Chattanooga sued, seeking to recover its repair costs. But recently, a Circuit Court judge threw out the case, saying the city had waited too long and that the statute of limitations had expired. The city plans to appeal, saying it did not learn of the problems until 2007.

With millions of dollars at stake, the claims and counterclaims are unfortunately likely to continue.

We hope that the burden of paying for the expensive repairs will ultimately be borne by the responsible parties.

Meanwhile, fortunately, countless tourists will no doubt continue to enjoy our beautiful waterfront.

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TIMES FREE PRESS

OPINION

SEEKING CLARITY ON WAR IN LIBYA

The rule of the North African country of Libya by dictator Moammar Gadhafi is certainly obnoxious.

But should American military forces be involved there when Libya poses no apparent threat to our country?

Republican U.S. Sen. Bob Corker of Chattanooga raised vital questions about U.S. involvement in Libya in a recent letter to Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The attacks, which also were undertaken by some other countries, were "authorized" by a U.N. resolution.

Unfortunately, however, President Barack Obama did not seek a congressional declaration of war, which obviously should be more important than a U.N. resolution when U.S. forces are involved.

Concerned about whether such action by the president was constitutional, Corker called on Kerry to hold hearings to review the war powers spelled out in the Constitution "and consider recommendations to amend or clarify the conditions required for the employment of U.S. forces.

"We owe it to every man and woman who puts on a uniform to serve our country, and every taxpayer who funds the operations, to be clear that our entry into any conflict — whether in response to an attack on the homeland or a threat to our broader national security — has been entered into in a lawful and appropriate manner," he added.

He's right.

Whenever our forces attack, it should only be with proper authorization.

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TIMES FREE PRESS

OPINION

ARE U.S. NUCLEAR PLANTS SAFE?

With a Japanese nuclear plant having suffered serious damage from a tsunami, it is pertinent to consider safety at other plants, including those near Chattanooga and elsewhere in the Tennessee Valley Authority area.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said after a tour of nuclear plants in her state that "what jumps out at you" is that some nuclear fuel rods are stored in pools like those dangerously — though so far not lethally — leaking radiation in Japan.

Such questions are reasonable. Safe production of nuclear power is essential.

Fortunately, TVA has a good safety record. While we cannot let down our guard, we have good reason to believe TVA operates its plants safely and beneficially to meet our energy needs.

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HARARETZ

OPINION

A WELCOME CELLULAR ADDITION

IN ORDER FOR THEM TO SUCCEED, THE REGULATOR WILL HAVE TO ASSIST THE NEWCOMERS IN TWO WAYS: IT MUST BECOME EVEN EASIER FOR CUSTOMERS TO TRANSITION BETWEEN COMPANIES, DOING AWAY WITH EXIT FINES ALTOGETHER, AND IT MUST BECOME EASIER FOR COMPANIES TO ERECT SMALL CELLULAR ANTENNAS.

The introduction of two new cell phone companies to Israel's communications market is good news in every way. It will mean greater competition, and therefore lower prices and better service. All the objections now being voiced are nothing more than a rearguard offensive by the three veteran companies, which have been trying as hard as they can to prevent this improvement.

The veteran companies' financial statements reveal massive turnover and huge profits, thanks to their excessive prices. The companies do not compete with each other over price, but rather by offering tickets to concerts and shows. That is because customers have become prisoners.

The companies have always opposed letting new players into the market. When Pelephone had a monopoly, with only a few thousand customers, it opposed Cellcom's entrance; and Pelephone and Cellcom later opposed Orange's entrance. Then, too, they claimed the "market is saturated." Therefore, there is no need to get worked up over these claims.

Communications Minister Moshe Kahlon should be congratulated for doing what his two predecessors did not dare, as well as for how he built the tender. The two new operators, Xfone 018 and Mirs, each paid a deposit of more than NIS 700 million, which they will get back in full if they obtain a 7-percent market share in the private sector - where prices are particularly high - within five years. To get their money back, the two companies will have to offer low prices and high-quality service, because this is the only way to pull customers away from the current three companies.

Mirs is already a player - albeit a small one - in the local cellular market, and will have no difficulty reaching the 7-percent mark. Xfone will have more trouble, because it is starting from zero, but it, too, probably will rise to the challenge.

But in order for them to succeed, the regulator will have to assist the newcomers in two ways. The Communications Ministry must make it even easier for customers to transition between companies, doing away with exit fines altogether, and the local authorities must make it easier for companies to erect small cellular antennas. This will enable the new companies to compete with the veterans, and everyone will benefit.

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HARARETZ

OPINION

THE PRICE OF SURRENDER

IN THE MOST RECENT HAMAS-ISRAEL CONFLICT, THE ISRAELI GOVERNMENT IGNORED ONE OF THE MOST BASIC RULES OF MANAGING A BATTLE: TAKE ADVANTAGE OF SUCCESS UNTIL THE FIGHT IS WON.

BY ISRAEL HAREL

In the middle of a counter-attack against Hamas' men and infrastructure, Israel has blinked, and agreed to a ceasefire. The government, which is full of ministers with military backgrounds, ignored one of the most basic rules of managing a battle: Take advantage of success (if it had not been a success, Hamas would not have begged for a truce ) until the fight is won.

Even though residents in the south would have had to suffer enemy missiles for some time, they also have trouble grasping the government's strange logic. The enemy will now recover, just as it did after Operation Cast Lead, another military operation which drew to a halt before its completion; Hamas will arm itself for another, even more lethal, round of fighting. Who knows how many yellow school buses will be attacked as a result of the decision-makers' weak will?

The argument that the ceasefire was designed to allow residents and vacationers to enjoy the Passover holiday in peace reflects the government's superficial and short-sighted outlook, not only regarding security affairs. Most citizens display the fortitude required to take steps that would hurt the enemy and force it to stop its attacks for a prolonged period. But the government has once again sent a signal to Hamas - and to any other violent, antagonistic group - that it lacks the willingness, or the capability, to take risks that can lead to victory.

The IDF has also become wedded to this weakness, not only regarding Hamas. The army should not function merely as a police force or judicial system, content to cah terrorists. The IDF's role is to preempt attacks against the state's civilians. Palestinians began launching suicide attacks at the beginning of the year 2000. The people's army took steps to protect itself (even though it is supposed, first and foremost, to defend civilians, and then worry about defending its own soldiers ). In a period in which dozens of Israelis were murdered the army was satisfied with small-scale anti-terror measures.

Finally, after the terror attack at a Netanya hotel on Passover eve in 2002, the government sensed that the public was about to rise up in fury, and the IDF embarked on Operation Defensive Shield. This military campaign significantly reduced the number of terror attacks, prompting the question: Why wasn't such an operation launched a year earlier?

Similarly, Operation Cast Lead was launched only after residents of the south endured thousands of missile attacks over many months. It wasn't initiated when the missile attacks started - something that could have prevented much of the misery and suffering.

This operation, like the Second Lebanon War, was halted before it could be completed, largely at the IDF's request. Since the terror infrastructures were not eradicated, and since Hamas' leadership was not put out of operation, Israel's south continued to endure hell after Cast Lead. The smuggling of missiles into Gaza continued (who is to blame for that? ). Some of these missiles can reach Tel Aviv.

The Iron Dome system can intercept some of them. But this use of Iron Dome is the start of a process in which Israel runs away from the fight without attaining victory. And it gives a terror organization an opportunity to assault our defense budget by firing cheap rockets (which it has in abundance ) and forcing Israel to use extremely expensive anti-missile missiles to intercept them.

Ahead of the Passover holiday, Hamas received, in addition to the ceasefire, an unexpected gain. A number of Israel's "former" security officials joined forces in calling on the government to surrender to Hamas' demands and release about 1,000 terrorists, in exchange for Gilad Shalit. The wisdom of this demand and its perfect timing shows just how we got ourselves to this low point: There is now an inability to bring an end to terror activity of organizations which kill Israeli citizens, fire thousands of missiles, kidnap civilians and soldiers, and dictate terms of surrender for the release of these hostages. These "former" security officials headed unsuccessful struggles against Hamas, Hezbollah and other, similar groups. What gives them the moral right to demand such a capitulation? Now we are slaves -, to borrow a phrase from the Haggadah - to cowardice, to erroneous conceptions and delusions. Next year, let us be free, and accomplish the worthy goals of the Jewish people in the Land of Israel.

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HARARETZ

OPINION

FATAL STUPIDITY

WHO STARTED THE DEADLY TIT FOR TAT? TO THE ISRAELIS IT IS CLEAR − IT STARTED WITH THE ABOMINABLE FIRE ON THE SCHOOL BUS. TO THE PALESTINIANS IT IS CLEAR − IT STARTED WITH KILLING A SENIOR HAMAS OFFICIAL. AND BEFORE THAT IT WAS ... AND BEFORE THAT IT WAS ... AND BEFORE THAT IT WAS...

BY URI AVNERY

In his old age a man returns to second childishness, Shakespeare said. Something similar is happening to the State of Israel.

The new round of hostilities along the Gaza Strip was terrible. A missile was fired at a school bus, critically injuring a teenage boy. At least 15 Palestinians were killed in the retaliation, including civilians, women and children. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis had to hunker down in bomb shelters in constant fear. And all as a result of a childish policy.

Who started? To the Israelis it is clear - it started with the abominable fire on the school bus. We had to retaliate to that. To the Palestinians it is clear - it started with killing a senior Hamas official. We had to retaliate to that. And before that it was ... and before that it was ... and before that it was...

And how will it end? Today there seems no end to it. Each side insists on not letting the other side fire the last shot.

The first childish decision was ours - Israel must on no account recognize the Hamas government because Hamas is a terror organization, which does not recognize the Jewish democratic state. Because Hamas is this and that.

This is complete - and fatal - nonsense. Hamas really is this and that, but it is the only government in Gaza. We tried to bring it down and as a result it grew stronger. Moreover, secret WikiLeaks documents recently published reveal that a senior Israeli defense official told an American diplomat Israel is interested in maintaining Hamas' rule in Gaza in the short term, because any alternative reign would be worse.

If so, what is this bloody game for? Why continue bluffing the Israeli public when the solution is simple? Israel must recognize Hamas' government in Gaza de facto, as an existing reality. Israel must negotiate with the existing government over practical matters that require an arrangement.

There is no point in achieving another fuzzy tahadia (calm ), with the help of another shadowy third party, with no details and no official agreement. We need an official cease fire, fixed in a written document, setting procedures to sort out complaints. We need an agreed, manifest, reliable third party to supervise this process.

Israel's entire approach to the Gaza Strip is anachronistic. The blockade, intended to persuade the population to topple the Hamas government, failed and has turned into a stumbling-block. We must cut ourselves off from Gaza once and for all, and this means allowing Gaza to open itself in all the other directions - opening the Gaza port, airport and border with Egypt.

Israel has proved it can prevent bringing in weapons in other more effective ways. This also pertains to the next flotilla barreling our way. Let it sail in peace wheresoever it may.

This is common sense. Former Mossad chief Efraim Halevy also hinted as much. Anything else is stupid, childish, one-upmanship games - he started, let him stop first, and the like. To put it simply - fatal stupidity.

Benjamin Netanyahu was also gripped by second childishness when he began his campaign to avert the oncoming "diplomatic tsunami" - world recognition of a Palestinian state on lands captured by Israel in 1967, with East Jerusalem as the capital.

Netanyahu, who believes one word is worth a thousand acts, is planning to turn a few more villages over to Palestinian rule, convene another Madrid-style international conference and persuade one more state to vote against recognition of the state in the UN.

How many times can we repeat these childish tricks, especially when the world's answer is expected to be a simple cry: "Israelis, we're fed up with you!"

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HARARETZ

OPINION

WHAT THE LAW REALLY SAYS

IS THE STATE OF ISRAEL TURNING INTO AN ANACHRONISM IN THE WAKE OF THE PASSAGE OF LEGISLATION THAT 'MAKES ETHNIC INEQUALITY A LEGAL NORM,' AS ZE'EV STERNHELL PUT IT?

BY ALEXANDER YAKOBSON

The State of Israel, wrote Ze'ev Sternhell in Haaretz, is turning into an anachronism before our very eyes in the wake of the passage of legislation that "makes ethnic inequality a legal norm."

But what does the Acceptance Committee Law really say about ethnic discrimination? It says "The acceptance committee will not refuse to accept a candidate for reasons of race, religion, sex, nationality, disability, personal status, age, parenthood, sexual proclivity, country of origin, opinions or political affiliation."

Obviously, one can expect there will be attempts to prevent acceptance of candidates because of all these prohibited reasons. However, this is no simple matter. A refusal like this is destined to find its way to the High Court of Justice and to be decided there.

If indeed the law had permitted manifestations of ethnic discrimination, the law itself would be invalid. Since the opposite is true, it is clear how the Supreme Court justices will lean in the case of a refusal suspected as illegitimate.

Under the law, a refusal requires a reasoned decision in writing. The prohibition on refusing a candidate for reasons of opinion makes it very difficult to circumvent the prohibition on ethic discrimination by questions like a candidate's attitude toward Zionism, for example. According to the language of the law, it is doubtful that this a legal question, since this too is a matter of "opinion."

And in the end, as we have said, the justices will decide. In any case the claim that the law has made ethnic discrimination into a legal principle the state is openly adopting is simply the opposite of true.

It must be recalled that this is not a matter of setting up a new mechanism that may in practice enable discrimination even if it is officially prohibited. The law does not establish the acceptance committees. These have been in existence for decades, to a larger extent than what the new law allows.

In the wake of Israeli law's liberalizing direction, doubt arose as to whether this arrangement would now stand the test of the High Court of Justice.

The law is an attempt to protect the acceptance committees from judicial invalidation at the price of reducing the scope their applicability and subjecting them to a long list of prohibitions on discrimination.

This does not mean it is a good law. There is scope for arguing that such acceptance committees, when it comes to allocations of land by the state, are not deserving of the legal protection.

There is one provision in the law that is clearly not legitimate: An acceptance committee is supposed to include a representative of a Zionist movement or of the Jewish Agency. It is unacceptable that representatives of the Zionist institutions will become a governmental or quasi-legal authority over an Arab citizen.

Every Israeli citizen must be subject only to institutions deriving their authority from the public of country's citizens - the entire public of citizens and the public of citizens alone.

This provision of the law must be invalidated. This is also the right opportunity to set clear limits to the quasi-official status of the Zionist institutions: Their status can exist in order to express the connection between the state and the Jews of the Diaspora (there are analogies to this elsewhere in the world ) but this must be limited in scope in a way that will prevent infringements of civil equality and democracy.

Prohibitions on discrimination and other restrictions were introduced into the law, gradually, during the process of legislation - both because of awareness of legal limitations and because of political pressures (including by the Knesset speaker ). When it comes to legislation, there is often a tremendous difference between what is proposed at the outset of the process and what is passed in the end.

Is Israel becoming an anachronism? Let's assume it is, for purposes of this discussion. But even an anachronism deserves to be criticized fairly and to have the truth and only the truth said about it.

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

FROM THE BOSPHORUS: STRAIGHT - THE NEED TO AVERT A NEW FLOTILLA CRISIS

We reported in our Wednesday paper that Gaby Levy, Israel's ambassador to Turkey, has called on Turkey not to allow the human rights organization İHH to send another aid convoy to Gaza in the form of a flotilla, noting that the move would be a "provocation."

The ambassador emphasized that Israel has no problem with transporting humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip through legal means, praising the work that Türk Kızılay, the Turkish Red Crescent, is doing there.  

We hope that the aid flotilla, which is scheduled to depart in June, probably after the elections in Turkey, does not fall victim to political "provocations" from any of the parties who hold a stake in what is a tricky situation with multiple layers.

We believe that Israel should give up on its illegal blockade of Gaza and allow materials like concrete to reach Gazans who want to rebuild their shattered infrastructure. However, we are also weary of the political motivations behind the sending of the flotilla.

The political motivation of highlighting the iniquity and illegality of Israel's blockade, a self-defeating blockade that keeps Gazans without the hope of a future or of peace with their neighbor, is one that we can support so long as it is carried out peacefully. On the other hand, any political motivations behind the move that aim to create tension between long-time allies Turkey and Israel, that attempt to score domestic political points, or build up Turkey's role as a popular symbol of regional populist sentiments that divide the Mediterranean region between "us" and "them," is not something that we support.

The fiasco that became of last year's Gaza aid flotilla came as a shock even to some top diplomats in Turkey and Israel who were in close contact prior to the Israeli raid on the Mavi Marmara ship that left eight Turks and one Turkish-American dead. As we have over a month to go before the proposed aid flotilla sets out, we hope that all the actors involved have learned valuable lessons from last year's disaster and that cooler heads can prevail. Given the political turmoil and uncertainty racking the region, revisiting a "Turkish-Israeli" crisis now would be the last thing any responsible person would seek. As people throughout the region demonstrate their yearning for a say in the political process, Turkey and Israel, both with well-established democratic traditions, should set a good example for the region by narrowing their differences through dialogue.

One possible solution that has been proposed is that Israel allow a flotilla to deliver materials to Gaza so long as İHH submits the ships to international inspectors who can verify that the ships pose no national security threat to Israel, politics excluded. We believe this may be an elegant solution, and one that will benefit Gazans the most.

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

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

ERDOĞAN WALKS A DIFFERENT LINE THAN EUROPEAN VALUES

BARÇIN YİNANÇ

The change in Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's rhetoric has been an obvious one to us, Turks. Until recently, it was not that obvious to the foreign observers. I recall an anecdote of a Turkish think tank member, who accompanied a foreign visitor at his meeting with Prime Minister Erdoğan, in his early days in office. "The guest was very much impressed by his soft-spoken nature," he told me.

The Davos spat where the prime minister walked out of the panel after a harsh exchange of words with Israeli President Shimon Peres was a turning point familiarizing the international community with his temper. Still many thought he was right on getting angry. In fact many felt he did something not many leaders could dare to do. Turkey observers were rather slow in seeing the transformation of Erdoğan, who was getting less and less tolerant to criticism.

Erdoğan has received a warm welcome during his previous visits to the Parliamentary Assembly of Council of Europe. He was hailed as a true reformer. His latest visit to Strasbourg shows that the mood seems to have changed.

Believe me, many journalists would have preferred to be in the place of the parliamentarians to ask him questions, since it has become quiet risky to address the prime minister as a journalist especially on sensitive issues.

The prime minister was the target of several questions that were in fact criticisms formulated as questions.

I have to congratulate him or his advisers to deliberately touch upon the subject of arrested journalists in his opening speech. This is what I call a "preemptive strike." You explain your position on the issue you expect to be addressed, and this way decrease the intensity of the discussion. Similarly, the prime minister's statement that he as asked the Secretary General of Council of Europe, to send a fact-finding mission, is part of this "preemptive strike" strategy.

In contrast to previous governments, who used to resist any kind of fact-finding mission on problematic human rights issues, Erdoğan has put his difference by giving a message of self-confidence. "We are confident enough to invite a delegation to Turkey," is the underlying message.

Yet that was not enough to stop the wave of criticism. The answers he provided were not based on explaining and convincing. His confidence did not stem from the fact that he felt 100 percent right, it stemmed from the fact that he did not care about the criticism. When he was asked why his government did not lower the 10 percent threshold, he talked about how Roma people were sent back to Romania by France. He said there is no respect for personal religious freedoms, implying the recent French ban on wearing facial veils. In other words he resorted to the old but always ineffective tool of redirecting criticism, based on "Who are you to criticize me?"

He said, "Those who are judging us should first take a look at themselves," he said. "If we have to lower the threshold, we are not going to ask you, we will ask our nation."

At one stage, he said, "Maybe you do not share my arguments. You don't have to. And I don't expect you to do so." He probably said this seeing the disapproval on the faces of the parliamentarians. It is not too difficult to understand their disapproval. His rhetoric is in contrast of the Council of Europe's working culture. This is an organization that upholds values that Turkey has also said it endorses. Not only are its countries expected to be open to criticism, the views of the organization are also asked for on these common values.

Take the example of the election threshold. As Turkey is a member of the European Court of Human Rights, the issue came in front of the court. It actually decided in favor of Turkey, saying in short that election threshold is a tool resorted for political stability. The court underlined in its judgment however that 10 percent threshold is very high, (the highest in Europe in fact, where the average is around 5 percent) falling short of making any suggestion as to the ratio.

One cannot expect the prime minister to know those details. Yet his rhetoric has probably cast doubt on his credentials as a true democrat.

By the way I have to recall that his advisers are very fond of resorting to the Council of Europe's different institutions when it suits their interests. They have made ample use of the Venice Commission in reference to constitutional amendments.

A final note: While he said the executive, that is the government had nothing to do with the arrests of journalists, saying it is the responsibility of judiciary, he nevertheless could not keep himself from making a defensive statement. His likening of Ahmet Şık's book, which has not even been published, to a bomb and that the police can apprehend not only those possessing the bomb but the material to make a bomb, did not make sense at all. This sort of likening can only be justified by a mentality that sees expression of thoughts as deadly as a bomb. Expressing thoughts that incite violence is dangerous, but everyone in Turkey that had a look at the draft of the book said it does not fall within that category.

The secretary-general of the Council of Europe should not waste a minute and seize upon the invitation of the prime minister to send a delegation to Turkey to take a closer look at this issue for itself.

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

FRANCE ON THE MOVE

SAMİ KOHEN

Developments in Libya have helped France come to the forefront while it is in search of a regional role. The close attention Paris pays to the North Africa-Middle East region and the recent events make France a competitor for Turkey, which is also pursuing a proactive policy in the region.

The main factor behind why France united with the United Kingdom and organized a military operation in Libya at the beginning of the uprising is President Nicolas Sarkozy's ambition and goal to drive France forward as a global power.

And another factor is that instead of its old intervener stance, the United States has adopted a prudent and even a low-profile attitude in the Libyan crisis and in the Arab world in general. This has created a political vacuum in the region.

Taking advantage of the situation, Sarkozy took initiative in Libya (and then in the Ivory Coast) copped an attitude against Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi and launched airborne operations together with the United Kingdom.

As the occasion serves

Sarkozy's desire to have a say and spread his influence in this vast region is nothing new. After he took the presidential seat, as remembered, he suggested the Union for the Mediterranean, or UPM, project. And Turkey felt cold toward this project with a reservation that Sarkozy might want to "sell" this to Turkey in place of an alternative to Turkey's European Union membership bid.

Other examples exist to reveal how much Sarkozy wants to have a voice in the region. For instance, when Russia conducted military operation in Georgia, Sarkozy opened the Caucasus dossier and made diplomatic attempts between Moscow and Tbilisi. Let's remember: Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had also made a move in the same direction at the time.

Yet another example is Sarkozy's initiatives concerning Syria and Lebanon. That again coincides with Erdoğan's soothing efforts, just like in the Gaza issue.

As actors withdraw

As I say above, whereas powerful states and institutions, starting with United States, have kept a distance from the uprising in Libya, French diplomacy had a chance to act more eagerly in the subject and fill the gap.

-  After military interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq, the U.S. does not want to take a new risk and burden. Americans prefer to stay back – but still hold the steering-wheel.

-  The EU is adopting a rather reactionary and distant attitude (takes no action, sticks with words only). Even powerful EU countries, such as Germany, are just watching and doing nothing.

-  The Arab League has played a limited role in the United Nations Security Council resolutions. That's all. The African League made some brokerage efforts but failed.

-  Russia is not involved in the matter.

-  Regional actors, including Iran and Saudi Arabia, are playing no active role in Libya. They are rather active in the Gulf region.

In this case, Turkey, as a country in the region, shines out in heavy diplomatic efforts and is more focused on the area, including Libya.

Similarly, France representing itself also as a Mediterranean country, wants to have a voice and play an active role in the region.

This competition is getting tougher and tenser at times due to Sarkozy's negative approach to Turkey and Turkey's anger toward Sarkozy for his behavior. But the two countries can seek cooperation for the sake of everyone rather than having a tug-of-war.

*Sami Kohen is a columnist of daily Milliyet, in which this piece appeared Wednesday. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

GRACE UNDER STRESS

RICHARD REID

The crippled reactor is still leaking, Toyota and Nissan are stumbling, the recovery will cost more than $300 billion, and there is no end to the aftershocks. All true.

Just remember, though, that the Japanese themselves have been like a force of nature for more than a hundred years. A strung-out disaster is not going to obliterate their role in the world. Japan will get itself up. More than that, the struggle to recover will shake it out of economic stagnation, and before long restore it to the powerhouse status it enjoyed 20 years ago. The comeback should be well under way by the end of the decade.

Not everyone agrees. The earthquake and its aftermath could be "the final marker in an irreversible decline," a New York Times article has suggested. Some of Japan's own social commentators predict a long eclipse, a punishment by ancestral spirits for the blind hedonism of recent years. In the view of the Economist, as bad as things are now, they "may take a darker turn."

These estimates ignore Japan's fundamentals. Its inland manufacturing base was mainly undamaged by the earthquake and the tsunami, except for a few refinery fires. The doomsday view also overlooks the power of social cohesion – the differential psychologies of nations hit by calamity. Through history, strong peoples scoured to the bone by catastrophe have come out stronger than before. Russia after Stalingrad is an example. Rome climbed to empire after Carthage had decimated its legions in one battle after another. Disaster can cast up uncanny opportunity. Shock therapy works with gritty nations.

The Japanese have grit. Over the centuries they've needed it. Nature did their country no favors. Unlike nations sitting on fossil fuel deposits or veins of commodity metals, Japan has next to nothing to speak of in the way of mineral resources or other prized raw goods. Its terrain is difficult – high, uninhabitable mountains make up 85 per cent of its land mass. Almost all of its population and tillable land are squeezed along its coastal plains. It's been against such poor physical luck that the Japanese have made themselves a bootstrap people, getting to where they have by brains and focused, stoic discipline.

Japan had little choice. The traumatic arrival of the American Black Fleet and the momentum of the Meiji Restoration in the late 1800s ended the country's isolation and pushed it out into the world. With few raw goods to sell, Japan was forced to become a nation of makers and exporters. It became good at that. The Toyota Corolla, the most-sold car in history, is contemporary proof.

So in less than a century Japan took itself from isolation to industrialization to military power – such exhilarating power that it moved from victory in war with Russia in 1905 to the imperialist ambition of its Greater Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere – and from there into World War II, and a climactic disaster worse than today's.

The Japanese came up from the ashes of that defeat. The same traits that served them then are on exhibit now, as they dig themselves out of the wreckage, wait patiently in food lines, and wrap themselves in futons and blankets against the cold of the cramped shelters where they've spent the past weeks. Anger at the government is welling up, but there seems to be scarcely any of the breast-beating and self-pity that would immobilize many peoples.

In this, an experience of my own comes to mind. I'm reminded of the way the Japanese kids in my primary school in California rejoined our class after two years in the miserable "relocation facilities" they and their families had been sent to during World War II. They simply reappeared in the classroom one day, composed, Toshi and the others, and that day they were out on the playground with the rest of us. They picked up their lives after their return, as if not much had happened. Of course, something grossly wrong had happened to them. But no tears. It may be that the victimhood gene is weak in the Japanese.

Today the media narrative from the worst-hit areas of Japan shows other traits that will make the comeback happen. One is the readiness to sacrifice that has kept more than a hundred nuclear technicians on the job in the midst of the leaking radiation at the failed reactors. We're also seeing and reading about a reflexive social cohesion – of people with still-intact homes taking in strangers as well as neighbors, and making the best of it together. There are now 15 people boarding down in the home of a Japanese exchange student of mine.

Alongside the good will, there will be a reckoning once Japan is out of survival mode and into recovery. The post mortem will sweep the ranks of all those who can be linked with the disaster – the nuclear utilities, the regulatory bureaucrats, and political bodies. Since any affiliation with the status quo will be suspect, a combative new political class will be likely to rise, ready to replace the safe gray men who have run the country up to now. We will see unfamiliar kinds of faces in Japanese domestic politics.

Out of this a changed foreign policy is likely to emerge – a newly assertive Japanese nationalism. This will push against the grain of habit and the country's pacifist constitution. But it will ride something stronger – a latent militarism that can't be kept down forever, fed by a growing resentment of China: of Beijing's recent territorial claims and bullying at sea, and its having jumped over Japan in the global GNP rankings.

So recovery from this disaster stands to be a wrenching, somewhat birth-like process for the Japanese. The process will give wing to new divisions, and therefore it will call on all the communitarian gifts that have held Japanese society together – a sustained show of the kind of courage that Ernest Hemingway once defined as grace under stress.

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

WHAT WOULD HAPPEN IF THE CHP WAS TO SELECT CANDIDATES WITH A HEADSCARF?

MEHMET ALİ BİRAND

I'd like to discuss with you one question that I have in mind.

The question is very simple:

What would happen if the party was to select a candidate with a headscarf?

Don't say, "No that can't be."

Let's discuss.

What would the party win or lose? Let's figure out together.

For some time I've been listening to words by the main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, leader and watching his commercials on TV.

His messages are very interesting:

- The CHP wants to embrace everyone.

- It does not discriminate anyone because of its ideology or belief.

- It is the only party to easily solve the headscarf issue and will do so.

Then if you look at candidates selected by the party there are names clearly indicating that targeted votes are not oriented toward centre right but beyond right. CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu said that these selected people prove the intent of the party to open up to all segments.

Now let me ask the same question over again:

Why didn't the CHP while exhibiting a different approach select candidates with a headscarf?

Beside, what would the CHP win or lose if the CHP would dare to do this in a time in which the headscarf has lost its charm and symbolic meaning, in which the public no longer perceives it as a threat, in which we often get confronted with the headscarf in almost every official institution and as late President Turgut Özal used to say we "started to get used to it."

- Wouldn't the CHP have gotten a hold of ruling party's magic wand?

- Wouldn't it receive votes from the majority of the conservative segment?

- Couldn't the CHP have diversified its range of votes further as it wants to lend a hand to centre right?

- Wouldn't it have made a revolution in this country?

Now let's turn to see what it would have lost:

- Was it perhaps afraid of losing its fortress like İzmir?

- Did it hesitate to make such a call within the party with elections approaching?

- Or didn't Kılıçdaroğlu dare to take this giant step?

I believe that this was a lost opportunity

On second thought I believe that the CHP missed out on an opportunity.

It is obvious that the Turkish society has left the headscarf issue behind.

You'll see that the headscarf will sooner or later enter Parliament and maybe encounter some reactions at first but there will be no conflict in society.

We need to understand that Turkey does no longer face a threat of being a state of fundamentalism or Shariah. Isn't it time that those who want to embrace society realize the truth and be brave enough to get rid of outdated taboos?

If the CHP could exhibit such brave behavior it would rid itself and Turkey of its handcuffs.

You'll see that in the period after elections the headscarf will totally be liberated and enter Parliament and then taking such step would be much more normal. It will be too late by then. The ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, will write history as a party that liberated the headscarf.

That is the opportunity the CHP misses out on.

Baykal exhibits an exemplary behavior

Everybody has a different view on the CHP's former leader, Deniz Baykal.

According to some he completed his term and according to others he blocked the CHP.

I witnessed what Baykal contributed to this party carrying it on his shoulders all by himself and I always believed in the importance of his presence.

And those who say, "Baykal is a wolf in sheep's clothing. He is taking shelter and awaits Kılıçdaroğlu's failure in elections," are mistaken. They may be right later on but if you look at the attitude of leaders up until now and if you are not a disputed Baykal opponent, you'll see that he has taught a lesson of being an exemplary "former leader."

Take a look at his attitude in group meetings.

No exaggeration and no trying to attract attention.

Take a look at recent developments. Those close to him have been left outside but Baykal did not make it an issue.

He could have made such a fuss if he wanted to that no one would be able to stop him and he could have proved to everybody that he did it in order to gain votes for his party. He could make life difficult for Kılıçdaroğlu.

But he behaves as if he was an ordinary member of his party.

He doesn't even create obstacles for some members of the CHP leadership who are not so sensible about him. On the contrary, distant approach or suspicion in the beginning must have been resolved because he tries to make Kılıçdaroğlu's life easier.

Apologizing to the prime minister for his rude behavior was also a lesson meant for politicians.

I wrote this article in order to tell people, "Let go of Baykal and focus on elections instead."

Baykal has already paid his dues.

Let's make peace.

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

NEVER-ENDING STORY

ERSU ABLAK

It is unfortunate that when there is money involved, even the members of the same family can turn on each other.

It is also unfortunate that when there is billions of dollars involved, even the most well-known businesspeople can do things that really don't suit their reputation.

Turkcell has been the epicenter of chaos in the Turkish telecommunications industry for some time now. Its rivals have benefited from the deadlocked board and did better than expected while Turkcell has lost steam.

But this fact has not deterred Mehmet Emin Karamehmet in changing his strategy of trying to gain control of the company by controlling the board – even when he doesn't have a majority of the shares.

The other day, I talked to Lars Nyberg, the CEO Telia Sonera, one of Turkcell's major shareholders, about the latest developments. I can say that he is very sorry about this issue because all the shareholders, including Telia Sonera, Karamehmet and all the small shareholders are losing money because of the dysfunctional board. Nyberg says no one is benefiting from the current situation and that it has to be resolved for Turkcell to focus on competition again.

This fight over the ownership doesn't really interest the end user as long as the day-to-day operations doesn't get affected by it. However, it is of great interest to anyone with a share at hand and any person who is interested in the Turkish telecommunication industry. I believe that this cumbersome issue is being watched very closely not only by current foreign investors to Turkey, but also by those that are planning new investments as well.

The real problem is about the neutral member of the board. Telia is not convinced that the current one is really neutral and want him to be removed. Also, they would like the number of the neutral members to be increased, if possible. Nyberg says that the increase in the number of neutral members is what the authorities suggested as well.

On the other hand, Karamehmet doesn't want the neutral member to be changed and he doesn't want the number to be increased as he has the ability to block all decisions even though he has minority shares. This results in a board that can not function, meaning that Turkcell is losing to the competition. The coming board meeting could be a turning point, and that's why Karamehmet is doing his best to change the discussion from performance to being one about being a Turkish company. He knows that the government will be reluctant to see headlines saying that the current government let foreigners take control of Turkcell. That's the reason why Süreyya Ciliv stated that he would like Turkcell to remain Turkish. It is a bit weird to hear this from a person of his caliber. But as I said at the beginning, money and power can make people things that they will later regret.

It is Karamehmet who sold the majority of the shares to foreigners and it is really funny to hear his people bringing "the last national telecommunications company" bit to the table.

As a Turkish person, what is important for me is to see Turkcell performing well globally. It is and always will be a Turkish company, no matter who is on the board.

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

THE EGGPLANT LAND!

YUSUF KANLI

It is an old joke. Who invented it? God only knows. It is one of those anonymous folk jokes that are attributed to the famous Nasreddin Hodja.

One day, during the Emperor Tamerlane's occupation of Anatolia, Hodja for some reason went to visit the emperor. Naturally, it would not be a good idea to visit the palace without taking the emperor a gift. But Hodja was poor. He had nothing to offer to the emperor who had a reputation of limitless cruelty.

Hodja asked his fellow villagers for their advice on what to take the emperor. Suggestions included cabbage, some nuts and since the village of Hodja was famous for its delicious, sweet and giant pumpkins, he should perhaps take a few of them to the emperor.

Eventually, Hodja decided to take some freshly harvested walnuts.

On the way to the palace, Hodja felt tired and took rest under a walnut tree. Lying under the tree Hodja murmured in amazement how it happened that a small plant was able to produce such gigantic pumpkins yet such a gigantic tree was producing such small walnuts. With such questions in his mind on the works of nature, he fell asleep. Suddenly he woke up with a pain on his head. Apparently, a small walnut had fallen on his head.

Realizing what had happened; Hodja opened his hands to the skies and started praying: "My God, you know best of everything. What would have happened to me had this tree's fruits been pumpkins?"

In another version of the story, instead of a walnut falling from the an angry Tamerlane threw walnuts at Hodja's head after Hodja wondered what would have happened if he had brought pumpkins as a present to the emperor instead or walnuts.

While listening to United States Ambassador Francis Ricciardone at a breakfast hosted by the Association of Diplomatic Correspondents, or DMD, I remembered this joke when the ambassador said he loved eggplant and that it is so good that Turkey is an "eggplant country." The ambassador was replying to gestures from some journalists that it is known in Turkey that he is fond of "Imam Bayıldı" [translating as, the imam loved it so much that he fainted in pleasure], a Turkish dish prepared from eggplant by stuffing it with onions, garlic and tomatoes.

What would have happened if Turkey produced bananas and the ambassador was fond of banana milkshake? Would we call Turkey a banana republic? Was the term "banana republic" developed as well because of such a joke by someone?

Or, what would have happened had the ambassador been fond of "cacık" a kind of cold soup made of diced cucumber, garlic and mint in yoghurt. Would he perhaps joke that Turkey was a cucumber republic?

Thinking about the eggplant, would there be some other means of qualifying Turkey making that joke?

Oh la la. This joke may lead to some nasty conclusions, which eventually landed not only the ambassador but all of us in a roaster heated up by that angry tall, bald and drum-headed man busy yelling at everyone.

Ambassador Ricciardone was roasted and branded as being a "prentice ambassador" by the advanced democrat Absolute Ruler a while ago, when in remarks to questions from the media on the arrest of some senior journalists, the U.S. envoy had quipped he had difficulty understanding [how such a thing could happen in a democracy] such developments. Ambassador Ricciardone is not serving in Turkey for the first time. Plus, he speaks almost perfect Turkish, has a grasp of Turkish culture and of course was aware of the dangers of publicly confronting the Absolute Ruler. But, perhaps with the confidence of having the firm support of his country behind him, Ricciardone was courageous enough to repeat yesterday that press freedom was the sine qua non of democratic governance and irrespective of what the situation in the country might be now, as long as there were journalists determined not to step back from the defense of freedom of expression and values and norms of democracy, there was hope for the future.

Naturally, he was a diplomat and knew well how to make an adjustment that might help him stay away from being roasted once again. He said both the prime minister and the president have stressed in talks with him their firm belief that freedom of expression is the backbone of democratic governance.

OK, I'm off to have a piece of Imam Bayıldı now.

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 I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

A REPRIEVE

 

The furore over the dismemberment of the Higher Education Commission has been halted, at least temporarily, by the decision of the Supreme Court on Tuesday that it shall continue to discharge its functions pending the promulgation of fresh legislation. There has been an almost startling unanimity within the education establishment and the higher education bodies generally, that devolution of this key resource is nothing but a bad idea. There are any number of puzzling aspects to what is becoming an increasingly murky business, not the least of these being that no voices appear to have been raised against its devolution when this was being discussed in the committee that drafted the constitutional changes which would allow it to happen. Certainly, no objections appear to have been raised by the PML-N which is today strong in its condemnation of the proposed breakup and devolution to provincial equivalents. We now arrive at a position which is, to say the least, legally interesting.

In the context of the provisions of the 18th Amendment, the devolution of the HEC is a 'given'. It is now, once the legislation is on the books, that the 'thinking work' that should have been done in committee has been done retrospectively, and along with that has come the realisation that devolution in this case – and perhaps in other instances particularly relating to education – is likely to be detrimental rather than beneficial. Why this realisation has come so late in the day to so many is a matter for conjecture, but come it has, and with it more than a suspicion that the government is keen to 'punish' the HEC for its principled stand on the matter of fake degrees. It now appears that the action of the Supreme Court in effectively putting any change in the functioning of the HEC 'on hold' has created a breathing space in which the matter may be further examined before it is formally broken up. As with the devolution of all federal functions associated with the 18th Amendment, there has been a significant failure to 'think through' its consequences. Whatever its shortcomings, and they are not insignificant, the HEC is not going to be improved by being divided into provincial units. There will inevitably be duplication and inconsistency coming into national standards. Let us hope that the legal breathing space afforded by the Supreme Court allows better counsel to prevail, and that the HEC is ring-fenced against galloping devolution.

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

 

UNSEEMLY CIRCUS

 

It is sometimes quite hard to make sense of events in the country or understand what is going on. We appear to be caught in a bizarre pantomime which follows some surreal script, drafted perhaps by the powerful overlords who run things in our country. Take the unfolding saga of who is to argue the government's case in the NRO review petition. The Supreme Court says the lawyer who put up the case initially must do so again. Kamal Azfar, the man who fits this description, after being summoned before the court, now says that the government does not wish him to do so, has handed the brief in the case to Dr Khalid Ranjha and appointed him adviser to the prime minister. Rather unnecessarily, Mr Azfar has also complained about not being given 'respect' as adviser – a request by him to visit the flood-hit areas was ignored. This, of course, has no relevance to the rather serious matter at hand and the need to get on with the NRO case. Perhaps, it is yet another delaying tactic, with Mr Azfar now saying such tactics had been used by the government.

The court for its part has pointed out that in 2010 Mr Azfar had stated in a letter that he had resigned as adviser and could now plead the case. It has also reemphasised that the rules state that this should happen. At any rate, even if Kamal Azfar is an adviser to the PM, there appears to be no reason why he cannot step down. After all, in a highly theatrical gesture, law minister Babar Awan has done just this to allow him to plead the ZAB case 're-trial'. The matter is now being heard by the apex court. It can only be assumed that the tactics used in the NRO plea are yet another means to gain some time. The government has, after all, clearly demonstrated that it has no desire to follow up on court orders in the matter. What we need is for the case to proceed, the confusion over counsel for government to end, and a willingness to abide by court rulings to be demonstrated in a matter that has already lingered for far too long.

 

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I,THE NEWS

OPINION

LAW AND ORDER

 

The Supreme Court has noted that no one seems to be doing anything to protect the lives of the people of Balochistan or devise a definite strategy to do so. It observed that even the house of the DIG has come under attack, while target killings, kidnappings for ransom and all kinds of other violence directed against citizens continue. The court has summoned the chief secretary of Balochistan to appear before it and articulate the plan that has been devised to deal with this situation. It has also stated that while the people of the province have been staging protests outside parliament, no one appears to have bothered about their concerns or the situation that they are attempting to highlight.

This is an especially pertinent point. The crisis in Balochistan is hardly a secret. Murders, ethnic killings, the discovery of bodies and attacks on installations have been reported regularly. Newspapers carry an item or two of this nature from the province nearly every day. But what is shocking is that this state of affairs causes hardly a stir. The unrest in Balochistan has continued for years now. Failure to address it can only make matters worse. The state of affairs in the province needs to be dealt with most urgently. In some ways it is a testimony to the state of affairs we face that it has taken court intervention to bring the matter to the attention of citizens with the government being urged to do something about the complex mess that affects the lives of everyone in Balochistan. An effort to sort out matters should have been initiated a very long time ago. Since this was not done, the effort must begin now before things become even grimmer than they are at present.

 

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

US IMPERIALISM

DAVE LINDORFF

There was a truly bizarre and telling paragraph at the end of a Wall Street Journal news report on Pakistan's demand that the US bring home hundreds of CIA and Special Forces personnel operating undercover in that country, and that it halt the drone strikes in the border regions abutting Afghanistan, which have been killing countless civilian men, women and children.

Reporters Adam Entous and Matthew Rosenberg, with no sense of irony, wrote: "The US hasn't committed to adjusting the drone program in response to Pakistan's request. The CIA operates covertly, meaning the program doesn't require Islamabad's support, under US law. Some officials say the CIA operates with relative autonomy in the tribal areas. They played down the level of support they now receive from Pakistan."

Earlier in the story, in fact in the lead, the article states that Pakistan has 'privately demanded' that the CIA halt the drone strikes and pull out most of the CIA and special forces personnel operating in the country. But by the end of the article, we learn that the country is 'requesting' a halt to attacks by the US on its own territory and people. But odder is this notion that because the CIA is a covert agency, its operations don't need Pakistan's support under US law.

Excuse me for asking, but what exactly does US law have to do with whether or not the CIA needs another government's support for it to operate in that country legally?

Somehow we're at a point where even journalists and editors in the US accept without question the notion that the US is somehow free to run military operations anywhere it wants, to kill civilians with impunity, and to ignore demands not just of foreign governments but of the people of entire nations, at will, and that the issue is not whether CIA and special forces activity in a foreign country is legal in that country, but whether it is legal "under US law." This is the definition of imperialism. It's what I remember reading about how the Roman Legions behaved in the lands they occupied.

This whole sordid tale in Pakistan came to light because of the outrageous actions of one CIA operative, Raymond Davis, who was arrested and charged with two murders after he slaughtered two young men, apparently operatives of Pakistan's ISI, on a busy Lahore boulevard.

For all the US hyperventilating against Shariah law in Muslim countries, it was by applying Pakistan's Shariah Law on the use of death payments to victims' families that the US got Davis sprung.

But he was not freed before virtually everyone in Pakistan had begun calling for his trial and execution, and not before it became clear that he, and the rest of the US spy army in Pakistan, was actually involved in subverting civil authority in that country. There will eventually come a day of reckoning for this kind of imperial over-reaching.

Already, the US is losing its war in Afghanistan, largely because its imperial legions treat the whole Afghan population either as the enemy, or as obstacles in the way of its killing machine. Already the US is finally being pushed out of Iraq (another war lost). And things aren't looking that great even for America's latest imperial adventure in the little country of Libya.

In fact, as our vast and unprecedentedly expensive military bankrupts the nation, we may someday even find our own country being overrun by the armed agents of other lands, with their robotic aircraft bombing our helpless citizenry. When it does finally come to pass, we will have only our own imperial hubris to blame.
Courtesy:
www.counterpunch.org

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

A RELATIONSHIP GONE SOUR

 TAJ M KHATTAK

In 1961, US vice president Lyndon B Johnson shook hands with camel-cart driver Bashir Ahmed during a state visit to Pakistan, patted his camel and said: "You come to Washington and see us sometime."

Bashir's subsequent twelve-day visit to the US shortly afterwards was a media blaze. On his part, in deference to his guest's unease with silverware, LBJ even selected a menu where they could all eat with their hands. The high point came when Bashir was addressed as "Your Excellency" by former president Harry S Truman. That moment, Gary Powers' U-2 take off from Badaber airbase near Peshawar the previous May and the spy plane's shooting down over the Soviet Union, Prime Minister Nikita Khrushchev's threat to wipe Peshawar off the face of the earth and public anxiety over this crisis in Pakistan were all forgotten for a while.

Fast-forward to June 2008 and a bright Pakistani student, Samad Khurram, refuses an award from Ambassador Anne W Patterson in protest against US attacks on Mohmand Agency. But it was the thunderous applause for Khurram by the educated audience which accurately reflected the depth to which Pakistan-US relations had plummeted.

Gary Powers' flight was a watershed event in many ways, but most significantly it defined a moment when, in spite of being sponsor and signatory to the Bandung Pact, which in essence required us not be drawn into the Cold War and respect other countries' sovereignty, we allowed the use of our soil in a manner that could hardly amuse our neighbours, something which apparently did not stop even after Musharraf's speech of January 2004.

We ignored a basic tenet, that the security of a state is enhanced more with friendly neighbours than overdependence on distant allies for whom Pakistan will always be a country too far. The result: fifty years down the road, we still need to revisit the fundamentals of Pakistan-US relations, a yearning to start a composite dialogue with India, relations with Afghanistan are unstable and with Iran we are barely managing.

It might have been a different scenario if we had not succumbed to the lure of US aid, largely military and to a negligible extent in the social sector. We have no one but ourselves to blame for these missteps as others will always pursue their own national agendas and interests. Reaching out to China and building an "all- weather" relationship was the only sensible foreign policy decision which has stood us in good stead and is an eyesore for the US and India.

The foundation of Pakistan as a client state of the US was laid when we mortgaged Badaber in the late 1950s. It also ushered in an era in which the US administration was more at ease with successive corrupt and inept military and civilian rulers who kowtowed to the US and its policies but showed no vision with regard to the long-term interests of Pakistan. Pakistan-US relations in the context of the Pakistani people therefore remained a total disconnect to be fully exploited by the religious right on such occasions as the Rushdie affair and the seizure of Grand Mosque in Mecca in 1979.

After the latest slump, the White House has issued a 38-page report to Congress which is an indictment on Pakistan but accepts virtually no responsibility on what increasingly looks like 3-D model of conflicting US policies and incoherence in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Consider: if the CIA has ownership of drones and spies like Raymond Davis, the State Department pushes the nuclear deal with India but opposes the same deal with Pakistan and the Pentagon manages the United States' Afghan policy in Kabul at the macro level, thus widening mistrust between Pakistan and the US, why then put the onus of the failures entirely on Pakistan?

The report ignores Pakistan's national interests, or they are not given sufficient importance. If the US has clarity on achievable war objectives in Afghanistan, they may be known to a few in Washington and the information is not shared with Pakistan.

It is evident that through its heavy-handed policies, US is only interested in lowering militancy threat level on the Afghan side till its drawdown commences and least concerned with any proportionate decrease on this side of the border. Pakistan had been left holding the baby in the past and is unlikely to be fooled so easily this time around. The US makes much of the $8 billions aid and Coalition Support Fund but is insensitive to a nearly $80 billions hit to our economy.

In response to the White House report the Congress panel's recommendations contained little that was new. It cited the usual differences between the US and Pakistan on their threat perceptions which are adversely affecting operations against extremists. It has also alleged that Pakistan's military establishment has links with banned outfits.

India and Pakistan have fought three destructive wars and were on the verge of conflict on at least two other occasions. Any country which has dismembered another through use of force would be a threat by any definition of the word and India fits that bill. Neither the US nor India has any interest in a forward movement towards permanent peace in the region. If this is not a threat situation and the US sees it differently, then so be it.

What is one to make of the US withdrawal from four bases in Nuristan on the border with Pakistan which left the north-eastern province as a safe haven for the Taliban-led insurgency to orchestrate local battles? This had a direct negative impact on the Pakistani army's operations as militants from Afghanistan infiltrated into Mohmand and Bajaur to help the Pakistani Taliban under siege.

Al-Jazeera's footage of Taliban fighters brandishing US weapons has not been denied either. How is the US administration going to explain to the families of its perished soldiers that not only is the US involved in Afghanistan for all the wrong reasons but has also supplied insurgents with weapons to kill their sons and daughters serving in this godforsaken country? Is there any surprise, then, as to why its frustrated, i-pod equipped soldiers are killing innocent Afghan civilians at random as reported recently by the German magazine Der Spiegel?

The congressmen's panel report has asked President Obama to abandon Pakistan and embrace India which, according to Congress, is emerging as the brightest light in South Asia. They have conveniently forgotten that the US has never really embraced anyone in the true sense of the word. It has only used countries along the way and then dumped them when they are no longer required. The Indians are too sharp not to understand this.

Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir would soon be on his way to patch up a floundering relationship. A relationship which is cosy today and in the doldrums tomorrow can hardly be helpful or strategic in nature. One hopes he can successfully plead Pakistan's case for convergence and not divergence of long-term interests between the two countries.

If not, it might be appropriate to move away from this fractured "close" relationship to a normal one. The strategic relationship is a misnomer and cannot take us anywhere if we are looking in different directions. We need to focus our energies on improving relations with our neighbours in the region. To be sure, there will be economic difficulties in the beginning as we move away from the US orbit.

The Chinese didn't give up opium in a single day. Our addiction to foreign aid too will take a while to go away. The Y junction on the road ahead and out of the US embrace may well be a blessing in disguise.



The writer is a retired vice admiral. Email: tajkhattak@ymail.com

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

CONTESTING PARADIGMS

TANVIR AHMAD KHAN

At a time when academic and journalistic discourse about Pakistan is often bent to serve the strategic needs of major powers, Dr Maleeha Lodhi has drawn upon the insights of a distinguished group of experts to re-locate this discourse in facts as well as in the true ethos of a nation so misrepresented in recent times.

Dr Lodhi blends her experience in journalism, academia and diplomacy in her own seminal chapter that provides the book with its sub-title as well as in its thoughtful design.

I read the book 'Pakistan: Beyond the Crisis State' almost simultaneously with the long essay called 'Pakistan's Future' in which Stephen Cohen all but reneges on the optimism that informed his book Idea of Pakistan. My critical prepossessions of mind included the questions: how selective have the authors been about facts in the two cases; how far do the contributors to the volume edited by Dr Lodhi tweak the data to yield a feel-good conclusion; and how far has Stephen Cohen succumbed to the linear negative view of Pakistan currently in vogue in the think-tank community in the United States.

It is my impression that Dr Lodhi's project does not shun diversity of views while Cohen's dark foreboding about Pakistan's future has a deterministic air about it. This is the opposite of Dr Lodhi's faith in the resilience of the people of Pakistan and in several old and new factors that can still prove a doomsday prognosis wrong.

In fact the opening chapter of the book by the redoubtable Ayesha Jalal is the least optimistic of the essays that comprise the book. She has flagged the issues that bedevil Pakistan's strategic culture with her usual diligence and there is no gainsaying that Pakistan needs a paradigm shift. She does not however make a persuasive case for her fear that the nation would not be able to make this shift.

Dr Lodhi's own 33-page essay has a broad canvas and she tests her faith in Pakistan's ability to chart a course beyond the crisis state against a number of issues that are otherwise cited to sketch an ominous future for it. She does it with her rapier sharp intellect identifying five factors that are central to understanding the Pakistan story: asymmetry between political and non-political institutions, feudal dominated order and culture, reliance of the oligarchic elite on borrowed growth, geography, national security goals and role of outside powers and persistence of centrifugal forces.

She addresses each of them in a historical context and leads us to a set of perceptions about transformational trends that should help Pakistan mediate and eventually overcome the negative factors. Is there, the essay, asks, a middle class moment in Pakistan's evolution? Pakistan's expanding middle class, she hopes, may well in the years ahead become a significant force and be able to impact more on national life. She rightly sees in the rapidly increasing connectivity brought by broadcast media, internet and mobile phones a powerful ally in this process.

I read her masterly analysis while haunted by the fear that the transformative factors can, on present empirical evidence, produce conflicting scenarios. Stephen Cohen, for instance, visualises many parallel Pakistans, almost in a state of strife, as the rising middle class embraces local histories and causes.

The last election took place after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto who could have conceivably articulated a national framework of ideas. The present coalition is held together by political bargaining of an entirely different kind in which the component parties often play divisive cards to get better terms of engagement at the cost of greater national cohesion. There is not enough evidence that the middle class is mobilised to resist continuation of Machiavellian politics.

The middle class is the best hope though past evidence is that its successful members have often aspired to feudal values and ever expanding land holdings; nor is the middle class immune to rampant corruption in our land. Again, the middle class itself is not stable. While segments of it are profiting enormously from globalisation, parts of it cannot find an interface with new opportunities and are slipping down.

The discussion of economic issues in the book is generally anchored in the assumption that remedial initiatives have to remain within the parameters of the dominant neo-liberal economic theories of our times. The main chapter on economy by Dr Meekal Ahmad emphasises macroeconomic stability and an export-led growth. His analysis of Pakistan's economic fortunes since the Ayub era contains many useful insights. Ahmad, however, is an unrepentant believer in the discipline that the IMF imposes and feels that an earlier recourse to IMF would have avoided some of the setbacks that the national economy suffered during recent years. Dr Lodhi speaks of borrowed growth and its inevitable fragility, a sub-theme that should generate some fundamental debate.

I would commend the two chapters on civil military themes by Shuja Nawaz and Saeed Shafqat. Neither of them fights shy of acknowledging the overwhelming power and ubiquity of the armed forces and their emergence as a corporate entity. The army's penetration of civil administration that General Kayani has reduced and their dominance of foreign and security policy issues are discussed in historical terms as well as the particular geopolitical realities of today. Both the authors focus on factors of change and point out changes in recruitment patterns such as the class origins of the officer corp and the greater geographical spread of the areas from where new officers come.

Two other chapters that should be carefully read are Feroz Hasan Khan on nuclear issues and Munir Akram on Pakistan's strategic shrinkage. Khan is one of the best defenders of Pakistan's nuclear deterrent abroad. But Akram has not shed his hawkish plumage and his quest for the restoration of Pakistan's strategic clout strikes one as more of an expression of hope. Hope as we know is not policy especially when Pakistan has a government that does not wish to entertain even this hope.

This is a book to be owned as it is a rare combination of two kinds of writing. One, it is an easy read uncluttered by academic jargon and it admirably fulfils its mission to substantiate its basic thesis about Pakistan's ability to rise again. Two, Maleeha Lodhi has assembled such an impressive cast that various essays, cumulatively, double as a book of reference.



The writer is a former foreign secretary.

Email: katanvir@yahoo.com

 

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

ACCOUNTABILITY FOR ALL

IKRAM SEHGAL

Speaking at the National School of Public Policy in Lahore, Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry said that "bureaucrats were not obliged to follow illegal orders of their superiors. They have to take all decisions according to their conscience and in accordance with the rules and the law, knowing well that they might have to suffer in the process." The Manual of Pakistan Military Law about not obeying "unlawful commands" is more explicit. Unfortunately, the bottom line is the operative phrase in the admonition by the chief justice about disobeying, "knowing well that they might have to suffer in the process."

Unlike common public perceptions, there are instances of civil bureaucrats and army officers having their careers cut short because they refused to obey an "unlawful command." Yahya Khan may have been declared a usurper post facto, but everyone slavishly followed his orders and fawned on him till the very moment he left power. The only honourable exception was Lt Gen Sahibzada Yaqub Khan in 1971. The brilliant army career of the commander of the Eastern Command came to a dead stop because of his reservations about the proposed army operation in East Pakistan. Even among those retired, Air Marshal Asghar Khan was at that time the only brave and conscientious voice of dissent. Not very popular then, the air marshal always upheld the right position, against all odds. That they were right is no consolation to the many who died because of political bankruptcy and military madness.

Nobody dares become a "conscientious objector." Our civil servants and uniformed officers invariably chose discretion to be the better part of valour in the face of official retribution. Hopefully the chief justice and his justices will take up the cudgels on an issue considered heretical by the establishment. People do have a conscience and the will to go with it. What is the guarantee that they will survive their commitment to principles?

Does bogus votes allow "elected" MNAs or MPAs legality in office? Are they entitled to give any command, lawful or unlawful? Doubts about the credibility of office make every command unlawful. Consequently, can those "selected," both civil and military, enforce orders given by those "elected" as the "laws of the land"? Where is the moral right of those fraudulently elected to preside over the promotion and postings of civil and military servants of the state? One has great respect for the superior judiciary but the prevaricating on implementing their judgments over the past year has allowed criminals to function in the name of justice. Justice has now become a crime. Imran Khan has petitioned the Supreme Court about massive fraud in the electoral rolls. Indeed, why is the Higher Education Commission (HEC) in danger of extinction except for being a threat to those with fake degrees who are now legislating on the destiny of Pakistan? Including the Supreme Court, every institution in the state is being targeted, the NAB has been brought to its knees by the simple expedient of appointment of controversial people.

Those disqualified by the Supreme Court are reappointed time and again, and this does not constitute contempt? The fact remains that the status quo is continuing under the "doctrine of necessity." The major changes in the electoral process required are: (1) elimination of the "first past the post" system and its replacement by a "run-off" election if anyone does not get an absolute majority of the vote. Any candidate not obtaining 50 percent plus one vote should trigger a subsequent direct contest between the two getting the largest numbers of votes to obtain an absolute majority; and (2) by bringing in "proportional representation" to engage the "great silent majority" of the populace contemptuously ignored in the present democratic system.

Asif Ali Zardari's political and personal reasons notwithstanding, he must be commended for trying to right the legal wrong done against his children's grandfather and the party that he now controls by default. Murder most foul was committed by a hit squad of the Federal Security Force (FSF). Except for the one person who directly ordered the atrocity, all went to the gallows. Whether Z A Bhutto gave the orders to Masood Mahmood or the FSF chief invented such orders to turn approver and escape the gallows is a moot point. The split 4-3 making the Supreme Court judgment controversial, Bhutto's execution became a travesty of justice.

On Feb 21, 1952, students from across Dhaka gathered outside Dhaka Medical College Hospital in Dhaka University campus determined to violate Section 144 in support of their rightful demand for Bengali being declared one of the country's national languages. When the students came out of the gate, four young men, Rafiquddin Ahmad, Abdul Jabbar, Abdul Barkat and Abdus Salam, were killed in police firing on Masood Mahmood's direct orders, the superintendent of police. This atrocity was meant to "teach the Bengalis a lesson." "Ekushay" (as Feb 21 is known in Bangladesh) led directly to Dec 16, 1971.

Is it coincidence that this unscrupulous and immoral person tried to be "more loyal than the king" in Lahore as he had done in Dhaka 22 years earlier? Caught out and facing extreme punishment, Masood Mahmood conveniently passed the blame onto Bhutto to escape the gallows. Why was the actual perpetuator of the crime allowed to become an approver?

The Supreme Court has a unique chance to correct this egregious legal wrong. The removal of this blot from our legal history will certainly not only endear it to the PPP rank and file and a great majority of Pakistanis but restore our judiciary's credibility in international circles.

The Supreme Court can than eliminate the blackest of black laws, the NRO, from the statute books of Pakistan, and settle many other legal issues in contention without having to contend with the "Sindh Card" bogey. President Zardari has displayed tremendous courage in voluntarily resolving another controversial issue of consequence, the question of immunity for the president. In his affidavit to the Supreme Court on Bhutto's execution, he has invoked Islamic injunctions in unequivocally stating that "everyone is accountable before the law." Charges of corruption and misuse of authority can no longer be considered off limits because of presidential immunity.

As one of the pillars of democracy, the media holds the organs of the state accountable on behalf of public interest. The guerrilla campaign by the government against Geo TV's various channels must be unequivocally condemned. Freedom of speech must be defended and cannot be allowed to be curtailed. The Supreme Court can start addressing our woes by ensuring that justice about the "freedom of speech" is not delayed. Justice delayed will be justice denied.



The writer is a defence and political analyst. Email: isehgal@pathfinder9.com

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I. THE NEWS

SWAT SUCCESS

BRIAN CLOUGHLEY

Last week, I went back to the Swat Valley which I've known for thirty years. During this period I have stayed in the area many times. The visits were enjoyable not only because of the scenery, which is outstandingly beautiful, but because the people made one welcome and visitors could relax in comfort. But five years ago, the comfort disappeared and the region fell into chaos and anarchy.

The takeover of the District and surrounding areas by militants was a disaster. Evil atrocities were committed in the name of the Shariah and a so-called 'parallel government' was set up. But of course it wasn't parallel, because the weak province administration had given up trying to maintain decency and stability and meekly handed over to the thugs.

It seemed as if the area was going to be forever Taliban, and the vicious excesses of the power-crazed bullies knew no limits. They relished depriving normal human beings of dignity and security, and committed countless atrocities in the name of their religion which they interpreted, either wilfully or through ignorance, as endorsing murder and mayhem.

But Swat is now thriving. The inhabitants are free of domination by cruel barbarians, and life is as near normal as one can reasonably expect. During briefings in Islamabad and Rawalpindi about Swat, I had taken a few large pinches of salt – but seeing is believing, and it is only fair to observe that there has been an amazing shift from terror and lunatic extremism to rule of law and decent governance. It's not perfect. That would be too much to expect. But there is no doubt whatsoever that the lives of the inhabitants have been vastly improved.

Take a bow, Pakistan army.

The success in Swat is somewhat at variance with last week's White House declaration that there is a "clear indication of the inability of the Pakistan military and government to render cleared areas resistant to insurgent return." According to the US administration, "there is no clear path towards defeating the insurgency in Pakistan."

The insurgency in Swat was defeated, with the loss of many soldiers' lives, and the army has established stability. Of course, it would be preferable were the administration of the region to be entirely civilian, but that will come in time. Meanwhile, responsibility for security and development rests with the army and, specifically, in upper Swat itself, with the Commander 19 Division, Major General Javed Iqbal, who with his staff and the dozens of units under command, has worked extremely hard and successfully to restore normality to a large and important area.

Bridge-building by army engineers is but one example of assistance. The construction of over 40 bridges has greatly improved communications and trade, which are vital for Swat's growth and prosperity, and resurgence of the tourist industry has been a major objective in development efforts. (It is not widely known, for example, that when the flood disaster took place in July last year there were 10,000 tourists in the Valley and environs; the army helped to evacuate them along with many thousands of stricken inhabitants.)

There are many other development programmes under way, most notably rebuilding schools and community resources in general, but one that is not widely reported is that of rehabilitation of Taliban members and sympathisers.

In the course of operations against the militants, the army detained many hundreds of them and intended to have them answer to civil jurisdiction. But there was a practical problem, in that the civil authorities simply couldn't cope with some 1,000 judicial cases. The trials would have clogged up the system for years. So the army hit on a solution: it would identify those detainees who had not committed major crimes and try to rehabilitate them. No murderers need apply; but there were many who had been brought under Taliban influence against their will or because the alternative was persecution. General Kayani was enthusiastic about the plans, and work began last year.

Two centres were established to cater to those identified as being suitable for rehabilitation, and have been staffed by teams of psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, prominent local figures and technical instructors who are responsible for vocational training.

It is early days to quantify results, but evidence so far indicates that the scheme is successful. The atmosphere in the Centre I visited last week was impressive, and its administration – carried out entirely by an infantry battalion – was undoubtedly first class. Of course, it should not be the responsibility of the military to be involved in this type of programme, but there was no alternative, and if it works in the long term, as seems likely, it could be a model for other areas.

Swat was a disaster area, and suffered grievously from vicious barbarity on the part of insurgents whose reign of terror could be stopped only by military action. This was carried out efficiently, and now vitality has been restored to a region whose inhabitants had thought they would have to suffer indefinitely the dictatorship of vicious ignorant fanatics. The US sneers that Pakistan is unable to "render cleared areas resistant to insurgent return," but it seems that this is exactly what has been done.



The writer's website is www.beecluff.com

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I. THE NEWS

OUR SEARCH FOR A FORGOTTEN IDENTITY

KAMILA HYAT

The writer is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor

Why is Pakistan's national anthem mainly in Persian, with a few words borrowed from Arabic? After all, hardly anyone in the country speaks these languages.

Linguists who have studied the dense phraseology of the anthem believe only the word 'ka' comes from Urdu. Generations of baffled school-children, singing out the words each morning, wonder what they could possibly mean - and in Balochistan nationalists argue it is pointless to sing a song no one understands anyway. At some schools the exercise has - controversially - been abandoned.

The main point however is not the language of the anthem - though it would be quite nice to have one we could easily understand - but what it says about our identity as a nation. We need to ask also precisely what constitutes nationhood and if we possess these qualities today.

To do so we need to glance back into history, towards events in the not very distant past. During its 63 years in existence, Pakistan has seen more than one civil war. The one fought in East Pakistan in 1970 resulted in the breaking away of one half of the country.

Ironically enough, despite the sniggering and racist jeers directed at the time towards the new nation and predictions that it would not survive, it has done better in social and economic terms than the former western wing that comprises the Pakistan of today.

Failure to do more to discuss this chapter in our history, educate younger generations about the course of events and correct the perceptions of people who lived through the war and the bitterness that preceded it have added to our issues with identity and confusion as to what it is that it consists of.

We have also experienced repeated insurgency in Balochistan with discontent continuing to trigger violence in that province. Only the miniscule size of the population of the territory prevents the struggle to assert independence from succeeding. Nationalist feelings run high in other areas too and raise questions as to whether our state is based around a commonality of religion or other factors. This has indeed been a matter of dispute since the inception of Pakistan.

Muhammad Ali Jinnah's philosophy was abandoned over the decades that followed - and we live today in a country where the language a person speaks, or their ethnicity determined in other ways, can be enough to lead to their death. Murders on this basis take place regularly in Karachi and in Balochistan. The role played by some political parties or other organisations adds to the tensions.

There has even been doubt as to where we are located on the globe. Notably under the late General Ziaul Haq an attempt was made to transport ourselves from South Asia to the Middle East. School-books depicted children clad in the 'thobes' and 'keffiyeh' typical of Saudi Arabia as being 'brave' and 'trustworthy'.

Far less favourable qualities were reserved for Hindus, and the suggestion seemed to be that we should somehow transform ourselves into Arabs abandoning the ties built over centuries to a uniquely sub-continental heritage and culture.

Many of the problems we face today arose from this attempt to pull a different part of the world a little closer, with the orthodox religious schools of thought rooted in Saudi Arabia encouraged to take up residence here.

The result is the advent of the Taliban and all kinds of other mayhem, including the blasts that have, notably since 2007, killed hundreds at shrines across the country, adding a new dimension to the violence we face and dividing society into smaller and smaller fragments.

Even now, the effort to pull back into South Asia is thwarted again and again by hawks who oppose ending animosity with India. There is limited recognition of the fact that this may be our only means of salvation offering a thin rope which, if we can gain a grip on it, may help us escape the curse of extremism and the havoc it continues to play.

There has been conjecture that the 2008 attacks in Mumbai may have been an attempt to prevent just such a bond from being built - and the language of hate continues to be spread through the country and imparted to new generations who deserve to grow up without the legacy of such bias.

On smaller scales too, there is chaos over identity. In Punjab, tens of thousands of parents, according to the last census in 1998, opt not to speak the language with their children. It is not taught formally at most schools and courses have been dropped from colleges because of a lack of student interest.


As part of the continuous war over identity, Urdu has been depicted as being somehow superior and standing higher on the lingual hierarchy as a language that is more 'refined'. English stands higher still, and in many ways carves out a tiny minority as a group separated from the masses and commanding social status that casts them in the role of masters.


The divisions that exist, the question of identity and the problems that arise from it stem in many ways from the efforts to enforce uniformity rather than embrace diversity and build respect for all the sub-sets of people who live within the country. The questions over the events of 1947, the reasons why Pakistan was created and what precisely was gained in the process still need to be fully explored.


We still do not seem to know who we are, and have attempted to cover up this inadequacy by building within ourselves a fervent, but unauthentic patriotism that revolves around blaming conspiracies of all kinds for our many misfortunes, painting our faces green and white ahead of cricket contests with India as part of a high-pitched frenzy that masquerades as devotion to our nation and, on special occasions, belting out our enigmatic anthem in a language that is not spoken by anyone in the country.


Email: kamilahyat@hotmail.com

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

PASHA REFLECTS NATION'S ASPIRATIONS IN US

 

AFTER crucial meeting between General Ahmed Shuja Pasha and Leon Panetta, the CIA in a statement said that relations between ISI and the CIA remains on solid footing. However as reflected in various reports in the print and electronic media, General Pasha conveyed nation's perceptions to his American counterpart without mincing words and that was what the people of Pakistan had expected of him.


General Pasha during his four hour long talks with Mr Panetta conveyed the demands of Pakistan in categorical terms that included complete list of CIA operatives and contractors in Pakistan and restriction on their activities. According to another report General Pasha went to the extent of protesting with CIA chief over breaching the trust of Pakistan. We think it was rather overdue after the Raymond Davis incident in Lahore that gave the impression that CIA had been enjoying a free hand in Pakistan as if it was another state of America. It was because of the strong stand taken by Pakistan that over 330 dubious character Americans had started packing up after the ISI had started keeping a vigilant eye on their activities. It was due to the frank talks by the ISI chief that the CIA has agreed to reveal more about its operatives and their activities in Pakistan and pledged expanded cooperation on drone strikes in an effort to repair a widening rift between two counter terrorism allies. The CIA's willingness to disclose the names and assignments of more of its operatives would quell Pakistani anger to a certain extent that erupted after Raymond Davis case. Although both sides cited progress, there were also indications that major points of disagreement remain unresolved. In particular, officials provided conflicting accounts of whether the CIA's Predator program would face new constraints. The drone campaign had to be frozen after killing of members of a Jirga in March immediately after the release of Raymond Davis and the Pakistani leadership including Chief of the Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani condemning it in the strongest possible terms. We are of the firm opinion that the campaign of drone attacks must not only remain frozen but also brought to an end as it has injured the sensitivities of the people and in no way Pakistan can allow the trampling of its sovereignty. It is Pakistan's sovereign right to protect its people and space and no country can be allowed to violate our sovereignty. The assurances given by the US side were possible because General Pasha who is perceived as an upright and straightforward person conveyed in categorical terms that ISI would cooperate with the CIA only and only in Pakistan's strategic interests. This is how it should have been. The Americans were made to understand that no nation worth the name, and particularly a nuclear state, can swallow humiliations.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

SC PUTS HEC UNDER OXYGEN MASK

 

HUNDREDS of scholars and students took to the streets of the Capital on Tuesday to protest against the devolution of Higher Education Commission (HEC) raising slogans of "do not send us back to the Stone Age". Other cities and universities also witnessed similar demonstrations and it was in fact the countrywide opposition to the devolution of HEC to Provinces.


In this perspective the Supreme Court put the HEC under Oxygen mask and directed it to keep on operating. It was yet another demonstration of the Apex Court to rescue the poor students and provide them a relief. But having appreciated the Supreme Court intervention we would like to point out that the issue is very ticklish and the devolutionists are bent upon causing a severe blow to the federation in general and HEC in particular as they have their own agenda. It is encouraging that the members of the civil society, affected students and researchers very timely started agitation against the wrong decision taken without giving due consideration to the far reaching consequences. No attention has been paid to the fact that the country needs an autonomous institution at the federal level which can regulate, monitor and promote standardised higher education, the functions the HEC performed reasonably well since its inception. The handing over of the HEC to the provinces would wreak havoc on our already pathetic education system as each province would have its own syllabus and varying standards and criteria for higher education which would not be accepted by other provinces. On Tuesday, Chairman of the Implementation Commission on 18th amendment Mian Raza Rabbani tried to justify the devolution of HEC saying that ten departments of the Commission would remain with the Federation to look after the standard of education and the faculty. However he appeared to be bent upon the devolution of the highly prestigious institution stating that if the matter was not allowed to be resolved through understanding, he would expose those forces in the Parliament who were creating hurdles in the devolution of powers to the Provinces. We think that is an extreme stance and hope that the Government and the Supreme Court would listen to what the intelligentsia, VCs and students are demanding i.e. retaining the HEC in its existing form on permanent basis and make a suitable amendment to the 18th amendment if at all that is required.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

SMOKE ALARM AT INDIAN NUCLEAR PLANT

 

AFTER the nuclear disasters at Chernobyl and Japan, Indian nuclear power plant in Karnataka was also shut down last week when the authorities witnessed smoke coming out of it. Though the authorities said that there was no danger of radiation coming out of it, yet the unit was shut down to what they described as a precautionary measure.


Handling of nuclear installations is a very sensitive matter but the Indian government is taking it very lightly without caring for international standards. In the past too there had been several incidents at the Indian nuclear plants and they were closed for unspecified period of time but actual details of the incidents were never made public. In the case of Kaiga plant in Karnataka no details were made public causing grave concern in the state and adjoining areas. Damages to the nuclear installation as witnessed in Chernobyl and at Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant in Japan had caused alarm across the globe but it is surprising that no country nor IAEA ever paid any attention to problems in Indian nuclear plants. Even some of the waste of the Indian plants were sold in scrap which caused deaths and injuries late last year due to radiation. That means that Indian nuclear plants are not secure. We would therefore urge upon the IAEA to carry out special inspections of these plants to ensure that international safeguards were being implemented so as to avoid any untoward incident in the future.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

A PUPPET RULING AFGHANISTAN

ALI SUKHANVER

 

The terrorists and militants are not in Afghanistan, but instead are hiding in neighboring Pakistan", said Hamid Karzai talking to the relatives of civilians killed in a raid by international forces in Asadabad, in the second week of March. Asadabad is the capital of eastern Kunar province. He further said that the international troops should leave Afghanistan and take their fight against terrorism across the border into Pakistan. The statement of Mr.Karzai, no doubt, must be shocking, embarrassing and depressing for the whole of Pakistani nation. It is something very difficult to estimate whether his words are a reward or a punishment for all those services that Pakistan has been rendering since long to the people of Afghanistan.


It would be certainly a very bitter remark that Pakistan would have been a very prosperous and peaceful country if Afghanistan were not there in the neighbourhood or Pakistan had remained indifferent to the trials and tribulations to which the people of Afghanistan had been forced into. Karzai's attempt to portray Pakistan as a safe haven for the terrorists is certainly condemnable. The matter of fact is that all terrorists and so-called militants operating in Pakistan have their roots and links in Afghanistan.


They are nurtured there in Afghanistan and then exported to Pakistan. It is the criminal negligence of the Karzai government that it has never taken any serious action against the most lucrative cottage industry of Afghanistan that is producing terrorists in bulk at a large scale.


It is a daylight fact that Pakistan has always been earnestly desirous of a peaceful solution of Afghan issue. Mr.Karzai must not have forgotten the time when Pakistan heartily welcomed and cordially hosted millions of Afghan refuges in spite of all its limited sources and opposing international pressure three decades back. That was the time when the countries neighbouring Afghanistan imposed a martial-law type of security along their borders with Afghanistan just to keep the Afghan refugees away from their lands. Instead of criticizing Pakistan, Mr.Karzai must have appreciated and applauded the favour and support that Pakistan has always been providing to Afghanistan.


It is nothing but cowardice of the Afghan president that he is always diffident and apologetic when talking of the atrocities of the international troops in Afghanistan and very much aggressive, violent and hostile while referring to Pakistan. He never seems the representative of the Afghan nation; he looks more like a tool, a dummy and a puppet but his attitude is nothing novel and unexpected; he is behaving in the same way as his predecessors had always been. It is something very pathetic and painfully unfortunate in the history of Afghanistan that most of the time the rulers did not belong to the people of Afghanistan. They always acted upon the agenda provided to them by their foreign masters and drove Afghanistan to the shore of devastation because of their thoughtless policies.


President Karzai is also standing in the same queue of imprudent rulers. He never does anything for the people of Afghanistan but take care of the foreign interests. Apparently he is president of Afghanistan but inwardly he is simply acting as a caretaker of the US and Indian interests in the region.


It is obvious that a peaceful and prosperous Afghanistan is in the larger benefit of Pakistan. In other words Pakistan's own peace and prosperity is directly linked with peace and prosperity of Afghanistan. Pakistan has always been earnestly wishing for creating suitable conditions to reach peaceful and viable solutions based on principles in Afghanistan.

Unfortunately anti Pakistan elements have always created an air of suspicion and mistrust between Pakistan and the coalition partners in Afghanistan and more unfortunate is the fact that President Karzai is knowingly or unknowingly leading these creators of mistrust and suspicions. One thing must be kept in mind that no one else could be more effective and useful than Pakistan in bringing peace and stability in Afghanistan. Any effort regarding political solution of the Afghan problem would be simply wastage of time and energy if Pakistan is kept away from the scenario.


For the last many years, President Karzai has been providing a lot of kind support and favour to India in Afghanistan. It is simply because of his support that India has very lucratively succeeded in involving herself in every walk of life in Afghanistan. According to the details provided by the international media, India is at present one of Afghanistan's top six donors. Not only in the field of economic support, but also in all other possible sections of political and non-political relationship, we find India swiftly sneaking into Afghan social fiber. The credit of all these achievements goes to Karzai's anti Pakistan and pro India policies. Karzai's statement at Asadabad proves that he is simply acting as a spokesman of India because it is Indian desire that the Allied forces must turn their guns to Pakistan in pursuit of the so-called terrorists.


The fact of the matter is that there are no safe havens for the terrorists in Pakistan. The People living in the tribal areas of Pakistan are very much peace loving. They have nothing to do with terrorism. However it is true that some foreign supported elements are trying their utmost to distort the law and order situation in the garb of extremism. The government of Pakistan is trying its best to tackle with these problem creators with the help of Pakistan army and the support of the local people very successfully. The Allied forces need not waste their time and energy in search of terrorists in the tribal territories of Pakistan as suggested by Hamid Karzai.

—The writer is strategic and defence affairs analyst.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLES

EXTREMISTS IN OUR MIDST

YAHYA AHMAD

 

Pakistan was conceived after a great struggle and a lot of bloodshed in August 1947. Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah envisaged Pakistan a place where everyone would be living in harmony and peace. He stated in his address to the constituent assembly on August 11, 1947 that, "You may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the State." But his dream of Pakistan now seems to be in shambles. The growing militancy and intolerance that have been plaguing this country, are threatening the very foundations of Jinnah's dreams. Pakistani nation has been termed to be on a collision course. The active terrorist outfits are continually engaged in acts of violence, instilling fear while, also undermining the authority of the state. Innocent people are being pulled into this conflict, by these elements. As the nation is already suffering from economic crisis and natural calamities, they have also become the casualties of recent terror attacks.

Since the start of 2011, there have been at least 13 bomb blasts reported, throughout the country. One of these targeted a school van in Peshawar, which resulted in deaths of two female teachers and injuring three children. There was also an attack in Bannu, on the very same day which targeted a police station and a mosque adjacent to it. The casualty figure from the attack went up to 20, most of whom were men belonging to FC. The murder of Salman Taseer on 4th January by his own security guard was the most high profile terrorist incidence, since the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in 2007.

The start of this New Year for Pakistan has been on a note of violence and turmoil. The targets for these attacks seem not to be of a specific profile, but anyone who present as a soft target. From a mosque to a police station or a school van, no place and no one seems to be safe at the hands of these terrorist.

It had been hoped that unlike previous years, this will be a year of relative peace and tranquility. The pace and severity of these attacks have highlighted the extremists' capabilities. It has been the agenda of the terrorist network to flex their muscles at the start of each year to remind everyone of their presence. On 1st January 2010, a suicide bombing during a volley ball game in Lakki Marwat took the lives of 91 people. In the previous year on 4th January 2009, two blasts near the Polytechnic College in Dera Ismail Khan killed 11 people. Similarly on January 10, 2008 a suicide bomber detonated outside the Lahore High Court, resulting in the deaths of 25, while injuring 80. Similar event took place during a Muharram procession in Peshawar on 27th January 2007, in a suicide attack taking 16 lives.

The list of events goes on to show how these organizations are sacrificing innocent lives, to promote themselves. The main reason for these activities is to flare sentiments and project their actions to the world. They intend to create rifts among the different sections of society, to destabilize the country. Whatever their objectives might be, they have been promoting their agenda on the lives of the innocents. The terrorists are ready to sacrifice all the innocent lives, for striking blows at their enemies. The extremists exploit the plight of Muslims throughout the world, as the reason for their actions. But they target innocent people of Pakistan, and still are able to justify their war against the west. The extremist forces have been hiding amongst our society, since a long time. They have been driven by an ideology of violence and intolerance. It has been their intention to drive this society towards a system that suits their beliefs.

It has been only after the radical turn of events in the geo-political scenario after the 9/11 event, that these elements have come out in force and shown their true face. They felt threatened to the developing scenario around them and out of fear for survival they struck, at whatever and whoever they deemed suitable to be classified as western collaborators. Namely these collaborators were the public, security forces and the leaders of this nation. These extremists have presented religion as a tool for disseminating fear, rather than for peace and tolerance. They are the reason for most of our plights and they pose a grave threat to the country. This threat is not from a foreign entity but, from an element within our own system and society.

These elements have been allowed to feed, on the religious sentiments of people for years. They have promoted their ideology of intolerance among the public to a point that, certain individuals have started to consider themselves as an authority of declaring anyone a Muslim or Non-Muslim, on the basis of difference in opinion. Our society has created stereotypes and jumps to conclusion on any subject, without hearing it out properly. Some may argue that these instances can be found in any country, in numerous time periods. Yes they can be found, but either they managed to correct their mindset and chose a proper direction to move on to or they fell victim to their own denials for which they had to pay dearly. The forceful enactment of radical views in every sphere of our society produced a generation which, is searching for its identity both in religion and nationalism. The extremist sections of our society have been programming our nation, to reject any other view point and draw premature conclusions. Islam is the fastest growing religion in the western world and it is not due to forceful implementation. Even with all the misconceptions and hate against Muslims, people in the west are ready to study and comprehend Islam in its true spirit, instead of immediately drawing up conclusions.

It is time that, we synergize our efforts to curtail this extremist minority, from taking over the population of 170 million. This can only be possible if the majority finally stands up to these elements and voice their opinions. It is up to us individually and as a nation to open our minds, promote tolerance and develop courage to accept the facts. Instead of living in fear, it is a responsibility of all of us, for the sake of our children and future generations, to protect our freedom and our way of life. Until and unless our people do not challenge these elements, these extremists will continue to represent the tainted image of Pakistan.

It is the obligation of the media, intellect and public figures of the society not to shy away from a just cause. It is to be realized that, there are people present and will always be there, who try to exploit our sentiments and religious fervor. The threat of repercussions and reprisals from such quarters cannot be ruled out, but if our nation stands firm, we will be able to overcome the danger facing us. If we do not reject this extremist and hypocritical mindset, we as a nation will never be able to achieve true sovereignty.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

REMEMBERING ZAB

RANDOM THOUGHTS

BURHANUDDIN HASAN

 

ZA Bhutto took over power from General Yahya Khan and was sworn in as President and Chief Martial Law Administrator on 20 December, 1971. I was privileged to cover his most important activities in my capacity as Head of News of Pakistan Television, which was the only TV channel in those days. After taking charge as President, Mr. Bhutto addressed the nation on TV and radio with an unshaven face and swollen eyes. He said "we are facing the worst crisis in our country's life, a deadly crisis. We have to pick up the pieces, very small pieces, but we will make a new Pakistan, a prosperous and progressive Pakistan.

Development of fraternal ties with Muslim nations in the Middle East was the corner stone of Mr. Bhutto's foreign policy. In a marathon visit he covered Algeria, Morocco, Tunis, Libya and Egypt in three days. We offered Eid prayers in Algeria, had lunch in Tunis and dinner in Libya. One can imagine the speed with which we traveled. The most important port of call was Libya where an understanding was reached between Colonel Qaddafi and Mr. Bhutto to cooperate in the production of an atomic weapon-Pakistan to provide knowhow and expertise while Libya to help with monetary resources. Pakistan was able to produce the first atomic weapon which became famous as Islamic Bomb.

The two crowning glories of President Bhutto's crisis ridden five year rule are the framing of a constitution in 1973 and the Islamic Summit of 1974 in which Pakistan recognized Bangladesh as an independent nation. The summit accords reflected the hopes and aspirations of Muslim Ummah and Pakistan's diplomatic role in the Third World. The most historic and probably the most traumatic and emotionally charged foreign visit was his journey to the Bangladesh capital, Dacca. This was also the most difficult assignment for me as a reporter. Mr. Bhutto flew to Dacca in June 1974. When his plane landed at the Dacca airport, the Prime Minister was given rather a cool welcome by President Shaikh Mujibur Rehman.

He was not the same Mujib who was trembling and sweating in an army bungalow where he was brought on the orders of Mr. Bhutto to save him from the jaws of death, give him his freedom and help him to fly to Dacca with honor and dignity. Now he was the President of an independent nation which he had acquired after great sacrifices. The final words Mujib spoke to Bhutto before his release were as has been reported by Bhutto's Biographer Stanley Wolpert, "I tell you, you have become a hero- you will be a hero for as long as you live"

As the entourage of Mr. Bhutto came out of the airport the scene suddenly changed. There was a sea of humanity which had decided to pay back Mr. Bhutto's debt which had given the greatest gift one could give to a friend - his life. General Yahya Khan had decided to kill Mujib as soon as he was brought to Pakistan, but it was good luck that Yahya was deposed and Mr. Bhutto took over and reversed Yahya's planning and helped Mujib to return to his cherished Bangladesh with dignity. The crowd on Dacca streets was so thick that our cars could hardly move as people were extending their hands into the cars to shake hands of their Pakistani guests. This emotional scene was worth watching as Bengalis proved that despite all the bloodshed and hair raising atrocities of Pakistan army and Mukti Bahini, people of Bangladesh still love Pakistan.

When our camera team arrived at Bongreobhaban (the President's House) about half an hour late than expected, PM's advisor Mr. Yousuf Buch was anxiously waiting for me. He said the Prime Minister is waiting for you in the drawing room. As I entered I found Mr. Bhutto highly agitated and excited. He told me "Did you see the love and enthusiasm of Bangladesh people who turned out in millions to welcome me. Please show these scenes in full on PTV as soon as we return to Pakistan. Sure enough when he landed at Islamabad he said "watch on TV tomorrow the scenes of my enthusiastic welcome by the people of Bangladesh." Mr. Bhutto's government fell in a military coup by General Zia ul Haq and he was shifted soon afterwards to Murree.

After sometime General Zia ul Haq decided to meet Mr. Bhutto in Murree. Director ISPR Brig. Tafazzul Siddiqui came to see me with the request for a senior cameraman to cover the Bhutto-Zia meeting in Murree. He told me confidentially that the Cameraman should be directed that he should avoid such shots which show any nervousness on the face of General Zia. After some time, Brigadier Siddiqui returned from Murree with the video of Bhutto – Zia meeting and asked me to see the video along with him. As was expected the video showed Zia highly nervous twisting all the time one button of his uniform. This looked very odd. I requested Brig. Siddiqui to speak to General Zia and brief him about the situation. The twisting of the uniform button can not be edited out from the brief material. Mr. Siddiqui discussed with General Zia who advised him that video must be shown, but its duration must be reduced as much as possible.

The Chief Election Commissioner announced that national elections will be held on October 18. This was just a bluff. Zia in fact did not want to hold the elections. It was just a ruse to keep people guessing. I thought this was a great opportunity to interview Mr. Bhutto, who after his release was resting in his home in Larkana. I went to Karachi, called him at his residence. Somebody picked up the phone. I requested him that I am from PTV and want to interview him. Mr. Bhutto recognized my name and came on the phone.

He said he remembered me from the days I accompanied him on his foreign visits. I asked him about the prospects of his party's victory in the elections. Don't you think PNA movement has damaged your party's popularity, considerably? He said you are wrong. My party's roots are very deep in the masses. It is as popular as ever in fact more popular than before. But Sir I said some senior and important members of your party have deserted you. He was very annoyed and said, "I know that, but it doesn't matter. I am the party. Those who deserted me don't matter. Unfortunately he said what I told you is off the record. I will speak to some other time'.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

INDIAN ROLE IN AFGHANISTAN

ZOSHEEN RIAZ

 

Indian role in Afghanistan threatens Pakistan and China; as Indian influence can bring threat to Pakistan. Afghanistan has been best shield to Pakistan but it seems that with the Indian influence in Afghanistan, Pakistan's shield is broken. South Asian region has always been in the limelight owing to its geostrategic significance and distinct characteristics. While the region on one hand, is home to most colorful heterogeneous socio-religious groups; on the other it is a simmering pot of rivalries among three nuclear powers (Pakistan, China and India) and one most destabilized state i.e.

Afghanistan. Afghanistan's instability is a matter of growing concern for all the stakeholders in region specifically Pakistan as a bordering state. Significance of Afghanistan cannot be denied as it is situated in a trade buffer zone nearby Central Asia. It has a landscape that protects India and Pakistan from the outer enemy and has prevented Eurasian states from spreading in the region. Due to its high mountains and landscape it serves as a shield against locomotion of modern army. As regards trade and oil, Afghanistan can be fruitful for India and Pakistan both as it has become oil trade route for USA. It seems quite obvious with the current movements in the Afghanistan that Americans wish India and Pakistan to develop a role in Afghanistan as they cannot stay here forever. The Russo-Chinese factor of having access to the Eurasian Heart-land is an additional possibility but this in turn enhances geopolitical importance of Afghanistan.

Moreover War on Terror has not been concluded yet nor is any end in sight yet. The possibility of spread of Taliban havens in Afghanistan would permit al-Qaeda to return to its historical operating areas. This has made Afghanistan one of the most important, vulnerable and front line states. On the other hand the U.S.A invasion and development of war stages in Afghanistan ensures direct Indian influence in Afghanistan. Since 2001, India has restored diplomatic relations with Afghanistan, invested heavily in reconstruction projects, and increased bilateral trade. India has launched major developmental projects in Afghanistan, which include Salma Dam power project in Herat worth 109.3 $ million envisaged to produce 42 MW of power. India has pledged 750 $ million aid to the beleaguered Muslim nation. It is presently involved in generating hydro-electricity, construction of roads, creating telecommunication network and development of agriculture, industry et al. It has substantially regained its pre-eminence there and 'strategic foothold' in Afghanistan, an impoverished nation of 30 million people. India has been involved in multifarious reconstruction activities in Afghanistan ranging from building roads, bridges and power stations to quick gestation grassroots projects involving ordinary Afghans. India has pledged USD 1.3 billion for reconstruction projects in Afghanistan, making New Delhi the biggest regional donor to that country. India is involved in training Afghan military personnel. It has "exchange of intelligence" accords that have enabled Kabul to track down groups linked to the Taliban.

India is the second-largest aid donor to Afghanistan, behind the US and ahead of Iran. It has allocated about $750 million to rebuild the war-shattered infrastructure. This includes strategic roads that have helped the Afghan Army and NATO allies to pursue Taliban fighters in previously inaccessible areas. Of the regional powers, only India has offered full support to post-Taliban Afghanistan. China regards the regime of Hamid Karzai as too beholden to the US and too hostile to Pakistan, its traditional ally in South Asia, while Russia cannot come back because of memories of the Soviet invasion in the 1980s. The only power likely to offer Afghanistan long-term support is India. Helping Afghanistan would weaken radical Islamism and prevent Pakistan acquiring a hinterland through Afghanistan in Muslim Central Asia. At some point, Delhi might consider military commitment, an idea that is surprisingly popular in India but regarded with horror in Pakistan.

India wants to change the face of Afghanistan by rebuilding its shattered economy. Several thousand Indians are working round the clock in Afghanistan to speed up the development process. India's concern has been to strengthen Afghanistan, which has been destabilized by several forces, including Pakistan, for vested interests. Pakistan expressed its concern about Indian interest in Afghanistan that is not its immediate neighbour. When India opened its consulates in Afghanistan, Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf gave vent to concern as: "India's motivation in Afghanistan is very clear; nothing further than upsetting Pakistan. Why should they (India) have consulates in Jalalabad and Kandahar? What is their interest? There is no interest other than disturbing Pakistan, doing something against Pakistan".

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

AN AFGHAN ENDGAME

DAVID MILIBAND

 

The epochal events in the Middle East this year have redefined foreign policy. There are new priorities and challenges that need intensive Western engagement. But it is imperative that the war in Afghanistan does not become the "forgotten war," as happened with such dangerous consequences after 2002.

There are signs of a significant turn in policy. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke in February of a "political surge." NATO's senior civilian representative, Mark Sedwill, said last month "the time is now right to take the risk and pursue the political agenda with the same energy we have brought to the military and civilian surges."

These deviations from the otherwise relentless focus on military operations, allied and Afghan, need to be taken to a whole new level of urgency, coherence and effort. The 2014 end date set by NATO will prove illusory unless there is an endgame. And that endgame must be negotiations, involving Western powers led by the United States, with all factions in the Afghan struggle and their backers in the region.

The issue is not simply that the political arm of the Defence-Development-Diplomacy triad has been missing in action. A political settlement is not one part of a multipronged strategy in a counterinsurgency; it is the overarching framework within which everything else fits and in the service of which everything else operates.

First and most important, the United Nations Security Council needs to appoint and empower a UN mediator to facilitate talks, with a clear mandate setting out principles of the endgame and an open invitation to all to participate.

The mediator should come from the Muslim world. His job would be to canvass the views of all parties and create the confidence for and commitment to a process for serious talks about the future of Afghanistan. He should for a start develop the idea of a safe place in a third country — an Arabian Gulf State, Turkey or Japan — for all the sides to talk.

We need steps by which each side can prove its bona fides. The Taliban want an end to night raids, safe passage to and from talks, prisoner releases. We need to propose localised cease-fires, security for development projects on the model of the polio vaccination campaigns that the Taliban have supported in the past, a Taliban declaration of disassociation from Al Qaeda. Third, there needs to be clarity of civilian command of the international presence in Afghanistan, to match the clarity of military command. As the U.S. appoints a new ambassador this year, this appointment needs the personality, instruction and length of mandate to convene and cohere the disparate strands of civilian effort between now and 2014.

The job description would include being President Hamid Karzai's principal interlocutor, working closely with him on the endgame strategy, liaising strongly with the Commander of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to ensure that military strategy comes behind it, and creating a framework within which the political strength of the UN, and the development strengths of contributing nations, can bear full fruit.

Fourth, Pakistan needs a long-term relationship with the United States and the European Union based on responsibility and respect. It cannot have privilege, but pressure alone will not get it to deliver. Pakistan needs an up-front deal that we will support their long-term security in return for their help now in protecting ours; the alternative is that we end up negotiating with the Taliban and Pakistan in a delayed endgame. Fifth, there needs to be a process to get all the neighbours talking in a serious and structured way. The new UN envoy should be responsible for regional engagement as well as internal talks. In the first instance these should be bilateral. The medium-term goal should be a Council of Regional Stability that oversees a compact between the neighbours and Afghanistan.

Our leverage will decline, not improve, as 2014 approaches. The insurgency can spread, outstripping the ability of international and Afghan forces to check its growth. The warlords can strengthen their grip. Inter-ethnic strife can come to look more and more like civil war.

Two international conferences — in Kabul in the summer and Bonn in December — currently have scant agenda or preparation. The agreement on a new political approach would make them historic occasions. The theory and practice of counter-insurgency leads everyone to incant the cliché that there is no military solution; but it is a cliché because it is true, so it is time that we stopped behaving as if there were a military solution and developed a political one. For that politicians need to give a lead. That is the way forward in Afghanistan — working to mend it not just rushing to end it.

—The writer is a member of the British Parliament and former foreign secretary (2007-2010).

— The New York Times

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THE AUSTRALIYAN

EDITORIAL

IT'S TIME TO SHOW US THE SCHEME, MR COMBET

VOTERS and industry deserve more detail on the carbon tax.

There were plenty of figures but fewer facts when Greg Combet delivered what was touted as a major pitch to voters on carbon tax. The Climate Change Minister signalled yesterday that petrol would be excluded from the tax, in an effort to head off growing cost-of-living fears. But at the National Press Club in Canberra he did not reveal details of compensation under the tax or its delivery. Indeed, he was more intent on wrapping his compensation package in a moral ribbon, saying Labor was committed to supporting those who "need it the most". Yet carbon policy should not be an exercise in redistribution, and household compensation is not a slush fund to buy off voters.

Labor is entitled to direct income to the needy, but it must be done openly through tax and welfare, not under the cover of carbon. Mr Combet attacked the "political opportunism" of those who criticise the proposed tax, but the longer he delays the detail, the harder it is for voters to assess his scheme.

He announced yesterday that he plans to introduce legislation within the next five months, so the timetable is tight.

The minister addressed industry compensation in the broadest terms, arguing that Labor was looking at substantial transitional assistance to trade-exposed sectors. His suggestion that with a carbon tax of about $20, the impact on aluminium and steel would be relatively low did nothing to reduce industry fears, following confirmation that more than half the tax revenue would go to households.

Mr Combet's pitch yesterday recognised that a tax imposed on about 1000 companies would have an impact on family budgets -- even if most of the impost fell on just 50 companies. If the carbon tax is to deliver on its stated aim of reducing emissions, the government must structure domestic compensation that does not destroy the incentive to reduce energy usage. Mr Combet argues that the real behavioural change should be in industries, not households -- emphasising that indeed some people will be better off under the scheme. He suggests this is not wealth redistribution but a result of structuring compensation at a level high enough

to cover some people who, for whatever reason, use more energy. Yet common sense suggests that Labor must strike an average level of compensation, with the end result being that some households will be worse off. Of course, many families will receive no compensation. It is not surprising some are anxious.

This newspaper backs action to reduce carbon, but we also back the good sense of voters. We do not share the disdain for ordinary Australians expressed in The Age yesterday by erstwhile Greens candidate Clive Hamilton. In language startling for its condescension, he argued that voters were being exploited by a scare campaign from shock jocks and climate deniers (including the editor-in-chief of this newspaper). Such wild statements show a failure to understand the reality of cost-of-living pressures on voters.

These concerns are real, but so are those of business. Mr Combet had has wide experience dealing with industry while at the ACTU, and many people in his constituency earn a living from coal. The Climate Change Minister is well-equipped to balance these competing demands, but it is time for specifics.

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THE AUSTRALIYAN

EDITORIAL

A SWEAR WORD IN YOUR EAR

EMPLOYERS, NOT TRIBUNALS, SET WORKPLACE STANDARDS.

It's been a week of mixed fortunes for the f-word, a word that despite its common currency still retains the power to shock. Seven Network boss David Leckie told a court this week that "f . . kwit" was a "term of endearment". If so, we would hate to be in the room if he were really trying to offend.

Many would feel sympathy for Luke Webster, an English teacher sacked by a Sydney college for his lesson on the f-word to a class of adult migrants. The pronunciation is not particularly challenging, but knowing when and where the word can be uttered is much trickier. It is useful to know when to use it as a verb derived from the Middle-Dutch term "to thrust", when to add the suffixes "wit" or "knuckle", and when it is preceded by the word "oh" as a friendly reminder to a spouse not to leave the cat's bowl where it could be stepped on in the dark.

All things considered, Mr Webster was performing a public duty. Yet while we may not agree with Mercury College's decision to sack him, we stand by its right to make it. Fair Work Australia has stepped beyond its brief by ordering that the teacher, a British subject on a temporary 457 visa, be paid compensation. As a well-bred newspaper, we will resist the temptation to issue advice to Fair Work Australia using a four-letter word and the qualifier "off".

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THE AUSTRALIYAN

EDITORIAL

PROTECTING MORALE IN THE RANKS

THE CONDUCT OF A FEW MUST NOT ERODE RESPECT FOR THE ADF.

Defence Minister Stephen Smith faces a delicate balancing act. In dealing effectively with the scandal in which an 18-year-old female air force cadet was unknowingly filmed having sex with a male classmate as the encounter was streamed to other cadets, he must also guard against unleashing an unhelpful backlash against the defence forces. The Australian has supported the reviews announced into the incident involving the cadet, as well as into various aspects of defence force culture. But it is unfortunate that hostile critics of the military have assumed they have been given licence for an all-out culture-war assault on the forces, whose men and women overwhelmingly serve the nation with distinction in difficult roles. It would be disastrous and dangerous if the blanket criticisms triggered by the appalling behaviour of a few wrongdoers weakened morale in the ranks, especially those in action overseas.

Mr Smith's motives in wanting civilising reforms in the defence force culture cannot be faulted, and his initiative to open up frontline combat roles to women who meet the appropriate physical standards is one we would support. If female Anzacs are willing to put their lives on the line for the nation, are fully trained and capable of the heavy challenges of combat, nothing should stand in their way. Their courage and dedication, like that of their male colleagues, deserves our gratitude.

What began as a disciplinary problem at the Australian Defence Force Academy, demanding an unequivocal response by way of clear boundaries and disciplinary action, has been muddied into a broader, philosophical battle over gender equality and affirmative action in male-dominated environments. There is no doubt that the incident involving the air force cadet and its handling by authorities warranted thorough investigation and, if appropriate, the laying of criminal charges. But it is also important that the derogatory comments of those who resent the very existence of the armed forces and who neither respect nor understand the Anzac tradition and its place of honour in our national story do not gain traction.

If the "gender equity audit" by Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick and her panel of experts in "male-dominated environments" is to produce concrete improvements, the inquiry team must look beyond standard approaches to personnel management that might work in civilian offices but would fall down in the harsh realities of military conflict. As Australian Defence Association spokesman Neil James has pointed out, academic gender equity theory does not apply on the battlefield. If the adverse aspects of military culture that have been identified, including bullying, violence and abuse, are to change, former Howard government defence minister Peter Reith's prescription of reading the riot act and addressing specific problems with concerted action might prove more effective than well-meaning if misguided attempts at social engineering.

Organisations as complex as the defence force, be they churches or police forces, are always far from perfect and need periodic review. But Australians owe those who put their lives on the line for the greater good a vast debt of gratitude. In the current furore, that must not be forgotten and respect for them must not be eroded.

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

CARROTS AND STICKS OF CARBON TAX

The federal government's promise that millions of households will find themselves better off under its carbon tax and generous compensation scheme should help assuage the fears of families worried about the cost of living. Households will certainly see the impact of a carbon price on their quarterly electricity bills. But lower- and middle-income families will be compensated in full for any price rises with tax cuts or pension increases, dulling any potential financial pain.

But crucially, such compensation will not blunt the incentive for households to change their behaviour and use less energy. Any household that reduces its energy consumption will find itself ahead, saving money off its bills while still pocketing the full amount of compensation from government. So rather than punishing households that do not cut electricity use - they will be compensated in full for higher prices - the government's scheme works by richly rewarding those that do reduce their carbon footprint. It is a relatively pain-free way to kick-start the reduction in household energy use we know is needed.

But, of course, the real heavy lifting of reducing carbon emissions must fall on the shoulders of industry. Negotiating an appropriate level of compensation for industry under the scheme is the government's next hurdle. It's a high one. The government will need to reconcile the opposing demands of the big polluters that seek more compensation and of its alliance partner the Greens, who want less compensation for polluters. Achieving a sensible balance that creates enough incentive for industry to change but does not destroy jobs will be a delicate task.

And it is one that must be done quickly.

Julia Gillard has promised the full detail of her carbon price scheme will be available by the middle of this year, leaving one year to negotiate passage of the enabling legislation through a

finely balanced parliament in time for a start date of July 1 next year. The independent MP Tony Windsor is yet to be convinced the government's carbon price is the best way to tackle climate change and, of course, the Coalition remains staunchly opposed.

But if the carbon price road is a minefield for Gillard, it also hides potential trip wires for Tony Abbott. Having opposed the carbon tax needed to fund any associated compensation for households, Abbott confronts the politically unpalatable task of going to the next election promising to cut benefits or increase taxes. The carbon battle continues, but progress has been made.

 

 

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

ON YOUR OWN WITH DIY SUPER

It can be a jungle in the financial sector, with no more tempting target for predators than the fatted beasts around the do-it-yourself superannuation waterhole. Their savings amount to one-third of the $1.3 trillion that Australians have salted away in superannuation accounts. With obligatory employer contributions set to rise to 12 per cent of wages over this decade, it can only become a more tempting target.

The saga of the more than 10,000 investors hit by the collapse of the Albury fund manager Trio Capital has some salutary lessons as we proceed further down the road to a sustainable regime that balances national savings with welfare obligations and economic investments. The $55 million in compensation announced this week by the Assistant Treasurer, Bill Shorten, divides distressed investors sharply into two superannuation classes. Those who belonged to funds regulated by the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority will get back 100¢ in the dollar of their funds invested with Trio. Those who put in about $120 million from their own self-managed funds get nothing.

Both categories were victims of the same dishonest conduct to which a Trio executive has pleaded guilty. Yet those in APRA-regulated funds are essentially deemed to have put the government regulator in a position of trust. Those who opt to use the freedom to manage their own superannuation investments are deemed to have trusted their own judgment.

It is a harsh lesson in ''moral hazard'' for investors such as John Telford of Wollongong, who put his $600,000 disability payout into Trio hedge funds via a DIY super scheme, on the advice of a financial planning company that itself has gone bust. Yet making exceptions to the system could open the federal government to massive contingent liabilities, such is the size of the self-managed super sector now. The decision whether to allocate compensation to investors ultimately rests with the responsible minister, but the criteria are quite clear.

That being said, many people evidently have misplaced confidence in their ability to run an investment fund. Many of the Trio investors had no awareness of the financial system's different levels of protection. Moves are afoot to clean up the kind of poor financial advice many Trio investors manifestly received. Lucrative commissions that push advisers to recommend dodgy products will be banned in legal changes to be finalised by the federal government this year. A higher standard of care will be placed on planners as well. But, as Shorten said, crooks and thieves and charlatans will always be out there.

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

DEFENCE NEEDS A CULTURAL REVOLUTION

THE task confronting Defence Minister Stephen Smith just got harder still. The Age yesterday revealed that dozens of serving Australian Defence Force personnel are associated with an online social media campaign to expose and vilify homosexual members, and that the ADF has failed to fully investigate the matter and punish those involved. The fact that such a campaign has been conducted at all is disappointing, to say the very least. That those responsible have not yet been properly brought to account, eight months after a complaint was lodged, is unacceptable.

The attitudes displayed on the anti-gay Facebook page have no place in contemporary Australian society, and therefore should have no place in the nation's defence force. The page was created, its author announced to readers, to inform past and present ADF personnel about ''who is biting the pillow''. It named at least five people, including army psychologist Paul Morgan, as having made a ''filthy lifestyle decision''.

Major Morgan has shown exemplary courage in speaking out about what has been done to him and his colleagues, and about the lack of disciplinary action against the perpetrators. ''It is very hard being gay in this organisation,'' he said. ''I have sacrificed my whole adult life to the army and the inaction in this case is soul-destroying.''

Any proposition that the anti-gay Facebook page is an isolated incident should be given short shrift, because similarly archaic attitudes among ADF personnel have been exposed elsewhere in recent days. Last week, a woman at the Australian Defence Force Academy came forward after discovering she had been secretly filmed on Skype having sex with another student, with the encounter watched by other cadets without her knowledge or consent. Last month, it was revealed Australian soldiers in Afghanistan had posted racist slurs on Facebook in which they referred to Afghans as ''dune coons'' and ''sand niggaz''.

It amounts to a depressing trifecta of disrespect: towards homosexuals, women and foreigners. The need for the suite of inquiries Mr Smith has announced - into the Skype incident, use of social media, binge drinking, and the treatment of women in the Defence Force, among other matters - cannot be questioned. The minister must now receive the full support and co-operation of the ADF leadership, because the challenge confronting him - and them - is nothing less than enforcing a cultural revolution to bring the organisation into the 21st century.

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

ANOTHER WEEK, ANOTHER FAILURE OF STATE CARE

Removing a child from home creates a grave duty of care.

TWO young children in state care have made news in the past two weeks after being put in situations where no child should be. The first is a nine-year-old boy who was left alone in a park at night by his carers after a group outing. The second is a 12-year-old girl who became pregnant while living in a residential care unit. Sadly, such events add to a long list of failures to protect children taken into care.

A crisis, by definition, is meant to pass, but it is never ending in child protection. Both recent cases arose from chronic problems in child protection and out-of-home care. Many more cases do not come to light, as Victorian Ombudsman George Brouwer disclosed last year following two reviews - of child protection and out-of-home care - within a year. He found that ''children have died, been seriously injured'', with ''little or no external scrutiny''. Some had been raped and assaulted. Some worked as prostitutes. ''An unacceptable number of children do not experience out-of-home care placements as the secure and safe environment they should be,'' he wrote.

The basic problem is inadequate funding and resources to meet the demands on state care. Hundreds of children have been so abused or neglected that they must be removed from their homes. Damaged by their experiences, they require close supervision and care. Yet there are not even enough foster carers and residential care options to place all these children in stable care arrangements.

The Department of Human Services entrusted both the 12-year-old and nine-year-old to the care of non-profit community organisations. Having taken children from their homes, the state contracts out its responsibilities to a third party. That creates another crack in the system for children to fall through. This is not a reflection on such care organisations; it is a reflection on the lack of funding and resources made available by the state to fulfil its own legal duty of care.

Victorians would expect, at a minimum, that children are kept safe. They are not, because as Community Services Minister Mary Wooldridge acknowledges, out-of-home care ''is buckling under the pressure of an overstretched child protection system''.

Evidence of underfunding is everywhere: in the lack of foster carers, who are not even fully compensated for the costs they incur; in the shortages of child protection workers, who are among the lowest-paid in the country and whose workload contributes to almost one in four leaving each year; in spending per child that is less than 70 per cent of the national average; and in the deficiencies of a computer system that ''impedes the effectiveness of child protection'', according to an independent review obtained by The Age. As Mr Brouwer concluded, ''too much is asked of too few, who are underpaid and overstretched''.

The Coalition showed a welcome willingness to campaign on the ''chronic and systemic'' failures of the system before last November's election. As the Labor government retorted, the Coalition did not say what it would do to fix the problems and how much money it would make available to do so. Labor increased funding from $216 million to $568 million between 1999 and last year. That didn't fix the system.

Given the depth and breadth of the problems, The Age supports the government's wide-ranging inquiry into child protection, while noting the lamentable lack of progress after past inquiries. Once the latest inquiry reports, the government will have three years to act before the next election.

Finding the money to ensure proper care for all children at risk is an unavoidable part of the solution, but so is structural reform. The critiques from the Baillieu government and Ms Wooldridge are of no more consequence than the criticisms of the past unless they follow up with decisive action. Fix the system, and all Victorians will applaud them for at last getting the state's child protection and care services to live up to their names.

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THE GUARDIAN

EDITORIAL

ANOTHER WEEK, ANOTHER FAILURE OF STATE CARE

REMOVING A CHILD FROM HOME CREATES A GRAVE DUTY OF CARE.

TWO young children in state care have made news in the past two weeks after being put in situations where no child should be. The first is a nine-year-old boy who was left alone in a park at night by his carers after a group outing. The second is a 12-year-old girl who became pregnant while living in a residential care unit. Sadly, such events add to a long list of failures to protect children taken into care.

A crisis, by definition, is meant to pass, but it is never ending in child protection. Both recent cases arose from chronic problems in child protection and out-of-home care. Many more cases do not come to light, as Victorian Ombudsman George Brouwer disclosed last year following two reviews - of child protection and out-of-home care - within a year. He found that ''children have died, been seriously injured'', with ''little or no external scrutiny''. Some had been raped and assaulted. Some worked as prostitutes. ''An unacceptable number of children do not experience out-of-home care placements as the secure and safe environment they should be,'' he wrote.

The basic problem is inadequate funding and resources to meet the demands on state care. Hundreds of children have been so abused or neglected that they must be removed from their homes. Damaged by their experiences, they require close supervision and care. Yet there are not even enough foster carers and residential care options to place all these children in stable care arrangements.

The Department of Human Services entrusted both the 12-year-old and nine-year-old to the care of non-profit community organisations. Having taken children from their homes, the state contracts out its responsibilities to a third party. That creates another crack in the system for children to fall through. This is not a reflection on such care organisations; it is a reflection on the lack of funding and resources made available by the state to fulfil its own legal duty of care.

Victorians would expect, at a minimum, that children are kept safe. They are not, because as Community Services Minister Mary Wooldridge acknowledges, out-of-home care ''is buckling under the pressure of an overstretched child protection system''.

Evidence of underfunding is everywhere: in the lack of foster carers, who are not even fully compensated for the costs they incur; in the shortages of child protection workers, who are among the lowest-paid in the country and whose workload contributes to almost one in four leaving each year; in spending per child that is less than 70 per cent of the national average; and in the deficiencies of a computer system that ''impedes the effectiveness of child protection'', according to an independent review obtained by The Age. As Mr Brouwer concluded, ''too much is asked of too few, who are underpaid and overstretched''.

The Coalition showed a welcome willingness to campaign on the ''chronic and systemic'' failures of the system before last November's election. As the Labor government retorted, the Coalition did not say what it would do to fix the problems and how much money it would make available to do so. Labor increased funding from $216 million to $568 million between 1999 and last year. That didn't fix the system.

Given the depth and breadth of the problems, The Age supports the government's wide-ranging inquiry into child protection, while noting the lamentable lack of progress after past inquiries. Once the latest inquiry reports, the government will have three years to act before the next election.

Finding the money to ensure proper care for all children at risk is an unavoidable part of the solution, but so is structural reform. The critiques from the Baillieu government and Ms Wooldridge are of no more consequence than the criticisms of the past unless they follow up with decisive action. Fix the system, and all Victorians will applaud them for at last getting the state's child protection and care services to live up to their names.

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THE GUARDIAN

EDITORIAL

BARACK OBAMA: RETURNING TO THE FRAY

A fighting President Obama is better than one who pretends to stay aloof

Gone are the days when liberal America let itself be mesmerised by a big Obama speech. Long gone. Today's president acts only after a blizzard of advice from the centre-left telling him, with varying degrees of exasperation, what he should say. The implication is that it no longer trusts him to do the right thing. Barack Obama has by now established something of a track record in stinging this section of his electorate with a cattle prod. Extending Bush-era tax cuts for the super-rich was one instance. Budget cuts he agreed with Congress to prevent a shutdown of federal government last week were another. The White House dismayed them by actually trumpeting the cuts (to health, education, housing, transportation) as being among the largest in history, while making a virtue of the fact that they would not undermine the economy. Not only did some economists rightly dispute this claim. They also questioned why their president had stopped fashioning himself as a job creator (his first incarnation after the banking crash) and had now started painting himself as a deficit cutter.

Mr Obama had got the tactics wrong: he let the Republicans go first. The Republican chairman of the House budget committee, Paul Ryan, duly obliged, by saying he would cut federal spending by $6tn over the next decade by radically restricting healthcare access and giving away $4.5tn to the highest earners. The White House was being too clever by half. The idea was to let Mr Ryan look so extreme that it would give Democrats the room to attack. What happened instead was that the Ryan plan framed the debate. Mr Obama had a ready-made debate filler before he himself chose to wade in – a bipartisan commission on the subject which came out with a centrist mixture of spending cuts and tax increases. But having convened the commission, he pointedly failed to say anything about its conclusions. So once again Republican talk of drastic and immediate deficit reduction with simultaneous large tax cuts filled the void. It did not work when Ronald Reagan tried it. All that happened was that a deficit was racked up. But if it did not work once, it was worth trying again.

Mr Obama had his work cut out. The crossfire started before he had opened his mouth last night, when Republicans briefed on the plan rejected it outright. In the end, Mr Obama borrowed heavily from the bipartisan commission he had up until then studiously failed to endorse by proposing to reduce the deficit by $4tn in 12 years, two years longer than the commission proposed. Only one of the four points held some cheer for liberals, the promise to end Bush-era tax rates for the wealthiest Americans. The rest would involve heavy cuts – $770bn in savings to discretionary spending, and $480bn in Medicare and Medicaid. But the deadline of 2023 is less harsh than the commission proposed. To the disappointment of many of his supporters, Mr Obama devoted a good part of the speech to the growing deficit itself, which if left unchecked could lead America to default.

The plan itself is just the opening shot of a mammoth battle. More important were the terms in which he framed the debate. This, he said, was not simply about numbers and figures, but a vision of how America would look in the future. The Ryan plan, he declared, would not simply change the America he knew, it was a fundamentally pessimistic vision of the most powerful country in the world – one which could not afford good roads, or clean air, or to care for the elderly or sick. But under it, America could afford to give tax breaks to the most wealthy. There was nothing courageous about asking for a sacrifice from those who could least afford it and who did not have any clout on Capitol Hill, he said. By casting Democrats as the protectors of the American dream, and Republicans as the wreckers, he began to turn the tables. It was at least a start. A fighting president is better than one who pretends to stay aloof.

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THE GUARDIAN

EDITORIAL

COUNCIL ELECTIONS: DISPARATE DEMOCRACY

Westminster's focus may be the AV campaign – but the local elections may prove a better guide to the political future

Local elections are always shaped by national circumstances. This year will be no different. When Britain votes on 5 May, many people will be judging the national government. A good result for Labour and a bad one for either or both of the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats will be taken as a verdict on the coalition. But this will be fair only up to a point.

In places such as Herefordshire – where the It's Our County movement is taking on established national parties – the local nature of the contest is obvious. Everywhere there will be local variations, as a panel of political academics explained at a Political Studies Association briefing this week. They suggested the Liberal Democrats might outpoll their dire national ratings, thanks to an established if troubled local base – and that Labour might not do quite as well as some national surveys suggest. With councils up for grabs in much of England, plus devolved elections in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and the referendum on electoral reform, the days after 5 May could descend into a battle of spin and counter-accusation as each party seeks to interpret the results in its favour.

Before this begins it is worth establishing some benchmarks for the local contests. In total 9,400 English seats in more than 6,000 wards in 279 councils are up for grabs. London is the only significant English city with no local contest. These elections follow a four-yearly cycle, and when they last took place, in 2007, the Conservatives did notably well and the Liberal Democrats sustained their share of the vote. The estimated national vote then, suggest academics Colin Rallings and Michael Thrasher, would have been Conservatives 40%, Labour 26% and Liberal Democrats 24%. This year, they suggest on the basis of recent byelections, Labour may poll around 38%, the Tories between 34% and 38%, and the Lib Dems between 16% and 22% – well down on their long-term local election average, though, if this forecast is correct, not as badly as the party fears.

What matters more is control of councils and council seats. The last time Labour came first in local elections was in 1999, and to return to its strength then in one leap it would now need to make more than 1,000 gains in England. While only 39% of current Labour seats are being contested this year, more than 50% of Conservative and Lib Dem councillors face re-election. Both parties are very exposed. A record number of minor parties are contesting seats too: the BNP is fragmenting and being chased by new far-right forces. Westminster's attention may be on the AV campaign – but the composition of council chambers across the country may prove a better guide to the political future.

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THE JAPAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

MEDVEDEV'S PURGE OF THE KREMLIN CHAIRMEN

BY SERGEI GURIEV AND ALEH TSYVINSKI

MOSCOW — In recent days, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has moved against some of the most powerful men in the Kremlin, including Igor Sechin, a deputy prime minister who is perhaps the closest figure to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin — and who is also the chairman of Rosneft, Russia's largest oil firm. A decree signed by Medvedev with the stated purpose of improving the country's investment climate will strip Sechin and others of their chairmanships of some of Russia's biggest state-owned companies. But the purge may reflect other, more important goals.

Medvedev has in the past recognized both the need to attract Russian and foreign investment and the country's dismal investment climate. But this time his actions truly matched his rhetoric, as he outlined specific measures to be taken and set deadlines for implementing them. And, with some of the measures bound to face stiff opposition by powerful interest groups, the reforms are set to be a major test of Medvedev's real strength — and of his plans to run for another term as president. Even partial success would allow a Medvedev re-election campaign to be built around themes of anti-corruption and transparency.

Corruption and government accountability are probably the single most important issues for Medvedev's electoral base among Russia's rising middle class and "protest" voters. The ruling United Russia party's recent poor performance in regional elections show that the electorate is fed up with the status quo and is ready to vote for an alternative.

The success of the leading anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny is another wake-up call for Medvedev. Importantly, many of the measures proposed by the president are similar to those recommended by Navalny: removing government officials from the boards of state-owned companies; ensuring access to corporate documents for minority shareholders; and developing a way to respond to whistle-blowers on corruption.

Medvedev made a simple and convincing argument: those who fear transparency are those who have something to hide. This is not an abstract accusation. Navalny's repeated requests for the minutes of several state-owned companies' board meetings generated huge resistance — two companies even tried, unsuccessfully, to change the law in order to reject shareholder requests for information.

The most controversial of Medvedev's measures is the removal of key bureaucrats from corporate boards. His orders list 17 state-owned companies and the powerful ministers and deputy prime ministers to be removed from board chairmanships by July 1 (he promised a longer list by Oct. 1).

The president's logic is straightforward: a government official in charge of an oil company or a bank faces an inherent conflict of interest. The chairman of a board must serve the interests of the company — often at the expense of its competitors. But a government official must pursue the public interest, which includes preserving a competitive environment in the oil or banking sector.

Removing officials from state-owned companies' boards has been an important aim for Medvedev for several years. He introduced the idea in his presidential campaign speech in Krasnoyarsk in 2008, and has made certain that tens of independent directors have been appointed to state-owned companies' boards.

Yet board chairmanships remained the domain of the bureaucracy. Not a single state-owned company has an independent chairman. And the chairmanship is a vital position, as its occupant sets the agenda and controls discussions.

It is difficult to talk about "standards" of corporate governance in Russian state-owned companies, since most do not even have regularly scheduled board meetings, owing to the unpredictability of government officials' schedules. This may seem little more than an annoyance, but it has a key implication: when there is no regular schedule for board meetings, many independent directors (especially foreigners) often cannot attend. If the board chairman is not a government official and can commit to an annual schedule, highly skilled independent directors from around the world could be attracted.

As usual with such initiatives, implementation matters. First, it is not clear who will replace the bureaucrats as board chairs. Given their importance, the new chairs must have the necessary skills and integrity. It is often said that Medvedev does not have his own team; his appointees to these positions will show whether that is true.

Second, it is uncertain whether the new board chairs will actually run the companies. Russia's legal system is imperfect, and even serious violations of corporate governance are difficult to punish. It is not unthinkable that management will simply ignore the boards.

Finally, while some board members are truly independent, others receive "directives" from the government on certain issues. Therefore, it matters whether the new board chairs run their boards independently or according to the Kremlin's orders. In the latter case, the new chairs would be treated as government proxies, making a mockery of the entire exercise. The good news is that Medvedev's chief economic adviser, Arkady Dvorkovich, has said that government directives "will be reformed" as well.

Whether these improvements in corporate governance are actually implemented will be clear to all. We will know soon (certainly before July 1) whether Russia's president can implement even a part of his agenda — and whether he is willing and able to build his own power base in the process.

Sergei Guriev is rector of the New Economic School in Moscow. Aleh Tsyvinski is Professor of Economics at Yale University. © 2011, Project Syndicate

 

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THE JAPAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

PROSECUTOR SENTENCED

The Osaka District Court on Tuesday sentenced a former prosecutor to 18 months' imprisonment for tampering with evidence in a case against a former welfare ministry official charged with ordering a subordinate to fabricate a document making an unqualified organization eligible for the postal discount system. The official, Ms. Atsuko Muraki, was acquitted in September, more than a year after she and her subordinate were arrested on July 4, 2009.

The court decided that Tsunehiko Maeda, the former prosecutor with the Osaka District Public Prosecutors Office's special investigation squad, on July 13, 2009, changed the final update time on a floppy disk, confiscated from Ms. Muraki's subordinate, to make its data conform with the prosecution's scenario. The floppy contained the text of the document in question.

Ms. Muraki was acquitted mainly because the same court decided that core evidence - testimonies by witnesses - against her resulted from prosecutors' leading questions and coercion. Although the altered floppy disk was not used as evidence in the trial, what Maeda did was unprecedented in the history of criminal trials. The ruling Tuesday said he bears an extremely grave responsibility, as his actions could have undermined the basis of the judiciary system. His two former bosses have been indicted on a charge of harboring a suspect, that is Maeda.

The trial ended after two hearings and has left important questions unanswered. The Supreme Public Prosecutors Office, which served as the prosecution in the trial, tried to end it as soon as possible. The defense counsel for Maeda accepted all the SPPO's arguments also to end the trial quickly.

As to his motive for tampering with the floppy disk, Maeda said only that he could not explain what he actually wanted to do. The SPPO did not question him thoroughly. The court also accepted the defense counsel's contention that the arrest of Ms. Muraki was rational, apparently not to weaken prosecution authorities' position in a lawsuit filed by Ms. Muraki against the state for redress. Such an attitude will not help restore people's trust in prosecutors.

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THE JAPAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

ALMOST AS BAD AS CHERNOBYL

The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency and the Nuclear Safety Commission on Tuesday provisionally raised the severity level of the crisis at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant from level 5 to the maximum 7 on the International Nuclear Event Scale — the same level designated for the world`s worst nuclear accident at Chernobyl in 1986.

NISA estimated that the amount of radioactive materials in terms of radioactive iodine-131 released into the air from the Nos. 1, 2 and 3 reactors at 370,000 terabecquerels (one terabecquerel being 1 trillion becquerels) and the NSC at 630,000 terabecquerels — far exceeding the criterion of tens of thousands of terabecquerels for level 7.

On March 18, NISA had provisionally set the level at 5, the same level as the Three Mile Island accident in 1979. Even after it became clear that the severity of Fukushima No.1's crisis exceeded that of the TMI accident, the government took such a long time before raising the level.

The government should realize that the delay has highly damaged Japan's trustworthiness. The possibility cannot be ruled out that the adoption of the low level of severity has adversely affected the government and Tepco's decisions in their efforts to mitigate the nuclear crisis.

NISA says the amount of radioactive materials released from Fukushima No. 1 is about 10 percent of that from the Chernobyl plant. But the explanation creates a false sense of security. The amount does not cover radioactive materials released into the sea. The total amount of radioactive materials existing in the Nos. 1, 2, 3 and 4 reactors at Fukushima No. 1 is much greater than that at Chernobyl or TMI. At Fukushima No. 1, a crisis involving four reactors — compared to the one reactor at Chernobyl and TMI — has been going for more than a month. The government and Tepco must find a way to sufficiently cool the reactors and spent fuel storages without releasing contaminated water out of the reactors.

The government should also announce detailed updates frequently on radiation levels at various places to enable people to better protect their health and lives.

 

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THE JAPAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

CHINA'S HUMAN RIGHTS RECORD INVITES CRITICISM

BY FRANK CHING

HONG KONG — The United States has released its latest reports on human rights practices of countries around the world, with Chinese officials being severely cited for cracking down on activists, limiting internet access and repressing minorities.

While this is a report on 2010, the detention of renowned artist Ai Weiwei and dozens of others, including lawyers, writers, artists and activists, suggests that the human rights situation in China is deteriorating, not improving.

Chinese officials like to say that other countries should respect China's "judicial sovereignty."

Well, the judicial system will certainly earn more respect if it were independent of the government and of the Communist Party and if defendants are given the rights set out in the law.

But Ai Weiwei's detention shows that such is not the case. Last Thursday, the Foreign Ministry spokesman said that "Ai Weiwei is under investigation on suspicion of economic crimes" and that the case "has nothing to do with human rights or freedom of expression."

Curiously, while the foreign ministry spokesman seemed to possess information on the case, the same has not been shared with the artist's lawyer or his family.

That suggests at the very least that the case is being handled politically.

Also curiously, while eight questions were asked about the Ai case at the press conference, none of the questions and answers appears in the transcript of the press conference on the ministry's website.

Perhaps the government realized afterwards that having the foreign ministry spokesman expound on the issue while the procuratorate and the courts are silent sent out the wrong message about China's "judicial sovereignty."

But, at least, it appears that the Chinese authorities may present charges against Ai-or release him-after their investigations. And that the judicial system may be involved.

Such is not the case with many other human rights cases. The U.S. State Department's 2010 report talks about extrajudicial killings, including executions without due process. In addition, there is extrajudicial detention, extortion and assault.

"Efforts to silence political activists and public interest lawyers were stepped up," the report said, "and increasingly the government resorted to extralegal measures including enforced disappearance, 'soft detention,' and strict house arrest, including house arrest of family members, to prevent the public voicing of independent opinions."

One example of house arrest is that of Chen Guangcheng, the human rights lawyer who, after completing a sentence of 40 months on charges of "disrupting traffic," has been held with his wife and child without benefit of any legal process.

The fact that the authorities resort to extralegal measures is not denied even by the official Chinese press. The China Daily, for example, reported last October on "black jails" in which petitioners are illegally held.

So the Chinese authorities themselves are violating the law and, in effect, showing contempt for the judiciary by bypassing the court system.

Worse than house arrest is the increasingly common phenomenon of someone simply disappearing as security authorities whisk him or her away without informing the family and without any legal procedures.

So many people in China are "disappearing" that a United Nations unit-the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances-on Friday issued a statement in which it expressed "serious concern at the recent wave of enforced disappearances" in China, pointing out that "enforced disappearance is a crime under international law."

According to the working group, "persons subject to enforced disappearances appear to be human rights activists, lawyers and students. These enforced disappearances represent the continuation of a disturbing trend in the suppression of dissidents."

Last year, the working group called on China to explain the disappearance of the prominent human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng but received no response. Later, reporters were told to respect China's "judicial sovereignty" and that "China is a country under the rule of law."

Attempts to get the Chinese government to disclose the whereabouts of Gao have failed. However, in January 2010, while Gao was missing, the foreign ministry acknowledged that he was being held by the authorities, with the spokesman saying, "This person, according to Chinese law, is where he should be."

So, it seems, Chinese law justifies the "disappearance" of individuals even though international law deems it to be a crime.

This being the case, it is little wonder that China's "judicial sovereignty" is not universally respected.

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THE JAKARTA POST

EDITORIAL

WHEN CATERPILLARS ATTACK

Watching television footage of millions of caterpillars crawling up trees and down the walls in several parts of Java — and now Bali — reminds us of alien invasions as depicted in Hollywood blockbuster movies.

The insect invasion of Probolinggo has reportedly subsided after weeks of a siege that forced the residents of the East Java regency to cut down their dying mango trees.

Now the insects are swarming Madiun, East Java; Kendal, Central Java; Yogyakarta; Sumedang and Subang, West Java; Buleleng, Bali — and have finally reached Jakarta after a stop in the West Java city of Bekasi, the capital's eastern neighbor.

The caterpillar infestation has been neither as fatal nor as devastating as sci-fi movie directors have imagined alien attacks. However the insects have inflicted huge material losses on local residents, not to mention causing skin rashes and generating public fear.

Scientists have been working to find ways to stop the epidemic, but they have done little more than suggesting that pesticide be used to exterminate caterpillars.

Many explanations have been offered to explain the sudden onslaught of caterpillars. The most striking — yet also plausible — answer suggests a mix of environmental and human factors. An entomologist from the Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB) said the invasion was triggered by human activities that disturbed the ecological balance, such as rampant monoculture farming practices.

When practicing monoculture farming, farmers weed out trees and plants that support the natural predators of caterpillars, allowing the herbivorous species to eat and eat without end. Caterpillars have prevailed since there were no longer any natural predators or parasites to control their numbers.

Monoculture farming has been controversial ever since humans adopted the practice to maximize crop production at the expense of forests and biodiversity.

Monoculture cultivation is perhaps only second to rampant hunting as the main cause of extinction of Indonesia's endemic flora and fauna.

Environmental groups have long warned of the impending extinction of orangutans in Kalimantan and Sumatra in the wake of expanding monoculture tree plantations. Also at risk are Papua's rainforests, the source of the country's richest biodiversity, due to the development of massive agro-industry endeavors.

Large-scale monoculture tree plantations have had negative environmental and social impacts throughout the world. This, however, does not mean tree plantations do more harm than good. They have helped many countries improve their economies and the welfare of their peoples. Many nations have also invested a lot to address adverse impacts of this industry.

For countries rich in natural resources such as Indonesia, plantations are a choice with clear consequences, such as repeated conflicts between humans and animals.

Similar to elephant or tiger attacks on farmers and plantation workers, marauding caterpillars simply send a message that nature always finds a way to react to irregularities.

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THE JAKARTA POST

AFTER GBAGBO, WHO'S NEXT?

The arrest of Ivory Coast strongman Laurent Gbagbo on Monday ended months of a bloody power struggle and hopefully marks the start of a democracy taking root under the leadership of Alassane Ouattara.

Winner of the November election, Ouattara could finally start governing and restore the Ivory Coast to the haven of peace and prosperity it was a decade ago. Rich with cocoa and coffee, rebuilding the economy is probably the least of Ouattara's worries.

First and foremost he needs to restore unity to a country that has been wracked by ethnic divisions, thanks to Gbagbo's decade-old policies that saw the nation split into the Muslim north and Christian south. The power struggle of the past five months, which saw more than 1,000 people killed and more than 1 million displaced, had only strengthened the animosity. A Muslim hailing from the north, Ouattara could convince the skeptical south by forming a national unity government.

With the international community, including the United Nations, the European Union and the Ivory Coast's African neighbors in the African Union, very much behind Ouattara since his November election victory, he can count on their continued support as he goes through the difficult period of rebuilding the nation. At the end of the day, however, like the just-concluded power struggle, this is a battle that the Ivory Coast people have to fight for themselves.

Reconciliation should be the first order of the day for the Ivory Coast. The new government should also seek the immediate phased withdrawal of French military forces from the country, sent under a UN mandate to protect the lives of civilians and foreigners there. The French forces played a role in dislodging Gbagbo, which is bound to leave a bitter aftertaste among some Ivory Coast people that could raise xenophobic sentiment.

Democracy almost anywhere comes the hard way. The Ivory Coast is no exception. One could only wish that tyrants had more statesmanship in them and make way for democracy rather than fighting the inevitable only to cause greater misery for their own people.

Some, like Soeharto of Indonesia, Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and Zine El Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia, did take the highway, but Gbagbo took the hard and bloody way. Either way, the will of the people prevailed eventually. Qaddafi and all other tyrants around the world, you have been warned!

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THE JAKARTA POST

CATERPILLAR OUTBREAK: ANOTHER BLACK SWAN?

DYNA ROCHMYANINGSIH

A caterpillar outbreak has recently spread across 15 districts in Java, Bali, East Lombok, Bekasi (West Java) and lastly in West Jakarta. Thousands and thousands of caterpillars, with their stingy hairs, unconsciously terrorize the residents of areas they invade.

This issue becomes interesting when people attribute this phenomenon to the presence of humans. Some traditional people say it is a punishment or warning from God, just like the plague of frogs in Moses' time, while a more modern person might attribute it to climate change that has been accelerated by human activities during recent decades.

The former opinion is not the concern of this article because it is related to faith — which cannot be studied extensively here. So I will focus on the latter, which is the subject of science.

Rod Eastwood, an entomologist from Harvard University, said that attributing the cause of the outbreak to climate change could be hard to prove, despite the fact that climate change can lead to unseasonal weather — which can disturb plant growth and the life cycle of host plants.

Thus, plants may provide more or less food at critical times in caterpillars' development cycle. In addition, this condition is also unsuitable for the natural enemies of the caterpillar such as parasitoids or fungi, so caterpillars can develop well without disturbance.

However, unpredictable explosions of insect populations have often been seen throughout history. In Wisconsin, US, the first recorded outbreak was in 1600 and since then outbreaks have occurred at irregular intervals. There was also an outbreak of Bogong moths in Australia, Baicalina caddis flies on Lake Baikal. Such phenomena could be influenced by a combination of several factors.

In 1995, research was conducted on the climate and an outbreak of forest tent caterpillars in North America. The study, conducted by the University of British Columbia, found that weather variables did not influence the population dynamics of forest tent caterpillars. This fact is interesting since it implies that climate change is not the only factor responsible for caterpillar outbreaks. Instead, such outbreaks can also be regarded as a natural phenomenon.

Also, if climate change is the only factor causing this phenomenon, why has it only happened in random locations in Bali, East Lombok, West Java and a small part of Jakarta?

Why did the outbreaks not happen in Kalimantan or Sumatra? As regions located nearer to the equator, these islands are undergoing the same impacts of climate change and we may expect the same phenomenon to happen there. But apparently it hasn't. Instead, the phenomenon has only happened in a random style affecting southern Indonesia.

The first outbreak was in Probolinggo, East Java, and then it moved to the western part of the island, to Jombang, and Kendal in Central Java, and then to Bekasi in West Java, but then it moved backward to Bali, jumped to East Lombok and now has been reported in Jakarta.

Interestingly, different regions were invaded by different species of caterpillars. Probolinggo was invaded by Lymantria atemeles and Arctornis sp, Banyuwangi was invaded by Dasychira inclusa, and certainly different species invaded other areas.

It is suspected that most of them are from the Lymantriidae family, which includes the Tussock Moth that is covered in irritating hairs during its larval stage.

Our local scientist, Supata, from Gajah Mada University, says no one is sure what triggers such massive outbreaks. As explained above, several circumstances influence the phenomenon. But I think this phenomenon is an example of a "Black Swan" event, a term that was developed by economist and philosopher Nassim Taleb.

Yes, it is a black swan. It is something highly unpredictable (a surprise) and after its first recording, people tend to rationalize it. It is a natural phenomenon and will disappear naturally without a massive burning or excessive spraying of insecticide. Those efforts will only create another ecological imbalance.

The writer is a science journalist.

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THE JAKARTA POST

UNDERSTANDING THE MALACCA STRAIT INCIDENT

I MADE ANDI ARSANA

While Indonesia has managed to show leadership in paving the way toward a border dispute settlement between Thailand and Cambodia, it seems that Indonesia itself is not free from border issues.

On the day Indonesia was hosting a meeting between Thai and Cambodian delegations in Bogor, an incident took place in the border area of the Malacca Strait. The April 7th incident involved Malaysian-flagged vessels, Indonesian patrolling officials from the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries and Malaysian helicopters.

An Indonesian patrol team identified two vessels allegedly fishing illegally in Indonesia's exclusive economic zone (EEZ). When the two vessels were seized, Malaysian helicopters came along demanding that the two vessels be released. Convinced with what they were doing, the Indonesian officials went on and disregarded the demand.

The two vessels were brought to Belawan Port and the fishermen operating the vessels were detained. In Indonesia, as anticipated, the issue was highly debated and easily made it into news headlines.

Did the incident really take place in Indonesia's EEZ? What about maritime boundaries between Indonesia and Malaysia in the Malacca Strait? What can be done to solve the issue? Before answering these questions, it is good to remember how coastal states are entitled to maritime areas and why they need to share the areas with neighbors.

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) governs that coastal States such as Indonesia and Malaysia are entitled to several zones of maritime jurisdictions including territorial seas, contiguous zones, EEZs and continental shelves, the breadth of which are measured from baselines (usually coastline during low tide). In reality, it is impossible, however, to find a situation where a state can claim the full suit of maritime jurisdiction zones without dealing with its neighbors.

Due to their geographical configuration, many states are relatively close each other and overlapping maritime entitlement inevitably occurs. Coastal states need to share maritime areas through a delimitation process. Indonesia and Malaysia, too, need to draw maritime boundaries between themselves in the Malacca Strait.

In 1969, Indonesia and Malaysia established a seabed boundary (continental shelf) in the Malacca Strait. For some reason, this boundary line lies closer to Indonesia, not precisely in the middle of the two states. It is worth emphasizing that the line divides only the seabed, not the water column.

Accordingly, the division of the seabed and resources therein (oil, gas, sedentary species) has been made clear, but the water column and its resources (fish) remains unclear. It seems that the negotiation have yet to achieve significant progress. In conclusion, there has been no agreed-upon EEZ boundary in the Malacca Strait between Indonesia and Malaysia. Animation for the incident is available at www.borderstudies.info.

Even though an agreed-upon EEZ boundary is missing, Indonesia and Malaysia have unilaterally claimed EEZ boundaries. Indonesia proposes the use of a median line, while Malaysia suggests the use of the 1969 seabed boundary as an EEZ boundary, which lies closer to Indonesia. Considering that UNCLOS requires parties in question to achieve an "equitable solution" in delimiting EEZs, one might say that Indonesia's proposal is more acceptable. Even though a median line is not necessarily "equitable", it can certainly serve as an equitable solution in the absence of any special circumstance.

The two different proposals of an EEZ boundary in the Malacca Strait generates an area of EEZ claimed by both parties, an overlapping claim. Unsurprisingly, each state refers to the overlapping area as its own and enforces laws based on that unilateral claim.

If Malaysia's fishermen enter the area, Indonesian officials will undoubtedly consider it as an infringement and vice versa. This is, in fact, what happed in the Malacca Strait on April 7, 2011.

What the Indonesian patrol team did in the Malacca Strait was correct according to Indonesia's unilateral position. Likewise, Malaysian helicopters were also performing their duty based on the assignment given pursuant to Malaysia's unilateral claim.

It was also anticipated that each government would state that "the incident took place in our EEZ," as this is what a state will normally do to strengthen its position. This is critical to show consistency that will benefit a state at the negotiating table. Unfortunately, this kind of statement and political stance can obscure people's view of the real issue.

What to do next? First and foremost, Indonesia and Malaysia need to accelerate the delimitation process. As Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa once asserted, Indonesia is ready to negotiate with Malaysia at anytime.

The incident should be a wake-up call for Malaysia to work hand in hand with Indonesia, swiftly but carefully. And not only in the Malacca Strait, as they have yet to finalize delimitation in the Strait of Singapore (waters off Tanjung Berakit), South China Sea and Sulawesi Sea (Ambalat). It is worth noting, however, that settling maritime boundaries is by no mean an easy task.

Second, as highlighted by Foreign Minister Anifah Aman of Malaysia, both states need to translate high-level consensus in dealing with fishing activities in the overlapping areas into technical procedures in the field. Each party has to make sure that patrolling teams in the field perform their job in accordance with an agreement that has been previously achieved in a higher level of authority.

This can also lead to an option of joint-patrol between Indonesia and Malaysia. Undoubtedly, this will require both parties to acknowledge that the area is in fact an overlapping area. In short, they have to start with "agreeing to disagree" on each other's claims.

The third option is to sterilize the disputed area from any activities conducted by any parties for a certain period of time. Meanwhile both parties need to establish confidence-building measure before stepping into delimitation process. Options are there; what required is willingness from both sides for a solution. Whatever the approach is, Indonesia and Malaysia should be aimed at reaching a peaceful resolution.

The writer is a lecturer at the Department of Geodetic Engineering, Gadjah Mada University. His research interest is in technical/geodetic and legal aspects of maritime delimitation. This is his personal opinion.

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THE JAKARTA POST

INTELLIGENCE BILL AND THE GOVERNMENT'S LIST OF PROBLEMS

ANTON ALIABBAS AND IRSAN NUZULUDDIN OLII

The ongoing deliberation at the House of Representatives on the state intelligence bill is now entering a new stage — discussing a list of problems (DIM) forwarded by the government. It is hoped that this legislative draft can be passed in July. The purpose of this article is to compare the contents of the Intelligence bill with
the DIM.

From these two documents, we can find some substantial similarities. First, both documents focus on the existence of an intelligence coordinating agency although with different terminologies: The State Intelligence Coordinating Institution (LKIN) or the State Intelligence Agency (BIN). This can be seen in the numerous articles that mention the existence of such an institution. The LKIN regulations are elaborated in seven articles (articles 10-16), while the duties of other intelligence services such as defense intelligence are regulated in only two or three articles.

Second, both documents agree upon granting the authority of communication interceptions without a court agreement (Article 31 of the Bill or Article 14 of the DIM). The granting of such an authority is susceptible to misuse for political gain and has the potential to allow human rights abuses because there is no rigid mechanism that can control the use of such authority. With this article in the bill, it shows that the House and the government are purposely ignoring the opinions of the Constitutional Court that has stated that covert listening devices must be regulated by law.

The third similarity is the lack of protection for citizens especially those whose rights have been taken. Both documents do not give the opportunity to citizens to ask for rehabilitation or raise objections over the intrusion of privacy rights. Beside, the state should provide clearer regulations on how citizens "mistargeted" by the intelligence body can restore their rights and dignity.

The fourth similarity is that none of the articles interrelate with existing legislations. In the bill, articles concerning secrecy do not comply with the freedom of public information laws (articles 24-26). A far worse snapshot can be seen in the DIM. Moreover, the articles that regulate matters of intelligence secrecy (articles 29-30) are open to differing interpretations, creating the possibility that intelligence secrets will not be revealed if national security is under threat (article 29 paragraph 3). Whereas until now, we still do not have national security laws.

If we make a further comparison between the DIM and the bill, we can see at least three significant differences. First, the DIM gives special authority to BIN to perform intensive investigations during a 7x24 hour period (article 15 paragraphs 1 and 3), where this cannot be found within the bill. If this article is passed, then such an authorization has the potential to be abused by officials for political gain.

Second, the DIM inserts a clause where intelligence secrets can be categorized as state secrets with an undefined retention period (article 29). This is different from the bill, considered much more "advanced", dividing intelligence information into two categories, which are secrets that risk detention of up to 20 years (articles 24 and 25) and those that can be freely accessed by the public. This incompatibility does not mean that they are principally different because both have been proven not to have referred to the public information disclosure law (UU KIP).

Third, in the intelligence bill, the House has the right to monitor policies, activities and the use of the intelligence budget (article 37 paragraph 1). Not only that, to maximize intelligence monitoring, the House will form an intelligence standing committee (article 37 paragraph 2). But, the government has not agreed to the creation of an intelligence standing committee and has chosen the Commission's opinion hearings mechanism, which so far is being used.

The removal of this monitoring article has, of course, weakened the control on activities of the intelligence services. Especially since all this time monitoring the intelligence services through meetings has not shown satisfactory results. Therefore, the government and House should create layers of control — by the parliament, the intelligence organizations themselves, the President and civil society.

Based on the above analysis it can be concluded that both the bill and the DIM give opportunities for the misuse of intelligence for political gain. Without clear and firm rules of the game, the intelligence agency is prone to abuse by any political party in power.

To uphold the spirit stipulated in the Preamble of the 1945 Constitution, which says that the government "shall protect the whole people of Indonesia and the entire homeland of Indonesia", the completion of the ongoing deliberation on the intelligence bill should not be targeted within the specific time frame, July, as widely mentioned, while considering this draft law still does not give assurances on the protection of "the entire homeland of Indonesia". Prioritizing the discussions on the National Security Bill is instead much more important than the hotly debated and controversial intelligence bill.

Anton Aliabbas is program director of The Ridep Institute, an NGO research-based focus on Security Sector Reform. Irsan Nuzuluddin Olii studies International Relation at Paramadina University, Jakarta.

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THE JAKARTA POST

ASEAN STANDS WITH JAPAN IN CRISIS

S. PUSHPANATHAN

I am writing this opinion piece from an entirely different perspective as a privileged participant of the Special ASEAN-Japan Ministerial Meeting held at the ASEAN Secretariat on April 9, 2011.

It was unlike any other traditional meetings between ASEAN and its dialogue partners. It was not about politics, security, economics, or social cultural matters.  It was a heart-to-heart engagement — in the same spirit of the Fukuda Doctrine of 1977 — between ASEAN and one of its oldest dialogue partners.

It was about ASEAN reaffirming its profound sympathy for the beloved people of Japan, who have been devastated by the triple disasters of the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident.

It was a moving experience not only for the one-month old Foreign Minister of Japan, Takeaki Matsumoto and his delegation. It also touched the President of the Republic of Indonesia, the foreign ministers of ASEAN countries and the Secretary-General of ASEAN, as well as all delegates.

We felt the pain as the Japanese foreign minister briefed on the situation in Japan. We could visualize the thousands who perished and the thousands more who were missing or left homeless.

The brave souls who are fighting to bring the situation at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant under control and the challenge after challenge they are facing with determination ran through our minds.

Everyone at the meeting knew Japan is a proud nation, and it will surely recover from the unimaginable tragedy. No doubt about this. In fact, ASEAN's had pronounced at the meeting that Japan will emerge stronger than it was. Speaking to the ASEAN Finance Ministers in Bali last Friday, international institutions like the IMF, World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, were confident that Japan will recover from the momentary situation and the triple crises.

They assessed that the impact of the tragedy would act as a stimulus for Japan's recovery as similar incidents globally in the past have shown.

Indeed, the reconstruction efforts of Japan will be an opportunity for the country to recover and grow. ASEAN, being a close friend of Japan, will also be able to reciprocate for the four decades of Japan's official development assistance and cooperation.

Japan was always there when ASEAN needed support. ASEAN is one of the world leading producers of primary products, and the group can assist Japan in terms of providing with construction materials, workers, as well as energy and food requirements.

It will also be an opportunity to fully operationalize some of the ASEAN Plus Three finance mechanisms to address such disasters, such as the Credit Guarantee Investment Facility, Chiang Mai Initiative, as well as the ASEAN Plus Three Emergency Rice Reserve.

It is also time for ASEAN Plus Three countries to look at risk insurance and infrastructure financing mechanism in a more concerted manner.

This is an apt time, given the massive reserves accumulated by the participating countries, to channel such reserves into safe and high grade long- term infrastructure investments for the region's
development.

It will be an appropriate time to enhance the East Asia Summit cooperation on disaster management, a priority agenda of the forum. Apart from ASEAN Plus Three countries, Australia, New Zealand, United States, India and Russia have their fair share of disasters in recent years and therefore cooperation is not only encouraged but vital.

As for ASEAN, it is a time for the regional organization to strengthen its own disaster management cooperation through its ASEAN Agreement on Disaster Management and Emergency Response as well as the establishment of the ASEAN Coordinating Center for Humanitarian Assistance on disaster management. This will ensure the region is ready for disaster identification, disaster relief operations, as well as post-disaster reconstruction.  

The ASEAN Regional Forum and the new ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting processes should be enhanced for such humanitarian and relief operations too.

For Japan, the meeting served as a platform to convey the message that it will not turn inwards due
to the natural disaster and nuclear accident.

It has underscored its steadfast support for ASEAN Community building efforts, the implementation of the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity, as well as disaster relief and management efforts.

It is also a time for ASEAN and Japan to learn from the nuclear accident. Nuclear standards must be upheld to ensure safety of nuclear power plants, a growing and important source of non-polluting power generation for the region.

The meeting should generate further exchange of views among relevant authorities on the temporary ban of Japanese food imports. Safety based on scientific evidence should be the rationale for such bans.

The task assigned to the Secretary General of ASEAN to coordinate ASEAN's response to the crisis after the meeting is an indication how seriously ASEAN wants to assist Japan in whatever way it can. It signifies the human dimension of this enduring ASEAN-Japan relations more than anything else.

It is a signal to Japan that ASEAN is its true friend, a genuine partner and a growing regional player willing to work both in good and bad times with its partners.

ASEAN centrality is exemplified in this respect with the initiative of Indonesia as the ASEAN chair.  Thanks to the President of Indonesia for his visionary proposal to hold the meeting and the Indonesian Foreign Minister for his quick actions in putting together this meeting with the support of the ASEAN Secretary-General. The ASEAN Secretariat was honored to host the meeting.

The writer is the Deputy Secretary of ASEAN for ASEAN Economic Community. His views are personal.

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DAILY MIRROR

     EDITORIAL

 

 

NATIONAL NEW YEAR THE HEART OF UNITY IN DIVERSITY

While Sri Lanka's traditional external beauty as a tropical paradise or the Pearl of the Indian Ocean is being gradually restored after almost three decades of a devastating ethnic war we need to focus more today—the eve of the National New Year on the potential for the more important and lasting inner beauty in multi-religious, multi-ethnic and multi-cultural unity in diversity.

The National New Year today is the heart and the highlight of unity in diversity and the people of Sri Lanka need to be conscious of the role they could play in protecting and promoting the beauty of this unity in diversity. It is this multi-religious and multi-ethnic unity which could make Sri Lanka one of the foremost nations in the world.

Educating the people and inspiring them to get involved actively in this noble mission of unity in diversity must essentially be the role and responsibility of enlightened leaders of all major religions. They need to do this because especially during the past three decades most party politicians instead of working sincerely and sacrificially to unite the people have instead resorted to deception or double games for their personal gain or glory. To cover up their hypocrisy and the sanctimonious humbug, most of these party politicians divide the people and divert attention to selfish and self-centred donkey tricks like the battle for preference votes at regular elections. Therefore it is necessary for religious leaders to come forward and foster unity in diversity among the people of all religions and races. We are happy to note that Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, the Archbishop of Colombo is taking a major initiative to cooperate with Buddhists and other prelates to build lasting unity with peace and justice in Sri Lanka.

The natural examples for the importance of unity in diversity are plain to see. Take for instance the human body itself. Every part is different and plays a different role. But they act together for the common good of the whole body. The eyes play an important role as do the ears, the mouth, the head, the hands and feet and even the seemingly less important finger nails or toenails. Yet they are all equally important. And it is the diversity that makes for the beauty of the body. The human eyes are important as are the ears. But imagine a situation where the whole body is one big eye or one big ear. It would be a monstrosity. Yet some people seek such uniformity apparently not knowing how absurd or ugly it would be.

Another good example is a flower garden. Its beauty lies in the diversity of the flowers in terms of shapes, sizes and colours. While the rose is a beautiful flower, a garden full of roses and roses only would be like a crown with more thorns than roses. So is the illusion for uniformity.

This country's Sinhala Buddhist people, being by far the majority have a greater privilege and a greater responsibility to foster the spirit of unity in diversity. Essentially this spirit of unity in diversity grows when people while practising their own religion and acting according to their own culture and tradition, learn the importance of respecting the religious beliefs of others and also the customs and traditions of people of other religions. It is such a spirit of respect that will bring about a National New Year not confined to festivals and feasts but a significant event that will help build a Sri Lanka that becomes a wonder of the world.

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DAILY MIRROR

EDITORIAL

GOVERNANCE AND PROSPERITY AT THE DAWN OF A NEW YEAR

We spoke to some of the Political parties to weigh in their sentiments this Sinhala and Tamil New Year which marks the second New Year after the war ended.

United National Party (UNP) Spokesperson Gayantha
 Karunatilleka

The Government is responsible to provide relief to the public. During the government elections they said they will not increase gas and fuel prices, although the UNP stated that soon after the elections the government will increase the gas and fuel prices. At the time the government claimed we were lying. They will never increase prices before or after the New Year but they did so on the eve of the World Cup. People are getting ready for another festival with no relief from the Government. The duty of a government is that during a festival to provide some kind of material and financial relief. However during this period people are facing severe difficulties and shortcomings. The burden of the cost of living has worsened. This is the second New Year after war although people have yet to be relieved of their burden. The relief is not coming. It is the worst state the cost of living has been in comparison to even the war years.

Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) Leader Somavansa

Amarasinghe

On the 14th dawns the New Year called the Sinhalese and Tamil New Year. The JVP wishes not only the Sinhalese and Tamils but to all, a happy New Year. Almost two years have passed since the end of the war, the government has miserably failed to gain a lasting solution to the national question. The 30 year old emergency laws are not lifted. Capitalism has no solution for economic, social and political problems. Although the Central Bank says there is a growth of eight percent the people of this country must not forget that Sri Lanka is an indebted country. The so called growth hasn't had an effect whatsoever on the income of the down trodden people. Sri Lankan capitalism is no exception. It is moribund system and its guardians must go. People of Sri Lanka must unite against capitalism and fight for socialism in the New Year.

Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) Spokesperson Nishantha
 Sri Warnasinghe

This year, the Sinhala and Tamil New Year is very important to us. Its two years since the end of war. The country has passed three decades of darkness due to the war. Throughout the country lives and property were destroyed and people were fearful of their lives. As a country we couldn't celebrate the New Year in peaceful bliss. Therefore within one country, as a nation united we should celebrate hand in hand this New Year. Now our focus should be to achieve economic development and prosperity. There not simply physical development but also spiritual development and cultural development. Food security and national security should be our top priority setting a side party and religious divides. In the same way not allowing separatism raise its head again, we should be prepared and united in our ambition to face international threats.

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DAILY MIRROR

EDITORIAL

THE LONG WALK TO ENDING ANIMAL CRUELTY

With the cruelty towards animals increasing in leaps and bounds, the outraged cry of animal rights activists are to be heard, condemning acts of cruelty and demanding that the ill-used law be brought forth and action be taken.

Many suggestions and requests have been made with petitions now being signed to ban the slaughter of animals, but the government is yet to make a move towards updating laws activists say have been enacted during the British rule that are now redundant.

Laws and the changes that need to take place
Animal rights activists say that not only does the existing law need to be changed to bring together all acts dealing with cruelty under one such law, but that the existing laws of the country need to be fully explored.

With many not knowing the law while others simply not following it, there have been a rising cry of outrage from animal activists alleging that more need to be done for these gentle beings who suffer in silence.

The Sri Lanka Animal Rights Protection Association (SLAPA) said though there have been amendments to the laws of the country dealing with cruelty towards animals, they were those put in place during the British rule. The recent amendments to the act they say have been done with much difficulty with continuous lobbying by activists.

"According to the amendments in the new law, cattle that have been confiscated during illegal transportation can now be given to animal care organizations and they could be used for agricultural purposes," said SLAPA, Lorraine Bibile. She explains that previously any of the cattle confiscated in such a manner was handed over to the owner once legal proceedings had ended making such laws on animal protection redundant.

"Apart from this, we find that most people do not know the laws when it comes to animal cruelty or they simply do not follow it and laugh the matter off," she said. Ms. Bible explained that many did not go to the police station to complain of cruelty towards animals as they were laughed at, therefore the Association made it a point to arm animal lovers with a copy of the law when making a complaint to the police. 

The SLAPA had conducted many awareness programmes in an attempt to reduce cruelty towards animals due to ignorance. "We find that many of these acts take place due to ignorance rather than the need to harm them, not to say there aren't people who do so," said SLAPA Secretary, Sharmini Ratnayke.

Prominent Environmentalist, Jagath Gunawardane on the other hand said that though the law in the country needed to be changed, the existing law should be fully exploited and fines increased.

"The laws that we have now mostly relate to cattle and I think that all laws for animals should brought together under one umbrella where all animals are given the same rights," he said. Mr. Gunawardane held animal rights groups responsible for the lack of usage of the laws.  

"Unlike in the protection of wildlife, there is a clear consensus among the society that cruelty towards animals is wrong, therefore they only have to enforce it," Mr. Gunawardane stated. He explained that many activists often had no clear cut strategy or action plan, thus leaving environmentalist the unavoidable task of assisting those who do not have any idea of the legal background.

Mr. Gunawardane said that a network had to be built within the society to enable interested parties to contact activists and that action, whether it is legal or not should be taken at the proper time. "The new act that has not been taken up in parliament as yet, goes into more details about cruelty, the fines as well as more information on the confiscations and punishments given," he said. 

Animal rights activist and President of Sathva Mithra, Sagarica Rajakaruna said there was a need for a special authority that would look into the rights of animals as the police, under whose purview this came did not have the time or the necessary man power to do so. "Things such as animal rights have not become a main issue with the politicians as people do not raise it to become a major issue during elections as something that needs to be addressed," she said.

Other activists such as Narendra Gunathilake agreed that all existing laws for animal cruelty should be brought together as one. "There are many contradictions in the laws with a lot of loop holes that need to be covered," he said. Mr. Gunathilake pointed out the definitions in some acts as an example. "In one act the word cow means just the cow but in another it also includes animals such as the pig and the goat as well," he explained.

The Humane act of slaughtering animals
The SLAPA explains that it is the cattle that have suffered most when it comes to animal cruelty. Members recollect gruesome tales of legs of cattle being broken to fit in to transport vehicles that could only hold half the number of cattle that are being transported. "We also know that permits and the animals are not fully checked before they are taken to the slaughter house, with many of the laws being violated," said Ms. Bibile.

The Association say they have begun a petition to ban the slaughter of animals and have so far collected more than 500,000 signatures and hope to hand in the petition to President Mahinda Rajapaksa soon. "We are not telling people not to eat meat, what we are saying is that the slaughter be conducted in a humane manner that ensures the animal suffers the least possible pain," said Ms. Ratnayake.

Ms. Rajakaruna explains that the existing laws have been created with agriculture and the meat industry in mind and therefore need to be changed.  "We are hoping to lobby for a law that does not allow the cows to be slaughtered because it is not fair to slaughter her just because she is barren after we have drunk her milk," she said.

"Though we would be happy the day that all slaughter of animals is stopped we understand that is not possible as we are living in a multi cultural society," she said. However, Ms. Rajakaruna hopes to see a change in this in the future for the better.

The controversy that was
 Munneshwaram Kovil
"There is a procedure to be followed when slaughtering an animal and we got to know that this was not followed at the Munneshwaram Kovil, which is why we lodged a complaint at the Chillaw Police hoping that they would take action," said Activist, Narendra Gunathilake.

 He explained they were afraid the number of animal sacrificed would have increased in comparison to the previous year as the war had just ended.

"We understand that as law abiding citizens that we cannot take the law into our hands, which is why we made a formal complaint to the police," he said. Mr. Gunathilake explained they were sure there were no valid permits for the animals or permits saying they were suitable for consumption.

He explained that even though, the slaughter at Munneshwaram was a tradition that had been there for years, tradition was not above the law as everyone should follow the laws laid out by the state when slaughtering an animal.

"Our final aim to stop the slaughter of animals but we know that this is not a possibility unless there are discussions between communities, a dialogue among all religions and a decision and compromise is arrived upon," he said.

 Mr. Gunathilake stated there was a need for the change in the law as the fine for the illegal transportation of cattle was just Rs. 100 according to the laws set out in 1893, which when put into the modern context was a ridiculous sum.

 

Ignorance
SLAPA explains that many of the cruelties towards animals take place due to ignorance, where people do not understand or know how animals are to be treated. "When we talk to most people they think that tying up a dog or keeping it in a kennel all the time is what you need to do but they do not understand that they too are beings that need to move around and not be kept walled up in one place," said Ms. Ratnayake.

Environmentalist Jagath Gunawardane on the other hand said that he does not see ignorance but deliberate cruelty to animals the most. "There are types of fish that we import, that can consume only a particular type of sea weed, but once these fish are caught and exported, they die of starvation as they do not have proper food," he said.

He explained that when animals are tied up and not given the food to eat it is deliberate cruelty rather than ignorance that prompts the action.

A better plan for strays:

Sterilization and immunization
Though the numbers of stray dogs and cases of rabies reported have reduced, activists say that more could be done. "When the programme was started there was nothing done to ensure that a steady flow of veterinary surgeons were available for the job. We are not saying that the sterilization programme is not successful, what we are pointing out is that more could be done," said Ms. Rajakaruna.

She explained that the programme which was handed over to a private veterinarian had eight teams under him but it was not sufficient number and that more were needed. "What we suggest is that there are unemployed vets in the country who could be given the job of sterilizing strays on a contract basis, this would ensure a sufficient flow of vets," she said.

The SLAPA said that even though the programme was successful to a degree, more attention needed to be given to the health factors of stray dogs. "They need to see what happens to these dogs once the sterilization is done," Ms. Ratnayake said.

Registration of pets
The SLAPA says a programme to register pets need to be launched in order to take better action for stray animals. "The problem with such a programme however, would be the community pets that are looked after and fed by a number of people but none of whom will step forward to take its responsibility," Ms. Ratnayake said.

Another reason for the registration of pets as the Association points out is the irresponsible breeding of pets by its owners. "A license should be given to people to breed their pets as many make it a commercial venture with no thought for the animal," said Ms. Bibile.

 She explained that the female dogs are sometimes made to breed pups every six months, with no proper care taken of these dogs.

She explained that this not only led to questions on morality where the animals were not given a rest but also to inherent diseases in the pups that are not visible when they are purchased.

The Association therefore said it was important to make the registration and sterilization of pets mandatory to stop such irresponsible breeding.

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DAILY MIRROR

EDITORIAL

AU'S PEACE PLAN IS WORKABLE

The African fraternity has come to Libyas rescue. The African Union's plan to broker political peace in the war-weary country is highly appreciated.

The otherwise docile organization in world affairs has, at least, made the difference by travelling all the way to Tripoli and persuading the embattled Libyan leader to make room for reconciliation. Irrespective of the fact whether his exit has been deliberated or not, a complete ceasefire and a negotiated transition to democracy will come as a great relief to the people who at the moment are in the range of fire between the rebels and pro-government forces. Restoration of civil order is a must in Libya and that can only come when the warring factions stepped back from the brink of disaster. It is, nonetheless, a good sign that Gaddafi had acceded to the demands of the African leadership to make room for a transition in the corridors of power, and broaden the scope of governance.

Notwithstanding how the AU-brokered roadmap works out, a point of consolation for Gaddafi is that he is still calling the shots for Libya, and the battery of African leaders who met him had simply acknowledged that fact. Unlike the European Union, the United States and many of the Arab countries, the African Union hasn't made public its 'desire' to see Gaddafi step down. This aspect could bolster Libyas faith in AU's peace plan and even lead to a humble exit of the Libyan dictator. African politics is ripe with such examples. The AU deal's salient features of an immediate ceasefire, unhindered delivery of humanitarian aid and a dialogue between the adversaries is in need of implementation. No time should be wasted in fine-tuning its modalities, nor should it be left at the discretion of either party to choose as when to begin with. In fact, Britain and France who spearheaded the movement to cripple Gaddafi regime with a no-fly zone and air strikes could have achieved much more if their envoys would have patiently shuttled for a while between Tripoli, Paris and London.

The AU's five-member panel under South African President Jacob Zuma, which enjoys the mandate of the European Union to mediate in Libya, should not come to pass. The United Nations and the Arab League should put its weight behind the AU initiative and ensure that the North African country is saved from sliding deep into the abyss of anarchy and chaos. At the same time, Gaddafi stands a chance to sign out of his international isolation by gracefully restoring peace and bowing out in a statesmanlike manner. The AU initiative is more than a blessing in disguise, as it comes to ensure the country's territorial integrity and the much-desired political rapprochement. Gaddafi and the rebels cannot withstand to ignore it.

Khaleej Times

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DAILY MIRROR

EDITORIAL

THE TRANSITION FROM TERRORISM TO PEACE

Nothing, it seems, hurts the United States (US) than being ignored. No longer the economic super power it deemed itself to be, the US needs to remain relevant. More importantly, Washington needs to divert attention away from its own economy which is in shambles. Or, the grave it is digging itself in Libya-- especially when it is yet to move out of Afghanistan. Barak Obama's dwindling popularity is another serious concern. Human rights, democracy and accountability of other countries' are all attributes that can help.

Of serious concern to the US is the disillusionment of an entire generation that grew up looking up to the centre in upholding these values. As the fate of such values becomes more exposed when the US interests are threatened and lines grow hazy, so is the duplicity. As its own policies become increasingly questioned and a definitive cynicism allowed to grow, the threat to the system is unavoidable. It is this vacuum that criticisms of human rights and practises of governance elsewhere help fill. 

The reality is that this is still a country in transition; in transition from terrorism to peace. The process is not easy and the job of the facilitator unenviable. The misconceptions that served the creation of a separate state are as stubborn as the mistrust between communities. Much needs to be done to bridge the gaps and allow for peaceful co-existence. Infrastructure development in the war ravaged areas is a good first step -- the longer the day to day hardships exist the more difficult it is for such co-existence.

A genuine commitment towards such from both the government in power as well as community leaders is imperative. So is a genuine desire to engage the communities to allow for it. Moving a generation that grew up believing the lies from both sides will prove a Herculean task for the government-- but a necessary one. The dignity that it seems to be allowing those from the minority communities is another step in the right direction.

Certainly, much remains undone. The situation of the displaced is awaiting completion. 35,000 people still remain to be settled, and schooling and livelihoods creation underway. Granted, the situation is not ideal. But, that the government ensured that not one person died of hunger, or prevented tragedies of malnutrition or disease from engulfing the camps is to be commended. As is the strength of the centre that prevented an economic breakdown given that it is still coming out of the embers of war.

In the rush to enjoy normalcy and freedom it is easy to forget the manic proportions that such terrorism existed in. The ethnic cleansing that that the LTTE engaged in or the innocent Tamil people held as human shields at the last stages of the war are all indicative of the despicable levels such terrorism ran to. The endorsement of the many atrocities that the LTTE carried out against all communities of this country meant that it was elevated on par with every democratically elected government.

The 'international community' went on to happily negotiate with the megalomaniac that Prabhakaran was. Their fascination knew no bounds as he strapped women of his own community with suicide vests and hung cyanide capsules on the tender necks of children armed to die. Where were the reports that questioned these children's rights denied by a man who held a country to ransom for three long decades? The deafening silence of the impressive women's rights lobbies on the rights of the women suicide cadres is a case in point.

It is ironic that there is no appreciation of the freedoms the end of war granted the people of this country, be they Sinhalese, Tamil or Muslim. The same US led Western forces that wage war against terrorism in the Muslim world, seem in such oblivion to these freedoms.  Freedoms that the Western belief system upholds are certainly necessary for societies to appreciate. They help societies evolve and grow. They provide for human dignity and equality. There in lies, the duty of the civil society to ensure them. But, such moral dictates cannot be at the expense of countries denied the right to its' own pace to achieve thus. They can't also be allowed to provide a distraction from the West's own failures, or to feed it a success story. The basis for a democratically successful Sri Lanka need necessarily be written, endorsed and elected in Sri Lanka. Washington must find its entertainment elsewhere.

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GULF DAILY NEWS

COMMENT

THE AMERICAN CIVIL WAR: WHAT IF?  

BY GWYNNE DYER

 

It's not much as anniversaries go, but most of us won't be around in 50 years, so we'll have to settle for the 150th anniversary of the start of the American Civil War. The groups who re-enacted battles were out in force on Tuesday, but did it matter to anybody else?

 

Not much, I hear you cry. But it's still an intriguing question: how different would the world be now if the South had succeeded in seceding from the US?

 

As it happens, we have a half-million-word answer: the series of 11 "alternate history" books that American novelist Harry Turtledove has written about a world in which the Confederate States of America successfully won its independence in 1863. It ends up in 1945 with death camps in the CSA and nuclear weapons on Philadelphia and Charleston, and it is fully plausible every step of the way.

 

The Confederacy gets its independence in 1863 by winning the Battle of Gettysburg (that could certainly have happened), whereupon Britain and France grant it diplomatic recognition (which probably would have happened). The rest of the former US, still twice as numerous as the Confederacy, is bitter about its defeat, but apart from one brief clash in the 1880s, the two successor countries live side by side in peace for 50 years.

 

It's the geopolitics that causes the problems. The US, hostile to Britain and France because their recognition of the Confederacy made the division of the country permanent, aligns itself with the rising new power in Europe, the German empire. As the alliances take shape in the early 20th century, it's Germany, Austria-Hungary and the US versus Britain, France, Russia and the CSA.

 

When the First World War arrives, it is fought in North America too, with trenches from tidewater Virginia to the Mississippi River, and another set of trenches dividing Canada, part of the British empire, from the northern US. The black former slaves of the Confederacy, freed by President Robert E Lee in the 1880s but left to rot, rise in a Communist-backed revolt in 1915 but are ruthlessly crushed.

 

The US army conquers Canada, and in 1917 its new "barrels" (tanks) break through the Confederate trenches in Kentucky and Virginia. A revolution (though not Communist) takes Russia out of the war, and the US navy begins to starve Britain, which depends on Atlantic convoys for food. The US and Germany win the war.

 

The victorious powers impose harsh peace terms on the losers - territorial losses, "war guilt" reparations, and disarmament - just like they did in the real history. So politics becomes radicalised in the defeated powers, Britain, France and the Confederacy, and fascist parties gain control in all of them. The demagogue voted into the presidency in the CSA is rather like Hitler in his rhetoric, though his hatred is aimed not at Jews but blacks.

 

The Second World War arrives on schedule, and opens with a Confederate blitzkrieg in Ohio that almost cuts the US in half. The weight of numbers begins to swing the balance the other way after a while, but even as Confederate armies retreat, the death camps run by the Freedom Party to exterminate the South's blacks continue to run full blast.

 

Both sides are also racing for nuclear weapons, and some are used in the end - but Germany and the US have more of them than Britain and the CSA, so the victors in the First World War win again. And this time, the Confederacy is fully occupied and formally abolished, though a genuinely reunited US will clearly not come to pass for several generations, if ever.

 

There. Now you know the plot, and I just saved you a month of reading. But the point is this: it could have happened like that. Indeed, it is no more bizarre than what did happen. Turtledove has given us a plausible depiction of a world in which the Confederacy became an independent great power and it is even less attractive than the world we know.

 

So it is an important anniversary after all, you see. Even though back in 1861, it could still have gone either way

 

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TEHRAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

YES, SAIF IS A GADDAFI, BUT THERE'S STILL A REAL REFORMER INSIDE

BY BENJAMIN BARBER

 

The understandable but overwrought attacks on Saif Gaddafi that followed his embrace of his father, clan and regime in Tripoli at the start of the uprising, have made it extremely difficult to pursue a diplomatic track in Libya. Those of us who suggested six weeks ago that Muammar Gaddafi would be hard to topple, that the more likely outcome of the uprising would be a protracted civil and tribal war and a stalemate costly in human lives were dismissed as somehow wishing for the outcomes we predicted. Yet our predictions have turned out to be far more accurate than those of the exuberant naifs who insisted Tripoli was Cairo all over again and that democracy was at hand.

 

Now that the fantasy expectations are gone, and it has become apparent that there are serious fissures in the Gaddafi clan itself, now that South Africa's President Zuma is pursuing a peaceful solution and the French war party has calmed down, there is an opening. But it depends on engaging Saif Gaddafi -- and recognizing that there will not be a military solution to the conflict, and a partition of Libya into a pre-1934 Cyrenaica and Tripolitania is neither feasible nor desirable.


But can Saif be trusted? The media prefer heroes or villains, but Saif is both, and thus neither. As with most protagonists caught up in decisive historical moments, he is a man divided, torn between years of work on behalf of genuine reform that at times put him at risk, and the pull of clan and familial loyalties that drew him back into the bosom of a family defined by political tyranny and the rule of an autocratic leader and father.

Just a year ago Saif completed his "Manifesto" -- to have been published by Oxford University Press -- calling for civil society and participatory democracy in Libya. It expressed a commitment to move beyond the "hereditary regimes, family rule, military rule, tribal culture and the absence of constitutionalism and rule of law" to a Libya defined by "stable political institutions and a stable code of laws". He boldly quoted the 17th century English rebel John Bradshaw, proclaiming "Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God", adding in his own words: "I believe it is the duty of the people to rebel against tyranny."


It sounds like rank hypocrisy today given what has happened recently to those in Libya rebelling against tyranny. Yet there is more to ground Saif's claims to being a reformer than what he has written. For he played a role in bringing two of the leading figures of today's opposition into Libyan government years ago. Mahmoud Gibril joined Saif and others in working on economic development prior to becoming one of Gaddafi's ministers, while Abdul Jalil -- from Baida, in the east (where Saif's mother lived) -- joined the government as a fair-minded and independent justice minister in part through Saif's advocacy.


And then there is Saif's foundation, on whose international board I served until I resigned in protest at the outset of the insurgency. The foundation did serious work on human rights, free media, electronic democracy, civil society and the rehabilitation of Islamist fighters held in Libyan prisons. The need for its work was made clear by Saif himself in a remarkable speech to the Libyan National Youth Conference in 2006, where Saif said: "We have no free press. There is no press in Libya at all. We deceive ourselves when we say that we have press. Does Libya have people's authority and a direct democracy really? … All of you know that the democratic system that we dreamed of does not exist in the realm of reality." On the wrong side of freedom now, Saif still continues to work to release captured journalists and counteract the violence of his militant brothers, Mutassim (the security chief) and Khamis (who commands a deadly brigade).

 

Just last year the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace wrote: "For much of the last decade, Gaddafi's son Saif was the public face of human rights reform in Libya and the Gaddafi Foundation was the country's only address for complaints about torture, arbitrary detention, and disappearances."


None of this excuses Saif's abominable actions in the current crisis, but it does suggest it may be worthwhile to pursue quiet diplomacy in seeking a way out of today's violence and civil war. After all, Saif did turn down a senior position in government, saying he would never accept any role not sanctioned by free elections. Any role offered now would have to be transitional, caretaking while his father steps down and Saif's earlier constitutional reforms are allowed to move towards free elections. In the absence of a role for Saif, neither he nor his family have a way out other than -- as Saif said so ominously several weeks ago -- "to live and die in Libya", fighting to retain the family's tribal hegemony.


Saif has forfeited the goodwill and trust he gained over the past five years. The only way he can vindicate himself is by ending the violent civil war, and overseeing a peaceful, democratic transition punctuated by his father's exit from any active governing role. I still believe that among the conflicting voices that vie for Saif's tortured soul there is the voice of a genuine democrat and a Libyan patriot. But others must open the door so Saif can, if he chooses, walk through it and re-embrace the reformer he abandoned at such a terrible cost to himself and his country.


Benjamin Barber is a senior fellow at the think tank Demos.


(Source: The Guardian)

*************************************


TEHRAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

COULD DONALD TRUMP OBAMA?

BY LINDA S. HEARD

 

If I had to bet my house on who the next U.S. President will be, President Barack Obama wouldn't be on my list. He's a nice guy with a great family and a wonderful way with words but since his inauguration on January 20, 2009, he's done nothing but disappoint. His intellect has got in the way of his decision-making. He's the antithesis of his predecessor, the sometimes incoherent George W. Bush, a man who didn't allow caution to get in the way of his hang 'em high, warmongering agenda.

 

The fact that Obama is a thinking person who carefully weighs the pros and cons should be to his advantage but it isn't. He's lacked the courage of his convictions throughout. When it came to fulfilling his promises, he's failed to put his neck on the line. He said he would engage Iran but he hasn't. His outreach to the Muslim world in Cairo has fizzled.


He pledged that he would bring about a Palestinian state and all he did was dip his toes in the water only to withdraw them when things got too steamy. Heaven forbid he should stand up to the pro-Israel lobby! It sounds unbelievable, I know, but his Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice has recently said that the Obama administration would work to end the anti-Israel bias in the UN Security Council.

He's reneged on his absolute commitments to closing Guantanamo, ending military tribunals for detainees and reforming the Patriot Act. He pledged to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan in 2011 but now Pentagon officials say 2014 is more likely.


He shilly-shallied over telling former presidents Tunisia's Zine Al Abidine Bin Ali and Egypt's Hosni Mubarak to go. And when he took on the Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi with the full force of U.S. military power, he could hardly wait to order his pilots to scurry back.


Sinking ratings

Instead, he's abandoned Libyan rebels to the hands of bureaucratic NATO, a cumbersome organization obliged to take permission from all its member states before its commanders can sneeze. The less kind accuse the president of putting his 2012 election chances before finishing what he started. It's little wonder he's gained the reputation of 'Ditherer -in-Chief'.


In December, the president's approval rating sank to 39 percent according to a Zogby poll; it's currently hovering around 40 per cent. His only Congressional coup was a watered down version of his healthcare bill which Republicans are threatening to repeal as soon as they get the chance. The problem isn't what Obama's done but what he's neglected to do, which is why many of his former Democratic cheerleaders have turned against him.


Worst of all, his lackluster performance — that many Americans are interpreting as weakness — may pave the way for a far more decisive, colorful and aggressive figure, such as the real-estate magnate and sometimes reality TV host Donald Trump. The self-made billionaire with the unusual hair-style is seriously mulling throwing his hat into the ring.


In recent weeks, Trump has been doing the rounds of television talk shows casting aspersions on Obama's assertion that he was born in Hawaii and demanding the president produces a birth certificate. He's actually sent private detectives to Hawaii to ferret out the truth.


He's heavily critical of Obama's confusing Libya policy saying when it comes to foreign affairs "we take care of ourselves first". "I'm only interested in Libya if we get the oil," he announced, adding "the world is laughing at us" but "they won't be laughing if I'm elected president."


Complaining that the U.S. has never been as weak and vulnerable, he's sounding more and more like a neocon's neocon. He rails against countries like China and Saudi Arabia for being a threat to the U.S. economy and says Americans shouldn't be paying for troops to protect South Korea from its belligerent neighbor.

Not a stretch too far

Trump is encroaching on Sarah Palin's territory by wooing the Tea Party crowd and polls suggest he is currently their number one favorite. More surprising is his 52 percent favorability rating among Republicans as a Gallup survey indicates.


Some commentators are speculating that his bid isn't serious because he won't want the details of his wheeling and dealing aired in public; others maintain Trump is deadly serious. I think he probably is as he recently met with the Chairman of the Republican National Committee Reince Priebus to talk about the presidential nomination schedule.


Visualizing this brash casino-owner and his Slovenian ex-model trophy wife Melania in the White House is a stretch but hardly a stretch too far when U.S. voters have elected an actor for president, a muscle-bound Austrian-American action star for Governor of California and a Slovak-American wrestler as Governor of Minnesota.

Will there be a day when Trump will turn to Obama to say, "You're fired"? It's too early to tell. But I do know that if the American public embraces the Donald on the rebound, the rest of the world is in for a very bumpy ride.

Linda S. Heard is a specialist writer on Middle East affairs.

(Source: Gulf News)


Photo: (Image Credit: Guillermo Munro/©Gulf News)

 

*************************************

 


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