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Saturday, April 16, 2011

EDITORIAL 16.04.11

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya


month april 16, edition 000808, csollected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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

































































































As five of the world's fastest growing, most populous economies came together on a global platform, they used the opportunity well to signal their growing influence in the international arena as well as to assert their new position in the emerging world order. At their third summit held in the southern Chinese city of Sanya on April 14, Brazil, Russia, India and newcomer South Africa, along with the host country, exhibited their combined power by demanding a bigger say in global fora, thereby challenging the world's traditional power centres. Collectively known as the BRICS nations, these five countries account for about 18 per cent of the world's GDP but nonetheless have very little global leverage, especially within key international financial and economic institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Their phenomenal growth rate — China at about 9.5 per cent a year, India at around eight per cent — which they have sustained through the global financial crisis has forced the West to sit up and take note. But that has not converted into any real shift in the global power equations. It now seems that may finally change. Leaders of the BRICS countries have already begun to challenge the current financial system which they consider to be a leftover from a previous era when the US was the undoubted superpower in the post-Cold War unipolar world. President of China Hu Jintao has described the current Bretton Woods financial system, which was established after World War II to help rebuild the global economy, as a "product of the past"; other have said so on different occasions. A new system is needed so that, as the BRICS leaders have put it, "the governing structure of the international financial institutions reflect the changes in the world economy, increasing representation of emerging economies". As a sign of increasing confidence in their collective potential, they have called for "a broad-based international reserve currency system providing stability and certainty" — a direct reference to the depreciating value of the American dollar and a flawed global monetary policy often formulated in Washington, DC. But it was also a clear demand for more inclusiveness as far as management of the international financial system is concerned. The group has specifically sought greater say with respect to which currencies should be in the IMF-managed emergency 'basket' of drawing rights. For starters, the BRICS members have agreed to allow their development banks to provide credit to each other in their local currencies and not in American dollars as is the current rule.

While it is heartening to see that the BRICS nations are cooperating with each other to take on the West, and are indeed taking concrete steps in that direction, it must be mentioned that they are also competitors in the global market and their leaders will constantly have to deal with conflicting goals and interests. For example from a strictly financial standpoint, India and Brazil are already at odds with China for undervaluing the renminbi which is having an adverse effect on our exports. Motivated by conflicting economic interests and governed by different political systems, the BRICS countries surely have their work cut out for them if they aim to build a strong, global institution such as the EU.







In 2000 when every member of the United Nations agreed to focus on eight areas of universal concern, such as poverty and hunger, healthcare, primary education and status of women, there was enthusiasm that developing nations, backed by rich countries, will be able to halve the scale of these problems by 2015. However, with five years left, the hope for a far better world with far less hunger, disease, illiteracy and gender discrimination stands vastly diminished. This is not necessarily on account of declining commitment to achieve the UN's millennium goals, although most countries have wavered over the past decade. What has made the task difficult is the emergence of new problems. The World Development Report 2011, recently published by the World Bank, has identified some of them. For instance, last September's review of progress on meeting the millennium goal targets has shown that the global economic recession, the spiralling cost of food, the rise in oil prices and the unchecked increase in population are some of the issues that have made the task difficult for most developing and poor nations. A decade ago, nobody anticipated these roadblocks, nor were factors like organised crime, human and drug trafficking, civil unrest and terrorism given due weightage: These could further thwart progress over the next five years and beyond.

The report highlights the hugely negative impact of civilian conflict and political violence — which result in instability and poor governance — on development, especially in African countries. A similar impact cannot be ruled out in Arab states that have been witnessing political turmoil and uncertainty since January this year. Progress in other parts of the world is more likely to be negated by the drag-down effect of poor performance by Governments, such as they are, in strife-torn African nations that are twice likely to be poor with high mortality rates. In sharp contrast, China and India, which are politically stable and have been making impressive economic progress, will score well across most of the targets. There's both a message and lesson in this for countries that have chosen a different path, overlooking the welfare of their masses while pursuing the interests of a few individuals. Although another five years are left before a full and final assessment can be done as to how far countries have succeeded in meeting the human development goals set during the historic Millennium Session of the UN, it is evident that many will be found to be straying far behind some who would have a better report card to flaunt. In a sense, this reality will also drive home the fact that it makes little sense to expect equal performance by every Government across the world. For, there are Governments that perform and there are those that steal. This simple fact is often lost on do-gooders at the UN.









The Congress senses there is a middle class revolt brewing but doesn't know how to arrest it. That is why it is not even sure of what line to take and when.

It is not unusual for a ruling party and its Government to speak in two voices. The Congress and the UPA Government headed by Mr Manmohan Singh have done one better. They are beginning to speak in three voices. In the process, the party is tying itself up in knots and contradictions. A series of examples from recent days testifies to this.

First, take Mr Rahul Gandhi's remark that if the people of Kerala re-elected the CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front, they would have "a 93-year-old Chief Minister" by the time the following election came around. In October 2016, only a few months after the next Assembly election in Kerala, Mr VS Achuthanandan will indeed be 93. By June 2017, Mr M Karunanidhi, who Mr Gandhi's party is backing for re-election as Tamil Nadu's Chief Minister, will also be 93.

As such, the Congress general secretary's smirking comment about Mr Achuthanandan's age was not just in bad taste, but also ironical. It ignored the gerontocracy the Congress has supported and promoted at the Centre and in the States.

Even more interesting was the Congress's response. When Mr Achutanandan hit back by terming Mr Gandhi an "Amul baby" — essentially, a callow youth — the Congress machinery swung into action. In West Bengal, Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee accused the Kerala Chief Minister of being "uncivilised". In New Delhi, Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi charged Mr Achuthanandan with "insulting the youth of the nation".

Even though Mr Gandhi had clearly said "93-year-old Chief Minister", Mr Singhvi insisted he had "never made a personal remark" and had referred to not an individual but to "anachronistic policies" — "The impatience of the youth in India finds expression in comments of such youth icons."

Next Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh said the "Amul baby" dig was "not expected" of the veteran Communist leader. Realising Mr Gandhi had perhaps overdone things, Mr Singh also wished Mr Achuthanandan a long life. Finally, as if he had nothing better to do, Mr Saifuddin Soz, president of Jammu & Kashmir Congress, presented himself before the cameras to applaud the "youth icon".

What is the implication to this theatre? While Mr Gandhi had only stated a matter of fact, his party understood he had strayed on sensitivities. Indian politics venerates grey hair; nobody retires here. Nevertheless, rather than accept an error, make a mild apology and move on, the Congress went out of its way to defend its star general secretary. The battalions were wheeled out. Convoluted and plain untrue explanations were offered. The culture of sycophancy came in the way of better political judgement. A one-evening controversy was only prolonged.

Second, consider what Ms Sonia Gandhi said while campaigning in Assam's Karimganj constituency on April 1. "You must have heard about WikiLeaks, where a senior BJP leader was quoted as saying to a foreign diplomat that the party's Hindutva ideology is opportunistic," she said at a public meeting, "can anybody now believe them?"

The reference was to a meeting between senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley and an American diplomat that has found mention in the WikiLeaks cables. Mr Jaitley accepts the meeting took place but denies using the word 'opportunistic'. One can choose to believe him or disbelieve him, but that is not the point.

Ms Gandhi's party has insisted the WikiLeaks cables are "unverifiable" and "fictional". That is why her son, Mr Rahul Gandhi, is not answerable to perceptions that he suggested to the United States Ambassador to India that "radicalised Hindu groups" posed a "bigger threat" than Islamist mobilisation on behalf of the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba. This was reported in another WikiLeaks cable.

Further, evidence from the WikiLeaks cables would also have us believe that Congress functionaries bribed Opposition MPs to vote for the Government in July 2008, when the first UPA Ministry sought a vote of confidence. WikiLeaks reports American Embassy officials saying they were shown trunks with currency notes.

The Congress has dismissed and disparaged all of this. It is responsible for nothing and the WikiLeaks cables deserve to be ignored, it says. Even so, the same WikiLeaks cables are cited as gospel truth to attack the BJP. Where does the Congress stand on WikiLeaks? Is there a disconnect between Ms Gandhi and the spokespersons of her party, not to speak of the UPA Government?

Of course, the media won't ask that question. Even if it did, there would be enough people in the Congress to insist Ms Gandhi was misquoted. Perhaps all WikiLeaks cables are equal but BJP-related WikiLeaks cables are more equal than others.

Finally, go back to the Anna Hazare episode. Congress spokespersons such as Mr Manish Tiwari and Mr Singhvi began with snarling anger. Mr Hazare was cast as an "RSS agent". The Government and the party would not capitulate to blackmail, it was confidently announced. When sent to negotiate, Telecom and Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal adopted an equally hard-line position. There was no way, he said, Cabinet Ministers would serve alongside civil society activists on a joint committee to draft a new Lok Pal Bill. Obviously Mr Sibal had been given a brief and he was adhering to it.

Yet, once the media pressure mounted and the middle class reaction became clear, the Government and party leadership hurriedly succumbed. Ms Gandhi appealed to Mr Hazare to end his fast and in effect said she was on the same page. On his part, the Prime Minister conceded every demand made by the civil society activists. It left the party's spokespersons and the Government's interlocutors looking mighty silly.

What is the upshot of all this? The Congress establishment is in panic. It senses there is a middle Indian revolt brewing and doesn't know how to arrest it. That is why it is not even sure of what line to take and when. On both the Joint Parliamentary Committee on the 2G Spectrum swindle and the joint committee on the Lok Pal Bill, the Government switched from hyper-aggression to unconditional surrender in a matter of days. This was no gradual and nuanced repositioning; it was a dramatic climb-down.

As for the Gandhi family, there is no guarantee that its pronouncements and sense of political standing will conform to the party's. Congress spokespersons will just have to grin and bear it. Even so, the next time they — or Government negotiators for that matter — are asked to take a maximalist position in public, they could be decidedly cautious. Nobody likes to be made a fool of, especially by one's own team.






The American experience in AfPak is a series of revelations; from strategic ally to most trusted non-NATO ally to the latest assessment as a downright letdown, it seems Uncle Sam's appetite for surprises is unbounded

The latest White House assessment of the situation in Pakistan and Afghanistan, submitted to the US Congress last Tuesday (April 5), squarely blames the Pakistan Army for not doing enough to neutralise terrorist groups like the Al-Qaeda and Taliban. More significantly, the report underlines the failure, deliberate or otherwise, of the Pakistan Army to clear the terrorist sanctuary inside Pakistan, which has become the hotbed of global terrorism.

Despite such strong references against its 'strategic ally', the Obama administration, like previous administrations in Washington, remains ambiguous about Pakistan Army's deep rooted duplicitous policy of using terrorist groups as a leverage to influence events and policies in India and Afghanistan and to extract maximum 'pound of flesh' from the US.

What the assessment has deliberately ignored is the Pakistan Army's role in sustaining terrorism in the world. First it was President Pervez Musharraf, and now General Ashfaq Kayani, who have hoodwinked the international community in believing that global terrorist movement and its leadership could not be contained or neutralised without the help of the Pakistan Army. Reverse is more closer to the truth.

Go back to late 2001. The world was aghast at the attack carried out by the Al-Qaeda on New York in September 2011 and the US launched a punishing bombardment of Al-Qaeda's stronghold in Afghanistan. The terrorist group was uprooted from its base and the leadership began fleeing to safer places. That safest place was Pakistan. Musharraf was the Army chief as well as the Chief Executive of Pakistan at that time. Kayani was his Director General of Military Operations. So when the US leaned on Pakistan, Musharraf was quick to accept the mantle of an ally and he quickly became the 'best bet' in town for the Americans.

Two 'accidental consequences' of President George Bush's Global War on Terror, launched in October 2001, went largely unnoticed. These events were to transform Al-Qaeda and host of its allies and proxies into a global movement creating, in the process, a 'perpetual' threat to the entire world. The Pakistan Army had a key role in making these events happen. First was the escape of Al-Qaeda and Taliban leadership to safe areas in Pakistan. This was facilitated by the Army which, as per the US plan of Operation Hammer & Anvil, was supposed to do exactly the opposite — prevent the terrorists from escaping the US military offensive on the Afghan side.

The much hailed 'non-Nato ally', Musharraf, had other ideas up his sleeve. Steeped in Pakistan Army's traditional policy of creating and using terrorist groups to complement their strategic as well as tactical objectives, Musharraf decided to let the Al-Qaeda and Taliban leadership escape and regroup within Pakistan. This would, he thought, would give him a strong leverage to arm-twist the Americans and other western nations in protecting him as well as his Army which, by then, had become the most hated entities in Pakistan.

Musharraf's Army allowed the terrorist leadership to escape into Pakistan and find secure hideouts in Quetta, Peshawar, Karachi, Faisalabad, Rawalpindi and several other smaller cities. Majority of the terrorists, however, found it easy to settle down in the tribal areas and Khyber Pakhtunwa, turning the vast area into a sanctuary, a virtual Islamic Emirate of Taliban and Al-Qaeda. What was allowed to happen next was no less grave: Musharraf let the terrorists mingle with the tribal communities; many of the terrorists, both Pashtuns and others, married tribal women, either by force or otherwise, and settled down in the area, erasing whatever differences there could be between the tribal communities and the terrorists.

Musharraf was not unaware of this development. In fact, if the number of targeted killings of 'Maliks' were to be taken into account, it would be quite easy to understand how the terrorist kingdom was allowed to emerge. Maliks or political agents have traditionally acted as representatives of the federal government in Federally Administered Tribal Areas and kept a tight leash on 'outsiders' in the area. During the British era, these 'maliks' were the de facto administrators in the region and carried immense clout. The Al-Qaeda and Taliban could not have 'captured' the tribal areas with the 'Maliks' in place. So they, with the help of the Pakistan Army, managed to wipe out this traditional system of governance in the tribal areas which had kept in check the sectarian and tribal conflicts.

General Kayani, who succeeded Musharraf, had other compulsions. His public image was impressive but he was deeply suspicious of the Americans, Afghans and Indians and wanted somehow to control Afghanistan. His instrument to do so was the Taliban and other terrorist groups which his Army had spawned and sustained for the past two decades. Like Musharraf, he was able to convince the Americans that the Indians and other regional countries which have equally greater stake in Afghanistan's stability should be firmly shut out of all negotiations on the subject. He was also able to make the Americans believe that there were 'good' and 'bad' among the Taliban and that it was in the greater interest of the US and Pakistan to talk to the Taliban. Some Indians have taken this line recently without realising how dangerous is the distinction. Kayani knew that the Americans were desperate to snatch even the last frayed straw to let them escape from the graveyard of all empires.

So Kayani very neatly made distinctions between the terrorist groups. There were good and bad Taliban. There were 'enemy' terrorist groups which were a threat to Pakistan and hence they had to be exterminated. There were 'friendly' terrorist groups, like Lashkar-e-Tayyeba, which were spawned and supported to target India, they must be protected from global scrutiny. There were others, like Ilyas Kashmiri, who had escaped from their 'control'. And there those who conveniently switched roles as and when it suited them, working as drug couriers, kidnapping gangsters and paid assassins, like those who killed former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

Now Kayani is Washington's current flavour. They cannot do without him to decimate the terror groups, and he is doing everything to undermine their 'war' on Al-Qaeda and Taliban. Merely look at some of the facts. Kayani, as the ISI chief, allowed regrouping of Taliban and Al-Qaeda in Khyber Pakhtunwa and the tribal areas. It was under his command that LeT and Jaish-e-Mohammad, in 2006, set up new training camps in Dir and Upper Dir in Khyber Pakhtunwa to recruit and train fresh fodder for the Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighting the Western forces in Afghanistan. It was Kayani who freed 2000 terrorists caught in the wide sweep that took place after 9/11. Many of them returned to the 'killing fields' as trainers, commanders and facilitators, shoring up the Taliban war machinery in Afghanistan. It was Kayani who, as the ISI chief, set up a network of re-employed ISI operatives to run the terrorist machinery in different parts of Pakistan while avoiding global scrutiny and sanction. The two attacks on the Indian mission in Kabul and the Mumbai attack of November 2008 could not have taken place without the knowledge of Kayani and his ISI chief Shuja Pasha.

These are known facts and do not need a Wikileaks confirmation. And yet, the White House assessment to the US Congress remains silent on Pakistan Army's role in sustaining Al-Qaeda and Taliban, and several other terrorist groups, which are capable of making the nightmare of nuclear terrorism a reality in the near future.

-- Wilson John is senior fellow and vice-president of Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi.







Barack Obama's exit plan from the AfPak theatre is due in three months, but already the outlook for the future of Afghanistan is bleak. Seems the US is reconciled to leaving Kabul as a colony of Pakistan

The history of post-9/11 Washington-Islamabad relations will forever be a subject of academic curiosity. Before the twin tower bombings, Pakistan was almost an international pariah, but what made her indispensable to the United States was strategic location and nuclear threat. America was forced by circumstances to renegotiate an alliance with its cold war ally, but never fathomed its quicksilver ways.

On April 5, the White House submitted its routine bi-annual assessment to the Congress on developments in the AfPak theatre. Though America under Barack Obama was not particularly given to glossing over Pakistan's deception, this assessment report did represent a milestone. The reasons are obvious. The tenth anniversary of 9/11 is approaching and given the Western homo sapiens's love for report card-like summations on everything, including foreign relations, there exists understandable tension in the highest levels of decision making in Washington on how to explain the failure to bring Osama bin Laden to justice. This desperation is compounded by many factors: the ceaseless parade of body bags from the AfPak theatre, the recession at home which cannot be addressed because of this costly war, the series of diplomatic non-achievements registered by America, etc. The timing is also significant. In three months' time, President Obama is due to announce an exit plan from Afghanistan.

Saturday Special, which has followed the US-Pak track consistently, could not resist an examination of the report. What does it say?

For starters, it makes clear that Pakistan lacks a robust plan to defeat the Taliban and its security forces struggle to hold areas cleared of the Al-Qaeda-linked fighters at great cost. It notes deterioration of the situation in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in Pakistan's northwest alongside the Afghan border between January and March this year. It details an operation in Mohmand Agency and Bajaur Agency that started in January to clear insurgent strongholds — the third time in two years that the Pakistani Army has attempted to complete the task. It says the operation had been hampered by terrorist resistance, poor weather, the need to settle internally displaced people and the discovery of several caches of improvised explosive devices.

The report acknowledges that "tremendous human sacrifices" were made by Pakistani forces in the region, but concludes "what remains vexing is the lack of any indication of 'hold' and 'build' planning or staging efforts to complement ongoing clearing operations".

"There remains no clear path toward defeating the insurgency in Pakistan, despite the unprecedented and sustained deployment of over 147,000 forces," the Obama administration says in the report. The critical assessment, however, emphasises that the US "must strengthen our dialogue with both Pakistan and Afghanistan on regional stability". It also hints at the Obama administration plans to hold next round of trilateral talks with the two countries in Washington.

On a more encouraging note, the report says US-Pakistan military cooperation had survived the outcry caused by a deadly shooting incident involving a CIA operative, Raymond Davis. It also touches on strains in relations and refers to incidents involving NATO and ISAF incursions and closure of Torkham border.

The survey, portions of which remained classified, also reflects rising recent bloodshed in Afghanistan, particularly among civilians. It also warns that Pakistan still had no clear path to triumph over insurgents and that Afghanistan's Taliban were turning more and more to soft civilian targets.

According to declassified portions of the report, Pakistan is central to US efforts to defeat Al-Qaeda. The report determines that "progress in our relationship with Pakistan over the last years has been substantial, but also uneven". It shows slight progress over the past six months in involving the international community to help stabilise Pakistan, and overall, modest progress in the US surge strategy to subdue the Taliban. But, it says that absenteeism and attrition continued to pose a risk to the quality of the Afghan national security forces that are vital to Washington's goal of eventually drawing down its troop presence in Afghanistan. The report issued on Tuesday was not accompanied by any public statement by Obama. But, the report states clearly what many administration and Pentagon officials have long said in private: Without pressure from the Pakistani side of the border, it is virtually impossible to wipe out terrorism.

How did Pakistan react to this damaging assessment? Two days later, US Central Command (Centcom) chief General James Mattis arrived in Islamabad for talks with Pakistan's military top brass on 'Operational matters', with a specific focus on issues that have soured the military-military ties impeding cooperation in the war against militancy. The backdrop to the visit was quite vitiated by the report. The military leadership has already been complaining of American arrogance and high-handedness in its dealings with Pakistan. Defence analysts believe that the latest war appraisal is sure to affect the mood of the talks that were meant to resolve the contentious issues in the bilateral relationships.

Pakistan military's spokesman Maj-Gen Ather Abbas rejected the White House report for having misinterpreted the situation on the ground, particularly the Mohmand operation. The latest phase of the Mohmand operation was taking place in areas that had been left out in previous campaigns, he said, adding that the fight against the militants was an uphill task and was progressing slowly. He reminded the Americans of the successes in Swat, Bajaur and Orakzai despite capacity constraints.

However, it appears as if the anger of the Pakistani military leadership may fall on deaf American ears. Gen Mattis' message was in line with the report; US military sources indicated that while he would acknowledge Pakistan's sacrifices, he would highlight the threat posed to the stability of Pakistan and the world at large by the continued presence of Al-Qaeda sanctuaries and safe havens for other extremist groups in the tribal regions.

The Americans are particularly concerned about the impact of what it sees as Pakistan's faltering in the fight against militants on the stabilisation efforts in Afghanistan. And, Gen Mattis told Pakistan that notwithstanding the challenges in ties, the US remained committed to an enduring partnership and being a steadfast partner. Whether or not these words would soothe the ruffled feathers of the Pakistani generals remains to be seen.

-- The writer is Deputy News Editor, The Pioneer







By the end of this year, Afghanistan is going to come up for decadal review by the forces which had rallied post-9/11 to launch the 'war against terror'. By all indications, the result will be a sense of helplessness

Recent reports indicate that Afghan civilians are increasingly becoming disillusioned with President Hamid Karzai's government as the country slides into deeper and deeper instability. It seems as if Pakistan's ultimate gameplan in Afghanistan has begun to succeed. Spiraling corruption, unfulfilled government pledges, a deteriorating security situation marked by civilian killings in the NATO-led military offensive has left the average Afghan alienated. As a result, sympathy for the Taliban is growing and the US-NATO forces are increasingly viewed as no more than foreign occupiers.

According to a recent figure there were about 350 terrorist attacks in Afghanistan in January 2011. The data shows there were close to 12 terrorist attacks per day in the first month of the year. Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch warned of worsening security situation in the country despite the presence of 140,000 foreign troops, two-thirds of them being Americans. But a troop withdrawal plan from the embattled nation is on track.

Last week NATO announced that it aimed to start transferring security responsibility of the country to the Afghan forces by March this year. Afghan security forces, currently numbering 2,56,000 troops, are reported to grow over 3,00,000 by year end. However, they face about 30,000 insurgents, including 5,000 belonging to the Haqqani network. Admiral Mike Mullen recently said the guerrillas are now losing the war. But the Taliban dispute that, pointing to the record number of casualties they inflicted upon the NATO forces in 2010 — 711 international troops were killed — the highest annual death toll since the beginning of war in 2001. According to UN figures, over 2,777 Afghan civilians lost their lives in 2010, which marked a 15 per cent rise over the previous year, mostly in airstrikes. The UN report was issued a week after nine children were killed in an airstrike while collecting firewood in Kunar province. The developments came as a recent report said the US-led military operations inflicted a loss of over $100 million in damages on public property in southern Afghanistan alone.

The top US officials are a demoralised lot today. Following his recent visit to Afghanistan and areas near the Pakistan border, Secretary of Defence Robert Gates said the bloody insurgency in eastern Afghanistan would continue unless Pakistan cooperates in stopping free movement of insurgents of Haqqani's network in areas on the Pakistan side of the border. Elaborating on it, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, said: "There are still too few district administrators in places, too much Taliban in conflict resolution, and too little real economic progress. Many of our accomplishments, even the ones I saw down South, are tenuous and can be lost, if good governance and responsible civic responsibilities are not provided by the Afghan Government with the same alacrity and courage as troops on the ground." These statements are signs of desperation and only strengthen the opposition.

India has made it clear that the Afghan peace process driven by Pakistan would be detrimental to both its success and the future of a democratic, pluralistic and prosperous Afghanistan. In view of India's strategic interest, New Delhi should ensure that extremists are contained before international forces withdraw from Afghanistan. India should revive the Northern Alliance comprising the Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras and other disgruntled groups who have suffered at the hands of the Taliban. Russia, the Central Asian Republics and Iran are wary of the spread of Wahabi Islam and its destabilising consequences. India, therefore, along with these countries should evolve a common strategy to deal with the Taliban. New Delhi must continue with its present policy of building infrastructure and providing financial assistance to the Karzai government which has earned India goodwill in that country. Finally, India should be prepared to take necessary risks and act with greater thinking and resolve so as to apply soft and hard power instruments in an appropriate mix.

For America, increasing the size and competence of the Afghan security forces is a pillar of foreign policy. The Obama administration cited the growth and improved training and effectiveness of the security forces in its AfPak Strategy review in December, which reported that the US was to begin reducing military presence from July 2011.

The US and its allies are intent on pressing ahead with their military strategy — pressurising the Taliban and making progress in the battlefield difficult for them — before any reconciliation can be contemplated. However, recent developments suggest that the US would settle for a political compromise instead of military victory. Moreover, there is little scope for territorial gain or total annihilation of the Taliban. It is in this context we need to see what strategy Pakistan and Afghanistan adopt towards the US, which plans to keep permanent military bases in Afghanistan. One of the strategies that Pakistan and Afghanistan are likely to propose to the US is to halt combat operations and allow the reconciliation process to take the lead in the latest push for peace with Taliban.

-- The writer is columnist, South Asian affairs









THE FAMILY of Binayak Sen and civil rights activists across the country cheered in unison as the jailed doctor was granted bail by the Supreme Court on Friday. The apex court also indicated that the Chhattisgarh trial court verdict that had sentenced Sen to life on charges of sedition on the strength of evidence produced by the prosecution did not inspire confidence.


" He may be a sympathiser but this does not make him guilty of sedition," a bench comprising Justice H. S. Bedi and Justice C. K. Prasad said on Friday after taking note of the evidence against Sen.


When state government counsel U. U. Lalit attempted to justify the sedition charge slapped on Sen, Justice Prasad said: " Mr Lalit, keep in mind, we are a democratic country." The judges, who seemed to have gone through the records of the case, stopped Sen's counsel Ram Jethmalani midway and turned towards Lalit for the grounds on which he was opposing bail.


" What is the evidence that invites sedition? Even if all allegations and the conviction are taken to be correct, why life sentence?" Justice Bedi asked.


The bench ordered suspension of Sen's sentence till a decision on his appeal pending before the Chhattisgarh High Court. It also left it for the high court to decide the conditions for his release on bail.


Taking note of the fact that the appeal would have to be decided on merits by the high court, the bench refrained from passing any detailed order. " Lest we should prejudice any party, we are not giving any reasons for our order," it said.


Though the bench did not record any finding in its order, the observations made by it virtually amounted to questioning the very basis of conviction of Sen under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code ( IPC) for sedition.


Taking the court through evidence against Sen, Lalit pointed out that several pamphlets were recovered from his residence. The pamphlets stressed on the fight against the government by use of force.


Lalit said it was not necessary to prove that Sen was the author of the documents to bring home the charge of sedition. As per a Supreme Court judgment, distribution and circulation of such material also amounts to sedition, he said.


" The worst that is against him is the possession ( of pamphlets and literature). You have not pointed to any action ( on his part)… All kinds of documents are circulated and that may come to us. Does this make one guilty?" Justice Bedi asked.


" If ( Mahatma) Gandhi's autobiography is found in somebody's house, does he become a Gandhian?" Justice Prasad added.


L ALIT then submitted that Sen had visited Naxalite leader Narayan Sanyal in Bilaspur jail more than 30 times. Justice Bedi stressed that the meetings would have taken place in the presence of jail officers.


Jethmalani intervened to point out that jailors had admitted their presence during the meetings.


" He may be meeting hundreds of people. Even after taking into account all your arguments, does this not make a case for grant of bail?" Justice Bedi asked.


Finding it difficult to convince the bench, Lalit suggested that the court may expedite hearing on appeal rather than granting bail. " There is no presumption of innocence. There is a conviction," he said.


Justice Bedi reminded Lalit that the court had suspended the sentences of many of his clients.


Not giving up, Lalit stressed that the court on several occasions had refused to suspend sentences in corruption cases where the sentence was much less.


" If this had been a Prevention of Corruption Act case, we would have refused relief," Justice Bedi said.


" Sen is a sympathiser and nothing beyond that." Senior counsel Mukul Rohatgi, also representing the state government, said Sen was not merely a Maoist sympathiser but had helped them seek a house on rent, open bank accounts and even get a job.


But failing to get his point across, Rohatgi suggested that Sen be barred from entering Chhattisgarh while he was on bail. He said a similar order had been passed against former Gujarat home minister Amit Shah. The court pointed out that in the case of Shah, investigation was going on and here the trial was over.


Earlier, the hearing began with Jethmalani contending that the high court, while rejecting bail, had gone by the colonial concept of sedition which was no longer good law. He said the charge against his client was that he was addressed by the Naxals as comrade, possessed material propagating Naxal ideology and met Sanyal.


" Sen is not involved in any kind of violence nor has he fed anyone to resort to violence. Literature is available at everybody's home and I'll tell you there is much more dangerous literature at my house. The mere possession of literature does not make one a Maoist," he told the court.


" I must confess this is one of the cases where I am personally very happy about what has happened in the Supreme Court. It almost establishes a matter of great principle of democracy that everybody has the right to exercise his right to freedom of speech," the lawyer said after the verdict.


Chhattisgarh chief minister Raman Singh said in Raipur on Friday: " We respect the Supreme Court's decision. It has only granted Sen bail. The pending legal process will continue in the high court at Bilaspur. Whatever the final verdict be, we will respect that decision too." The BJP, too, toed a similar line. " We respect the judgment.


It is part of the legal process," BJP chief spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad said.


Sen's wife Ilina said after the verdict: " It's a very emotional moment and I am relieved. The judgment by the trial court was unfortunate... But I have now started breathing again and am really feeling good." Daughter Aparajita added: " Our family was shattered and it was a tough journey with Baba inside jail.


This judgment is the result of everybody's hard work. I am looking forward to meeting him." Sen was arrested in Raipur on May 14, 2007, for his alleged links with the Maoists. He later got bail from the Supreme Court on May 25, 2009. On December 24 last year, the sessions court in Raipur convicted him.


With inputs from Sahar Khan in Raipur and agencies









Dear dairy, why must the buttermilk of human unkindness flow between political adversaries every poll season? The other day Rahul baba reminded Kerala's voters that they'd have "a 93-year-old as chief minister in five years' time" if the LDF retained power.

If that was a bald statement of fact, the Left's octogenarian mascot Achuthanandan took umbrage, calling Rahul an "Amul baby" championing other " Amul baby candidates".

This was interpreted as equating youth with infantility, and suggesting Kerala needed an old-is-gold CM - or at least someone on solid foods. For outraged Congress-wallahs, that was utterly butterly fallacious.

Plus, was Rahul nastily being associated with BJP bastion Gujarat, where the top-brand milk and butter producer is based? Some party members are gripped by colic at the perceived insult to a YouthTube icon who's also star poll campaigner. True to style, MP Shashi Tharoor doesn't cry (Amul) baby cry like his colleagues.

He dismisses the debate over whether India's White Revolution - taking milk to every home - has a touch of saffron in it, or was curdled by the Congress Hand. He's tweeted: "Amul babies are fit, strong, focussed on the future. Symbolise white revolution which brought milk to the masses." Clearly, add a spoonful of humour, and enemy barbs can be milked such that they're turned - churned? - into compliments.

Worse for Kerala's CM, the dairy firm too has been inspired by him to put out an ad saying its products are for "young and old"! Some, however, feel the CPM's old warhorse may have an understandable aversion to baby foods. Wasn't he fighting the British at age 16, as he claims, when the babalog brigade wasn't even around to cut its milk teeth? And, margarine or malai, all branded goodies must surely recall to this veteran communist a decadent culture of catch-em-young consumption. Even BJP's Sushma Swaraj has come to his aid, asking why Rahul doesn't focus instead on Tamil Nadu's 80-plus Karunanidhi, a UPA ally. But wait. Our never-say-bye political elders, with indefatigable ambitions, have impressed baby monitors everywhere. The latter want to know what their diets were as - presumably non-Amul - babies. Ghee whiz.

So, what's new about politicos wanting to be buttered up or else creaming their detractors? Parties are habituated to slug-fests, be it on rising prices including of doodh and makkhan or, more recently, scams showing authorities caught with hands in the (butter) cookie jar. How many times, for instance, has an offended party accused the offender of "losing his mental balance", the ultimate affront to any lucid neta weaned off lactose? Why, it's almost as gripe-inducing as Bengal's Buddha recently dubbing Mamata "absurd and childish". Talking of childishness, no neta at poll-time wants to keep his milk powder dry. Their infantile formula? To be utterly butterly malicious.

Voters, of course, increasingly want politicians to talk about bread-and-butter-issues that are of real concern to the public. Dear dairy, will our netas ever realise which side their electoral bread is buttered?







The relationship between health and diet is a complex science. With each new study our understanding of which foods are nutritious matures. But that certain foods are beneficial for health while others can cause lifestyle diseases is undeniable.

The recent finding that dietary cholesterol does not increase the risk of heart diseases isn't a dilution of the principles of a healthy diet.

It only confirms a long-standing suspicion that blood cholesterol, not dietary cholesterol, is the critical factor in coronary heart illnesses. Likewise, the discovery that eggs have less cholesterol than previously thought is no licence to binge on a dozen of them each day.

Eating a diet high on saturated or trans fats continues to be unhealthy. Conversely, fruits and vegetables high on minerals and vitamins keep diseases such as scurvy, beriberi, anaemia etc at bay.

With the evolution of medical science and advances in clinical nutrition studies, there is an ongoing refinement of our knowledge of which foods are healthy.

However, the fundamentals don't change that easily.But thanks to the globalisation of the food industry and fast food culture, traditional healthy diets are increasingly being replaced by unhealthy junk food high on artificial additives and preservative chemicals.

In such a scenario, it becomes even more imperative to maintain healthy dietary habits. And for that, it's necessary to stay abreast of advances in our understanding of which foods are healthy and which ones aren't.

It is because of the growing laissez faire attitude towards dietary habits that obesity today claims more lives than AIDS. Obesity among schoolchildren in Delhi alone has increased from 9.8% to 11.7% in the last three years. Coupled with our increasingly sedentary lifestyle, disregarding the benefits of a healthy diet can extract an enormous social and economic cost.








In today's world, people are being bombarded with 'scientific advice' on their health and food habits. Studies are being produced a dime a dozen on these issues, making neurotics of people who'd otherwise be healthy naturally.

Every now and then, new research comes up with a fresh set of dietary suggestions, which challenge and dethrone the results of previous studies, thereby adding to the general confusion. A new study now suggests that dietary cholesterol doesn't increase the risk of heart diseases. Many are welcoming this so-called conclusion as a further advance in our dietary knowledge, which is seen as the key to good health.

However, scepticism is natural when one can't stop asking the question: what to follow and what to ignore? Worse, there has been no agreement among experts on what constitutes a healthy diet. It is quite possible that what is thought healthy today may prove unhealthy tomorrow thanks to some new-fangled scholarship. In the name of science, why must we be guinea pigs testing out every new dietary fad, even going to the extent of imposing strict eating restrictions on ourselves? Why sacrifice an experience so innate to human beings, since food is pleasure?

Eating is a primal instinct. Nothing comforts and delights us like a good, hearty meal. The world over people turn to food for the communion with others it affords, as well as for its mood-enhancing, therapeutic effects. In that sense, the debate over healthy or unhealthy is redundant when the aim should be to impart a sense of well-being. New diseases like anorexia or bulimia, thanks to which people can't maintain even a minimally acceptable weight, are evidence that making a fetish of dieting and thinness can have harmful consequences. Instead of viewing eating as part of the problem, let's see it as a natural cure.








After a harsh winter during which the People's Republic of China ended up spreading a chill to most of its neighbours except North Korea, a spring thaw seems to be upon us. The "very productive warm, friendly meeting" between Chinese President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh earlier this week and resumption of military contacts are only its latest manifestations.

Elsewhere, China has backed off from its claim that the South China Sea constitutes its "core interest": earlier, such language had alarmed Southeast Asian neighbours and provoked a strong American response. Then, within two days of the Fukushima earthquake-tsunami disaster, China rushed a 15-member rescue team and pledged $4.5 million in aid.

It has reduced its aggressive shadowing of US Navy vessels in Asian waters, and in a departure from its stapled-visa policy for residents of Jammu and Kashmir, it has stamped visas in the Indian passports of four Kashmiri journalists.

Even on the international stage, it has softened its opposition to what it considers interference in domestic affairs by tacitly allowing the UN intervention in Libya. Even China's mountain-high trade surplus, which has so angered its main commercial partners, is being trimmed a bit.

It is too early to tell if the recent softening in China's global posture represents a tactical 'one step back' before it takes two steps forward. A look at China's current international and domestic situation may nevertheless show why it could be moderating its stance. Apart from claiming the South China Sea as a "core interest" like Taiwan, Tibet and Xinjiang, China antagonised India with its posturing over Arunachal.

Its harsh reaction to the Japanese arrest of a Chinese fishing boat captain in contested waters, its refusal to condemn North Korea's sinking of a South Korean naval vessel and subsequent shelling of a South Korean island have angered Japan and South Korea.

Its shrill denunciation of the award of the Nobel prize to a Chinese activist, its truculence on revaluing its cheap currency and other such policies have not helped its image.

Domestically, China is facing serious inflation (partly a result of its low renminbi policy and easy money to state enterprises) and growing incidence of public anger against corruption and high-handed official behaviour. Significantly, China's internal security budget of $95 billion for 2011 has overtaken its annual defence budget. As the Chinese prime minister put it, China needs to "bolster our ability in tackling emergency incidents, countering terrorism and upholding stability".

Senior scholars from Chinese think tanks have also been increasingly open in their criticisms. They warn of Beijing's "triumphalism" and the danger of "seeing enemies everywhere". Some have also cautioned that despite America's decline, China is still no match for the superpower. China's heavy reliance on US markets for its growth (US imports from China dropped by $4 billion last month) also calls for adjusting China's growth ambition. All in all, there may be an increasing realisation that the heady talk of China's rise may have led Beijing to overreach. Pulling back a bit, seeking cooperation with other countries - especially in the developing world - repairing ties with India and strengthening BRICS, as China did this week, is a wise course.

Interestingly, the ushering in of springtime in Beijing's dealings with the world has been coupled with increasing repression at home. Amidst internet-inspired rumours about a Jasmine Revolution in China, Beijing has cracked down hard against its domestic critics. Scores of NGO workers, lawyers and intellectuals - including the internationally famous artist Ai Weiwei - have been detained, presumably for threatening the stability of one-party rule.

China analysts wonder if the current crackdown is in preparation of a changing of the guard at the top next year, or a more permanent shift. One thing, though, seems clear: for some time to come, India can take advantage of the favourable wind from the north to focus on building its own national strength and prepare for future challenges.

Whichever way the wind blows in the future, the best defence of the country will come not from knee-jerk reactions and anti-China hysteria but from the power of a prosperous and equitable India. India should welcome the spring thaw - with eyes wide open.







Between 2000 and 2004, when BRIC was a piece of jargon doing the rounds of investment banks, Brazil, Russia, India and China produced 8.5% of the world's output and had a 7.9% share of world trade. Today, every sixth dollar is generated and exported by BRICS (including South Africa) and by 2015 the International Monetary Fund expects these countries to be producing and exporting every fifth dollar on the planet.

The frenetic growth of these frontline emerging economies has thrown up the prospect of the developing world decoupling from the West as it tries to rebuild after the 2008 financial meltdown. A very visible event in this process is BRICS's move away from the dollar to settle bilateral trade — although minuscule at $230 billion — in local currencies. Alongside, the proto-currency union proposes to broaden capital flows and deepen equity markets within the bloc.

It is far too early, however, to crow about the demise of the dollar as the currency the world does business in, or of the pretender euro. The IMF estimates by 2015 the United States and the European Union would still be producing 36.6% of the world's output with a 42.6% share of world trade.

Besides, if you take China, the elephant in the room, out of the picture, the economic heft of the BRICS lightens considerably. The local currency trade is a thinly veiled effort by China to prop up the yuan to reserve currency status within the bloc.

For instance, India imports $3 worth of merchandise from China for every dollar it exports; it's evident which will be the dominant currency in a rupee-yuan trading mechanism. BRICS will have to strenuously rebalance trade flows before they can hope to take the next steps towards greater economic integration.

The break from dollar-denominated trade does give this bloc a louder voice in wrangles over how the new economic order should be crafted on the planet. Washington accuses China, and to a certain extent the rest of emerging Asia, of suppressing their currencies in their effort to flood the world with their wares.

Beijing, in turn, points out that the US policy of printing dollars is fuelling inflation around the planet, especially in fast growing developing countries. The brinkmanship has broken down efforts by leaders of the group of 20 nations that produce nearly 90% of the world's output to come up with markers to warn against the next crash.

Local currency trading within the fastest growing parts of the globe gives BRICS an extra handle in forthcoming negotiations over exchange rates and money supply.






Stories of starvation deaths that appear in newspapers usually emerge from severely malnourished, poorer parts of our country. Not from cities. And so the story of the two Bahl sisters found in a starving, disturbed state in their Noida home was shocking. It also sounded terribly familiar. Their story echoed line by line that of the Bali sisters found in a similar state in their Kalkaji home four years ago.

The stories once again made for the same explanations of loneliness, social neglect and apathy. The sisters had been on their own, unable to sustain themselves because of unemployment and lack of other support systems.

But the similarities and the too easy explanations require a deeper examination. In 2007, the youngest of the Bali sisters, Neeru, was 30. She had died of starvation when the police made a forced entry into the home. But the other two were in their 40s, as the Bahl sisters.

Noida and Kalkaji, like most suburbs of the National Capital Region, are witness to continuous change. Neighbourhoods transform swiftly, familiar places alter within weeks and the city soon appears totally unrecognisable to longtime residents.  This is a story that rings true across most Delhi suburbs and sectors in the wake of the Commonwealth Games, which have witnessed rapid modernisation.

Arguably, most of our cities now cater to short-term residents — the itinerant travellers, the occasional visitors — than to the long-term resident. So there are more takeaways, more hotels and residences, but no libraries, old age homes or even recreational centres. Even the local 'kirana' feels threatened by the malls, despite the fact that the latter may offer viable discounts but doesn't 'home deliver'.

If the Bali and Bahl sisters didn't step out of their homes it was perhaps because  the world around them had changed too much. Another sweeping statement made soon after the Bahl sisters were taken to a hospital attributed their "depressive psychotic state" to the recent loss of their parents.  Both sets of women were in their 40s, single and isolated.

Did they, as single women, run out of options to live by? Was it also a 'depression', if at all, driven by a poor self-image? The belief that there can be only a few ways to live for women — to be married or be successful in some way — and that these sisters fell through the cracks concludes that they were 'failures'?

The story also speaks to us about social apathy; systems like the police checks of isolated people, which are in place for the elderly, are actually failing. But apart from the vital need to establish and maintain connectivity between citizens, cities, in a way, have deprived us of the equally important need for solitude.

Cities are now greedy living entities, where life must be lived out in the open — in malls, restaurants and public transport systems. To live in a city now stands for living among crowds — even the nightlife has its own meaning, its own crowds. Solitude is a word viewed with suspicion.

In the wake of this tragedy, we need to look anew at reasons for isolation; why solitude becomes unbearable for some, and in a city can we still be happy in our own, perhaps different, selves, living simultaneously with many other selves?

We need to ask why and when loneliness became a bad word.

(Anu Kumar is a Singapore based writer. The views expressed by the author are personal)






'It is a general popular error to suppose the loudest complainers for the public to be the most anxious for its welfare," wrote political theorist and philosopher Edmund Burke. As a key opinion-maker of the 18th century Burke supported the American revolution, but courted controversy with his fierce criticism of the French Revolution which he claimed was taking down the good with the bad in an indiscriminate wave of negativity.

Irrespective of where you stand on Burke's conservative politics, his words have a unique resonance for us in India, as the phrase 'people power' is so breezily used to punctuate our sentences these days.

First, the good news. The political class has been shaken out of its complacency by the fear of public discontent. The issue of corruption has moved from the periphery to the epicentre of politics and the tremors are still being felt. A Bill that languished for four decades is finally getting prioritised attention and time.

Pushed on the defensive by a wave of scandals, the UPA has been forced to concede that it's battling a serious perception crisis and it needs to communicate better with the people. And a normally de-politicised middle class seems more willing to engage with the institutions that power democracy. For this, we owe a debt of gratitude to the Anna Hazare campaign.

And yet, why doesn't any of this feel even vaguely close to a sense of hope?

Why does the public discourse feel vitiated by a kind of malicious negativity that carries no hint of optimism or real change? Why is there a clear and present danger of mobocracy overshadowing democracy, as the space for intelligent, nuanced debate seems to diminish more and more everyday.

It may have something to do with our new appetite for Maggi  noodles-style instant justice. We take less than two minutes to bring things to a boil, throw in the masala and then get set  to devour reputations and institutions with a vindictive, finger-licking pleasure.

Due process has been abandoned by a quick-to-judge populace that rarely turns the gaze inwards. The over-generalised anti-politician rantings and the utterly banal comparisons between New Delhi's Jantar Mantar and Egypt's Tahrir square are an insult to the millions of Indians for whom the vote still matters, and indeed to all the freedoms we take for granted.

Many of us in the media are as guilty for being fearful of breaking free from what we believe is the popular narrative and for telling stories in lazy broadstrokes instead of employing the details  of truthful complexity.

Why should we, for example, celebrate the fact that all politicians were booed and jeered out of Jantar Mantar? Hazare was right in announcing that politicians should not use his platform to score cheap brownie points. But he was also correct to apologise to netas like Uma Bharti who were ousted by an angry mob. The decorum of democracy allows for the right to protest peacefully and reject the presence of politicians. It does not permit the terms to be dictated by those who shout the loudest.

The slogan 'Mera Neta Chor Hai' that resonated at these protests is another example of the sort of sordid negativity that seems to define us these days. Not because there aren't politicians who are thieves — there are several — but because once again it's a grand and lazy generalisation, where we take no responsibility for the state of our democracy.

The last time this sort of anti-political juggernaut threatened to crush the good with the bad was after 26/11. Candle-waving, placard-carrying protestors converged at the Gateway of India and declared that enough was enough. Once again politicians were indiscriminately booed and roundly abused. 

In that moment of vulnerability and anger, and given the-then ineffectual home ministry, the cynicism and rage was human and understandable. The disappointment came later when the elections saw a desultory voter turn out in the swish, urban pockets. Yet again, those who had condemned the system the most vocally had refused to participate in changing it.

This time too, in the process of condemning our entire polity, we are in danger of abandoning all that is good about our flawed democracy, while ironically seeking to cleanse it.

Then, there is the small matter of how many people who clicked 'like' on Facebook have read the draft of either the government's Lokpal bill or the one drafted by civil society activists. In this context, Hazare's demand that the meetings of the draft committee should be videographed so as to make them accessible to the public is welcome. Not only would it make the process more transparent, it may also give the debate an opportunity to be more informed on the Bill than it has been so far.

Yes, in the end the government must take the blame for misreading the width of disconnect between the middle class voter and the political class, and responding in dry technicalities to begin with. It must also learn that the relative aloofness of its top leadership and its reluctance to communicate directly and communicate often has cost it dearly.

The argument against unelected representatives being part of policy-making also doesn't hold because of the precedent set by the National Advisory Council. Nor is there anything undesirable per se about civil society pressure groups working together with politicians to frame legislations.

But what we do owe to ourselves and to our  democracy is more engagement, more participation and certainly less elitist scorn for the vote. To borrow again from Burke, we should remember "whenever a separation is made between Liberty and Justice, neither is safe."

And justice is not two-minute noodles.

(Barkha Dutt is Group Editor, English News, NDTV. The views expressed by the author are personal)





Are we the world's greatest conspiracy theorists? The question struck me while watching two eminent doctors argue with Mark Toleman, one of the co-authors of a Lancet article on the presence of a superbug in Delhi's water.

Lancet had reported last week that Delhi water samples had tested positive for the multi-drug resistant superbug, NDM-1. But the doctors' chief concerns seemed to revolve around nomenclature: ND stands for New Delhi, and if you must know the full name, it's New Delhi metallo-beta-lactamase-1.

Why should this bug be named after our great city, asked doctor #1? The Lancet article was designed to derail our medical tourism, fumed doctor #2? And then, in stepped the anchor, virtually draped in the tricolour, wasn't this a conspiracy theory by the big, bad west?

Surely, this can't be true, I thought. Surely the only questions that matter: is there a superbug — and I don't care if it's called NDM-1, R2D2 or Santa Claus — in my water? How did it get there? How do I get rid of it? And if I get it, then what?

None of these questions seemed to matter as much as superbug-as-conspiracy. In the din of 'ulterior motives' (Ghulam Nabi Azad) and 'sinister design of multinational companies' (SS Ahluwalia), we seemed to forget that bugs are named after various cities from Verona to Sao Paolo and countries from Sweden to US, and nobody minds. Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit almost instinctively rubbished the report.

Yet, within hours of issuing a 'no need to panic' statement, she had agreed to a six-month study with the assistance of WHO. I'll be happy if the superbug turns out to be a superdud, but on the basis of informed research not fake nationalism.

Why single out the poor Delhi government? In Jaitapur, the Maharashtra state government sees a foreign conspiracy behind the protests against the proposed 10,000 MW nuclear plant. "India is fast becoming a superpower and many people are not comfortable with it," chief minister Prithviraj Chavan warned after a recent tour of the region.

That the Jaitapur protest is led by retired judge BG Kolse-Patil or that it has the support of the Shiv Sena and the Left parties or that a group of 50 scientists and academics have written to the prime minister asking him to review the project in the wake of the Japanese nuclear crisis is perhaps irrelevant.

Conspiracy theories are not the monopoly of the State. Outed for supporting Narendra Modi, Anna Hazare has been speaking of a 'conspiracy' to derail the anti-corruption movement. Modi sees references to the communal riots of 2002 as an anti-Gujarat 'conspiracy' — no doubt his denial of a US visa is part of that conspiracy too.

The helicopter crash that killed former Andhra Pradesh chief minister YS Rajashekhara Reddy smacks of a conspiracy. And even the forces of nature are not immune: an attack by bees on a Mayawati rally last year led to an investigation by the state horticulture department that concluded that no beehive had been disturbed, ergo the bees were manuvadi agents.

Is it an old subcontinental instinct to react with the words 'conspiracy theory' when faced with unpalatable truths? Indira Gandhi saw a 'foreign hand' in virtually everything that didn't go her way from railway accidents to cricket Tests. Pakistan does it all the time: you have only to follow the Ray Davis story to know what I mean.

And, of course, we've never really gotten to the bottom of the conspiracy that led to the massacre of the Nepal royal family.

But conspiracy theories, from the moon landing to the death of Princess Diana, abound all over the world. Partly this is to do with trying to make sense of the big questions that face us: why did Hemant Karkare's bullet-proof jacket go missing and why did it take so long for help to reach him? Partly this is to do with the lightning speed of the internet that acts as a breeding ground for madcap theories.

But mainly this is because today's conspiracy theories — Watergate, Iran-Contra — have an uncomfortable way of becoming tomorrow's truths.

(Namita Bhandare is a Delhi-based writer.The views expressed by the author are personal)



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

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

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

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






Given the impassioned case Congress veterans had made for the Public Accounts Committee as the appropriate site for an inquiry into telecom policy, the party's current exertions are more than just a bit disingenuous. Indeed, the UPA government was content to sacrifice the entire winter session of Parliament to resist the opposition's demand for a joint parliamentary committee after the CAG's findings on irregularities in the allocation of 2G spectrum. What's the point, they asked, when Parliament has a ready mechanism in the form of the PAC? And to blunt further the opposition's case, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh offered to appear before the PAC, should that be required. Perhaps this shrill argument by the Congress to establish the PAC's immense scope and powers in itself raised the profile of the committee more than its current chairperson, M.M. Joshi, would have otherwise managed. But this backdrop also casts in sharp relief the disingenuity of its current campaign against the PAC.

Ever since P.C. Chacko, of the Congress, took charge as chairperson of the JPC that the government eventually conceded, his attention has been focussed on the rush of 2G-related activity in the PAC. Stick to the CAG report, he messaged the PAC, and leave matters of telecom policy. Withdraw from the investigation suo motu, he carried on, before taking his case to the Lok Sabha speaker — who sagely counselled cooperation between the two committees. Joshi's PAC meanwhile remained unruffled and continued to summon enough senior bureaucrats and business leaders to further raise the profile of its proceedings. And on Friday, the Congress's battle to limit the PAC's turf was finally taken within. Before the committee could take up its appointment with the CBI director and the Union law secretary, Congress and DMK members on the PAC questioned the need to examine the 2G issue as it was now being looked into by the JPC. Later in the day the Congress spokesperson referred to a "clash of jurisdiction" between the two committees.

This political campaign to undermine the PAC is, of course, tiresome — after all, what harm can be done by different committees getting on with their tasks? It is clear that the Congress is keen to limit the political afterglow of the 2G issue. And as a political party, it has a legitimate right to plead its case. What is extremely dangerous, however, is the institutional damage that is being sought to be wreaked on the PAC in the process. The PAC is a key mechanism for the assertion of the legislature's check on the executive — and by weakening it for limited political gains, the Congress undermines Parliament.






The question of where and how verbal communication began is a hotly contested field, but now there is a theory that the origin of language is closely linked to the origin of the species, and it all sprang out of Africa.

An ambitious new study published in the journal, Science, by New Zealand-based evolutionary psychologist Quentin Atkinson, claims that the earliest populations migrating out of Africa, 50,000 to 70,000 years ago, carried their language with them — the ur-language that broke into the babble of over different tongues we now have in the world. Tracing languages through words and grammar is a daunting task, given the amount of variation, the trail grows cold after going back, say, 10,000 years. However, by tracking patterns of phoneme usage (the older a civilisation, the greater and more complex its use of distinct sounds, tinier units than words), this study found that African languages have over a 100 phonemes, compared to about 45 in English, German, etc. Given the theory that the longer a civilisation's been around, the more linguistic diversity it has, it is a fair guess that there was a single mother tongue that evolved in Africa, and that language evolved a lot earlier than previously estimated. This parallels the observations about genetic diversity that led to the theory of Africa being the grand continent of origins.

The story of that momentous intercontinental migration is fascinating enough, but this study adds a whole new dimension to those facts. The beginnings of language, after all, are the beginnings of culture, of meaning, of what makes us human — and this research bolsters the theory that it all evolved from a single cradle rather than spontaneously developing in different parts of the world.






The Binayak Sen case has been reduced to an ideological battleground, obscuring the real question of whether there is a solid legal case against him. Sen, who worked in Chhattisgarh for over three decades as a doctor and civil liberties activist, was first arrested in May 2007 on the charge that he carried communications back and forth for imprisoned Naxalite leader Narayan Sanyal. Chhattisgarh's Special Public Safety Act ensured that Sen stayed in jail for two years, until he was granted bail by the Supreme Court. However, in December last year, a Raipur sessions court sentenced Sen to life imprisonment, indicting him under Sections 124 (sedition) and 120 B (conspiracy) of the Indian Penal Code and other sections of the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act and the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act.

Even as that appeal grinds on in the Bilaspur high court, the Supreme Court has now granted him bail, and observed that there did not seem to be a clear case for sedition. It highlighted crucial distinctions that the state has appeared to gloss over — the difference between those who actively carry on armed insurrection against what they consider an illegitimate state, those who aid them, and others who are labelled "sympathisers" and "intellectuals". Just as someone who possesses Mahatma Gandhi's autobiography is not necessarily a Gandhian, having Naxalite literature did not make someone a Naxalite, said the Court.

These categories must be kept separate, to focus on what precisely constitutes guilt. In a situation of internal division as drastic as the war against Naxalism, or any extremist movement, it is important to expand the middle space that enables a dialogue. The state's instinct to clamp down on figures like Sen, and punish them as collaborators for any connection to the networks that are exploited by Naxalites, may not ultimately be the judicious approach. India's recent experiences of insurgency show the wisdom of engaging this middle ground, which enjoys some credibility in the disaffected community, and can potentially be a mediating force.








The debate on the effectiveness of capital controls has come alive after an IMF staff proposal supporting the use of controls by emerging economies facing large volatile inflows. The impact of controls on the magnitude and composition of capital flows, the cost of transaction and monetary policy has been a subject of enormous debate. There is, however, little consensus on the issue. Experience about the effectiveness of capital controls varies according to the specifics of the country. To the extent that there are country-specific characteristics that make capital controls effective, understanding individual experiences with capital controls gains significance.

There has been considerable interest in India's experience for two reasons. One is that India has long had an extensive system of administrative controls. While capital controls may have limited effectiveness in a country that has removed controls completely and then attempts to reintroduce them in a limited way, India has a long-standing legal and administrative structure in place that can support the imposition or tightening of a comprehensive array of controls. On the well-known Chinn-Ito measure of de jure restrictions, India stood at -1.13 in 2008, implying that it is much less open than most other major emerging markets like Brazil, South Korea and Russia, and about as closed as China. Also, in contrast to market-based controls which are often seen to be effective in the short run, the experience of countries such as

India and China which have administrative controls has not been studied in the literature.

The second reason is that India fared relatively well during the global crisis. As the global economy slowed, so did the Indian economy, with seasonally adjusted GDP growth dropping from a peak of annualised growth of 11.7 per cent (quarter ended December 2005) to 4 per cent (quarter ended December 2008), a decline of 7.7 percentage points. While this was a very large drop by any standard, growth remained positive in the downturn, and no large financial firm went bankrupt.

The juxtaposition of extensive controls and favourable economic performance has suggested to some that the two were causally linked. It has been argued, for example, that controls made India more resilient, by isolating it from shocks that occurred elsewhere and preventing a build-up of foreign debt.

However, did the system of controls actually work as a tool for macroeconomic policy?

While the structure of controls remained in place, there was a continuous, albeit slow, movement towards reducing controls and opening up of the capital account for a decade starting in 1991. In the period after the Asian crisis, especially in the years 2001-2004, the Indian economy started attracting larger capital inflows. The policy of maintaining a low volatility of the exchange rate of the rupee was implemented through central bank intervention in the foreign exchange market. The Reserve Bank sterilised its intervention. International experience suggests that sterilised intervention increases capital inflows, especially short-term capital. India too saw a sharp growth in capital inflows as expectations of rupee appreciation added to the higher interest rate differential and enhanced the attractiveness of the rupee as an asset. After 2004, when the RBI ran out of its stock of government bonds, which it had been using to sterilise its intervention, and starting using the newly created Market Stabilisation Scheme bonds that were meant only for sterilising its intervention, that sterilisation became partial, expectations of appreciation sharply increased, and India witnessed a surge of capital flows. It was then that restrictions on the capital account were increased.

A recent NIPFP working paper focuses on these increased restrictions within the existing elaborate system of capital controls, which were imposed in a period of a surge in capital flows. These restrictions included tightening cost and end-use controls on foreign currency borrowing, tax and administrative changes to the regime for venture capital, registration provisions for non-resident Indians who were foreign portfolio investors and bans on offshore derivative products.

In India, the structure of capital controls has not been dismantled despite the easing of restrictions in the capital account on various fronts. The purpose is to be able to control the composition of flows as well as use this framework so that when there is a surge of capital, this structure can be used to achieve policy objectives. It is thus relevant to ask whether in the period when there was a surge of capital, the raison d'etre of the capital controls regime, did it achieve its objectives or not? Here is the evidence.

Magnitude and composition of inflows: The capital controls reduced particular types of inflows (such as long-term foreign currency borrowing), but could not ensure that the overall magnitude of capital inflows was small. Indeed, by 2007 overall flows had reached 9 per cent of GDP — large not only by historical Indian standards, but also by comparison with other major emerging markets, most of which had more liberal de jure regimes.

Monetary policy regime: Despite a series of reinforcing measures, the controls were not tight enough to preserve the monetary policy regime. The de facto exchange rate peg gave way, in two steps, to a more flexible exchange rate regime. On May 23, 2003, there was a structural break in the exchange rate regime, and for the next four years, rupee-dollar volatility doubled to 3.9 per cent annualised. This arrangement worked till March 23, 2007, when there was another structural break and for the next four years, flexibility doubled once again to 9 per cent annualised.

Financial stability: The attempt to uphold the exchange rate regime with capital controls actually eroded financial stability. Since the controls proved porous and sterilisation was only partial, the large-scale purchase of dollars spilled over into loose monetary policy. The largest ever credit boom in India's history came about, with credit to the private sector growing by around 30 per cent year-on-year for three consecutive years.

India also experienced an asset price boom on the stock market which was more extreme than that seen with most emerging markets, some of which had open capital accounts.

In sum, the evidence suggests that India's capital control system did not work. Even an unusually extensive set of controls proved unable to sustain India's macroeconomic and financial framework at a time when the economy was integrating rapidly with the rest of the world.

The writer is a professor at the National Institute of Public

Finance and Policy, Delhi







A smile, a handshake, kind words — in the run-up to crucial assembly elections in West Bengal and with the Left Front in a corner after three decades of uninterrupted reign, Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee is speaking a new language. It's perhaps ironic that the last time he spoke a new language, after the Left's seventh straight win in the 2006 assembly elections, that he would bring industry back to Bengal, he didn't quite prepare his party or cadres for it. Then, in its bid to play catch-up on industrialisation, the Left, and especially its powerful leaders at Writers and in the districts, forgot to connect with the masses on an issue as emotive as land. After the Nandigram and Singur agitations, Bhattacharjee was forced to change his stance on industry, and since 2009 the state administration has been in limbo.

It's only closer to the elections that the Left has again spoken forth on the need to woo industry, always with the rider that agriculture will not be allowed to suffer. Anyone who knows Bengal's land equation knows that with only 1 per cent of the state fallow, it will be impossible not to use some agricultural land for industry, but the equation is not being laid out right now.

Bhattacharjee has been out on the street, unlike in the past, to send a message that his government means business, but will he be able to convince the electorate this time? He turns up in his constituency, Jadavpur, numerous times; in the last assembly elections in 2006 he had held only a handful of meetings there. He talks to the people, accepts coconut water from them, apologises for the Left's "lapses" and seeks their blessings. Matching Mamata Banerjee's gruelling padayatras — when not on election duty, the Trinamool chief is said to clock up a decent mileage on the treadmill everyday — the chief minister has also set himself a punishing schedule in his constituency, which goes to the polls on April 27.

In fact, he held a press conference in March to explain the Left's gameplan, soon after Banerjee released a refreshing Trinamool manifesto. Usually, he doesn't hold press conferences and even at events he chairs, he hardly ever answers questions posed to him. In fact, just last June, after the Left's Kolkata civic poll defeat, he refused to take any questions on the polls, storming out of the state secretariat in a huff. Prior to that in June 2009, after the cyclonic storm Aila which severely affected South 24 Parganas and the Sunderbans, the chief minister lost his cool at least twice.

Now, however, Bhattacharjee appears more amiable in his interactions, with all his barbs targeted at Banerjee. In January, he addressed Singur farmers for the first time since the Tatas left in 2008. Even at the peak of the Singur agitation, with Banerjee camping right outside the project site, Bhattacharjee stayed away. In the initial days of the Singur agitation, he had refused to take the Trinamool seriously, saying they had too few seats to matter. In 2006, Bhattacharjee could perhaps afford to be complacent. The Trinamool Congress had barely 30-odd seats in the 294-seat assembly, but the 2008 panchayat polls and the 2009 general elections changed all that.

The electoral decline of the Left started with the 2008 panchayat polls which came on the back of the Singur and Nandigram agitations. It not only fared badly in the Lok Sabha elections, but also lost the Kolkata municipal polls and nine out of ten bypolls held last year. For Bhattacharjee, this election is crucial because in the parliamentary elections the CPM's lead in the Jadavpur assembly segment was merely 19,000. This, when Bhattacharjee had won the 2006 elections, defeating the

Trinamool's Dipak Ghosh, a retired IAS officer, by over 50,000 votes. In the civic polls too, the CPM lagged behind the Trinamool in six of 10 wards.

An intellectual — he is poet Sukanta's nephew and likes his Kafka and Pamuk — Bhattacharjee is not known to suffer fools, and his Left Front partners complain that he is not particularly communicative. Indeed, he failed to carry along even the LF in his industrialisation drive, though that was the right thing to do. At a Brigade Ground rally this February, which the Trinamool dubbed the Left's "farewell speech", Bhattacharjee steered clear of controversial issues, and focused on women, Muslims, teachers and students. "We want factories, but not at the cost of agitation," he told the rally. This was a far cry from his 2006 slogan — krishi amader bhitti, shilpo amader bhobisyot (our base is agriculture, industry our future). In the manifesto too, the CPM has admitted "lapses" in its rectification drive, and at various public meetings Bhattacharjee has apologised on behalf of "haughty" party leaders.

Bengal isn't used to its leaders apologising for anything — lack of infrastructure, poor healthcare, growing unemployment, forced land acquisition. But now that one of them is doing so, could it be a case of too little too late?

The writer is a senior editor, 'The Financial Express'







A three-member bench of the Supreme Court of Pakistan headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry has admitted for hearing the reference sent by President Asif Ali Zardari under Article 186 of the constitution to reopen the verdict that led to the hanging of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto on April 4, 1979. The chief justice remarked that it was a case of historic significance, for which a larger bench would be constituted. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was an internationally known figure, the chief justice said, and if need be, the court would hear the case night and day. To expedite the proceedings, court assistants would be hired from the provinces and the federation.

An interesting exchange ensued when Babar Awan presented himself before the court and requested that he be allowed to appear in the reference. The chief justice responded that he could not be allowed to argue while remaining the federal law minister. "A minister had appeared in the case during the dictatorship," the chief justice reminded Babar Awan. "Illegal traditions will not be allowed to continue in a democracy." The reference was to the appearance in the Bhutto case of Sharifuddin Pirzada, a renowned (some say notorious) constitutional expert and at the time a minister in General Zia-ul-Haq's military regime. Pirzada is well known for providing legitimacy to every military dictator in Pakistan's history by twisting the provisions of the constitution.

Awan was advised by the court to submit his resignation from his ministry to the proper authorities along with giving up any other office he may be holding, renew his licence through the Pakistan Bar Council and then present himself as counsel. While the court adjourned the hearing, Awan revealed that his resignation had already been submitted to the prime minister and onward to the acting president and chairman of the senate, Farooq Naek, who had accepted it. President Zardari is currently out of the country.

Awan has moved the Pakistan Bar Council for the renewal of his licence. In his usual flamboyant style, the ex-law minister stated that even if he had been the prime minister, he would have given up office to appear as counsel in this case. The sacrifice of his ministry, Awan asserted, was nothing in comparison with the sacrifices of people who gave their lives for a cause.

The reference centres round questions of law rather than fact, since this is, in the view of legal experts, the purview of a presidential reference to the Supreme Court under Article 186. Zia-ul Haq's military coup overthrew Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's government on July 5, 1977 in the aftermath of a countrywide agitation on allegations that his government had massively rigged the 1977 general elections.

Ironically, General Zia struck just when the Bhutto government and the opposition alliance, the PNA, had arrived at a settlement that envisaged fresh elections. The real motivation that triggered the coup, insiders reveal, was the issue of Balochistan, where an insurgency had been raging since 1973. Whereas Bhutto agreed in principle to withdraw the army from active operations in Balochistan and promised the release of prisoners and compensation to the victims of the army's actions — demands that formed the core of the Baloch resistance's platform and that were taken up by the PNA in negotiations with Bhutto — for General Zia and the military, this was unacceptable.

Ironically, when Bhutto was released after a few months of incarceration by General Zia, things took a strange twist again. Bhutto toured the country and his wild reception made the general nervous enough to imprison him once more and start proceedings in the murder case of Nawab Mohammad Khan, the father of an erstwhile PPP parliamentarian, Ahmed Raza Kasuri, who had fallen out with Bhutto. That murder case is the one in which Bhutto was convicted by the Lahore high court. The Lahore high court's proceedings were an object lesson in judicial bias. The chief justice of the Lahore high court, Maulvi Mushtaq, openly showed his hostility to the defendant in court. The verdict of conviction therefore seemed a pre-destined outcome.

In appeal to the Supreme Court, the original bench of nine judges was reduced by the retirement of one judge and the illness of another to seven. That bench gave a split verdict of 4-3 upholding the conviction. Legal experts then (and now) were of the view that such a split decision should not have been relied upon to hang a former prime minister, especially when the judicial proceedings did not meet the criteria of due process. Besides, even if the conspiracy to murder Ahmed Raza Kasuri (whose father was killed instead) could be laid at Bhutto's door, the ultimate penalty did not lie in law, precedent, or jurisprudence, taking into account the status of the defendant and the bias floating on the surface of his trial, conviction and the appeals process.

Whether Bhutto was guilty or not of the conspiracy ascribed to him (reliance was placed on the evidence of approvers who agreed to cooperate with the prosecution in return for being let off), the murder trial was simply a judicial expedient to kill the man who had dared to touch the private properties of the capitalist and feudal classes. Bhutto was never forgiven for that by these interests or the establishment, who all joined hands to get rid of him physically. Bhutto's failure to consistently see through the reforms he initiated of nationalising the commanding heights of the economy and redistributing land to the peasantry was reflected in the fact that in later years he abandoned his natural constituency, the workers and peasants, and embraced instead the very classes whose interests he had attacked earlier. Bhutto may have opened the doors of his party (in around 1975) to the feudals and made his "peace" with the bourgeoisie, but these classes wreaked a terrible revenge on him.

The writer is editor, 'Daily Times', Lahore







A gene that makes bacteria highly resistant to almost all known antibiotics — popularly called the "superbug" — has been found in bacteria taken from the water supply in New Delhi, used by local people for drinking, washing and cooking. This came from a UK-based scientist last week. The news that this has spread, and in Delhi's environment, came as shock to all of us. Enough natural disasters happen, some due to continuous insults to our planet's environment; one could do with one less man-made catastrophe — and it would be catastrophic if available antibiotics were ultimately to fail in combating common bacterial infections.

This news was based on a case study which was recently published by reputable London-based journal, The Lancet Infectious Diseases. The news was certainly very damaging to our newly-found emerging superpower status, so the reaction of our official machinery was along expected lines. Not only were the merits of the study questioned, but it was asked why it was conducted at all on Indian samples (supposed to be "illegally" smuggled out of the country). This kind of reaction from the government not only infringes upon scientific independence, but also projects a very negative image to the scientific fraternity across the globe.

The potential of multidrug resistance spreading to all parts of our country and across other continents is indeed alarming; therefore, one should instead learn the lessons from such reports.

The emergence of such resistance is directly related to our massive abuse of antibiotics. It is a fact that our drug distribution management is not well-regulated, and that one can purchase any banned drug from a pharmacist without any prescription. To top this, the compliance of treatment is extremely poor. There is no way to control if the course of prescribed antibiotics by a qualified doctor is taken fully — since, often, when the symptoms start disappearing after few doses, patients often ignore the prescribed course. (One should never ignore the socio-economic aspect of the situation; purchasing a full course of medicine may not even have been possible.)

Additionally, excessive use of antibiotics in animal husbandry and agriculture has compounded the problem. That creates selection pressure in the environment; and only the fittest bacteria, in terms of antibiotic tolerance, survive. These resistant bacteria are difficult to tackle with commonly-available antibiotics. In this context, the threat becomes real: we may have strains of bacteria living around and within us that can withstand any antibiotics thrown at them.

It is more threatening if one considers the fact that once it is learnt how an antibiotic can be resisted, the information can horizontally be transferred from one bacterium to another, unrelated, bacterium that is present in the vicinity. Bacteria are not shy of sharing resistant strategies with others, an ability that plays a crucial role in the rapid spread of antibiotic resistance.

When penicillin was launched around World War II, it was hailed as a "miracle drug" which could cure common bacterial infections such as tuberculosis and pneumonia. However, like any miracle it did not last for very long, since bacteria quickly learnt to destroy penicillin and are now well adopted to tackle any antibiotic they encounter. This has brought us on the verge of medical disaster where, like in the pre-penicillin era, common infections could turn life-threatening.

What we need to remember is that in the era of globalisation, it is not a problem in isolation of India, or of any single country or region. Certainly, given the prevailing hygienic conditions, third world countries are more affected than the rest. The non-availability of new and effective antibiotics within the immediate future compounds the problem. Clinicians are looking for new antibiotics with novel modes of action, which would presumably be more difficult for bacteria to circumvent.

It is not as if there are no solutions in sight. The situation can certainly be dealt with through proper management and surveillance. Firstly, efforts should be focused on creating transparent surveillance across the country to estimate the severity and prevalence of drug resistance; we need not wait for another report in the Western media or by Western scientists. Over-prescription of drugs by doctors and pharmacists should be discouraged; and, moreover, there should be stricter control on the sale of antibiotics. None should be sold without a proper prescription.

However, this is a difficult task. Official control mostly does not work; and, given the size and diversity of our population, a challenging task of management lies ahead.

The writer is at the School of Life Sciences, JNU, Delhi






Together with our NATO allies and coalition partners, the United States, France and Britain have been united from the start in responding to the crisis in Libya, and we are united on what needs to happen in order to end it.

Even as we continue our military operations today to protect civilians in Libya, we are determined to look to the future. We are convinced that better times lie ahead for the people of Libya, and a pathway can be forged to achieve just that.

We must never forget the reasons why the international community was obliged to act in the first place. As Libya descended into chaos with Colonel Muammar el-Gaddafi attacking his own people, the Arab League called for action. The Libyan opposition called for help. And the people of Libya looked to the world in their hour of need. In an historic resolution, the United Nations Security Council authorised all necessary measures to protect the people of Libya from the attacks upon them. By responding immediately, our countries, together with an international coalition, halted the advance of Gaddafi's forces and prevented the bloodbath that he had promised to inflict upon the citizens of the besieged city of Benghazi.

Tens of thousands of lives have been protected. But the people of Libya are still suffering terrible horrors at Gaddafi's hands each and every day. His rockets and shells rained down on defenceless civilians in Ajdabiya. The city of Misurata is enduring a medieval siege, as Gaddafi tries to strangle its population into submission. The evidence of disappearances and abuses grows daily.

Our duty and our mandate under Resolution 1973 is to protect civilians, and we are doing that. It is not to remove Gaddafi by force. But it is impossible to imagine a future for Libya with Gaddafi in power. The International Criminal Court is rightly investigating the crimes committed against civilians and the grievous violations of international law. It is unthinkable that someone who has tried to massacre his own people can play a part in their future government. The brave citizens of those towns that have held out against forces that have been mercilessly targeting them would face a fearful vengeance if the world accepted such an arrangement. It would be an unconscionable betrayal.

Furthermore, it would condemn Libya to being not only a pariah state, but a failed state too. Gaddafi has promised to carry out terrorist attacks against civilian ships and airliners. And because he has lost the consent of his people any deal that leaves him in power would lead to further chaos and lawlessness. We know from bitter experience what that would mean. Neither Europe, nor the region, nor the world can afford a new safe haven for extremists.

There is a pathway to peace that promises new hope for the people of Libya — a future without Gaddafi that preserves Libya's integrity and sovereignty, and restores her economy and the prosperity and security of her people. This needs to begin with a genuine end to violence, marked by deeds not words. The regime has to pull back from the cities it is besieging, including Ajdabiya, Misurata and Zintan, and return to their barracks. However, so long as Gaddafi is in power, NATO must maintain its operations so that civilians remain protected and the pressure on the regime builds. Then a genuine transition from dictatorship to an inclusive constitutional process can really begin, led by a new generation of leaders. In order for that transition to succeed, Gaddafi must go and go for good. At that point, the United Nations and its members should help the Libyan people as they rebuild where Gaddafi has destroyed — to repair homes and hospitals, to restore basic utilities, and to assist Libyans as they develop the institutions to underpin a prosperous and open society.

This vision for the future of Libya has the support of a broad coalition of countries, including many from the Arab world. These countries came together in London on March 29 and founded a contact group which met this week in Doha to support a solution to the crisis that respects the will of the Libyan people.

Today, NATO and our partners are acting in the name of the United Nations with an unprecedented international legal mandate. But it will be the people of Libya, not the UN, who choose their new constitution, elect their new leaders, and write the next chapter in their history.

Britain, France and the United States will not rest until the United Nations Security Council resolutions have been implemented and the Libyan people can choose their own future. BARACK OBAMA, DAVID CAMERON, & NICOLAS SARKOZY







Bombing ties

ISI chief Ahmed Shuja Pasha was put on a plane to Washington to meet CIA chief Leon Panetta, in the hope that it would help mend strained bilateral relations. This came shortly after Pasha's tenure as ISI chief was extended by another year by the government, reported Daily Times on April 12, even as the leader of the opposition in the National Assembly, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan of the PML-N, raised the issue of Raymond Davis's release. He "demanded formation of a parliamentary committee or a judicial commission to probe the release..."

Gen Pasha, during his trip "threatened... to impose new limits on the CIA drone strikes in their country and to expel agency operatives whose missions are not approved by Islamabad," according to Daily Times on April 13. The demands "represent an effort by Pakistan to exert more control over the covert CIA war being waged inside its borders... A senior Pakistani official called the tone of the meeting 'cordial' but said Pasha made clear that the CIA-ISI relationship had suffered a 'breach of trust' and had to be reconfigured with a 'clear code of conduct'. 'We need to know who is in Pakistan doing what, and that the CIA won't go behind our back... There has to be a greater sharing of information in terms of what the CIA wants and is doing. They have to stop mistrusting the ISI as much as they do you can't have us as your ally and treat us as your adversary at the same time,' an official said. Pasha asked the CIA for a complete list of its employees and contractors in Pakistan and made clear that some may be asked to leave... CIA officials sought to play down the disagreement and signalled that joint counter-terrorism operations would continue."

Drone attacks in Pakistan's tribal areas, too, have strained relations, and have been condemned across the political spectrum,. A report published by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan on April 14 calculated that 957 people had died in drone attacks last year. However, a news report in Dawn on April 15 said that Panetta categorically stated during his meeting with Pasha that the "CIA has no plans to suspend 'operations' in Pakistan against terror suspects despite objections from leaders in Islamabad..." The report quoted an unnamed US intelligence official: "Panetta has been clear... that his fundamental responsibility is to protect the American people, and he will not halt operations that support that objective.'"

Apparently reflecting the CIA chief's stance, American drones resumed missile attacks in Pakistan on Wednesday for the first time in a month. Pakistan's foreign ministry and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani sharply criticised the latest bombing raid. Daily Times reported on April 14 Gilani is engaging "friendly countries" to exert diplomatic pressure on the US to stop these strikes. The News reported on April 15 that Pakistan's foreign office had termed the drone attacks as the "core irritant" in US-Pakistan relations.

Test cricket

The News reported on April 12 that Pakistan's PM hailed the "Mohali spirit" as a catalyst in improving Indo-Pak ties, and also supported the idea of greater sporting engagement between the two countries in the future. "He said that the semi-final played between Pakistan and India in Mohali had brought the two governments and two nations closer. 'It is not the question of winning or losing by one country. In fact, the winner is cricket and the people of Pakistan and India, he said. He favoured the continuity of cricket matches between the two countries, which he said, would help develop positive thinking besides providing a friendly entertainment on both sides."






It is precisely because India's politicians cannot rise above party politics that this newspaper has long argued that the only place for the A Raja 2G scam was in the country's courts. MPs, however, wanted to have their day in the sun, so while the government kept resisting the demand for a JPC probe, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) began its hearings. Under Murli Manohar Joshi, it went into overdrive and, not surprisingly, this resulted in a situation where Congress/DMK MPs got into a heated argument with Joshi, disrupting proceedings for several hours—while the law secretary got to be questioned for 10 minutes after waiting for several hours, the CBI director and the Attorney General left after waiting for a similar period. The BJP, predictably, reacted saying this was nothing but a tactic to protect the Prime Minister, since the Cabinet Secretary and the Principal Secretary are slated to appear before the PAC today. But, as we have been arguing from day one, it was never clear what the PAC hoped to achieve. It could, at best, amalgamate what the CAG, the CBI and the ED found—Friday's behaviour pushed the chances of doing even that a bit further. The April 30 deadline, after which some members of the PAC retire and new ones come on board, poses another complication as far as the PAC's proceedings are concerned.

If MPs have a problem with civilised debate, or no qualms in letting Parliament remain shut for weeks or passing lakhs of crore of budget expenditures without even debating them, how could they be expected to behave in the PAC? It is true Friday's very public fight represents a new low, but the fact that JPC reports have often had dissent reports makes it clear even the JPC process has little to offer by way of a solution. In any case, in a criminal case of this nature, the only meaningful solutions to the case at hand lie with the courts. While UPA MPs will continue to play their games, the saving grace is that the government has given up on its objection to the Supreme Court appointing a public prosecutor for the case. The chargesheet that has been filed, as we have pointed out, is a weak one. Hopefully, the next round of chargesheets will be stronger.





Infosys's pedestrian quarterly earnings are likely to make the $60-bn IT services industry break into a cold sweat. The company, which acts as an earnings barometer for IT Inc, has missed its quarterly profit estimates again, for the third time in four quarters. And that's when the industry thought its worst days were behind it. Most damaging is the company's statement predicting a decline in margins for FY12. Currency volatility is another thorn in the flesh. The slow recovery of the European economy has not helped matters either. A mere 1% quarter-on-quarter growth in dollar revenues is a let down, even considering that Q4 is a seasonally weak one. The 1.4% decline in volumes indicates a lack of business momentum, although CLSA's report projects Infosys's revenue growth in FY12 at 18-20%.

Infosys reporting disappointing numbers and missing profit estimates by over 2% means analysts will have to go back to their spreadsheets and look at all the assumptions once again. Has the IT environment improved as much as was thought, can companies fight currency fluctuations and come out on top, will marquee clients spend more in the coming quarters? The BFSI vertical, which is the revenue backbone of most Tier-I IT companies, has been recovering well, with most American banking clients back to spending in a big way. But this positive story has not rubbed off on other verticals like manufacturing and retail.

Infosys's performance over the past few quarters reveals the possibility of an uphill battle on account of rising costs, fewer transformational deals and an appreciating rupee. All eyes are now on TCS, India's largest software vendor by revenue—the company has been consistently beating revenue estimates for the past few quarters and has outperformed Infosys and Wipro by more than 35% over the past 12 months. Infosys has started to talk aloud about the importance of positioning the company as a consulting firm, while continuing to retain its prowess as an IT-services power. Firms like the fast-rising Cognizant have realised that as well. Now it's for others like Wipro to step on the consulting pedal. IT Inc needs to move on to a higher level of play.





The crusade on corruption launched by Anna Hazare surely is one of the most important events in the history of independent India. People were fed up with the system of governance and were waiting for a saviour. Even more than a series of scams that surfaced one after another in recent times, the patience of the common man was running thin as she has been a victim of daily harassment, be it for registering births and deaths, selling or buying properties, getting children admitted to schools and colleges, obtaining approval for building houses or getting electricity or water supply connections. TR Raghunandan's Website hosted by Janaagraha provides vivid details of various types of corrupt practices the citizen of the country is victimised with. The cancer of corruption is so widespread that Anna Hazare's fight became the people's fight and it caught the imagination of the entire country. The groundswell of support to the crusade augurs well for the country. We now need to capitalise on this to ensure that this mass mobilisation is used to cleanse the system of the cancer of corruption.

The crusade so far has been to decide on the form and content of the Lokpal Bill and the persons to be involved in its drafting and mechanism to ensure its enactment. While not undermining the importance of the "people's victory", with the government agreeing to the proposal of having equal number of civil society activists as the government functionaries in the drafting committee, it is important to understand that corruption does not end with the enactment of the Lokpal Bill. We need to realise that the institution of Lokpal is not a panacea for all ills and the mass mobilisation gain achieved by Anna Hazare by catching the public imagination will be wasted unless we redefine the goal and evolve an integrated strategy to root out corruption. It is important to note that an anti-corruption crusade involves a long and arduous journey and dealing with a complex set of economic, political and legal matters. It is, therefore, important for likeminded crusaders to work together to evolve a comprehensive strategy.

Minimising corruption in a systemic manner requires that it is important to minimise opportunities for corruption, increase the probability of detecting corruption and ensure an effective judicial system to punish the corrupt. Ironically, the second

Administrative Reforms Commission has done well to identify and list out various aspects and has made several recommendations to improve the legal, judicial, administrative and electoral framework to minimise corruption. It has recommended a number of electoral and political reforms, including partial state funding of elections, tightening anti-defection law, amendment to the Representation to People's Act to disqualify persons facing charges related to grave and heinous offences and corruption. The commission has recommended ethical frameworks for the executive, legislature, judiciary as well as regulators. It has also recommended the abolition of MPLAD and MLALAD entitlements. Ironically, the Union government has increased the MPLAD money to R5 crore (up from R2 crore) in the Budget session of Parliament and the Delhi state enhanced the local area development fund for MLAs to R4 crore (up from R1.5 crore) recently. Ironically, everyone in Parliament and legislature seems to be happy. Only the government of Bihar decided to abolish the fund.

Even as Anna Hazare was leading the crusade, both the ruling DMK and the opposition AIADMK were busy distributing largesse and cash to woo the voters in Tamil Nadu. Apart from promising various freebies by way of pre-poll promises, there have been massive exercises in buying votes by distributing gift hampers and plain cash. Indeed, neither any political party nor any candidate incurs expenditure with any altruistic motive of "serving" the people but considers this as an investment that will yield a high rate of return when elected. The probability of losing the election even after incurring the expenditure requires that the expected rate of return will have to be really high.

Any systemic approach to eradicating corruption must recognise that it is as much an economic phenomenon as it is of governance and administration. It arises from the existence of high demand for certain goods and services and concentration of powers to certain individuals or groups to provide them. It could also be given to avoid paying penalty for committing any illegal act. Thus, it has both supply and demand sides. There are bribe givers who are in dire need for the service and bribe takers who have the powers to provide it. Sadly, while everyone is against corruption when he is a victim (including the corrupt person), a large number of persons actually indulge in it one way or another and have consciously or unconsciously allowed it to take deep roots. It is hard not to see large-scale violations in land use patterns and building plans and even various illegal extensions to houses in urban areas providing ample opportunities to the bureaucrats in the municipal/state governments to make a fast buck.

With so many civil society groups getting on the bandwagon of the anti-corruption crusade, there is a real danger of converting this into an anti-reform bogey and it is important to guard against it. This requires us to clearly recognise that opportunity for bribe arises from the creation of artificial scarcity and concentration of power and discretion in the hands of a few. To a considerable extent, this is a legacy of the licence/permit raj that we lived in during the first 40 years of planning. Even as we liberated industry in 1991, the edifice has not been destroyed and we see this in every scam that was uncovered in recent times. This permeates in every sphere, be it in securing permission to build a tenement, start a school, college or hospital. While not serving the objective of complying with the required regulations, these have created opportunities for those in power to enrich themselves.

The solution lies in fast-tracking economic reforms to remove scarcity conditions and concentration of power. Increasing competition and strengthening regulation with sufficient checks and balances is the need of the hour and that requires more, not less economic reforms. The office of the Lokpal is important, but it cannot be the panacea for all ills afflicting society. Economic reforms to reduce the opportunities for corruption are equally important.

The author is director, NIPFP, and member, Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister. These are his personal views





Anna Hazare ended his hunger strike by lauding the victory of the people and stated that the real fight begins now. One can say with reasonable certainty that the fight Hazare was referring to had perhaps nothing to do either with the controversy that has emerged regarding the constitution of the joint committee or with the crossfire being exchanged between the opposition party, the ruling government and members of civil society, all of whom claim to be the messiah in the campaign against corruption. Then again, unprecedented actions are most likely to yield unusual results. The Gazette notification issued reads: "The Joint Drafting Committee shall consist of five nominee ministers of the Government of India and five nominees of Mr Anna Hazare (including himself)." Not obvious at first, but the notification makes reference to nominees of Hazare and not any five nominees from the civil society.

Is the distinction really a big deal? Should not the leader of this movement decide who he nominates to the joint committee constituted on account of his demands? Was it not the image of Hazare that struck a chord with innumerable people who supported his movement? These questions compel one to think if this is really a fight of one man against a long prevailing system? Certainly not! And, therefore, can Hazare, although unelected through any democratic process, not be regarded as representative of the Indian middle class searching for a voice? What is so unreasonable if a group of unelected members of civil society wish to draft a law, a right otherwise reserved for elected representatives? Regardless of whether such elected representatives are "public servants", the fact is that a democratic process elected them. Are we, therefore, questioning the fundamental basis of democratic functioning or the process that has governed us for the last 64 years, however ineffective it may be? Is this really a fight about politics being addressed by coercive processes not common to political functioning? Or did the Anna Hazare campaign just provide the much needed jolt to parliamentary democracy?

For those not fully conversant with Hazare's movement, the demand is to promulgate legislation, the Lokpal Act, through which an institution called the Lokpal would be established at the Centre and a Lokayukta will be set up in each state. The desire is that they function with complete autonomy, similar to the independence granted to the Supreme Court. The proposed legislation seeks to provide the electorate the right to approach the Lokpal to draw attention to any of their grievances. All cases brought to the Lokpal would be investigated, charged and prosecuted by them and the demand is for the Anti-Corruption Branch of the Central Bureau of Investigation to be merged with the Lokpal. The Lokpal is proposed to be selected by common people, and there is also a demand for the Lokpal to have suo moto powers to initiate action and to have police powers to register first information reports. Assuming all these proposals are accepted, will the resultant legislation not vest in the Lokpal all functions of the legislature, executive and judiciary? What happened to the separation of powers and the checks and balances it provides? Will not vesting so much power in the hands of a select few make them the lord and mighty? Is power not a primary cause of corruption?

Given the numerous scams that came to light in the last few months, the issue of corruption is a matter of huge concern and needs immediate attention. And if Hazare did, in fact, time his campaign to take advantage of low public sentiment, what's wrong with that? And if this movement used all resources at its disposal, including the new media, to garner support for a just cause, why are so many fingers being raised?

Is the larger issue not whether the means justify the end? Does not calling for a fast-unto-death amount to a form of blackmail? Could not Anna be charged with attempt to suicide, a crime under the Indian Penal Code. Would the government then be guilty of abetment to suicide! Did the government therefore 'give in' a tad too early or was its decision being responsive to public demand and in some ways with the intention to divert attention from the numerous scams and as a means to demonstrate its commitment to also fight corruption?

The even bigger issue is the precedent that the government has ended up setting by giving one unelected member of civil society the right to nominate members to a legislative committee. It is now not far when every interest group will demand that they be part of every legislative process that affects them. Also, most anti-corruption statutes come into play post facto, meaning after the act of graft has been committed. Should we rather not focus on addressing the root cause of corruption which in some ways lies in our antiquated laws and regulatory systems?

Notably, some of the questions highlighted above may be rhetorical and will never get answered. But others deserve to be addressed. In any event, why should we fault the optimism of the torch bearers of this anti-corruption movement, since somewhere even they must be aware that the Jan Lokpal Bill is not going to resolve all the ills of corruption. Nevertheless, it's a start. And in multiple ways appears to resonate with our electorate who are disillusioned by government functioning. Let's just agree with Anna that a fight has begun!

—The author is founder of Independent Law Chambers, Advocates & Corporate Counsel, based in New Delhi







The Sanya Declaration by the heads of state and government of Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa (BRICS) marks a strengthening of this emerging country partnership on the world stage in at least two significant respects. First, BRIC has become BRICS with South Africa — a rainbow nation of 50 million people, abundant natural resources, a middle income economy, and tremendous potential — joining the forum as a full member. Secondly, the grouping has gained coherence as well as confidence in articulating forward-looking positions on global economic and, to an extent, political issues. The formulation of an Action Plan at Sanya to enhance existing cooperation programmes, engage in new areas, and explore new proposals for working together indicates increased commitment. The global financial crisis brought BRIC to the fore and gave its emerging common positions salience; and on the trade and economic front and also on climate change, BRICS solidarity has been real and quite robust. Further, the Sanya declaration sends out a message on what is badly needed in international relations: a greater role and voice for developing countries — and specifically these five rising powers, which have a combined population of three billion, that is, more than 40 per cent of the global population — on issues of "world peace, security and stability, boosting global economic growth, enhancing multilateralism, and promoting greater democracy in international relations."

However, the reality is that each of the five countries regards its ties with the United States as its most important bilateral relationship and is excessively wary of displeasing Washington. How else to explain their attitude to the indefensible military attacks, from the air, on Libya by the United Kingdom, France, and the U.S.? The BRICS stance, formulated in the Sanya declaration, is disapproval of external military intervention in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) and West African regions; thus, "we share the principle that the use of force should be avoided...[and] we maintain that the independence, sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of each nation should be respected." How to square this stance with the vote of each of the five BRICS members — despite their concurrent presence in the United Nations Security Council in 2011 — on Resolution 1973, which provided cover for the western military attacks? The two permanent members, Russia and China, failed to veto the resolution but abstained; South Africa voted for the resolution; and India and Brazil equivocated by abstaining. There is a moral here. BRICS has made real progress since Brazil, Russia, India, and China held the grouping's first summit in June 2009 at Yekaterinburg in Russia and issued a declaration calling for the establishment of an equitable, democratic, and multi-polar world order. Now they need to put more sincerity and substance into this very worthwhile coming together.





The legislative assembly elections in Nigeria, Africa's most populous country with 160 million people, stand out for improved procedures after a bad start. The polls had been scheduled for April 2 but ballot papers did not arrive in time; officials were absent from several polling stations; and electoral registers were incomplete. However, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) rose to the challenge, and the postponed poll took place a week later. Given the troubled record of Nigerian elections since the 1999 restoration of democracy, problems were expected. A bomb killed 10 people near the national capital Abuja; in the north-east, a polling booth and a counting centre were bombed; gunmen murdered a politician belonging to the All Nigeria Peoples Party, and four others died in an attack on officials; and in the west, seven died in election-related violence. As for the outcome, all opposition parties in Enugu state have complained of vote-rigging in favour of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and there have been complaints in several other states as well.

With 70 per cent of the results declared so far, President Goodluck Jonathan's PDP have suffered significant losses. The main gainers are the newly-formed Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC). But final results will not be known until after April 26, when postponed polling is to take place in about one sixth of the constituencies. Although public perceptions of the overall election are favourable, any procedural improprieties could have wide effects. An exaggerated PDP presence, besides undermining public confidence, would render the national assembly much less capable of holding the executive to account over matters such as the influence of the Shell oil corporation — exposed by WikiLeaks — on the governance of the country. That, in turn, could affect the legitimacy of the Nigerian state itself. Any new government will face the challenges of reducing endemic corruption and distributing less inequitably the benefits of growth. The electorate has shown strong public spirit, by participating in vote counts and pushing party thugs away from polling stations. Women turned out in large numbers in the culturally traditional Muslim-majority north. Nigerian voters have shown their commitment to democracy; their newly-elected representatives will have to live up to this trust.







A future historian attempting to document the Anna Hazare fast at the Capital's Jantar Mantar will likely confront contrasting images: of multitudes enthused and galvanised by one elder citizen's crusading zeal, of Mr. Hazare's almost single-handed ability, within days, to bring the government to its knees. The Hazare campaign would connect strangers and unite voices, making it the first time in two decades that anyone had been able to mobilise support on the issue of corruption.

However, the chronicler would also be perplexed by the motley bunch that formed the audience at the principal venue. Not just the young and the idealistic, of whom there was evidently no dearth, but also the lynch mobs who seized the platform to show off their contempt for politics and the due process. The constant presence of babas and sants did not help, nor for that matter the unsolicited support from sundry Bollywood divas. Thanks to the mish-mash, rousing strains of brashtachar mitayenge (we will end corruption) mingled with incendiary calls to "kill" and "hang" the political class. The contradictions were only accentuated by the way sections of the visual and print media presented the event.

Indeed, the nuances have gone missing in the Anna Hazare story, with Anna being projected as all white or all black; either as a Gandhi at the vortex of a blazing revolution or as a manufactured hero with only an imaginary following. On the television screen, the Hazare fast became a TRP-raising blockbuster, a 24x7 "people's movement" that brought a profitable rush of eyeballs and advertisements. Curiously, in sections of the print media, the same "throbbing, pulsating" event that TV grabbed with both hands, transmogrified into a charade, a "fast one" pulled on the nation by the "Hazare circus." In this narrative, the veteran was "a self-serving blackmailer" who would use the threat of his own death to force the government into submission. There was also the suggestion that corruption excited only the rootless urban elite; the buzz on twitter and facebook was just that — a passing interest in a transient curiosity.

So what ought to be the takeaway from the Hazare campaign? Undoubtedly, it was a campaign that was waiting to happen. It also ended as it should have, with the government agreeing to share responsibility to bring a comprehensive and effective bill to investigate and prosecute corruption. By any yardstick this is a spectacular breakthrough. But equally, there has been unease over a campaign that seemed predicated on instant justice — prioritising deadlines over consultations — and that has looked so far to be ideologically adrift.

To airily dismiss the Hazare event because TV magnified it or because the facebook generation lapped it up, or even because disparate elements jumped on the bandwagon, is to ignore the elephant in the room. The truth is that Mr. Hazare tapped into a deeply felt popular anger — against corruption of course but even more against the arrogance of the expanded class that fed off this corruption. If the disillusionment was missed, it was by this class, by people who were complicit in the system and its privileges, and who were shielded by the closed nature of the compact they formed. Rewind to the fury unleashed in the wake of the Niira Radia tapes — the citizen is hardly likely to have missed the "business as usual" manner of most of the cast. Perhaps Anna had shown a way to break the gang-up.

Nor is it true that corruption finds no resonance in the rural areas. No news reporter travelling in Uttar Pradesh in the late 1980s could have missed the pervasive anti-Bofors mood in the villages. At the time, private television was not even a glint in the eye of the still smallish media industry; Bofors and V.P. Singh were blacklisted words on All India Radio and Doordarshan. Yet the villages could have been located on an information superhighway, judging from how eagerly they absorbed and passed on Bofors-related news. The 1989 general election saw the Congress finish with 15 Lok Sabha seats — down from 83 in 1984.

Had there been no undercurrent of popular support for Mr. Hazare, the United Progressive Alliance government — or for that matter any other government in its place — would not have rushed to wrap up the show, much less respond to Mr. Hazare's ultimatums. Jantar Mantar is the Capital's designated place for protests. This is where nameless morchas ended; this is where hunger-strikers pitched their tents, waiting for the government machinery to move. Over the years, the tents and the hunger-strikers had become part of the landscape, a distant blur unnoticed by those rushing by.

Last week, the faded-out venue dramatically came alive, and at the centre of the commotion was an unlikely figure — a forgotten old man, relegated eons ago to the margins of protest politics. Mr. Hazare clicked because he struck at a time when many of the previous heroes had fallen from their pedestals. Corporate heads and media celebrities, who had been the toast of the middle class, had been exposed as colluders in power politics. The vacuum needed to be filled, and Anna, who, stories claimed (there are counter stories too) lived in a temple with no bank balance, filled it as no one else could.

It is clear that without Anna's perceived simplicity — and integrity — the campaign could not have taken off. It is a given that a campaign for probity must be helmed by a person of unquestionable moral stature. However, any such campaign will flounder without ideological focus and a larger understanding of history as also of the checks and balances that are inherent to the democratic processes. Members of Mr. Hazare's team, among them Arvind Kejriwal and activist-advocate Prashant Bhushan, were on the ball when they argued that the Lokpal bill was a sham promised over 40 years by corrupt governments that shut themselves out of transparent and independent scrutiny. However, the Jan Lokpal Bill, offered in response, has been criticised for possibly being an overcorrection, with fears that the pendulum could swing too much to the other side.

It is instructive that Team Hazare has received bouquets and brickbats in equal measure from within civil society. Bouquets for resuscitating the comatose Lokpal bill and brickbats for the "here and now" impatience visible in such things as the imposition of quick deadlines for the bill's enactment. The National Advisory Council's Working Group on Transparency, Accountability and Governance, headed by Aruna Roy, has repeatedly emphasised the importance of the "pre-legislative process," urging "wider and more geographically spread" consultations to precede the "seminal legislation." The drafters of the Jan Lokpal Bill seem willing to put the draft to greater scrutiny. Besides, there is one iron-clad guarantee against the bill turning rogue: the government itself. The drafting sub-committee includes sharp legal minds such as Pranab Mukherjee, P. Chidambaram and Kapil Sibal, none of whom would easily yield ground.

The bill will most likely sort itself out. But where does the movement go from there? And before it takes up other projects like electoral reform — as Anna has suggested it would — should it not define itself ideologically? As the past week's hunger strike demonstrated, the best of causes can be subverted by the indiscriminate offer of the platform to diverse elements. The appearance on stage of yoga guru Baba Ramdev was disconcerting as was the fact that Anna thought it fit to receive a letter of support from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, handed over to him by spokesperson Ram Madhav. The frenzied calls from the crowds to hang the corrupt were endorsed at times by Mr. Hazare himself, and the overall slant was worryingly anti-politics. Together these suggested a campaign that perhaps viewed itself as ideology neutral, a campaign that targeted corruption per se without situating the struggle in an overarching intellectual vision.

Post-Independent India has witnessed two major movements and the important lesson from both is that ideological neutrality is a short cut to power but self-defeating in the long term. In 1974, Jayaprakash Narayan captured the popular imagination with his call for Total revolution. Narayan drew his cadre support from the RSS, and unsurprisingly so because at that point the Indira Gandhi-led Congress was the only identified enemy. The credibility gained from the movement helped the Jana Sangh enter the 1977 Morarji Desai government.

Years later, in 1988-89, V.P. Singh would lead an anti-corruption movement against Rajiv Gandhi, with logistics managed once again by the RSS. In the 1989 general election, the Bharatiya Janata Party won 85 Lok Sabha seats — up from the two seats it held in 1984 and the rest, as they say, is history: The BJP grew to be the second pole in politics.

The Hazare-Kejriwal campaign was initially spearheaded by Baba Ramdev, with the spiritual preacher, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, bringing up the rear. It was the yoga guru who bombarded the Prime Minister's Office with letters, and who addressed mass rallies against corruption at the Ram Lila maidan. It was around late January 2011 that members of the core team realised the divergence between Ramdev's larger agenda — death for the corrupt is central to his vision — and their own limited interest in pushing the Jan Lokpal Bill. But by then the anti-corruption juggernaut had started to roll and it was too late to stop Ramdev from claiming space on the podium.

The nation will be well served if Team Hazare learns from history even as it basks in the sweet aftermath of its victory.








As the U.S. and Pakistan attempt to mend their troubled relationship — historically premised more on convenience and strategic interests rather than mutual respect and understanding — Islamabad is apparently using the opportunity to draw new redlines for the Americans on this side of the Durand Line.

This applies in particular to the Central Intelligence Agency's (CIA) presence in the country; an issue prised open in January when an operative of America's undercover service, Raymond Davis, was caught by Pakistan for gunning down two natives in "self-defence." Apparently, the two Pakistanis were sleuths shadowing Davis who was trying to penetrate the banned Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT).

The furore over the incident brought the extent of the CIA's undercover operation in Pakistan under the scanner. The level of anger over American presence in the region and the adverse effect of the war on terror on Pakistan made it easy for the authorities to deflect attention from how these intelligence operatives got in here and why they went unnoticed, to what they were doing here.

When Davis was released after a month-and-a-half in prison on payment of blood money to the victims' families, it was given to understand that the deal was struck only after Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) worked out new terms of engagement with the CIA. But matters came to a head once again within 24 hours when CIA-manned drones pounded a compound in North Waziristan; killing nearly 40 tribesmen.

The Chief of Army Staff Ashfaq Parvez Kayani made a rare public statement; maintaining that "such acts of violence take us away from our objective of elimination of terrorism. It is imperative to understand that this critical objective can not be sacrificed for temporary tactical gains."

Revisiting the fundamentals

And, the Foreign Office called for revisiting the fundamentals of the bilateral relationship. "It was for the White House and the State Department to hold back those who have been trying to veer Pakistan-US relationship away from the track," the Foreign Office said. Pakistan also pulled out of the trilateral meeting — already rescheduled by the U.S. over the Davis stand-off — between Afghanistan-Pakistan-U.S. in Brussels.

An apology was sought from the U.S. but that was late in coming and as in the Davis case, the American high-handedness was stark. In fact, to most Pakistanis, the drone attack in Datta Khel on March 17 looked like the Americans indulging in celebratory fire on the release of Davis.

Just how much the blow-hot-blow-cold relationship had soured in the past couple of months was evident when U. S. Ambassador in Pakistan Cameron Munter called for "renewal" of ties this Monday in a public talk that was billed by the embassy as a "major policy speech."

The drift of his speech was that the two countries need to move forward; "speak of opportunities in the future, not of problems of the past." But, not many in the audience were impressed and some told him so; demanding, instead, clear answers on questions like when would the drone strikes stop, when would the U.S. stop talking down to Pakistan, when would Washington stop working at cross-purposes with Islamabad, and why America was being so insensitive to Pakistan's Catch-22 situation.

No straight answers were expected but the anger of those who question U.S. policy towards Pakistan and the dismay of the advocates for better bilateral relations at America's ham-handedness was palpable. Given the number of times the U.S. has cut off both military and economic aid in the past over differences with Pakistan, the gathering was not taken in by the Ambassador's bid to win hearts with details of U.S. money that is going into various developmental programmes across the country.

In fact, the Director-General of the Foreign Office-backed Institute of Strategic Studies and host of the public talk, Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, himself articulated this sentiment with comments like the relationship is far from healthy despite the long association and is seen as a "utilitarian and transactional" relationship instead of an enduring one because it is essentially elite-to-elite and not people-to-people. But, he admitted that this was the most important bilateral relationship for Pakistan.

Either by design or default, this public interface between a Foreign Office-funded institution and the American Embassy took place hours before ISI's Director General Shuja Pasha was to meet CIA Director Leon Panetta in the U.S. Media reports from Washington suggested that key issues remained unresolved even as The New York Times reported that Gen. Kayani had "demanded that the U.S. steeply reduce the number of CIA operatives and Special Operations forces working in Pakistan, and that it halt CIA drone strikes aimed at militants in north west Pakistan."

Security establishment upset

Indicating a willingness to consider a drawdown in Special Operations forces, the U.S. replied with a drone attack two days after the meeting. Pakistan responded with words — maintaining that drone attacks had become "a core irritant" in the counter-terror campaign.

While there is a view within Pakistan that the security establishment is upset because the CIA — through operatives and drone attacks — was targeting terrorist groups that are seen as strategic assets of the deep state, the mainstream narrative is that they are counter-productive and violate sovereignty. Also, according to Pakistani security analysts, both countries desire the same end — wiping out of terrorism — but differ on the means.

Though the General Officer Commanding 7-Division Ghayur Mehmood — who is in charge of troops in North Waziristan — had recently admitted that a majority of those killed by the drones were hardcore terrorists, the widely held conviction is that civilians are killed in these strikes. In the tribal region, this leads to anger and, in turn, a need to avenge; thereby spawning more terrorists.

Critical though it is of the drone policy, Pakistan has been repeatedly asking the U.S. to transfer the technology to Islamabad so that Predator strikes are conducted under the national flag. How that would make a difference is not explained even as the Government has to reckon with the WikiLeaks disclosure that the drone attacks have Islamabad's tacit support.

Another irritant is the perception that the U.S. can "cut-and-run" whenever it wants and Pakistan would have to bear the effects of this war long after just like after the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. So, Islamabad is bargaining for more say in the "endgame" in Afghanistan to ensure that a pro-Pakistan government is in place in Kabul after the occupation forces leave.

Writing in 'Foreign Policy' in the midst of the Davis stand-off, South Asia programme associate at the Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars Michael Kugelman said: "It would be a mistake to assume the U.S.-Pakistan relationship was plunged into crisis only after Davis pulled the trigger, and that it will remain so only as long as he languishes in his jail cell. In reality, the Davis affair represents just the latest chapter in a lengthening narrative — one of an unraveling partnership that some fear could rupture completely. The ongoing U.S.-Pakistan struggles are often attributed to a mere trust gap, easily surmountable if each side convinces the other of its good intentions. Unfortunately, mutual suspicions are too historically ingrained simply to be wished away with soothing words."

Economic assistance, India

And, neither can money buy affection. The U.S. may have been the most active — physically and financially — in helping Pakistan deal with last year's devastating floods, but this coupled with the economic assistance that is coming from Washington has not melted hearts here. Most Pakistanis see it as only a fraction of the price the country has had to pay for fighting America's war. Another apprehension fast gaining currency is that the U.S. wants to weaken Pakistan to get its nuclear power for fear of it falling into terrorists' hands.

Conspiracy theories abound but sources close to the security establishment maintain the Davis chapter in bilateral links has brought in more changes than the Americans are willing to admit. A major shift — at least from the Indian perspective — is Pakistan's reluctance for third party intervention in resolving issues with India. Asked if the U.S. had any role in the resumption of the India-Pakistan dialogue, Foreign Office spokesperson was categorical in stating that Pakistan believes "we do not need a third country for us to take ownership of our own affairs."

Public posturing?

Some believe the tough position vis-à-vis the U.S. is only public posturing and that Pakistan would fall in line with Washington's demands but for now Islamabad has got the Americans and its allies to acknowledge repeatedly that this country has lost more lives in the war on terror than the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation-led International Security Assistance Force stationed in Afghanistan.

In fact, according to the Americans, the "do more" mantra — something that needles Pakistan no end — does not mean Islamabad is not doing anything against terrorist havens in its tribal belt along the border with Afghanistan. "These reports [the White House quarterly report on Afghanistan and Pakistan being the latest] are an assessment of the ground situation. We admire what the Pakistani military is doing and the sacrifices it has made," was Mr. Munter's response to why Washington keeps chanting "do more."

Refusing to publicly subscribe to the diagnosis that bilateral relations are in 'Intensive Care,' the Americans are hoping that the renewed engagement over the next few weeks — including a possible visit of President Asif Ali Zardari to Washington — will put this chronically uneasy relationship back on track. The drones notwithstanding, the Americans look more eager; preparing as they are for a troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. And, Islamabad's support is critical in bringing a semblance of order to the mess created in Afghanistan by the 1980s U.S.-Pakistan marriage of convenience.





With reference to the report by Rana Siddiqui Zaman, headlined "India in Venice Biennale for the first time in 116 years," published in The Hindu on April 14, 2011, Madanjeet Singh, UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador and former Indian diplomat, writes:

I was astonished to read the report [claiming that this is the first time India will be featured in the Venice Biennale]. This is clearly false information. Soon after I joined as cultural attaché at the Indian Embassy in Rome in 1952, I had organised the first ever exhibition of Indian art at the 1953 Biennale International Exhibition in Venice. The exhibits included 60 works of art by young artists such as Husain, Raza Gaitonde, Ram Kumar and others that I had personally collected in Calcutta, Madras, Bombay and Delhi.

I had also managed to get two paintings each of the veteran artists, Jamini Roy and Amrita Sher-Gill, overriding the opposition of the Director of the Museum of Modern Art in New Delhi, at the intervention of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. It was a resounding success as 44 works of art were sold despite intense competition from artists worldwide.

The exhibition was inaugurated by Ambassador B.R. Sen and visited by eminent personalities such as the art critic Sir Ronald Adam and UNESCO Director-General Luther Evans.

The accompanying photograph shows, in addition to those mentioned in the caption, an official of the Indian Ministry of Education in New Delhi, whose name I forget.

May I request you to bring this to the attention of the readers of The Hindu?





The largest waste-to-power plant in China, the Hangu waste-to-power plant, located in the country's northern coastal city of Tianjin, will begin operations before June, according to a spokesman for the Tianjin Electric Power Corporation.

Located in the Binhai new district of Tianjin, the plant, spread over an area of 13.2 hectares, is expected to consume 2,000 tonnes of trash and waste daily.

On completion, it will be able to treat 6,67,000 tonnes of trash and generate 146 million kwh of electricity each year. The waste-to-energy plant has the largest complete sealed trash tank in China, which can keep 20,000 tonnes of waste in storage.

With an advanced incineration system, the emission targets of the power plant meet European Union standards, the spokesman said. Along with fast economic development and a quick rise in urban population, Tianjin, like many other Chinese cities, has been plagued by the issue of growing waste. — Xinhua






The granting of bail to Dr Binayak Sen, the prominent civil rights activist and putative Naxalite sympathiser, by the Supreme Court on Friday is a shot in the arm for judicial balance. It also offers confirmation that India is still a land where an individual is free to hold any view, and peruse any material, without violating the law of the land.

A dedicated and highly respected medical practitioner for more than three decades among the poor tribal communities of Chhattisgarh, last year Dr Sen had been sentenced to life in prison on the charge of sedition and seeking to assist the building of a Naxalite network by a trial court in the state. In virtually confirming the judgment, the Chhattisgarh high court had rejected Dr Sen's plea for bail. These events had created a veritable storm in international circles, and 22 Nobel laureates lined up to plead for granting bail to Dr Sen at the high court stage, only to be disappointed. With the government's permission, the European Union appointed observers to be present at the bail hearings in the Supreme Court. In the light of the nature of the case, the grant of bail by the country's apex court would appear to act as a rap on the knuckles for the state high court, not to say the chief metropolitan magistrate at Raipur who had presided over the Sen trial and held him guilty of sedition. The language of the Supreme Court's order makes this amply clear.

In granting bail, the two-judge bench of the apex court reportedly noted that it was "concerned" about the implementation of the judgment as no case of sedition had been made out against Dr Sen by the state government. The court also reportedly observed, "We are a democratic country. He may be a Naxalite sympathiser. Nothing beyond that." The trial court judgment had shocked many. The magistrate went on the basis of the fact that Dr Sen had visited an ailing Naxalite serving a jail term 33 times in 35 days, and reading Maoist literature and Naxalite documents. The apex court threw out such a puerile basis of argument in a sedition matter being made out by the counsel for the Chhattisgarh government. Notably, it said that just as a person reading or possessing Gandhi's autobiography did not automatically become a Gandhian, someone studying Naxalite or Maoist material cannot be said to be a Maoist. As for the charge of numerous visits to a prisoner, the Supreme Court rightly observed that on such occasions a visitor is accompanied by jail officials and could not, therefore, have been a recipient or carrier of secret communication.

The Supreme Court also refused to entertain the request of the state government's lawyers that while on bail Dr Sen be restrained from entering Chhattisgarh. The apex court left this for the trial court to decide. It will be interesting to see what stance the lower court takes on the issue. If the civil rights activist is made to keep away from the state, the impression is likely to be created that the trial court has disregarded the spirit of the Supreme Court order. While convicting Dr Sen, the trial magistrate had noted that he had kept the totality of the circumstances in view, as he saw it, and took into consideration the fact that several violent acts by Naxalites had occurred in recent times. This gave rise to the impression that while the sedition case was non-existent — as the Supreme Court would note so tellingly — the magistrate thought it was a call to duty for him to have Dr Sen put away for an extended period. This was the extent of provincialism on the part of the lower judiciary which the apex court order has righted.






"You can't take it with you,
All the wise men said
Where you're going you can't use it
They meant after you're dead
I thought they meant money
But, friends, I was wrong
And though I've not any
They meant love all along."
From Rothi Surath by Bachchoo

My nephew was showing me and some friends his favourite comic fights on YouTube (which facility I had heard of but till that moment had thought was spelt "U-Tube" — and now of an instant the narcissism of it came home!). One of the boxing bouts on this net cinema featured a G.I. who fancied and preened himself before the camera, doing splits and throwing punches and feints like Jean Claude van Damme. He was then shown being humiliated by a volunteer opponent who stepped up to him in the ring with his arms by his side and, standing almost still, whacked our hero one in the chops causing G.I. Joe the Dynamo to flop unconscious onto his back. If seeing a man beaten comatose can be funny, this was. It was largely because of the deflation of the visual boast, the fall of hubris.
The computer on which we were watching the fight was on the dining table in my niece and nephew's flat in Mumbai and having just eaten a hearty lunch, the plates and dishes were being cleared away by their young staff of cook and housemaid who would pause and glance at the screen as they came and went from the kitchen.
The next fight my nephew showed us was a comic clip from a silent film, an expertly choreographed piece of screen drama. The boxers enter the ring and one shakes hands with everyone present, the seconds, the towel-bearers, pail-carriers etc. As the bell goes for the first round, he dodges behind the referee keeping him nimbly in a rotation round the ring firmly between himself and the lumbering, threatening opponent.
Now Mandha, the housemaid I mentioned, is a village girl who must be in her early 20s. She speaks Marathi and Hindi after the Mumbai fashion and has no English.
"Ah, Charlie!", she says as she pauses to watch with us.
How did she know it was Charlie Chaplin?
Over 50 years ago my aunts in whose house in Pune I lived, had a cook called Hukam Ali. He was illiterate and could only speak Hindustani. He had been a military orderly in Ethiopia in the 1930s when Indian troops were sent to rebuff the Italian invasion. His favourite comic, less surprisingly, was Chaplin and he too referred to him as "Charlie".
Mandha's instant identification of Chaplin was something of a surprise. I asked how she knew of him but she merely replied that everyone knew Charlie and her tone clearly implied that I should stop patronise her knowledge of the world and desist from asking silly questions. So the rest was silence.
The papers report that Chaplin's house in Switzerland is finally being converted into a museum exhibiting his personal effects, letters, writing, costumes, designs and films. It will become a major attraction in that part of Switzerland. His son Michael, who was interviewed at the house, recalled that the family moved there after his father was refused entry into the United States and faced prosecution there under the anti-Communist McCarthyite indictments.
Chaplin moved to Switzerland and lived there till the end of his life with his wife Oona (daughter of playwright Eugene O'Neill). He had eight children by her and Michael was the eldest boy with a sister older than himself.
One Indian story goes that after a film festival in Europe at which their film won several accolades, Nargis surprised Raj Kapoor by suggesting that they holiday in Switzerland. Raj agreed and was taken to a chateau whose door was answered by none other than Raj's all-time hero, Charles Chaplin. They made friends.
Michael Chaplin remembers his father taking great joy in walking down to the town to buy a packet of cigarettes without being recognised as a world-renowned celebrity.
With Chaplin and silent movies, a brand of universal humour was invented or discovered. Is it remarkable that, through the medium of film, several Western stars, including Chaplin, have made some message, some way of being or way of laughing plain to the whole world, including Hukam Ali of Pune and Ethiopia and Mandha of Yari Road in today's Mumbai? Indian filmstars, though known in very many peasant societies, from the early birth of film in India to the present day, have not resonated with John Smith or Banjo Barnes in the Balham pub. And never will.
Yes, there are British aficionados who watch Satyajit Ray films and there are the rare ethnic-specialist Brits who will view a Hindi film if the multicultural journalists of the British press extol its credentials. But that's the limit. Ask the man or woman in the Prince of Wales or even at the university lectern and he won't know Raj Kapoor from Raj kaput.
Chaplin's humour was not "British" in the sense that it contained verbal irony, but it was very British in that it pioneered the comedy of the little man ranged against modernism or other superior forces, be they machines, systems or larger muscles, and invited the aam janata to laugh at their own clumsiness and frailty. This is a far cry from the kind of "comedy" one sees on Indian TV or in Indian films where the fat man or woman is the butt of the joke and wobbly cheeks or jaws and crossed eyes are to be laughed at as grotesques. It's witless humour, the equivalent of the Western comics who relied on the custard-pie-in-the-eye to raise a laugh.
Now Rowan Atkinson, who plays Mr Bean, has reputed rubber features which graphically and precisely exaggerate complacency, confidence, puzzlement, unwarranted self-satisfaction etc. He may have wobbly cheeks and can, I am sure, cross his eyes in a funny way, but never resorts to these to make one laugh. His Bean is like Chaplin's Charlie, also the bewildered every man who in the face of a complex and confusing world takes the path which we know leads off the cliff.
Now next time I get to Mumbai, I must, I tell myself, ascertain whether Mandha has come across Bean and get her assessment of him.






Shhh, don't tell anyone, but the superbug is here. Well, yes, it could kill you. But you know, life is so uncertain — don't fret over these new-fangled firang studies. They just do it to discredit us. Jealousy, that's what it is. Just because their patients come over to get complicated operations done in our super-specialty hospitals, these firangs are getting all het up. Envy, just envy.

First they said that there was this unbeatable bacteria in our hospitals — and patients who had come over for medical procedures had gone back with the superbug. A wicked gene here made ordinary bugs invincible and bred antibiotic-resistant bacteria that could kill millions. They said the superbug had popped up in Britain, the US, Canada, Australia and Sweden. So what did they do? Promptly named this international scumbug after us! The NDM-1 (New Delhi metallo-beta-lactamase 1) they called it. Just to put an end to our medical tourism industry. Of course, our government did the honourable thing — it threw its weight behind the private medical industry and joined voices with it to deny the very existence of the bug in our hospitals. For effect, it then cried foul about the nasty name, NDM-1. It was an attempt to stigmatise India, we hollered in righteous indignation.
And now, further digging by the jealous guys in London shows that the superbug-spawning NDM-1 gene is in our everyday environment — and not limited to hospitals. Apparently it was found in 51 out of 171 samples taken from water pools in Delhi and two out of 50 tap water samples. The NDM-1 gene was found in 11 types of bacteria, including those that cause dysentery and cholera. Which means that most antibiotics would have no effect on our most common and deadly waterborne diseases. Perhaps, if we had access to more specialised — and far more expensive — antibiotics, we could be saved. But who knows for how long before those too are rendered impotent?
Of course we took instant, decisive, multi-pronged action. First, the customary denial. We denied the presence of the superbug in our environment. Delhi's water was very safe and absolutely fit for drinking, the sarkar said. The customary sarkari attack on make-believe legal grounds followed. It was illegal to take water samples out of the country, we thundered. (No, it was not, but no harm in trying.) Then the customary mud-slinging. The findings published in the Lancet Infectious Diseases Journal were baseless, unscientific and wrong. It was a shameless attempt to malign us.
It's another matter that we know that the Lancet report is true. And that the fearsome superbug has settled cosily in our environment, has contaminated the water we drink and lives in our guts. An antibiotic policy must be put in place, we demanded in hushed voices. Don't worry, it's all a lie, recited the government. But here, take some chlorine tablets anyway and feel safe.
Sure, antibiotic-resistant bacteria are a huge threat — they could throw us back to the pre-antibiotic era of cholera and dysentery pandemics, for example. Grudgingly, the government is cooking up a policy to check indiscriminate use of antibiotics that gradually makes bugs stronger and the whole population more vulnerable. A recent WHO (World Health Organisation) study has claimed that 53 per cent of Indians take antibiotics without a doctor's prescription. But the matter doesn't end with antibiotics-resistant superbugs. We already have drug-resistant tuberculosis, remember? The real issue is our denial. It speaks of the deeper, far more fearsome disease that is killing us all — the rotten state of public health in India.
Government apathy, unethical medical practitioners and political indifference has made public health in India an utter shame. We worry about individual patients — what happens when I get Delhi belly and no antibiotics work? We ignore the cesspool that we live in. Millions die every year for lack of proper health practices, social awareness and medical facilities. Sanitation and safe drinking water are among the basics of governance. If we had that, we wouldn't have to lie about the NDM-1 not being present in our water.
To keep us happy and to keep the private tills ringing, the medical fraternity and the government, strangely, have shot the messengers. They have clamped down on Indian medical researchers who had collaborated in the Lancet study. And have claimed that this is an attempt to discredit our state-of-the-art medical facilities and an evil plot to destroy medical tourism. The government, while rushing to protect the private medical fraternity, is doing nothing to address the main issue — that the bulk of the Indian population has no access to adequate healthcare.
Public health services — which include responsible, free or affordable medical facilities for the general population and measures to reduce exposure to disease through sanitation and vector control — are seriously lacking in our country that boasts of commendable economic growth. We have been talking of healthcare for all since before Independence. It is still not in place. And the budget for health is still at just over one per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP), among the lowest in the world. As government healthcare remains abysmal, especially in rural areas, the private sector caters to about 70 per cent of health needs. And since less than 20 per cent of the population has health insurance, most middle class and poorer Indians cannot afford good treatment, or are driven to debt when they attempt it. Besides, unless you have connections, even if you sell your kidney to treat your child you have no guarantee of reliable treatment.
We need comprehensive, quality healthcare for all, irrespective of one's ability to pay. For healthcare needs to be seen in the context of civil rights and entitlements. We see it as a favour from doctors and government. State of the art medical services for a few is good, but only when the rest of the population has access to basic healthcare. We have no reason to preen about how we have the best medical services for a handful of rich, but nothing for the majority of Indians.
Experts have made a strong case for universal, quality public healthcare and demanded that at least three per cent of our GDP be devoted to health. Our economic growth could easily fund this. If we intend to achieve health for all by 2020, as the government plans, we should stop denying the obvious.
Actually, the real superbug is not in our water or in our guts. The soul destroying evil superbug is lodged in our brain. And it makes us push most of our own people towards preventable death.

Antara Dev Sen is editor of The Little Magazine






So, what do you think is more likely to inflame extremist elements? If you encourage immigration or if you discourage it? If you speak about it, or if you are silent on the issue? Regardless, most political leaders in the Western hemisphere can't resist immigrant-bashing whenever the economy wobbles dangerously. "Get rid of the outsiders! They are wrecking our peaceful land with their regressive culture and stealing our jobs!" goes up the desperate war cry.

Given the fact that jobs sometimes do go to better qualified "foreigners", the United Kingdom (UK) government is now building a case against these unscrupulous immigrants ("How dare they be smarter than us Brits!"), sounding a little paranoid in the bargain.
This time Prime Minister David Cameron (who had already announced the demise of multiculturalism some time back) has raised the bogey of immigrants in a speech at Hampshire, UK this week.
Many have dismissed this as a cynical ploy, meant for snaffling middle-class votes during the upcoming local elections, by touching a sensitive nerve. But it has upset some of his Liberal Democrats coalition partners and revived unpleasant memories of the present foreign secretary William Hague's decade-old speech stating that the UK was in serious danger of being turned into a "foreign land". (Ten years later the Brits have still not been over-run — obviously the fearsome immigrants turned out to be quite inefficient!)
Nonetheless, anti-immigrant diatribes are close to the Conservative heart, and even though there may be many benefits from immigration, all is conveniently forgotten when the Tories bind their flock together. Therefore, the Prime Minister has pointed out that during the Labour years, immigration ran amuck and between 1997 and 2009, there were 2.2 million more people coming into the UK than leaving it to stay abroad. Whilst this statistic may not seem alarming to Indians, who are used to large numbers, it could send hardcore Tory voters into a collective swoon.
Mr Cameron has also suggested that this immigration will carry on unstaunched unless reforms are carried out in the welfare system, as the benefit system encourages the poor, deluded British not to work, allowing the migrants to take over their jobs.
Welfare "reform" or "cuts" are another core Tory policy, as Right-wingers have always believed in small government. Linking it now to immigration may make public sector cuts easier to swallow. All should hail Mr Cameron because he is now taking the brave and bold step of talking about immigration because Labour refused to do so, saying it was racist.
To clinch his anti-immigrant argument, he has pointed out the reluctance of certain migrants to integrate, creating discomfort and disjointedness in some neighbourhoods. He said, "Real communities are bound by common experiences forged by friendship and conversation knitted together by all the ritual of the neighbourhood, from the school run to the chat down the pub. And these bonds can take time".
The implication is that if the communities are changed "too fast" tensions could escalate. The strongest indictment of Mr Cameron's speech has come perhaps not from Labour, but from the extremist British National Party which is aggrieved that Mr Cameron has stolen their agenda.
Of course, there is little doubt that the ghettos which have become a part of London and other large towns need to be looked at and reformed. It is not healthy or even quaint to find whole communities, whether Indian, Pakistani or African, living as though under siege in specific localities. It requires an enormous effort, not just from the immigrants, but also from the majority community to help in the process of integration.
Perhaps the multiculturalism inculcated under Labour was not entirely successful — but by decreasing the numbers permitted into the country or by forcing immigrants to learn English, the existing problem will not disappear.
An island offers limited terrain, and whilst Mr Cameron is correct in pointing that endless immigration could lead to an assault on the existing facilities, there is need for the government to work harder in looking at why the integration has not been successful.
Somehow, I don't think that simply learning English and appreciating English culture will sort out the issue. Nor will pub-hopping. Unless one can pass a test in "Englishness" by the amount of alcohol one imbibes… I know many Punjabi puttars who would pass out (literally!) but with flying colours.

MEANWHILE, ONE thing that is certainly uniting the whole of the UK is the mad frenzy of the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton. Every kind of marriage memento, from napkins and beer bottles (yes! — remember the pubs?) to coffee mugs and plastic dolls are being churned out. And now soon to be seen on the small screen on April 18 is the movie about jab they met! Called William and Kate: Let Love Rule, its premier will, no doubt, be avidly viewed throughout the country.
The film is a quickie, since the shooting only began on February 10 — but perhaps because the couple has had a nine-year very public romance there was more than enough material for the script. All the masala was already there: from their meeting at St. Andrews, to Kate wearing a see-through dress, to their breaking up and making up. But though the couple had been living together for a while, the director, it appears, has been fairly discreet. While he has shown the couple kissing and then together in bed, they are always, alas, fully clothed. Maybe that's how royals do it?
But if the trailer is anything to go by, Camilla Luddington (who plays Kate) is shown in a bath tub — naked knees popping out of soap bubbles — swigging a glass of wine. Now if we ever have a film made about any of our "royal" couples with stuff like this in it, you can be pretty sure that it will be banned.
Produced by an American channel, early outraged reports about the film said that the couple sported an "Americanised" accent — as a British accent is apparently very difficult for the Americans to understand.
All I can say is that many may complain about the real Prince William once they see his body double. Nico Evers-Swindell is not only better looking, he even has a full head of hair. Now we only have to find out which one the real Kate Middleton prefers.

Kishwar Desai can be contacted at








The judge, the jury and the hangman, goes the old axiom. Public issues take years and years of fierce debates before a decision in public interest is taken. But when the three are rolled in one, the proponent of the bill (treasury benches), the participants in the discourse (legislators) and the implementing agency (government), it takes just a guffaw to see the exercise through with predetermined outcome. That is how the government's largesse will be equitably shared by the managers of private limited company called legislative assembly. Justifying the pay hike for legislators, chairpersons and ministers on the basis of 6th Pay Commission's recommendations, the government fished out one after another bonus for them from pay hike to arrears all in one go. State and Public Undertaking employees and the pensioners have been cooling their heels since 2007 to receive arrears of DA/CA without success. They are told the state is under financial crunch. But justification given for sanctioning emoluments to the legislators is that in all it costs state exchequer a peanut of 9 crores of rupees and there is no difficulty in meeting the expenditure. On the other hand, argue the authorities, the cost of arrears for the employees runs to a whooping 2400 crores of rupees. This is a strange and certainly unacceptable logic. Imagine the perks and facilities, privileges and powers enjoyed by the legislators during and after their formal tenure in the assembly, and compare it with shoddy deprivation of an ordinary state employee. There is no comparison. Because a legislator can enjoy sumptuous dinners and lunches, he must have a kitty-full of currency notes, and because an ordinary class IV employee is to survive on half a loaf, he does not immediately require the paltry amount that is due to him and can wait for a decade or so to get what is his right. When the matter of pecuniary benefit comes up, all opposition is dissolved and camaraderie of sorts is forged among the two houses of the assembly to share the spoils. They lose the sight of the toiling labourer, the tilling peasant and the hewers of wood and drawers of water. They forget their constituencies, the poor and the famished, the deprived and the desperate. The hike in their salaries is something between 50 and 60 per cent, and the cumulative emoluments to fill their valet compute to seven lac rupees per legislator. And we should not forget that the funds provided for minor public works in their respective constituencies is an amount hardly accounted for through stipulated procedure. Nobody denies them all these frugal munificence. What we want to bring home is that the legislators are enjoined to speak for the people and their needs. They are enjoined by constitutional and moral jurisprudence to insist on the government to speed up payment of arrears of pay revision and other allowances to the state employees without delay of time. Was it not the occasion for legislators to refuse the largesse unless the rightful demands of hundreds of thousands of state employees were met? One with a strong and vibrant conscience would not have accepted the boon while one's neighbour spent days in destitution and while the ordinary state employee yearned for his little bit of money. The government should have shown same alacrity and eagerness in meeting the demands of protesting pensioners, daily wagers, contractual employees and many others of these categories as it showed in taking interest in enhancing salaries and sanctioning allowances and arrears for the legislators. Ordinarily legislators are supposed to set an example for others as models of astute civil citizenry. Nobody grudges them all the largesse they could snatch for themselves. But the civil society expects them to discharge their responsibility towards and care for its welfare. Let not they say that the legislative assembly is run like a private limited company.







A lively debate was recently telecast by a national television channel about the hawala connections between some persons in Kashmir and their Delhi-based conduits. The trail reportedly was traced to ISI and other funding sources in Gulf countries and even some western countries as well. Hawala is a system by which a person can pay the money in a foreign country to a secret agent who informs his collaborator in the concerned country to transmit the money to the end receiver. Hawala has been one of the main funding sources of militancy in Kashmir. In this racket, anybody can get involved irrespective of country and religion and language. It is clandestine and secret transaction where no transmission charges and tax deductions are made. It has been revealed that some top separatist leaders in Kashmir have been receiving hawala money and keep funding the militants for their subversive activities. The surprising part of this story is that national intelligence agencies at various levels are said to be aware of persons dealing in this clandestine and illegal transactions yet nobody has come down with a heavy hand on them. In other words it appears that segments of establishment are closing their eye to the anti-national financial transactions, and for reasons best known tot hem. The police and investigating agencies are reported to be hushing up a stray case here or there instead of conducting full enquiry into such cases and bringing the culprit to book. The flow of money in the valley has increased phenomenally creating a class of affluent people with easy money as against the masses of people toiling for two squire meals. Hawala cases are all shrouded in secrecy and despite the provision of the right to information nothing trickles down the secret files that would help people know that everything is done to curb militancy. Even some cases that were publicized initially have been almost hushed up and nothing is learnt about those anymore. Evidently, if a check is not put on this menace, it will not only endanger the security of the nation but will also contribute to big social divide.








I have, I confess, no first-hand knowledge of India's freedom struggle. Born in the former princely State of Jammu and Kashmir, I spent the most decisive phase of the freedom struggle in the State, leaving for Delhi about the same time as the dawn of freedom. My knowledge of the movement was confined to the columns of the late Civil and Military Gazette, the Tribune (both Lahore) and Delhi's late News Chronicle. Yes, you had the radio link but it was for the most part limited to the goings on in Europe and Hitler's Germany.
We did, of course, get to set our eyes on some top national leaders including Gandhi, Nehru, Azad, Jaya Prakash Narayan but that was in the 1940's. It's not as if we were totally cut off from the rest of the world. Sheikh Abdullah's political activism and the presence within the State of vernacular papers, did keep us involved, somewhat. And we did have our agitation, "the Quit Kashmir movement", targeting the Dogra Maharaja, led tenaciously by Sheikh Sahab with Nehru at his beck and call.
The first real whiff of a popular agitation - not to mention the many other that followed post 1950 that I got was courtesy Jaya Prakash Narayan, against a more and more authoritarian Mrs. Indira Gandhi, Indu to JP in private, but a threat to Indian democracy. The emergency came and lasted a full 19 months, tough, suffocating unforgiving, with Mrs. Gandhi's younger son, Sanjay leading the pro-emergency goon pack. But you could by no means compare the emergency, a shameful chapter in the life of our young democracy, with a popular movement.
Compulsion, for instance was a word that did not exist in the Gandhian lexicon. Compulsion vasectomy for one, was the watchword of Sanjay's book, apart, of course, from keeping his coffers filling up by the hour. I recall the story of a Delhi industrialist who was asked to "call" on Sanjay. The man packed Rs. Five lakhs in his personal handbag and was ushered into the young upstart's court. Barely looking at the visitor he directed him to keep the bag in corner. No words exchanged before he heard "achha, jayiye".
The insolence of Sanjay had not hurt him, nor even the loss of Rs. Five lakhs (he must have made 50 lakhs in return) did not bother him he was to confess a little later. "You know I lost my lucky handbag. I had all the time imagined Sanjay will ask me to sit down and hand over the lolly to him which I had planned to do by giving the cash to him, not the bag. He aborted the idea of asking for the bag, the idea being that of hatchet man present out side the room "What if he changes his mind and asks Rs. ten lakhs? The man cautioned him.
In my long years as a professional journalist I have known of many wheelers and dealers and indeed that paper I served for many long years had an exclusive investigative team which had the distinction of breaking many scandals, involving officials and businesses alike. God's good man Anna Hazare must then have been driving military trucks as a soldier. And it is to this man I owe a teeny weeny glimpse of how the 'naked fakir' must have galvanized the Indian people to send the British packing. And please do remember those days when you did not have 24X7 TV channels. It was revelation to many how one city after another took up Hazare's anti-corruption Lok Pal campaign. From Bangalore to Mumbai, Ahmedabad to Aligarh, Kolkata to Kashmir, to Kerala, Hyderabad, Delhi to Puducherry the whole of India appeared to have taken the bird-like figure of Anna Hazare to its heart.
The second coming of Gandhi, said one as the wispy 73 year old hauled himself up to convey his message for the umpteenth time. "Don't worry about me, today is only the third day of my fast we must carry on till victory is won". Someone spoke to him on the dais at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi about the similarity between his 'andolan' and that of Gandhiji. Typically of any 'shishya' Anna instantly touched his ears. "Gandhiji's was an entirely different mission: the freedom of India. I am a small man. Gandhiji was a barrister I ……………mein apna kartavya poora karne ke koshish mein hoon" I am engaged in doing my duty to serve the country and its people by clipping the wings of the corrupt politicians and bureaucrats.
Exhausted, he would lie down for a while and then spring to life: "this agitation is not going to end; we have to achieve our objective and I won't let anyone fool us this time." For a man who says he is a simpleton, Anna Hazare is an astute man and of this he gave ample taste to the pompous Union Minister, Kapil Sibal when the latter, marshalling his legal acumen, argued that the talks between Hazare's team and the government would not be gazetted. Anna: that's what Sibal says, next he brushes aside another Kapil suggestion that only bureaucrats will represent the government.
He grasped the mike, after kapil was gone and announced how he had rejected his suggestions. There would be talks, a senior Minister would chair these and we will have our co-chairman etc. There can't be any compromise. In 42 years government has tabled the Lok Pal bill as many as eight times in the Lok Sabha and each time it was allowed to lapse. "Nothing like that will be allowed now. We must have it within the next two months, latest by August 15… If that's not done we will resume our agitation."
When the deal was struck Anna Hazare again revealed the tougher, Gandhian side of his personality. This came about when some Baba, with political ambitions, argued that he had been betrayed. He had been part of the campaign and why wasn't he among the five chosen by to talk with the ministerial team. It doesn't matter, Anna told the Baba as long as we are sure that we have selected the best legal minds. Does it matter if there was a father/son twosome among the five? That was the end of Baba's anger and Hazare's message that no one was bigger than the campaign.
I wonder, though why Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in the first place chose Kapil Sibal as his mediator. The man is so consumed by his own oratorial skills that he well seems unwilling to see the writing on the wall. Given his lawyer's skills his first concern is to confuse, to obfuscate. Remember, how, many years ago Kapil Sibal, an advocate then, took six long hours to defend Justice V. Ramaswamy of the Supreme Court in his impeachment trial in the Lok Sabha. He went on and on, like the mighty river citing laws, quoting authorities when three Brother judges of Ramaswamy had already found him guilty and the required number of MPs had back it up. I can't tell how many books, briefs, all beflagged, lay in front of him and beside him.
In the end though the entire exercise was rendered futile by the Congress Party which made a last-minute switch to abstain, thus letting the impeachment fall. But one remarkable statement by the Law Minister of the country, Congress under H.R. Bhardwaj made the debate unforgettable. Pooh-poohing all the arguments, all evidence marshaled by the supporters of the impeachment motion, the Law Minister rose to intervene with his custody aplomb. He had heard all the honourable members screaming about corruption by Justice Ramaswamy and thundered. "Tell me who is not corrupt these days!"
No questions asked and his party, the Congress switched sides from proponents of the motion to disinterested non-partisans. I hope Kapil Sibal, now unlike then, a Minister is not allowed to have a say when the joint panel takes up the Lok Pal Bil. Already there is some noise that the Prime Minister should be left out of the ambit of the Act when it is passed. Why? Manmohan Singh, for all the fuss that is made about his impeccable honesty, must make sure that the Act covers him and his office as well. And even as Anna Hazare was preparing to return to his village near Pune on Tuesday, Sibal was at it again pinpointing kind of situations in which the Lok Pal would have no say. If the PM and Sonia are serious they must ensure that all the conditions accepted by them are fully met. Not that India is in any grave danger now but some of the slogans, statements I heard youngmen marching in various cities of the country, like "remember Egypt, remember Tunish, don't forget Libya" raising left me wondering.







The provisional Census figures for the decade 2001- 2011 reflect a declining population growth rate. The country's population grew by a little over 17 percent in the decade, compared to 21 percent in 1991-2001 and 23 percent a decade before. In fact, the decade 2001-2011 has shown the sharpest decline in population explosion since 1947 which is a matter of some satisfaction. But it would be wrong to rest on these laurels since in absolute numbers our population is continuing to grow at a fast clip. We have added 181 million, the population of Brazil to India's numbers this time.
In 2001 the country's population was 1.03 billion which has risen to 1.21 billion in 2011. India, the second most populous country after China, thus has the combined population of the US, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Brazil, Indonesia and Japan. This massive population would naturally affect the per capita income and consequently the standard of life, even if we continue to maintain a high growth rate in the years to come. If we want to make our economic development meaningful we will have to take effective measures to check growth in population, more so in the face of shrinking natural resources. The challenge therefore stares right in the eye of the policy planners.
The population growth rate also varies hugely between the states. While some states have done reasonably well others have not. This calls for a review of policies adopted at the state and the central level.
The present policy of providing central funds on the basis of population has a flip-side. More incentives need to be given to the states which register less population growth. Also, better attention needs to be given to raising literacy rates which has proved an effective antidote to population growth all over the world. One could perhaps attribute the present fall in population growth rate partly to the rise in literacy rate that the country has witnessed. The overall average this time is 73 %, about 8 percent higher than the previous figures. This average needs to be raised further to make people aware of the dangers of unchecked population growth which ultimately is a drag on the limited resources of the country. The literacy rate among women, which now stands at 79.9 %, compared to 86.3 % among men needs to be given particular attention, to make the exercise more productive.
But the most striking finding of the Census 2011 is the preference for boys over girls in our society which has led to a sharp decline in the ratio of girls to boys up to the age of 6 years. It has come down to 914 girls per 1000 boys, though there is an increase in the overall gender ratio. Compare this to the figure 927 in the previous census and the spectrum of imbalance that it raises becomes all the more clear. In fact this ratio has been falling since 1971 census. The position is worse in states which are more prosperous. Unfortunately, a better economic growth and better education rate have not been of much help in curbing this trend due to more pervasive societal reasons.
The figures reveal that female feticide is more prevalent in prosperous states with a higher literacy rate, with urban middle class as the most affected segment. The problem is less acute in poorer states and those with high tribal population, like Meghalaya, Mizoram, and Arunachal Pradesh as also Chattisgarh. Even Kerala which has been having highest literacy rate in the country has a poorer sex ratio in this age group.
The problem is more acute in advanced states like the Punjab, Haryana, Delhi, Maharashtra and Gujarat. A better Child Sex Ratio (CSR) is a must to maintain a balance in population in the long run and avoid social tensions.
The government on its part banned the pre- natal sex determination tests way back in 1994. As the Census data shows, the ban has not worked. And a lot more needs to be done to deal with the societal bias for boys. There is a need to amend the Pre- conception and Pre- natal diagnostic Techniques Act to remove some of its loopholes and ensure its better implementation. Stringent punishment for those who fail to observe the law is called for, like the one given to two Mumbai doctors recently for undertaking pre- natal tests.
The approach towards family planning also needs to be given a fresh look. The emphasis on just two children is motivating couples to go for abortions until they get at least one male child resulting in female infanticide. Earlier on, the couples used to have a number of girl children till they got a son.
Creation of better awareness in the society regarding the importance of the girl child is also needed. This would involve a multi- pronged approach as mere economic growth and education have not been able to deal with the menace so far. Involvement of society in a more innovative and purposeful way is the need of the hour.
India today has 17 percent of world population against the surface area of only 2.4 %. If our total population continues to rise the way it is increasing now, it will make us run faster to remain at the same spot as the fruits of development will have to be shared with a larger population. In addition, if Child Sex Ratio continues to worsen it will only aggravate the problem. The people of India have to choose if they want to see the country as the Lahul and Sipiti ( a district of Himachal Pradesh) which has recorded the highest average of 1013 girls to 1000 males or like Jhajjar (in Haryana) with the lowest ratio of 830 girls to 1000 males. (Syndicate Features)








We are a Parlimentary democracy and Assembly elections in five States are of crucial importance to read the current situation and future trends and as things stand the Left are on a poor wicket in West Bengal to the TMC, Congress alliance who should score a comfortable victory and in the 294 member house they could win 200 seats. The Kerala election is also very much in favor of the Congress and the UDF could win 80-85 seats against 45-50 seats for the LDF. I have little information on Assam and in a splintered vote the Congress may be ahead of both the AGP and the BJP. The major interest is in Tamil Nadu and the AIDMK, MDMK and other partners including the Left are ahead of the DMK and the Congress. The Assembly of 234 members could see the AIDMK with the MDMK winning 150-160 seats and the DMK contesting only 119 seats and weak in the South and Chennai and along with the Congress who contest 65 seats 70-80 seats. No single issue determines the poll verdict but in the rural area's availability of power and rising prices are critical issues.
The 'timing' of Anna Hazare hunger strike was well planned as it did not clash with the World Cup and happened a few days before the IPL and media attention was vital for the message to spread across the country. Anna Hazare and his team of activists Santosh Hegde, Prashant Bhushan, Arvind Kejriwal amongst others have impeccable credentials and mean well and few if any can argue with their cause as corruption and extortion along with black money, evasion of income tax have all increased with our record GDP growth over two decades and the issue has exploded in the public domain with the brazen misuse of power in the 2G Telecom scam followed by the CWG. The UPA2 did not take action and was in denial mode and Coalition pressures were at work. The controversy of the CAG report, the appointment of the CVC and the in house probe by former Justice Shivraj Patil did not help and the 'zero' revenue loss theory only fuelled the issue further in the public domain and clearly the actions taken by A Raja as Telecom Minister cannot be condoned and diverted into another direction and no surprise that besides the PAC and the JPC formed after great reluctance by the UPA, the Supreme Court monitors the 2G also the black money issue. The LOKPAL bill assumes importance after these incidents and the issue raised by Anna Hazare is very valid but what are the details of these proposals and what is the final picture that will emerge after the ten member team scrutinizes the whole issue? I wonder if this stage will ever come with all the preliminary objections being made and if both sides treat each other with suspicion and trade charges we will not get very far on the subject. Many of us speak with great authority on the 2G scam but 99% of the people whom I queried to explain to me the difference between 2G and 3G did not know the difference! Is the LOKPAL bill any different in terms of the contents being proposed in the drafts?
We need the LOKPAL for political accountability at the top but in the process we cannot dilute the importance of Parliament and the Supremacy of the rule of law as defined in the Constitution. We do not have a perfect government and I wonder if any such thing exists but we certainly do not want anarchy and we do not wish to destroy institutions in a frenzy of emotion. I don't believe this will happen as the Indian voter has punished and has also rewarded individuals and parties on their performance and what better example than the Emergency where PM Smt Indira Gandhi and the Congress were humbled and defeated in 1977 after the moral crusade led by Jai Prakash Narayan but three years later Smt Indira Gandhi stormed back to power with a stunning victory in 1980.The majority of the voters could not influence then and are not influenced now and Anna Hazare and his team should not claim to represent the entire Civil Society as they have not been elected but are merely exercising their Democratic rights to agitate for reform of the system to curb corrupt practices and they have received some public support for their cause. Anna Hazare and his group of activists should be happy with the actions initiated by the EC in Tamil Nadu where huge quantities of cash has been confiscated.
The PM attends the BRIC meet in China and 2011 is going to be a difficult year and this is visible as we witness events in the Middle East, the Nuclear situation in Japan which deteriorates by the day and the fragile global recovery. China is projected to grow at 9.6% with India in second position at 8.2% with Russia and Brazil at 4.5-5% and the USA at 2.8%. The figures represent the shift in global power equations and magnified over a decade the growth differential will reflect even more significantly and to me this indicates a series of new challenges and initiatives for the immediate future and life must move on in a positive manner. Time does not wait for anyone in particular and instead of talking of our favorable demographic pattern it is time to move ahead and hand over the power strings to a new generation who in my opinion are already approaching middle age and could well come into a senior citizen category within the next decade. Governance today is not a easy task and things have changed and the technology revolution compresses time and increases awareness and expectation at all levels and governments across the globe are running behind the clock and we are no exception to the rule.










Former Chief Election Commissioner J.M. Lyngdoh's observation that people are losing faith in the system merits serious attention by every conscientious citizen and the powers-that-be. In an interview with this newspaper, he minced no words in taking the government to task for helping the private sector. He flayed the all-pervading corruption and dubbed it as part of "capitalism going wild". Going a step further, he said that the corporate sector is dictating politics today and consequently, it has become "more dangerous than criminals and musclemen". What Mr Lyngdoh said is pertinent. Indeed, the N.N. Vohra Committee Report some years ago had pointed to the increasing criminalisation of politics. The politician-bureaucrat-contractor nexus has become so strong today that they steal state property, acquire, develop and sell land in illegal ways. Government officials having discretionary powers in awarding contracts engage in preferential treatment for selected bidders and short-circuit quality control processes. Many state-funded construction activities in India, such as road building, are dominated by construction mafias, which are groupings of corrupt public works officials, material suppliers, politicians and construction contractors.


One has to view Mr Lyngdoh's allusion to the corporate sector in the larger context of rampant corruption prevailing in the country. The series of scams such as the 2G Spectrum scandal, the Commonwealth Games, the Adarsh Housing scam all reinforce his concern over increasing corruption. The national campaign following Gandhian and social activist Anna Hazare's recent fast-unto-death for comprehensive Lokpal legislation with adequate teeth also proved that people are fed up with corruption and want exemplary punishment to those found guilty.


A major area that merits prompt attention is electoral reforms. If the corporate sector is able to influence the decision-making process today, it is because of its role in financing the political parties in elections. As in the US, India doesn't have a system to monitor campaign finance. Thus, any reform aimed at checking the role of money power should aim at reducing corporate funding in elections. The proposal for state funding in kind, that too, only to recognised political parties, is only a part of the solution. The other imperative is to raise the degree of voters' awareness so that they select suitable candidates in elections based on their individual merit and record of social service. The people's faith in the system can be restored only if enlightened representatives are elected to Parliament and state legislatures. Not surprisingly, Mr Lyngdoh's Foundation for Advanced Management in Elections (FAME) is trying to achieve that objective.









The pilots, airlines management and regulatory bodies like the Directorate General of Civil Aviation ( DGCA) are clearly at odds and each appears more determined than the other to find fault with others. The report that Indian Commercial Pilots' Association has written to the Air India management stating that its members would fly only snag-free aircraft, appears suspiciously to be a part of the on-going war of nerves between the pilots and the Air India management. No pilot would fly, at least knowingly, an aircraft that is not absolutely safe. But that is precisely why the immediate provocation for sending the communication deserves to be taken seriously. According to the claims made by the pilots, even when they fly aircraft which have been through major maintenance and safety checks, they often develop mechanical trouble and pilots are forced to return to the airports from which they took off. The instances cited by the ICPA do raise disturbing questions about the quality of maintenance and safety checks that are in place.


Even more serious are claims that pilots are penalised for raising these issues. The ICPA does seem to have a point when it says that it is unfair to single out pilots for flying under unsafe conditions or landing and taking off at airports which are deemed 'unsafe'. Those who give permission to pilots for taking off and landing are equally, if not more, culpable for defying safety standards. While Indian civil aviation observes its centenary this year, safety mechanisms need to be sorted out once and for all. The sector has of late witnessed a healthy growth and in the next few years the Indian skies are going to get busier than ever. Under these circumstances, it is imperative that all stakeholders agree on safety mechanisms in place and work together to maintain norms.


The issue unfortunately indicates a lack of trust and a breakdown of dialogue between the stakeholders. Or else pilots would not have threatened to stop flying to Kabul and Kathmandu on considerations of safety. While there could be more to the controversy than what meets the eyes, safety is an issue on which there should not be any compromise.










There is reportedly a Central move to amend the rules and help Punjab in upgrading and lining its canals. Central aid under the Accelerated Irrigation Benefits Programme is currently limited to states with less than 50 per cent irrigated area. Punjab's 98 per cent area under agriculture is irrigated. The Central aid will be welcome in a state that is perpetually in a financial crisis of its own making. Pursuing the politics of freebies the Akali and Congress governments have not levied user-charges for canal water, which is given either free or is highly subsidised. Two years ago Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal announced with fanfare a Rs 3,243 crore plan to repair canals, check water-logging and recharge groundwater. The plan, it seems, is still on paper as it is yet to make an impact.


The successive governments' neglect of canals has led to lower water supply through canals, wastage and floods. The water level in the rivers and canals passing through Punjab has receded over the years. This has forced farmers to dig up tubewells to cultivate paddy. The heavy dependence on groundwater has led to the lowering of the water table. As a result, farmers are forced to install expensive submersible pumps. This has raised their production costs and contributed to their indebtedness.


Last year's floods in Punjab exposed the state's dilapidated canal system. Lack of repairs and encroachments on canal and river beds aggravated the flood situation. On the one hand, the groundwater table is sinking by 24-25 cms annually, and on the other, rainwater goes waste due to poor water management. Frequent breaches in canal embankments cause extensive damage to crops. The maintenance of the canal system and rejuvenation of water resources is a continuous process, which has suffered due to lack of political will and funds. Now that the Centre is willing to open its purse for Punjab, the state leadership should lobby for change of rules and early release of funds to replenish the depleting water resources.









INDIA is likely to receive less foreign direct investment (FDI) in the next one year considering the recent developments around the world. There has already been a drop in FDI by 48 per cent to $1.04 billion in January 2011 as compared to January 2010 when India received $2.04 billion. This year there will be competition for FDI from Japan which is striving to get back to normal. It is the third most important industrialised country in the world which means that there will be severe economic repercussions of the earthquake that struck Japan on March 11 on the rest of the world. Reconstruction will require a huge expenditure and can only be undertaken with the help of foreign assistance and investment.


Japan may need alternative sources of power because of the problems with nuclear energy it is facing, and its increased demand for oil may lead to a further rise in international oil prices which have not stabilised as yet. Much will depend also on the emerging pattern of the Libyan crisis. India's oil-import dependent economy may suffer further inflationary pressure due to a big hike in the international oil price, making India a less attractive FDI destination.


Japan is also an important foreign investor for India and the investment flows are likely to slow down drastically. This will further aggravate the present scene where India's important investors are having problems of their own like in some of the European Union countries. India, however, will need FDI as it brings technology as well as foreign exchange and the benefits are many more than foreign institutional investment (FII) flows that go into bonds and equity. FDI is much more stable and it is not subject to volatility.


On the whole, India will have to give clear signals that it is going to open up FDI further. Many foreign investors have been waiting for news about the opening up of the multi-brand retail sector but a firm decision has not been taken about it because there are around 33 million small retailers in the country whose jobs may be at stake. Also, the opening up of the insurance sector allowing a higher percentage of foreign investment (from 26 per cent to 49 per cent) has been on hold for some time. These trends are likely to make many investors wary about India's policy towards FDI in the future.


To add to the existing negative perception of India as an FDI destination, a recent report by a UK-based firm Maplecroft, which has compiled a Global Risks atlas for 2011, has listed India as the 16th most riskiest country to invest in on account of security hazards. It is surprising that India has been clubbed with Niger, Bangladesh and Mali as far as investment risks are concerned.


The report takes into account seven key global risks, including macroeconomic risk and threats around security, governance, resources security, climate change, social resilience and the presence of illicit (black) economies. Even though India has a high growth rate, other considerations like threats from militant extremists and Maoists are counted as important. Also, now it is well recognised that though there are pockets of immense prosperity in India, there is extreme poverty which is always considered a security risk. The report also says that India lacks social resilience and has poor human rights record. It points out that a large section of the population lacks basic services like education, health care and sanitation. It also highlights India's less productive workforce and its greater susceptibility to pandemics and social unrest. The government ought to be worried about the perception of India as a high-risk country.


In the recent Economic Survey the government has indeed acknowledged in Chapter 2 that bureaucratic delays are behind India slipping in the World Bank's ranking of countries according to the government's efficiency of doing business.


The World Bank ranks India as 134th among all countries in terms of the government's efficiency of conducting business. Only if there are major changes in the way the Central and state governments deal with foreign investors, it will bring about a big difference. Within the country, however, there is much difference between how state governments perform and some states are more efficient and have attracted greater amounts of FDI than others. If the laggard states performed better, then according to the Economic Survey, India's rank could be 79th.


Undoubtedly, if India is to sustain a high growth rate, important in the eradication of extreme poverty, there will have to be more foreign investment in infrastructure and manufacturing which would lead to an increase in jobs. But obviously foreign investors would like to come to India for their own profits and will choose areas like mining that give high and quick returns but are environmentally unsustainable. How to make investments in areas that are important for us more attractive to foreigners will be a challenge for the government.


If India can overcome some of these well-acknowledged hurdles to FDI and with global investment flows back to normal in a few years' time, the future looks bright for India. According to a recent survey by Ernst & Young, India will be an attractive FDI destination in the future. Indeed foreign investment projects have increased by 60 per cent from 2003 and the number of jobs created has gone up by 30 per cent. In their interview of 500 global business leaders about the potential of the Indian market, a large majority believed that as early as 2020, India will become a global leader in education, R&D, innovation and as a producer of high value-added goods and services.


Also 70 per cent of the global businesses already present in India and which formed part of the survey indicated that they would expand their operations. This is because India will offer a huge market in the next 15 years and the middle class is set to treble in number during this period. India's young demographic profile is also going to be an advantage.


In terms of business activity, manufacturing can attract the most FDI projects and India is likely to emerge as a manufacturing export hub, especially in automotive. But to do so, recent trends in industrial production will have to be reversed. Manufacturing output, which accounts for 80 per cent of industrial production index, rose only by 3.5 per cent in February 2011, down from 16.1 per cent growth a year earlier.


To ensure that manufacturing remains an attractive foreign investment destination, India will have to rev up its education system with special focus on higher education, health and skill training programme for India's young population.









It was our last long day of hard work and my friends and I were in celebratory mode. Except we were in Kinnaur, a couple of hours away from the Chinese border, surrounded by craggy, poker-faced mountains with few signs of habitation, and difficult to locate accommodation. After a couple of wrong leads we decided to follow the twin headlights of an invisible vehicle winding its way up to somewhere, and were soon parked outside the large side gates of a forest guest house, the silhouette of which we could barely make out.


The scene could well have been out of an old Bollywood horror film; made realistic by the arrival of a bent old man. Hooked nose, jutting chin, crooked legs and a pronounced hunch; a lantern swinging from one hand would have completed the picture. Muttering to himself about inconsiderate late arrivals he led our silent figures into the premises. Following which, we were imperiously informed that dinner will be in the dining room and celebrations long forgotten, we wolfed down our food and hit the sack.


Morning changed everything. Birds, bright sunshine and insistent knocking welcomed us to wakefulness. The door opened to reveal a pink-sweater-ed, woolen-capped, dirty pajama-ed, single-toothed vision of indeterminate age holding out our bed-tea. Meet Gila Ram, our most endearing experience from that trip. Cleaner, housekeeper, gardener, watchman, cook all rolled into one constantly chuckling avuncular being. He had us quite alarmed initially at his threats of imposition of fines for reasons sans reason, but we soon learnt how hollow they were. He continued regardless.


He threatened to fine us when we decided to wash out our clothes that morning. Then he threatened to fine us for draining all the water in the tank, the only time we concurred he had a sound reason. He followed that up with one for burdening his clothesline. He threatened to fine us for not being back for his lunch. He threatened us on our return that evening for having had to remove, fold and put away our clothes (while leaving our delicates untouched to our amusement and growing wonder at this adorable creature fussing over us).


On our departure, he refused to charge us for a large chunk of his hospitality. Instead, despite protestations, he foisted us with more almonds, prunes and a large bottle of Nesang brandy as we made to leave. Our efforts to leave a generous tip were met with proud offence. Nobody pays me for visiting my home, he muttered, walking away; with a final threat thrown over his shoulder to fine us if we didn't return soon. They definitely broke the mould after that one. Long live Gila Ram.










The attacks started early in the morning as the residents of this besieged and battered city were starting their hours of queuing for bread. The missiles came in two salvos, around 80 of them crashing down. At the end, amid the smoke and flames, lay the dead and the dying.


Even by the grim standards of Misrata, the most violent battleground of this savage civil war, what happened yesterday was a cause of deep shock. The targets for Muammar Gaddafi's forces appeared to be of no military or strategic value: houses, a school, an empty cement plant, the street outside the baker's shop. At least 16 people died, and 29 were injured, almost all of them civilians — including a mother and her two young daughters.


Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, has highlighted Misrata as the prime example of the atrocities Colonel Gaddafi has inflicted on his own people. But yesterday, there were repeated questions on the streets about the absence of Nato warplanes.


The funerals took place late in the afternoon, at a children's playground which has become a makeshift cemetery. It was one of the few pieces of open ground in the area of Ghasr Ahmed, where most of the deaths occurred. The official graveyard for the district has been too dangerous in the last fortnight because of sniper fire. The service became an occasion for outpourings of anger and grief. Mourners wept, as others shouted "Misrata will be your graveyard, O Gaddafi" and "Misrata will stay true, Misrata will stay strong".


Before the outbreak of the conflict, Misrata had a population of 480,000. Many of those residents have since fled and those who stayed behind have become familiar with the sorrow brought by the fighting.


In the grounds of the hospital, seven bodies were laid out in a tent, three of them charred and the others with extensive shrapnel wounds. "We have similar tissue damage in the ones who survived," Dr Abdul-Baset Hussein said. "It is hard dealing with this kind of thing week after week, but it was particularly hard today seeing such terrible damage. The ones caught in the bread line, in the open, really did not have much of a chance. The few who were brought in from there could not be kept alive."


An Egyptian woman and her two daughters were at the bread shop when the explosions began. The mother dragged her girls to a garage to seek protection. But the next missile hit the entrance, starting a fire from which they could not escape.


Staying indoors did not save Mohammed Ben Arafa. The 85-year-old retired businessman was sitting in his home, having a cup of tea before going for prayers when the building's front section was obliterated. Rescue workers were hosing blood and remains from the walls as Mr Ben Arafa's two sons sat on the pavement crying. "We shall miss him so much," the younger boy, Amer, said. "We do not even have a body to bury, we could not recognise what was left of our father. This is not the memory we wanted of him."


Some of the injured had been taken to a clinic run by the Red Crescent organisation. Two patients, aged 17 and 23, lay in adjoining beds suffering from serious stomach and chest wounds. Dr Ibrahim Mahmoudi, who had returned from working at a Toronto hospital to help in the crisis, shook his head. "If this was Canada I would say these two would have a pretty good chance of survival," he said. "But we are really struggling with facilities here. Look, we have just got one ventilator in the whole ward. We are not really equipped to deal with things like infection. I am afraid we cannot give them more than 35 per cent chance of survival."


Among the crowd drifting away from the funeral were those who wondered how much longer Misrata would continue to bury its dead from this conflict. "We all genuinely thought that once Nato stepped in, we shall stop having these daily attacks," Tahir Ramadan said. "Are we supposed to believe that Nato could not see what was going on? Why didn't they do something?"


His companion, Yusuf Farousi, a retired university teacher, stopped him. "Have you forgotten that Gaddafi came to school here in Misrata?" Mr Farousi asked. "We have played a part in creating him. Let us not blame foreigners for the misfortunes of our country. We Libyans have become good at inflicting tragedies on our own country."


Libyan state television yesterday broadcast footage of Muammar Gaddafi racing around Tripoli in an open-top vehicle, pictured above, and said he went on the outing while the capital was being bombed by Nato.


Wearing a green safari hat, dark glasses and a black jacket, Colonel Gaddafi pumped his fists in the air and waved as pedestrians chased his convoy of SUVs through the streets.


A screen caption said the trip had taken place earlier yesterday, while Tripoli was under an air attack by Nato forces.


Nato carried out air strikes on the city, the state-run Al-Libya TV reported, while reporters said they heard four blasts and saw plumes of smoke rising from the south-east of the city. — The Independent








Muammar Gaddafi's daughter said the West's demand that her father leave power was an "insult" to all Libyans in a defiant appearance before a crowd of his chanting supporters in Tripoli early on Friday. "In 1911 Italy killed my grandfather in an air strike and now they are trying to kill my father. God damn their hands," Aisha Gaddafi told the flag-waving crowd who had gathered at her father's Bab Al-Aziziyah compound in the capital. The event, broadcast live on state television, marked the 25th anniversary of American strikes on the huge complex, which includes military barracks.


Then U.S. President Ronald Reagan said the 1986 attack was in retaliation for what he called Libyan complicity in the bombing of a Berlin night club.


Gaddafi, wearing a green headscarf and black leather jacket, said she had been five years old at the time. "They rained down on us their missiles and bombs, they tried to kill me and they killed dozens of children in Libya," she said, her speech several times interrupted by the cheering crowd.


"Now a quarter of a century later the same missiles and bombs are raining down on the heads of my and your children." Hours earlier, state television said NATO warplanes launched air strikes on Tripoli on Thursday.


At a meeting in Doha on Wednesday, a group of Western powers and Middle Eastern states called for the first time for Gaddafi to step aside.


"Talk about Gaddafi stepping down is an insult to all Libyans because Gaddafi is not in Libya, but in the hearts of all Libyans," his daughter said.


Addressing the Western powers who are carrying out air strikes under a U.N. resolution to protect civilians against her father's forces, she said:


"Who are the civilians you are protecting? Are they the people who have automatic weapons and hand grenades? Are they the innocent civilians you are trying to protect? Leave our skies, take away your aircraft and missiles." A rebel supporter in the western city of Misrata, which is besieged by government troops and scene of daily clashes, dismissed her speech as a sign of despair. "Gaddafi ruled Libya with an iron fist for 41 years and killed anyone who tried to oppose him," Marwan, 22, said. "What she said is a sign of the despair of the Gaddafi family and his inner circle. They know their days are numbered," he told Reuters by phone from the coastal city. — Reuters










The Chinese economy has been a remarkable juggernaut for the past thirty years. National income in real terms (i.e. net of inflation) has grown at nearly 9 per cent during this period, which means that it has increased 13 times since 1980. During this period population has hardly grown, thanks to the one-child policy which is enforced strictly. This would imply that per capita income has risen hugely in just one generation.

But most Chinese citizens, while much better off, are not immensely richer. In fact workers' real wages have hardly risen at all, until recently. Most of this amazing rise in national income went to government or corporations, who in turn invested in new projects, factories, roads, highways, airports and other infrastructure.


China consistently maintained a national investment ratio of about 50 per cent of national income. This process ensured that China could generate more than 100 million new industrial jobs in a short span of two decades. This labour basically migrated from inland and rural areas, into industrial and urban clusters. It was as if the country had an unlimited supply of zero-cost labour.


Since wages were kept low and fixed, it was hugely attractive for foreign investors, wishing to relocate from high to low cost destinations. China has been extremely friendly to foreign direct investment, and pioneered the concept of special economic zones. Its focus on employment creation led to a mushrooming of labourintensive manufacturing boom, leading it to soon dominate in sectors like textiles, footwear, toys and electronics assembly.


In recent times it has invested heavily in higher education and research, making a bid to challenge the supremacy of the West in science and technology as well. Its economic development was achieved by low cost labour-intensive manufacturing which catered mainly to Western markets. Almost everything you buy in London or New York seems to be partly or wholly made in China!


So China became the world's manufacturing hub, and earned dollops of foreign exchange by exports as well as inward foreign investments. This double deluge of inward dollars was not allowed to swamp its domestic economy, and the government and its central bank simply mopped it all away and kept it in its national chest. That chest of foreign exchange has now cumulatively grown to 3 trillion dollars. That's an amount which can finance the next three five-year plans of India! That dollar mountain is mostly invested back in America. The US has been running a deficit both in its government accounts (fiscal deficit) and in trade accounts (imports exceeding exports).


These two deficits mean that America has to continuously borrow dollars, both from its own citizens and from abroad. The Chinese have been willing lenders, since they need to use their 3-trillion-dollar mountain. But in America they earn only 2 or 3 per cent return, and that too is eroded since the dollar is declining. The Chinese also spend their foreign exchange lavishly in buying mines and forests in Africa. This week they hosted the BRICS conference, and their President rubbed shoulders with our PM. What they and us seem to be missing, is a huge opportunity to deploy their dollars in building our infrastructure.

Why not do a yuan-rupee swap, and agree to take their currency on a 30-year loan, payable with guaranteed interest of 8 per cent per annum in our currency, to build our cities, roads and ports? Our badly needed infrastructure will get built, and the Chinese will get a better return, and it will reduce their excessive dependence on the dollar. Even 1 per cent of their stock will go a long way here. Will the two Asian giants see eye to eye on this?


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It was announced last week that there would be a new director on the board of Kingfisher Airlines; a nominee of the 13 banks that have lent vast sums to the troubled airline will join the existing eight directors — comprising three people from the promoter group/management and five others (a former chairman of Sebi, a former finance secretary, the head of a leading advertising agency, a former CEO who is also a chartered accountant, and Vijay Amritraj). Unless you are the very credulous kind, you are unlikely to believe that a solitary nominee of a lending consortium would make much of a difference to the functioning of an eight-member board that has allowed the company to run up debt of more than Rs 7,500 crore, to earn annual revenue of Rs 6,000 crore or thereabouts — with interest and financial charges equal to a quarter of revenue, and hence substantial losses every year. It is no wonder that the market value of the airline is all of Rs 2,200 crore.

The issue is not how Kingfisher is run (it may be in a financial mess, but at least it has won several awards for the quality of its service). The issue is how banks are run. Because what the banks (including the redoubtable ICICI and the leader of the consortium, State Bank of India) did, at the start of this month, was to convert a small part of their loans into equity capital — giving them a 23 per cent stake in the airline. It has already been reported that this conversion of loans into shares was done at a share price that was about 60 per cent higher than the prevailing market price. The justification has been that loans from group companies have been converted at the same price — but if news reports are anything to go by, the group loans were unsecured while the banks had secured company assets. So the two categories of loans were not on the same footing.


It is equally curious that the banks have settled for a little over 23 per cent of the company stock. Converting a slightly larger chunk of loans would have got the banks 26 per cent of the equity — and the right to block special resolutions. Converting a still bigger chunk (for about 30 per cent of the equity) would have reduced the Mallya group holding to less than majority, and thereby transferred some clout from the promoter group to the board of directors. And with 30 per cent of the stock, the banks could have asked for not one but three board seats, out of nine. Along with the independent directors (the ex-finance secretary and ex-Sebi chairman, say), the majority on the board could have demanded proper correctives from the airline management.

Considering that the banks are still owed about Rs 6,000 crore by the airline, which plans to issue more capital and/or take on more debt, it does require explanation as to why the banks have secured for themselves neither minority rights as significant shareholders nor proper board representation. This self-abnegation probably mirrors the failure to exercise rights that the banks would (should) have negotiated for themselves when giving the loans in the first place. The larger point is that the lenders now have the same level of effective risk as the shareholders — they are not going to get their money back until the airline makes a good profit. So why not convert all loans into equity, and then get the benefit of the upside (through share price appreciation) if the airline does indeed turn around? Would the banks care to explain?








Recently, there has been much lamentation about the US Fed's policy of quantitative easing (QE), which has led to a decline in the dollar and sparked fears of global inflation. China has been vociferous in condemning QE2 since it rightly fears that this might be the first sign of its largest debtor taking the time-honoured route towards the euthanasia of its rentier. It has argued unsuccessfully for an alternative reserve currency to replace the dollar, and has even talked of the renminbi becoming a key currency. The International Monetary Fund is reconsidering its opposition to capital controls to deal with "hot money". Brazil, which recently adopted capital controls to slow these down, has given up owing to their ostensible failure, and has now joined the chorus of voices condemning China for running large current account surpluses and not appreciating the renminbi sufficiently to reduce them. The continuing "global imbalances" are perceived to be on the way to generating another global financial crisis.


 In India, concerns are being raised about its seemingly large current account deficits, and official reluctance remains to end capital controls, making the rupee fully convertible. Meanwhile, the eurozone, with its fixed exchange rate, is imploding even as the contradictions of a monetary union without fiscal and political union become clear. How should one make sense of all these contradictory themes in the current global macro policy environment?

To think clearly on these issues, some elementary economic concepts need to be kept in mind. First, the current account deficit is by definition the difference between a country's savings and investments, matched as a matter of accounting by equivalent net inflows or outflows on the capital account of the balance of payments. Current account deficit worries are, therefore, about the size of the capital inflows, which, ceteris paribus, will supplement domestic investment and raise it above what could be financed by domestic savings. This should raise growth rates, if the investment is productively employed. It clearly was not the case in the US, where the inflows primarily went to finance the politically-determined entitlements in the sub-prime housing market to Ninjas (borrowers with no income, no job and no assets). But, in India, which has vast infrastructure investment needs, capital inflows would be productive and the size of the corresponding current account deficit should not be a matter of concern to policy makers.

Second, it follows that the purported "global imbalances" are also not of any public policy concern. They may concern Chinese citizens since the build-up of reserves based on China's current account surpluses represents the state's chosen deployment of a large part of Chinese savings. This has meant that since China adopted its state-led capitalist model after the Tiananmen incident, growth of per capita personal income accruing to households between 1989 and 2002 was only 5.4 per cent per annum, while per capita GDP growth was 8.1 per cent per annum. The difference was appropriated by the state through its continuing financial repression (Rethinking the Beijing Consensus, Asia Policy 11, Y Huang).

Third, a free floating exchange rate remains the ideal means of balancing the changing trade and capital flows in an integrated world economy. India's adoption of a flexible managed float allowed the "sudden stop" of foreign portfolio investment in the global financial crisis to be smoothly accommodated by the flexible exchange rate.

Fourth, linked to this is the fact that fixing the nominal exchange rate cannot fix the real exchange rate (the relative price of non-traded to traded goods), which is relevant for resource allocation and the price level. Fixing the nominal exchange rate leads with a capital inflow to an unavoidable rise in the real exchange rate, occurring entirely through a rise in the price of non-traded goods and the price level. The nominal appreciation of the rupee has, thus, dampened any inflationary pressures from any required real appreciation.

Fifth, an appreciation of the exchange rate with capital inflows will necessarily lead to a relative increase in the price of non-traded goods, and thence to their relative profitability. This implies a boost to infrastructure, which is wholly desirable for India. The worry that this damages tradeables is misplaced. This is particularly because the distortions in the labour market, such as switching of expenditure to infrastructure and non-traded services, would benefit unorganised sector labour.

Sixth, the ideal free floating exchange rate regime (which, like the fixed exchange regime, is non-discretionary) requires full currency convertibility without any capital controls. A managed float with capital controls is less efficient, since it requires the authorities to take a view on the "correct" exchange rate when confronted with constant shocks to the macro economy. When in India there are not even index-linked bonds to judge changing inflation expectations, for instance, the requisite information to bureaucratically manage a flexible rate efficiently is unavailable.

Finally, a free floating exchange rate allows domestic monetary policy some independence in an integrated world economy. Ideally, this should be based on an inflation target implemented by an independent central bank, following some equivalent of the "Taylor rule".

Given these simple precepts, should the world complain about US' QE2? It is arguable if this is in the US' interest, at a time when politics continues to dictate a loose fiscal policy. But with continuing low inflation expectations it may be justified. However, there is no reason for the rest of the world to complain. With a free floating exchange rate and an independent monetary policy, the import of US-generated inflation could be tamed by tightening money and allowing currency appreciation, as Australia has successfully done during the mineral boom and the yen-Australian dollar carry trade.

Nor are Chinese hopes that the renminbi can replace the dollar as the world's reserve currency likely to be fulfilled. Unlike the US, China is a financially repressed economy where the "rule of law" does not rule. In the grave uncertain times of the global financial crisis, the US provided a safe haven, with investors flocking to buy US bonds, not to China. Moreover, for a convertible currency China would have to end capital controls and financial repression. If India ends capital controls, opens up its capital market and promotes Mumbai or the National Capital Region as a financial centre, while maintaining sound monetary and fiscal policies, it has a much better chance of making the rupee a reserve currency.







The paradox of Anna Hazare's anti-corruption campaign is that, for the tremendous across-the-board support it has evoked, it has also provoked widespread debate and vociferous disagreement. In his crusade to unify a broad spectrum of public opinion are sown the first seeds of disunity. For who, among the thinking majority, doesn't wish a vigorous clean-up of the body politic? But why is Anna Hazare dramatically dividing opinion?

Because he comes across as sanctimonious, intolerant and undiscriminating. Apparently Gandhian in mould, and saintly in his achievements and aspirations, there is a holier-than-thou streak to his personality. Only he knows what is right, he won't easily brook dissent and he is open to favouritism. He is both chief nominee and nominator to the membership of the joint Lokpal panel. He grudgingly backs some chief ministers (Narendra Modi, Nitish Kumar) but says he will "call them 100 per cent good only when they accept the Lokpal system". And he is given to making sweeping, thoughtless generalisations: Indian voters, he says, are as easily corruptible as elected representatives, their votes won by blandishments of cash, liquor and clothes.


Many Indians may be blameless in finding such ideas wrong, insulting and even offensive. Others may think that here is a saint-in-the-making, so eager to be canonised, that he is being subtly manipulated.

To take just two examples in the Indian tradition of leader-activists, Hazare has none of Gandhi's psychological shrewdness and puckish humour to defuse tensions, nor Jayaprakash Narayan's ideological beliefs and grass roots appeal. Were it so, there would be thousands flocking to replicate some of the commendable reforms that he has wrought over 35 years in Ralegan Siddhi and other villages throughout the country. His version of a satyagraha or "total revolution" is still awaited. A few hundred mombatti-wallahs at India Gate, or a few thousand emails, texts and Facebook messages, do not make a national movement. The media loves a circus but many left Jantar Mantar wondering if his is a grass roots or dew drops movement.

Hazare is certainly the right man at the right moment to capture the public disillusionment with corrupt governance. His problem is that he has overnight become all things to all people. Thanks to a four-day fast in the capital's political heartland, with the media machine going full blast as in the movie Peepli [Live], he has brought a government, caught on the back foot at election time, quickly to its knees over the composition of the Lokpal panel and Parliament Bill. In the process, his bandwagon has lured political opportunists, activist-operators, god men of impious provenance and celebrities longing for 15 seconds of fame. Like many heroic figures consumed by the fervour of their zeal, he is a crashing failure in separating the wheat from the chaff.

On paper at least, his draft of the Lokpal Bill, with its incredible authority and autonomy, state-wide scaffolding and punishing deadlines, appears wondrous. Everyone with an iota of authority, from the Prime Minister and his Cabinet down to the traffic constable, will be held accountable; we will get our ration cards and passports without hindrance or bribes; MPs, MLAs and panchayat heads will be "recalled" if caught or complained about.

Beware, the labyrinth of babudom! Beware, secretaries to government (who sign dodgy files leading to hundreds of crores of rupees of losses to taxpayers) or millions of safai karamcharis (who refuse to clear mountains of garbage leading to squalor and disease)! "Off with their heads," as the Queen of Hearts declared in Alice in Wonderland.

No right-thinking person can deny that the Lokpal and Lokayukta system is a good idea and should be taken forward. It is the ambition, machinery and implementation of the scheme that will take time and be painful in a functioning democracy. As for 71-year-old Baburao Hazare, as a good Gandhian, he might wish a contemplative retreat to his spartan quarters in Ralegan Siddhi. Or why not take occasional vows of silence that Gandhi practised, all the while passing witty chits to interlocuters?






Two events in the past fortnight stand out: India winning the cricket World Cup on April 2 in Mumbai and activist Anna Hazare bowling a non-violent Gandhian googly, which resulted in the Manmohan Singh government being caught on the wrong foot.

Who would have imagined on August 15, 1947 – the day India was declared independent – that so English a game as cricket would become such an enduring and widespread sports phenomenon? It is a wholly unexpected "raj legacy". Gone is cricket racialism, which was so rampant till a few decades ago. Imagine a South African coaching the Indian cricket team and being carried on shoulders by them — it was inconceivable even two decades ago.


 I do not see cricket fatigue taking over in the near future. People are more familiar with the names of Dhoni, Tendulkar, Sehwag and Zaheer Khan than they are with any member of the Manmohan Singh government. Purists probably feel uncomfortable with these icons becoming millionaires, or being elevated to the Bollywood stars' league. I see nothing reprehensible in the super-star status being conferred on them. Film stars shoot one scene a dozen times. This is not the case with our cricket stars – no room for "cut" and "shoot" again. They perform before 50,000 to 100,000 spectators. Imagine the tension that must grip these immensely talented young men — success is never insured; defeat is always lurking around the wicket. Talent, nerves, hours of practice and luck go into the making of great cricketers. If even one of these is missing then it's all over. Sehwag can score 309 runs in one Test match and get out without scoring anything in the other. Glory and agony go together.

I watched the finals of the 1983 World Cup at Lord's. No one expected India to win after such a poor total score — 183. But our cricketers did beat the unbeatable West Indians. On the flight back to Delhi I had the "pleasure" of Kapil Dev's company. I have put the word pleasure in inverted commas. Why? Because we did not exchange words. Dev was the last to arrive on the plane. Even before the plane took off, he was fast asleep and remained in that blissful state for the next nine hours.

Moving on to Anna Hazare, will his mini-Gandhian upsurge become a victim of the law of diminishing returns? It can, if not handled properly. It has not been hijacked so far. And the reason is simple. Anna Hazare, the most unlikely of heroes, cannot be hijacked. He caught the imagination of the youth of urban India. Had his fast lasted longer, the message – which was to fight corruption – would have spread far beyond the city dwellers. Hazare's timing was brilliant. The electronic media, one channel in particular, saw the movement's potential very early. The others followed suit. The UPA government dithered, created confusion, contradicted itself and seemed inept because its approach lacked coherence. It was Anna Hazare who was calling the shots throughout. A note of caution: Annaji speak less. And the unspoken word is your slave; the spoken one is your master.

The Lokpal story has now become real. The committee of ten has its task cut out. Its deliberations will be closely monitored and widely watched. Many questions will be raised. Should civil servants come under the Bill? If they do, will they give their opinions freely or become overcautious? Should corporate India be included? And what about NGOs? What will Parliament do with the findings and recommendations of the committee? The grey areas are numerous. Will it be empiricism or pragmatism? Will the committee come up with unanimous conclusions or produce two separate reports? These are devilishly complex issues. And there are no instant solutions here.

Now let's talk about BRICS – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. It is a formidable grouping. These countries have two things in common: enough money and muscle. No country or group of countries can push BRICS around. And that's an undeniable reality. The national agenda of each country is inevitably different. Their vital national interests are not similar. But vital interests, too, undergo changes. It's far too early to pass judgement on the future of BRICS. Let's wait and watch.

On April 12, 1961 Yuri Gagarin created history in space. Nikita Khrushchev, General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, gave a reception at the Kremlin to honour the cosmonaut. At the end of the reception, Khrushchev took Gagarin aside and asked him, "Yuri, did you see God up there? Tell me the truth." Yuri nervously replied, "Comrade General Secretary, I did not." Khrushchev heaved a sigh of relief and said, "I thought so. But don't say this to the Pope when you see him next week." When later the Pope asked the same question, Gagarin replied, "Holy Father, I did not." The Pope, too, heaved a sigh of relief and said, "I thought so."






Turning and turning in the widening gyre. The falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.

– W B Yeats: The Second Coming

All travel memoirs are never anything except a philosophy expressed in images. Like a good novel which is a hybrid form– part story, part fantasy – a travelogue is also social history that has disappeared into the images. Jamil Ahmad's The Wandering Falcon (Hamish Hamilton/Penguin, Rs 399) set in Pakistan's turbulent Af-Pak northwest is a description of life on the very margins of existence, where ancient honour-bound cultures rule the roost and one day's massacre simply merges into the next's. More than any other academic work, past or contemporary, this travelogue tells you why the region has never been subdued by outsiders in history; why tribal cultures and loyalties defy central control either from Kabul, Kandahar, Herat or from Pakistan's border districts in Peshawar or Quetta; and above all, why the conventional concepts of law and order simply do not apply.


As a member of Pakistan's elite Civil Service, Ahmad is eminently qualified to write on this region since he served in the Frontier Province and in Balochistan. He was the Political Agent in Quetta, Khyber and Malakand, posted in Pakistan's embassy in Kabul and ended his bureaucratic career as Chief Secretary, Balochistan.

Jamil's observations are based not merely on a profound knowledge of the region but on hands-on experience. The story he tells here is spun out through the eyes of a young boy who sees the world around him with a freshness (and innocence) unlike scholars who put their own take on the scene: "It is true I am neither a Mahsud nor a Wazir (the two tribes in warring Waziristan). But I can tell you a little about who I am as I can about who I shall be. Think about Tor Baz as your hunting falcon. That should be enough."

Tribal societies anywhere are a world of contradictions: custom and cruelty, hardship and survival, a fragile and unforgiving world goes hand-in-hand with understanding and compassion. In the eyes of the young Tor Baz this is all part of life — you accept it and carry on, as best as you can. In any case, the price of protest is not just ostracism but it could be life itself.

The book consists of nine chapters which deal with a different facet of violence, physical, emotional, sexual or plain sadism. The chapter headings give it all away: The Sins of the Mother; A Point of Honour; The Death of Camels; The Mullah; A Kidnapping; The Guide; A Pound of Opium; The Betrothal of Shah Zarina and Sale Completed. An outsider reading these accounts would want to know what the root causes of this endemic violence are: Is it land, or water, (a scarce commodity in this barren waste), or simply a code of honour that is handed down from one generation to another? There is no pat answer; each chapter has a different story which could be many factors brought together or a simply long-lost vendetta come to pass. Many would conclude that it is the harshness of the terrain that Ahmad describes so tellingly that it turns the heart into stone.

For instance: "Upper Chitral is a land of stone. Wherever you look, the landscape is full of stone. There is a variety of forms, of colour and weathering, but there is nothing but stone. In size, they range from small grains of sand to giants as tall as two-storied buildings. Stones in one way or another occupy the thoughts of men in this area and Sher Beg's thoughts too were flitting from one mountain top to another. There lay the mountain in whose shadow he had been born, lived most of his life, married, begotten children. He would also die here. All around him were the crags where he gazed his animals, and peaks, he had climbed in his early days." Much of the attraction of the book lies in the way language moves to describe the harsh landscape where Ahmad spent his professional life.

Here's the gist of some of the stories. "The Kidnapping" tells the story of a missing boy in the village. The rumour that set off a short fuse among the warring tribes was that the boy had been abducted to be sodomised and the response to this was to either respond in kind or take up arms against the alleged kidnappers. In tribal societies, sodomy is fairly widespread and widely accepted as a justifiable form of revenge.

In "The Death of Camels" the search for water in the parched lands becomes the excuse for inter-tribal rivalry: one tribe demands water for its thirsty camels, the other denies. A woman who defies the ban by carrying a Koran she believed would protect her is mowed down, along with her camels. In the fierce tribal rivalries, no quarter is given, no quarter asked.

Ahmad's message is simple: this is a wild country where neither the falcon nor the falconer knows the other and where primordial passions will always decide what's right or wrong.







The question everyone is asking is: will Tarun Gogoi become the chief minister of Assam for the third consecutive time?


In 2001, when the Congress came to power in Assam and Tarun Gogoi took charge as chief minister of Assam, it was hard not feel a rush of sympathy for him. The outgoing Asom Gana Parishad government had left the state's finances in a mess. Neighbouring militant groups were claiming that Assam was actually part of Greater Nagaland. And incessant migration from Bangladesh had prompted then Governor Lt General S K Sinha to warn President K R Narayanan in a report that 57 of Assam's 126 Assembly constituencies had shown more than a 20 per cent increase in the number of voters between 1994 and 1997 whereas the all-India average was just 7.4 per cent; and that the Muslim population in Assam had shown a rise of 77.42 per cent over what it had been in 1971 (there was no census in Assam in 1981).

The first set of moves Gogoi made was towards straightening out the law and order situation. Then he turned to finances, which he handled with some efficiency. This prompted Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee to comment recently during the election campaign: "Tarun, I borrow money at six per cent interest and give it to you. And you earn three per cent interest on that." When Gogoi first took over in 2001, Assam saw a flight of capital. The treasury was empty and in the red to the tune of Rs 500 crore. A loan of Rs 2,000 crore had to be serviced. Now, there is corruption. But the objective condition of state finances has improved considerably.

Assam has 126 seats in the Assembly. Along with Tarun Gogoi, 53 seats and 29 per cent of the vote share, the Congress-I was able to form a government with the help of independents (they numbered as many as 22 and had 15 per cent of the vote share) in 2006. And Tarun Gogoi became chief minister for the second term.

No matter how efficient a chief minister is, the anti-incumbency factor does make a difference. People get tired of seeing the same old faces and they get annoyed with serial cases of corruption, especially when they see no hope of any improvement. Perhaps it was this intuitive understanding that led Gogoi to say recently that while he was confident his party would get a majority again, he was open to a tie-up with any party including the Assam United Democratic Front (AUDF).

Those who know the rise and base of the Congress in Assam understand what it must have cost Gogoi to say this. Traditionally, the Ali (Muslim migrants, mainly from Bangladesh), the Coolie (labourers in the tea estates of Assam) and the Bangali (Hindu migrants from Bangladesh and West Bengal) have been the mainstay of the Congress in Assam.

But with the decline of tea estates, the labourers' block votes got divided along ethnic and religious lines. The flow of Bangalis into the state turned into a trickle and AUDF was formed.

Founded by perfume baron Badruddin Ajmal, AUDF makes no apologies for being a party that represents Muslim interests — and the party's presence has only grown. In the last Lok Sabha elections, AUDF contested nine Lok Sabha seats. It won two. It has now decided to contest in 86 Vidhan Sabha seats and is likely to get around 25.

It is clear that as in the past, this time too, AUDF will eat into the Congress's Muslim-base , especially in the western and central districts. If, as it is being speculated, the Congress's tally goes below 45, it will need help in forming a government. It is this situation that Gogoi was referring to when he held out an olive branch to Ajmal.

But things have changed in Assam. When the UPA won the general elections for the second time, AUDF offered unconditional support to it. This was accepted with gratitude. The Congress leadership had in the past tried to counsel Gogoi to take Ajmal's hand of friendship. But Gogoi had predicted – to use another cliché – that this would be the kiss of death for the Congress as it would soon be reduced to a minority in Muslim areas where it could not hope to compete with Ajmal's community appeal.

Ajmal bided his time, staying in touch with Congress leaders including Ahmed Patel and Ghulam Nabi Azad. In parallel, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) tried desperately to strike a deal with the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) but failed. So now Ajmal has two sets of political forces wooing him — the Congress and assorted independents; and the AGP, which doesn't care much for his politics but knows it may have to do a deal with him if it wants to come to power. The Bodos, another minority ethnic group, are relatively flexible about their politics. They are likely to get 10 seats in the forthcoming elections.

So which coalition will it be — an AUDF-AGP one or an AUDF-Congress one? It's hard to tell. Gogoi's ego will not permit him to be a junior partner of AUDF. And yet, if AUDF negotiates hard, it could be in a position of holding a trump card against its partner — either the AGP or the Congress.





The working group on operating procedure of monetary policy – appointed by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) – has done a timely and professional job in its report. Its findings are supported by empirical evidence and provide the rationale for recommendations it made in relation to the liquidity adjustment facility (LAF). However, a few caveats are in order.

First, the working group refers to the policy rates of different central banks. The proposal is that following them, India too should have a single policy rate and other official rates should be linked to it. The fact is that there is a hierarchy of policy or official rates. The cut-off or implicit yields in the auctions of treasury bills and dated securities are as much indicative of the policy stance of the central bank as the repo rate recommended by the working group. These rates cannot in any way be linked to the repo rate because they depend on the demand and supply factors in the market. As a governor of the Bank of England once said, the central bank is as much guided by the market in rate setting as it is the other way round.


 The single policy rate obtains in the UK and Japan and it is the lending rate. The three key interest rates of European Central Bank (ECB) are: (1) the interest rate on the main refinancing operations (MROs), which normally provide the bulk of liquidity to the banking system. The Eurosystem may execute its tenders in the form of a fixed rate or variable rate tenders; (2) the rate on the deposit facility, which banks may use to make overnight deposits with the Eurosystem; and (3) the rate on the marginal lending facility, which offers overnight credit to banks from the Eurosystem.(See As far as the US Federal Reserve is concerned, its Discount Rate is as much a policy rate as the targeted Federal Funds Rate (FFR). In the normal course of things, purchases or sales of securities by the Federal Reserve, whether outright or temporary, are its principal tool for influencing the supply of balances at the Federal Reserve Banks and FFR. It is not clear whether the working group expects RBI to intervene in the market through open-market operations on a daily basis, as in the US, to influence the market rates.

The linking of a comfortable level of deficit or surplus as a proportion to the total Net Demand and Time Liabilities (NDTL) of banks, based on the results of the econometric exercises presented in Technical Appendix II, raises the question on its relevance to the estimated growth of the gross domestic product (GDP). Since the central bank has a multiple-indicator approach, it should take an overall view of conditions in the economy in relation to the expected GDP growth rate (nominal as well as real) and decide on the deficit or surplus that it can live with. A mechanical linking of the amount to NDTL can be misleading, especially when there are technical or autonomous factors, like currency in circulation and government balances with RBI that are beyond the central bank's control. The reverse repo rate needs to be determined keeping in view, inter alia, the problem of carry trade and not the repo rate alone. The proper course is to intervene in the market to bring its rate within the desired corridor, irrespective of the size of the deficit or surplus.

The working group's preference for the deficit mode in liquidity is influenced by its finding that monetary policy is more effective when the market is in surplus. Monetary policy is a means to an end. The objective is to promote growth with price stability. If the surplus mode does not pose a threat to price stability, then so be it. It keeps the rates lower than otherwise. One should normally expect a deficit situation in a growing country devoted to price stability unless there is money creation to finance fiscal deficits or there is a foreign inflow of funds that are not sterilised. The cash reserve ratio (CRR) is still very much in the armoury of many central banks, developed or developing. China has been using it to the hilt as RBI did in the past. Although I have argued elsewhere that it is not financial repression, as claimed by Western economists, the central bank may revisit the idea of paying interest on the reserves of commercial banks. In fact, both the Fed and European Central Bank pay interest not only on the required reserves but also on excess reserves — consider it yet another instrument for monetary policy! The cash reserve ratio should be the ultimate brahmastra for RBI to deal with liquidity problems, although in Hindu mythology it could be used only once.

The author is an economic consultant and was a former officer-in-charge in the department of economic analysis and policy at the Reserve Bank of India






Future income projections will show what we already know based on data of the last five and ten years: that between now and 2015, if there is no dramatic change in policy, past patterns of income growth will perpetuate and the top (richest) 20 per cent of Consumer India will increase its income at a much faster rate than the rest of India and get even more unequally rich. We also know from past data that this group has a healthy income surplus, so, despite inflation, it will continue to increase its surplus. That's why we haven't seen any demand-led slowdown in expensive durables including cars, the stock market, in high-end smartphones and so on. That is why business class seats are not going a-begging despite ridiculous spot fares, because the opportunity cost of the buyers' time to earn more is greater.

Housing is never a good indicator of how consumers are feeling because prices are often driven by how builders are feeling, and it is noteworthy that people are not quick to sell their property despite falling prices in some cities, so staying power is still strong. This group comprises around 50 million families or close to 250 million people and is significantly bigger than most other countries. Forget the per capita income of this group relative to other countries — that is an old consultant argument to keep multinationals feeling good about the price points at which they operate. The fact is that this group will have well over 50 per cent of the not inconsiderable income of all Indian households, and a much larger share of the income surpluses. Sure, current consumption takes place right down the income spectrum, and income and consumption growths will happen to varying degrees in all of Consumer India, and are not to be ignored. But the richest 20 per cent of Indian households will be the most potent driver of consumption of the near future. It isn't all urban — it includes the well-connected (via roads and cars) rural dweller with an urban mindset as well.


Kishore Biyani has been saying for a while now that Consumer India watchers are too obsessed with income economics and are not seeing the full consumption story because they are missing out on social insights. Applying his India 1-2-3 construct, where India 2 comprises the people that constitute the service economy that serves India 1's rich folks, what does the consumption story look like? First, that there is a large group, maybe three times that of India 1, whose incomes grow at the same pace as or even faster than its employers/customers, India 1. Second, they are far more sophisticated than their income levels would warrant, because of the connection. Just think about the number of people that "service" an average upper-class household.

I recently wrote an article for women on how to manage household help and the responses that poured in from India 1, especially younger householders, were very telling. There was a lot of comment on "back up" strategies because every service provider in the house needs to be backed up because women in this segment were very active outside the home, whether in a self-income generating role or as an "earning increase facilitator" for the man of the house. A young woman moaned that she had so many people working for her three-member family that she was contemplating hiring someone just to open the door for them in the mornings. That will not be hard to find. India 2 grabs earning opportunities; any of the helpers would happily send their ten- year-old child to do this before the late morning school-shift.

In addition to these "in-house" services, there are out-house services too. Home delivery people for everything under the sun, masseurs, curtain makers , fitness trainers at the gym and multiplex workers, among others. Economists would say it is the usual, expected trickle down multiplier, so what's new? It is learning about it this way that helps companies targeting Consumer India to go from a global and generic understanding to exploit consumer markets better.

India 2 also is growing sophisticated very fast, has very steep learning curves and finds opportunities for selling value-added services very quickly — far more so than large companies do, actually. This column has written about mehndi walis at weddings who have noticed the increase in foreigners coming to upper-class Indian weddings thanks to foreign educated children, and extended their service line to include "sari draping" and "tattoos" in addition to traditional offerings. My istri wala who comes home to iron clothes, has figured that summer means lightly-starched cotton saris for me, sent to the laundry for "roll press". He offered a new service at a price higher than ironing, lower than the laundry, using branded starch and five minutes of the spin dry cycle of my washing machine to eliminate dripping, followed by specialised ironing using a heavy iron! The curtain man has learnt to make fabric blinds, self taught from a book a customer gave him, the massage bai is charging extra for face massages and then on to facials and so on.

Even if growth in India 3 is slow, India 1 and on its back, India 2 will see sustained consumption growth, and is ready to spend more if relevant supply is made available.

The writer is an independent market strategy consultant










T V Mohandas Pai and K Dinesh, high-profile members of the Infosys board, have decided to quit. The announcement came on the same day on which the company announced results that are decent in themselves but fell below analysts' expectations, pushing the stock price and the Sensex down. Mr Dinesh was due to retire in June and Mr Pai has said that he wants to spend his time outside the company, working on education and public policy and spending time with his family. Speculation is rife that dissent and disputes led to the exit of these senior leaders of India's bellwether information technology company. This, really speaking, is immaterial. There comes a time in the evolution of companies from small, fast-growing wunderkids on the corporate block to mature enterprises undertaking complex challenges in the course of global engagement when they outgrow their original management team. True, managers often evolve and, less often, help their companies evolve. Sometimes, the process of evolution leaves some founder leaders nonplussed. They could choose to leave. But if they choose to lead, instead, their perceived or real lack of comprehension could lead to dissonance with others who think they know the way forward. Strategic differences could tip the balance in favour of pursuing interests outside the company, interests that are perfectly valid in themselves, in any case. Infosys has created an institutional system to choose its next CEO, which is commendable. It has rotated its top leadership before this, again in an institutional manner. The true test of the company's commitment to institutional practices would come when it is time for founder chairman N R Narayana Murthy to step down.

Infosys is no longer the most dynamic Indian IT company. That distinction has been usurped, probably by Cognizant. Wipro admits it has fumbled while TCS has seems to have become a shade nimbler, if only by comparison with its own stodgy self or its peers. Infosys needs a new drive and a new vision. The present management change could be the occasion to infuse those into the company, however unsettling it might seem at the outset.









Thursday's Sanya Declaration by the leaders of the Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China and, the new entrant to the club, South Africa) flatters to deceive. The call to revamp the global monetary system and overhaul the governing structure of the international financial institutions to increase the voice and representation of emerging/developing economies is sound, even if not original. They make sense as reinforcement for the flagging momentum within the G20 for achieving these selfsame goals. The world does need a new financial architecture; but the Brics by themselves are unlikely to to be able to drive that change. The agreement that the Brics will henceforth provide credit to each other in local currencies and collaborate in capital markets and other financial services is a small step in this direction. Trade and commerce among the Brics has increased dramatically, with China as the main driver. But the demand for credit in local currencies within the group is small (Brazilian real loans, anyone?) and is unlikely to be cost-effective either given the dollar's pre-eminence. For India, such forums are useful to push for change at the global level, in fora such as the World Trade Organization and the G20. Reserve currencies are not created by fiat; they emerge from historical forces of trade and investment. The dollar is the world's favourite currency because it is simply the most traded, circulated and accepted currency in the world. Brics or others hoping to supplant the dollar will have to develop large and deep markets, first within their own national economies and then across the world for bonds in those currencies. Given the current trepidations about easing currency controls and freeing up exchange regimes within the Brics, it is wishful thinking to believe that any of the Brics currencies will topple the dollar as the world's favourite anytime soon. But Brics can reduce dependence on the dollar, by increasingly deploying their own forex reserves in one another's, or other developing, economies, rather than in US treasury bonds. The needed ability to create risk-mitigated investment opportunities is the real test.






As the most eligible bachelor in India, many girls probably think Rahul Gandhi is utterly butterly delicious anyway, so the Congress could have cleverly cashed in on the Kerala chief minister V S Achuthanandan's dubbing of their premier youth icon as an Amul Baby. What could be a better endorsement of his perennial juvenescence than an official pointer by an octogenarian to the almost family resemblance between the babyfaced Gandhi heir and the Amul Butter girl? No one in public life would quibble about being likened to a market leader whose reach spreads nationwide, particularly one that is always a u c o u - r a n twith the latest happenings. Even the predictable advertisement by the butter brand that the spat prompted — putting 'both Amul babies' on a collision course with their accuser with the catchline 'Amul, For young and old' — practically serves as an election slogan. Moreover, Gandhi is probably the same age as the original, unnamed curly-haired cherub who featured in the Amulspray advertisements of the 1970s, so the allusion is not unwarranted from a purely chronological angle. Shashi Tharoor's tweet that 'Amul babies are fit, strong, focused on the future', in fact, ties in with the original Amulspray ad which enthused that "he has sturdy bones, glowing skin, shining eyes… A winner if ever there was one". Had the Congress better divined which side their bread is buttered, even the Amul Baby Growth Plan that the subsequent ads promoted 40 years ago, could have had a contemporary political resonance in these elections.

Now past 40, the Gandhi scion may be more Baba than Baby agewise these days but as the latter is not an uncommon name in Kerala — even the state education minister is called M A Baby — the Congress party's irate reaction may have been doubly hasty.






The high-profile pledging of most of their wealth to philanthropy by American billionaires Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, and the contribution by Azim Premji of . 8,846 crore to his foundation for education, the largest-ever donation by an Indian, have directed the spotlight on philanthropy. This is welcome.

Though charity has a hoary past in India, there is little public discourse on it. The last time there was one, at the beginning of the 20th century, was because social reformers deemed existing practices of charity to be wasteful and inefficient and sought change. Thanks to the debate, charity became more secular, less sectarian and more oriented to human betterment. The distribution and proper utilisation of wealth has engaged the human mind almost as much as its creation. How to ensure an equitable social order in which there is no exploitation and in which wealth is used not only to take care of the poor and needy, but also to bring beauty, art and knowledge to all, continues to be a vexed question. Philanthropy, defined as the creative use of wealth for the long-term benefit of society, without any expectation of a quid pro quo, has been considered a way to take the sting out of the inequitable distribution of wealth.

Philanthropy can now play a more visible role in assisting national transformation and reducing social inequity. For one, there is more money in the economy to give away. We are witnessing a wave of wealth creation. HNI wealth jumped by 53.8% to $477 billion in 2009, and there were 55 Indians on the Forbes billionaires list, many among the top global 100.

The concept of corporate social responsibility is more widespread than ever before, and many corporations equate social responsibility with philanthropy, rather than as a more comprehensive concept involving ethical and governance issues. This can swell philanthropic rupees. This is also an opportunity to bring some money directed towards religious charity into organised philanthropy.

Technology has provided tools for donors and would-be donors to learn about, and contribute to new developments and opportunities worldwide. Media has the power to motivate people and to mobilise resources for charity. This power can also be harnessed to ensure accountability in recipients.

The growth in wealth has increased the gap between the wealthy and the poor. Some 836 million people live on less than . 20 a day. Indian statistics on health, infant mortality, malnutrition, and access to basic needs such as water and toilets are among the worst in the world.

Before Indian philanthropy can become a potent force for change, we need to know many things about it. Unfortunately, there's too little information. There are no official statistics, and the contribution of charity or of volunteer effort to the national economy is unaccounted for. There is no systematic data on philanthropic preferences and how the philanthropic rupee gets divided up, or its impact on any field of activity.

While some work has been done by Sampradaan Indian Centre for Philanthropy and a few others, there is still much we do not know about Indian charity. For instance we have no trend data to say whether we are becoming more or less generous; whether, how, and how much new wealth is being channeled into philanthropy; and what is the likely impact, if any, of an intergenerational transfer of wealth on philanthropic giving? In 2001 Sampradaan had done the first ever survey of Indian household giving but this has not been followed up regularly. Surveys repeated every three to five years will help track changes in charitable preferences.

We need to know more about the rich indigenous traditions and practices of different communities as well as about rural philanthropy. It is assumed that the rural population does not give in charity or to social causes. This is not true. More knowledge would open up a rich new "market" for the fund-raiser.

Nor do we know enough even about the world of organised philanthropy: how many charitable foundations there are, how many are grant-making and how many operate their own projects? What proportion of the total charitable resources comes from foundations? What are the pros and cons of operating vs grantmaking foundations? What impact have our foundations had on the course of social development?
Tax and government policy have a direct bearing on whether profits are channelled into philanthropy. Tax exemptions are one way of encouraging the flow of resources into desired channels. There is almost no research on whether tax incentives have stimulated charity, and whether these resources would have come forth irrespective of any incentive.

Is the present subsidy regime regressive, giving more advantage to rich donors? Will a scheme to grant amnesty for black money abroad if it is invested in philanthropic projects be feasible? We need policies which will link philanthropic resources with important national goals and programmes.

In America the world leader in philanthropic giving (in 2009 Americans gave $307.75 billion to charity despite recession), the study of philanthropy is an academic subject. There departments like the Centre on Philanthropy at Indiana University, and the Centre for the Study of Philanthropy at New York City University. In India we are yet to think of philanthropy as a serious discipline worthy of research. Will some philanthropists take note and endow one?








Microsoft's ubiquitous browser, Internet Explorer, has been facing the heat for some time from new kids on the block: Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome.

While Explorer was clunky and prone to hacking, Chrome and Firefox ate into its market share with speedier browsing and easier, and often, attractive user interface. To keep competition at bay and lure the Web 2.0 user, the world's biggest software firm came out with Internet Explorer version 9 recently.
Brian Hall, the company's general manager for Internet Explorer, was down in India to tell us more about it. In conversation with ET, Mr Hall spoke of the changes in consumer tastes affecting browsing trends and the unique way Internet Explorer 9 is being marketed.

We ask Mr Hall how the web browser has evolved. "A browser is a consumer's window to the online world and has grown exponentially in both utility and online experience. Today, users spend over half of the time they are on their computers on the browser, making browsing the number one activity," he says.

"The rise of social networking, the proliferation of video on the web and the increasing number of web applications have together increased users' expectations of a browser and consumers today demand the best web experience," he adds.

Technology analysts say IE9 makes a strong impact on look-and-feel and speed of browsing, not to talk of improved security features. So, what's philosophy behind the new Explorer?

"Our approach was not only to create a speed-and-feed machine but to create a browser that would bring back the focus to the sites our consumers love to visit. With its clean and minimalist look, IE9 is site-centric rather than browser-centric," explains Hall.

In this context, a small new feature within Internet Explorer 9 is having a big impact on sites that have tweaked their code to make use of it. "Site pinning — the new feature — lets users add a shortcut to a site from any page of their own to sit on their Windows 7 taskbar.

This would just seem like any other shortcut, except that we have provided ways for sites to boost the interactivity, like putting site-specific notifications, navigation and information in contextual menus that sit behind the icon," Hall says.

He points out that sites that have gone this extra step are seeing anywhere from a 15% to 50% increase in site visits, behaviour that can be tracked back to a pinned site's increased visibility compared to bookmarks, which are usually kept hidden within a menu inside of the browser.

While globally the behemoth has enlisted support of 250 sites and brands, locally too it has teamed up with a few e-commerce sites. Mr Hall feels higher adoption of IE9 will be led by a growth in e-commerce. "A faster and secure browser means that majority of the transactions from corporate networks will be routed through it."


Hall, with a stint topping 15 years at the Redmond giant, is perhaps best-suited to lead this engagement challenge since his team is responsible for building value-added partnerships and driving business strategy.

To boot, IE9 has been downloaded 2.3 million times in 24 hours of its international launch. But why did it lose market share to Chrome and Firefox — it is still number one though — over the last few years? Mr Hall says the drop was due to the declining usage of IE6 and IE7.
"In a way, that is good because they are old browsers," he says.
Improved security is another feature that Hall wants to talk about. "The more the web becomes part of our everyday lives, the more complex the issues of online trust and browser trust become. People want to know that when they are doing something in one browser tab, they won't lose their work that is in another tab. They want to know that the sites that they visit and the files that they download aren't going to cause harm to their computers or their personal data.

Finally, they want to know that their private information is kept private. We have incorporated a robust set of built-in security, privacy and reliability technologies that can help keep you safer."

One of these robust measures is a tracking protection tool that puts people in control of what data they are sharing as they move around the web, by enabling consumers to indicate what websites they'd prefer not to exchange information with.

Mr Hall says that different software firms have different philosophies behind creating a browser.
While Microsoft's purpose was to serve its billion-strong Windows users, Google launched Chrome browser to lift its advertising business and Mozilla follows an opensource philosophy reflected in its Firefox.




Microsoft Corp







Many of us have been talking about the need for some institution like Lokpal to deal with the issue of corruption for many years now. Many sectors in our country, especially in the government functioning, are suffering from the menace of corruption that needs to be urgently and effectively tackled. Today we are witnessing the result of our system's failure and negligence in taking sincere and suitable steps to fight corruption. Skeletons of big scams, involving thousands of crores of rupees, are tumbling out of the closets almost everyday. There is, rightly, widespread anger and a sense of growing disgust among the people about this murky state of affairs. The country as a whole, should take up this issue with all seriousness. I, therefore, welcome the efforts by the civil society to take up the issue of fighting corruption and I appreciate the efforts by the likes of Sri Anna Hazare towards that.

But I am also disturbed by the fact that certain methods are being contemplated, bypassing the parliamentary set-up and with a non-democratic approach. Our Constitution makers, very thoughtfully and appropriately, constituted India as a democratic republic, based on parliamentary system, in which the people participate to elect their representative bodies. Parliament and legislative assemblies are the only institutions that can exercise the power of law-making through the elected representatives of the people. This is the kernel of our Constitution. Our founding fathers also consciously provided and laid down the powers and the scope of the functioning of the different organs of the state within our parliamentary system. What makes me now feel extremely concerned about is the fact that the non-elected persons, who do not have the mandate to represent the people in our parliamentary system and who will be accountable to none, are being almost directly brought into the process of law-making.

I want to make it clear that I have great personal regard for many of those social activists, who are in the forefront of the agitation against corruption and the movement demanding the implementation of the proposal to appoint a Lokpal. But at the same time, I do not appreciate the move to form a committee with the representation of non-elected members to draft a legislation to be placed before Parliament. The committee, as I understand from the media reports, will prepare a Bill. This is the job that, as per the Constitutional scheme of things, has to be done either by the appropriate committees of Parliament or in the form of the government proposals for consideration by Parliament, which will then be put through the motions of the established legislative process, including discussions by and scrutiny of the members of Parliament, elected directly or indirectly (as in the case of the Rajya Sabha) by the people as their representatives.

It should be known to all that our parliamentary legislative process itself offers scope and opportunity even for the non-elected people and organisations to place their views in the process of legislation. This is being done by parliamentary committees that, while processing and scrutinising a proposed legislation, invite members of the general public and organisations to give evidence, views and suggestions about the proposed legislation before the committees. In my humble experience, I can assert that they are considered by the members of the committee with all seriousness.

Iam concerned about the decision to form a committee, including non-elected persons, to propose legislation for acceptance by Parliament. Suppose that the members of the committee are unable to reach a consensus or suppose that a draft Bill, proposed by the committee and placed before Parliament, is rejected by the MPs, then what happens? Will the nonelected members compel the members of Parliament to accept their proposal or resort to mass movement to force Parliament to legislate its proposed Bill? In my humble opinion, these are the questions that all right-thinking persons should ask themselves because the same may seriously subvert our parliamentary system.

In a democracy, it is the right of all sections of the people to raise their demands and it is the duty of the government and Parliament to be sensitive to people's aspirations. That is the essence of governance and legislation in a parliamentary system. But my concern is that, in this case, a result is being sought to be achieved though a non-parliamentary method that will be antithetical to our democratic structure. What is the very disturbing trend today is the tendency of every Constitutional organ to encroach into each other's area by crossing their respective Lakshman rekhas, which are key to the smooth functioning of our Constitution and parliamentary set-up.


(The author is a veteran politician and former Speaker of the Lok Sabha)







Why do we humans persistently indulge in 'us-versusthem' conflicts? Why have our apostles of peace been so singularly unsuccessful against the rise and spread of the global arms-industrial complex? The evolutionary psychologist-philosopher Nicholas Humphreys tackled big questions such as these in a memorable Channel 4 television series called The Mind's Eye. He zeroed in on the cognitive phenomenon of empathy. Paradoxically, the same drive that leads to intense tribal bonding with near-and-dear ones can cause demonisation of the distant other ones. Humphreys, who is the grand nephew of John Maynard Keynes and is married to a Nobel laureate's daughter, has once again taken on the big fight against the other conundrum, consciousness. In
Soul Dust: The Magic of Consciousness, he argues about how it "paves the way to spirituality" by creating a "selfmade show" that "lights up the world for us, making us special and transcendent". For him, consciousness and the soul are one and the same. He insists that "for a phenomenally conscious creature, simply being there is a cause for celebration". This echoes what spiritual masters such as Jaggi Vasudev, founder of Isha Yoga, say is special about life: that it is the most extraordinary gift given to us, unique to the entire universe. But does that answer why this paradoxical unsolicited gift has been bestowed upon us? A mystic master like the Buddha merely smiles and holds up a lotus for all to see; Jalaluddin Rumi asks us to "first let go of life, and finally take a step without feet".






Stress is not something that affects us from outside. It is not something acquired only by some unfortunate individuals. It is an integral part of the physical and mental system in each of us.

We all have inherited it during the course of evolution. It is an essential, rather a vital, ingredient for the normal functioning of the body and, hence, inescapable. It helps us in our survival on a sustained basis.
Nevertheless, when left unchecked and uncontrolled, it eats into our psyche and erodes our immune system. It acts as a silent killer and is a catalyst for several diseases. Over a period of time, the negative effects of stress make us weak and vulnerable, and leave us an easy prey for all sorts of physical and psychological problems. It has been conclusively proved that stress is one of the biggest threats to our physical and mental health.
As civilisations progress, complications and concomitant tensions inevitably increase, and will increase in future also. Stress cannot be avoided but, yes, it can be managed in a way that it does not become a source of trouble. In order to understand how the stress factor came into being and became a part of our psychosomatic system, it is necessary to briefly understand the process of evolution of man. In this book, I will first discuss how the stress factor came into human life.







The BRICS summit was the right platform for India to have showcased its calibrated reform policies and impressive growth.

On the southern island of Hainan in China, India could have helped redefine the world's existing economic order in light of the view expressed by the Chinese President Jintao, that "the world economy is undergoing profound and complex changes". The idea of dialogue and cooperation is invariably a part of every summit of countries gathering to confabulate but most of the time nothing much comes out of the event. At Hainan, more than mutual trade modalities the BRICS members ought to have discussed, in more detail than they did, their relationship with the rest of the world that is undergoing those "complex changes."

At this point in the world economy's evolution, dealing with those changes means finding the right position vis-à-vis the US and the European zone that are the major consumers of emerging market exports. Both have been, and will remain, the dominant trading partners in a world trading system built on multilateral trading. But that is the dilemma: can that multilateral world continue to exist with every grouping determined to limit the baneful influence of imports on domestic industries? It may not if protectionism gains the upper hand, in the event of which the emerging countries may face the prospect of a challenge in the western markets; the World Trade Organisation is bleating about the lack of consensus on negotiations on the Doha Round and the developing world knows its voice is not heard. This means that the BRICS meet in China ought to have determined just how, as a lobby, it could manoeuvre its members and the rest of the developing world into a multilateral trading system and a smoother financial order favourable to the comparative advantages of its members. Condemning commodity derivatives is one thing but it is rhetorical: achieving a revamp of the world monetary system is quite another and is imperative; the BRICS members can cavil endlessly about the inequity in the world financial management system but unless they get to have some say — in the management of the IMF, for instance — the western economies will prevail. At Hainan, India had the opportunity to offer ways of regulating financial systems. After all, it has been quite successful in staving off the worst effects of the financial meltdown; and for the European countries now facing a contagion of the debt crisis, India continues to offer some remedial lessons. But this would have meant a more proactive BRICS summit, and that it was not.

India may not want to admit it but the BRIC summit offered it a unique advantage to grandstand, in the best sense of the word; it has policies that have warded off crisis; its calibrated liberalisation works wonderfully in allowing individual initiative while permitting oversight and, most of all, its growth is a morality tale to inspire the world. India should have, but did not, seize the day in China.









Even before the ink was dry on the notification constituting the Joint Drafting Committee for finalising the Lokpal Bill, the ruling political establishment, on the one side, and some squabbling fringe groups, on the other, have collectively begun engaging themselves in what they are eminently good at: Talking at cross purposes and tying themselves into knots!

The discomfiture felt by the ruling political establishment is understandable. They were made to yield to Anna Hazare's demands on equal representation of the Government and civil society — and on the issue of an official notification to that effect — within four days of Anna starting his indefinite fast, whereas they were able to dig in their heels against the Opposition's demand for a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) for going into the 2G spectrum scam for nearly three months.

Having been forced to act with lightning speed — frightened, no doubt, by the tsunami-like emotional upsurge generated by Anna throughout the country, coming suspiciously close to the scenes of mass uprisings witnessed in Tunisia and Egypt — the powers-that-be are now trying to sow as much confusion as possible to make the Bill once again a non-starter.

There can be no other intention behind the senior leaders of the Congress Party wanting to bring the corporate sector and the NGOs within the purview of the civil society's draft and demanding to know the sources of funds spent on pandals, media coverage and rallies in connection with Anna Hazare's fast.

They are also raising the question why Anna Hazare has not campaigned against the Gujarat Government headed by Mr Narendra Modi not having enacted a Lokayukta Bill on the lines of Anna's Lokpal Bill for the last seven years.

Intemperate virulence

The Nationalist Congress Party, one of whose leaders (Sharad Pawar) was made to quit the Group of Ministers going into the official Lokpal Bill following aspersions cast on him by Anna, has reportedly organised a smear campaign against Anna himself. All this is to be expected as part of the Government's time-(dis)honoured effort to get over its loss of face and recover lost ground whenever it is driven to beat a retreat by a people's movement.

But what is most inexplicable is the intemperate virulence of the attacks on Anna and his associates by some of the non-official outfits and Internet newsgroups. They have begun bad mouthing Anna and those behind the campaign in terms that even official spokespersons have not employed, calling them 'fascists', wreckers of the Constitution and democracy, and the like, and depicting them as unsavoury characters with their own personal and political axes to grind.

Anything and everything about Anna's campaign seems to come within the ambit of their pungent epithets: Presence of Swami Agnivesh, Baba Ramdev, Art of Living exponent Ravi Shankar on the same podium as Anna Hazare; the participation of Arvind Kejriwal, Kiran Bedi and Medha Patkar; Ms Sonia Gandhi's appeal to Anna saying his views will receive the Government's full attention (this has been described by the fanatical fringe groups critical of Anna as "a palace coup to destabilise Dr Manmohan Singh (and) a calibrated urban relay-revolution tapping into the Facebook-Twitter crowd's quest for a 'worthy cause' to espouse, with prime time TV playing ball with the patrons of the draft"); Anna's passing reference to the good work done in respect of rural development in Gujarat (portrayed as evidence of Anna's communalism); and the "nepotism" of including Prashant and Shanti Bhushan in the Joint Drafting Committee. (Both have outstanding legal credentials and their being father and son is only incidental)

These groups have also been insisting that Anna and all those supporting him should disclose their and their kith and kin's assets — a demand that Mr Digvijay Singh, the senior Congress leader, has been quick enough to endorse. Can't even one initiative aimed at a paramount public good move smoothly from start to finish in this God-blessed country without busybodies falling head over heels to spike it?




                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




The granting of bail to Dr Binayak Sen, the prominent civil rights activist and putative Naxalite sympathiser, by the Supreme Court on Friday is a shot in the arm for judicial balance. It also offers confirmation that India is still a land where an individual is free to hold any view, and peruse any material, without violating the law of the land. A dedicated and highly respected medical practitioner for more than three decades among the poor tribal communities of Chhattisgarh, last year Dr Sen had been sentenced to life in prison on the charge of sedition and seeking to assist the building of a Naxalite network by a trial court in the state. In virtually confirming the judgment, the Chhattisgarh high court had rejected Dr Sen's plea for bail. These events had created a veritable storm in international circles, and 22 Nobel laureates lined up to plead for granting bail to Dr Sen at the high court stage, only to be disappointed. With the government's permission, the European Union appointed observers to be present at the bail hearings in the Supreme Court. In the light of the nature of the case, the grant of bail by the country's apex court would appear to act as a rap on the knuckles for the state high court, not to say the chief metropolitan magistrate at Raipur who had presided over the Sen trial and held him guilty of sedition. The language of the Supreme Court's order makes this amply clear. In granting bail, the two-judge bench of the apex court reportedly noted that it was "concerned" about the implementation of the judgment as no case of sedition had been made out against Dr Sen by the state government. The court also reportedly observed, "We are a democratic country. He may be a Naxalite sympathiser. Nothing beyond that." The trial court judgment had shocked many. The magistrate went on the basis of the fact that Dr Sen had visited an ailing Naxalite serving a jail term 33 times in 35 days, and reading Maoist literature and Naxalite documents. The apex court threw out such a puerile basis of argument in a sedition matter being made out by the counsel for the Chhattisgarh government. Notably, it said that just as a person reading or possessing Gandhi's autobiography did not automatically become a Gandhian, someone studying Naxalite or Maoist material cannot be said to be a Maoist. As for the charge of numerous visits to a prisoner, the Supreme Court rightly observed that on such occasions a visitor is accompanied by jail officials and could not, therefore, have been a recipient or carrier of secret communication. The Supreme Court also refused to entertain the request of the state government's lawyers that while on bail Dr Sen be restrained from entering Chhattisgarh. The apex court left this for the trial court to decide. It will be interesting to see what stance the lower court takes on the issue. If the civil rights activist is made to keep away from the state, the impression is likely to be created that the trial court has disregarded the spirit of the Supreme Court order. While convicting Dr Sen, the trial magistrate had noted that he had kept the totality of the circumstances in view, as he saw it, and took into consideration the fact that several violent acts by Naxalites had occurred in recent times. This gave rise to the impression that while the sedition case was non-existent — as the Supreme Court would note so tellingly — the magistrate thought it was a call to duty for him to have Dr Sen put away for an extended period. This was the extent of provincialism on the part of the lower judiciary which the apex court order has righted.







"You can't take it with you, All the wise men said Where you're going you can't use it They meant after you're dead I thought they meant money But, friends, I was wrong And though I've not any They meant love all along." From Rothi Surath by Bachchoo My nephew was showing me and some friends his favourite comic fights on YouTube (which facility I had heard of but till that moment had thought was spelt "U-Tube" — and now of an instant the narcissism of it came home!). One of the boxing bouts on this net cinema featured a G.I. who fancied and preened himself before the camera, doing splits and throwing punches and feints like Jean Claude van Damme. He was then shown being humiliated by a volunteer opponent who stepped up to him in the ring with his arms by his side and, standing almost still, whacked our hero one in the chops causing G.I. Joe the Dynamo to flop unconscious onto his back. If seeing a man beaten comatose can be funny, this was. It was largely because of the deflation of the visual boast, the fall of hubris. The computer on which we were watching the fight was on the dining table in my niece and nephew's flat in Mumbai and having just eaten a hearty lunch, the plates and dishes were being cleared away by their young staff of cook and housemaid who would pause and glance at the screen as they came and went from the kitchen. The next fight my nephew showed us was a comic clip from a silent film, an expertly choreographed piece of screen drama. The boxers enter the ring and one shakes hands with everyone present, the seconds, the towel-bearers, pail-carriers etc. As the bell goes for the first round, he dodges behind the referee keeping him nimbly in a rotation round the ring firmly between himself and the lumbering, threatening opponent. Now Mandha, the housemaid I mentioned, is a village girl who must be in her early 20s. She speaks Marathi and Hindi after the Mumbai fashion and has no English. "Ah, Charlie!", she says as she pauses to watch with us. How did she know it was Charlie Chaplin? Over 50 years ago my aunts in whose house in Pune I lived, had a cook called Hukam Ali. He was illiterate and could only speak Hindustani. He had been a military orderly in Ethiopia in the 1930s when Indian troops were sent to rebuff the Italian invasion. His favourite comic, less surprisingly, was Chaplin and he too referred to him as "Charlie". Mandha's instant identification of Chaplin was something of a surprise. I asked how she knew of him but she merely replied that everyone knew Charlie and her tone clearly implied that I should stop patronising her knowledge of the world and desist from asking silly questions. So the rest was silence. The papers report that Chaplin's house in Switzerland is finally being converted into a museum exhibiting his personal effects, letters, writing, costumes, designs and films. It will become a major attraction in that part of Switzerland. His son Michael, who was interviewed at the house, recalled that the family moved there after his father was refused entry into the United States and faced prosecution there under the anti-Communist McCarthyite indictments. Chaplin moved to Switzerland and lived there till the end of his life with his wife Oona (daughter of playwright Eugene O'Neill). He had eight children by her and Michael was the eldest boy with a sister older than himself. One Indian story goes that after a film festival in Europe at which their film won several accolades, Nargis surprised Raj Kapoor by suggesting that they holiday in Switzerland. Raj agreed and was taken to a chateau whose door was answered by none other than Raj's all-time hero, Charles Chaplin. They made friends. Michael Chaplin remembers his father taking great joy in walking down to the town to buy a packet of cigarettes without being recognised as a world-renowned celebrity. With Chaplin and silent movies, a brand of universal humour was invented or discovered. Is it remarkable that, through the medium of film, several Western stars, including Chaplin, have made some message, some way of being or way of laughing plain to the whole world, including Hukam Ali of Pune and Ethiopia and Mandha of Yari Road in today's Mumbai? Indian filmstars, though known in very many peasant societies, from the early birth of film in India to the present day, have not resonated with John Smith or Banjo Barnes in the Balham pub. And never will. Yes, there are British aficionados who watch Satyajit Ray films and there are the rare ethnic-specialist Brits who will view a Hindi film if the multicultural journalists of the British press extol its credentials. But that's the limit. Ask the man or woman in the Prince of Wales or even at the university lectern and he won't know Raj Kapoor from Raj kaput. Chaplin's humour was not "British" in the sense that it contained verbal irony, but it was very British in that it pioneered the comedy of the little man ranged against modernism or other superior forces, be they machines, systems or larger muscles, and invited the aam janata to laugh at their own clumsiness and frailty. This is a far cry from the kind of "comedy" one sees on Indian TV or in Indian films where the fat man or woman is the butt of the joke and wobbly cheeks or jaws and crossed eyes are to be laughed at as grotesques. It's witless humour, the equivalent of the Western comics who relied on the custard-pie-in-the-eye to raise a laugh. Now Rowan Atkinson, who plays Mr Bean, has reputed rubber features which graphically and precisely exaggerate complacency, confidence, puzzlement, unwarranted self-satisfaction etc. He may have wobbly cheeks and can, I am sure, cross his eyes in a funny way, but never resorts to these to make one laugh. His Bean is like Chaplin's Charlie, also the bewildered every man who in the face of a complex and confusing world takes the path which we know leads off the cliff. Now next time I get to Mumbai, I must, I tell myself, ascertain whether Mandha has come across Bean and get her assessment of him.







Together with our North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) allies and coalition partners, the United States, France and Britain have been united from the start in responding to the crisis in Libya, and we are united on what needs to happen in order to end it. Even as we continue our military operations today to protect civilians in Libya, we are determined to look to the future. We are convinced that better times lie ahead for the people of Libya, and a pathway can be forged to achieve just that. We must never forget the reasons why the international community was obliged to act in the first place. As Libya descended into chaos with Col. Muammar Gaddafi attacking his own people, the Arab League called for action. The Libyan opposition called for help. And the people of Libya looked to the world in their hour of need. In a historic resolution, the United Nations Security Council authorised all necessary measures to protect the people of Libya from the attacks upon them. By responding immediately, our countries, together with an international coalition, halted the advance of Col. Gaddafi's forces and prevented the bloodbath that he had promised to inflict upon the citizens of the besieged city of Benghazi. Tens of thousands of lives have been protected. But the people of Libya are still suffering terrible horrors at Col. Gaddafi's hands each and every day. His rockets and shells rained down on defenceless civilians in Ajdabiya. The city of Misurata is enduring a medieval siege, as Col. Gaddafi tries to strangle its population into submission. The evidence of disappearances and abuses grows daily. Our duty and our mandate under UN Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 1973 is to protect civilians, and we are doing that. It is not to remove Col. Gaddafi by force. But it is impossible to imagine a future for Libya with Col. Gaddafi in power. The International Criminal Court is rightly investigating the crimes committed against civilians and the grievous violations of international law. It is unthinkable that someone who has tried to massacre his own people can play a part in their future government. The brave citizens of those towns that have held out against forces that have been mercilessly targeting them would face a fearful vengeance if the world accepted such an arrangement. It would be an unconscionable betrayal. Furthermore, it would condemn Libya to being not only a pariah state, but a failed state too. Col. Gaddafi has promised to carry out terrorist attacks against civilian ships and airliners. And because he has lost the consent of his people, any deal that leaves him in power would lead to further chaos and lawlessness. We know from bitter experience what that would mean. Neither Europe, the region, or the world can afford a new safe haven for extremists. There is a pathway to peace that promises new hope for the people of Libya — a future without Col. Gaddafi that preserves Libya's integrity and sovereignty, and restores its economy and the prosperity and security of its people. This needs to begin with a genuine end to violence, marked by deeds not words. The regime has to pull back from the cities it is besieging, including Ajdabiya, Misurata and Zintan, and return to their barracks. However, so long as Col. Gaddafi is in power, Nato must maintain its operations so that civilians remain protected and the pressure on the regime builds. Then a genuine transition from dictatorship to an inclusive constitutional process can really begin, led by a new generation of leaders. In order for that transition to succeed, Col. Gaddafi must go and go for good. At that point, the United Nations and its members should help the Libyan people as they rebuild where Col. Gaddafi has destroyed — to repair homes and hospitals, to restore basic utilities, and to assist Libyans as they develop the institutions to underpin a prosperous and open society. This vision for the future of Libya has the support of a broad coalition of countries, including many from the Arab world. These countries came together in London on March 29 and founded a Contact Group which met this week in Doha to support a solution to the crisis that respects the will of the Libyan people. Today, Nato and our partners are acting in the name of the United Nations with an unprecedented international legal mandate. But it will be the people of Libya, not the United Nations, who choose their new Constitution, elect their new leaders, and write the next chapter in their history. Britain, France and the United States will not rest until the UNSC resolutions have been implemented and the Libyan people can choose their own future.






So, what do you think is more likely to inflame extremist elements? If you encourage immigration or if you discourage it? If you speak about it, or if you are silent on the issue? Regardless, most political leaders in the Western hemisphere can't resist immigrant-bashing whenever the economy wobbles dangerously. "Get rid of the outsiders! They are wrecking our peaceful land with their regressive culture and stealing our jobs!" goes up the desperate war cry. Given the fact that jobs sometimes do go to better qualified "foreigners", the United Kingdom (UK) government is now building a case against these unscrupulous immigrants ("How dare they be smarter than us Brits!"), sounding a little paranoid in the bargain. This time Prime Minister David Cameron (who had already announced the demise of multiculturalism some time back) has raised the bogey of immigrants in a speech at Hampshire, UK this week. Many have dismissed this as a cynical ploy, meant for snaffling middle-class votes during the upcoming local elections, by touching a sensitive nerve. But it has upset some of his Liberal Democrats coalition partners and revived unpleasant memories of the present foreign secretary William Hague's decade-old speech stating that the UK was in serious danger of being turned into a "foreign land". (Ten years later the Brits have still not been over-run — obviously the fearsome immigrants turned out to be quite inefficient!) Nonetheless, anti-immigrant diatribes are close to the Conservative heart, and even though there may be many benefits from immigration, all is conveniently forgotten when the Tories bind their flock together. Therefore, the Prime Minister has pointed out that during the Labour years, immigration ran amuck and between 1997 and 2009, there were 2.2 million more people coming into the UK than leaving it to stay abroad. Whilst this statistic may not seem alarming to Indians, who are used to large numbers, it could send hardcore Tory voters into a collective swoon. Mr Cameron has also suggested that this immigration will carry on unstaunched unless reforms are carried out in the welfare system, as the benefit system encourages the poor, deluded British not to work, allowing the migrants to take over their jobs. Welfare "reform" or "cuts" are another core Tory policy, as Right-wingers have always believed in small government. Linking it now to immigration may make public sector cuts easier to swallow. All should hail Mr Cameron because he is now taking the brave and bold step of talking about immigration because Labour refused to do so, saying it was racist. To clinch his anti-immigrant argument, he has pointed out the reluctance of certain migrants to integrate, creating discomfort and disjointedness in some neighbourhoods. He said, "Real communities are bound by common experiences forged by friendship and conversation knitted together by all the ritual of the neighbourhood, from the school run to the chat down the pub. And these bonds can take time". The implication is that if the communities are changed "too fast" tensions could escalate. The strongest indictment of Mr Cameron's speech has come perhaps not from Labour, but from the extremist British National Party which is aggrieved that Mr Cameron has stolen their agenda. Of course, there is little doubt that the ghettos which have become a part of London and other large towns need to be looked at and reformed. It is not healthy or even quaint to find whole communities, whether Indian, Pakistani or African, living as though under siege in specific localities. It requires an enormous effort, not just from the immigrants, but also from the majority community to help in the process of integration. Perhaps the multiculturalism inculcated under Labour was not entirely successful — but by decreasing the numbers permitted into the country or by forcing immigrants to learn English, the existing problem will not disappear. An island offers limited terrain, and whilst Mr Cameron is correct in pointing that endless immigration could lead to an assault on the existing facilities, there is need for the government to work harder in looking at why the integration has not been successful. Somehow, I don't think that simply learning English and appreciating English culture will sort out the issue. Nor will pub-hopping. Unless one can pass a test in "Englishness" by the amount of alcohol one imbibes… I know many Punjabi puttars who would pass out (literally!) but with flying colours. MEANWHILE, ONE thing that is certainly uniting the whole of the UK is the mad frenzy of the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton. Every kind of marriage memento, from napkins and beer bottles (yes! — remember the pubs?) to coffee mugs and plastic dolls are being churned out. And now soon to be seen on the small screen on April 18 is the movie about jab they met! Called William and Kate: Let Love Rule, its premier will, no doubt, be avidly viewed throughout the country. The film is a quickie, since the shooting only began on February 10 — but perhaps because the couple has had a nine-year very public romance there was more than enough material for the script. All the masala was already there: from their meeting at St. Andrews, to Kate wearing a see-through dress, to their breaking up and making up. But though the couple had been living together for a while, the director, it appears, has been fairly discreet. While he has shown the couple kissing and then together in bed, they are always, alas, fully clothed. Maybe that's how royals do it? But if the trailer is anything to go by, Camilla Luddington (who plays Kate) is shown in a bath tub — naked knees popping out of soap bubbles — swigging a glass of wine. Now if we ever have a film made about any of our "royal" couples with stuff like this in it, you can be pretty sure that it will be banned. Produced by an American channel, early outraged reports about the film said that the couple sported an "Americanised" accent — as a British accent is apparently very difficult for the Americans to understand. All I can say is that many may complain about the real Prince William once they see his body double. Nico Evers-Swindell is not only better looking, he even has a full head of hair. Now we only have to find out which one the real Kate Middleton prefers. *Kishwar Desai can be contacted at






Paul Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, sounds upset. And you can see why: US President Barack Obama, to the great relief of progressives, has called his bluff. Last week, Mr Ryan unveiled his budget proposal, and the initial reaction of much of the punditocracy was best summed up (sarcastically) by blogger John Cole: "The plan is bold! It is serious! It took courage! It re-frames the debate! The ball is in Obama's court! Very wonky! It is a game-changer! Did I mention it is serious?" Then people who actually understand budget numbers went to work, and it became clear that the proposal wasn't serious at all. In fact, it was a sick joke. The only real things in it were savage cuts in aid to the needy and the uninsured, huge tax cuts for corporations and the rich, and Medicare privatisation. All the alleged cost savings were pure fantasy. On April 13, as I said, the President called Mr Ryan's bluff: after offering a spirited (and reassuring) defence of social insurance, he declared, "There's nothing serious about a plan that claims to reduce the deficit by spending a trillion dollars on tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires. And I don't think there's anything courageous about asking for sacrifice from those who can least afford it and don't have any clout on Capitol Hill". Actually, the Ryan plan calls for $2.9 trillion in tax cuts, but who's counting? And then Mr Obama laid out a budget plan that really is serious. The President's proposal isn't perfect, by a long shot. My own view is that while the spending controls on Medicare he proposed are exactly the right way to go, he's probably expecting too much payoff in the near term. And over the longer run, I believe that we'll need modestly higher taxes on the middle class as well as the rich to pay for the kind of society we want. But the vision was right, and the numbers were far more credible than anything in the Ryan sales pitch. And the hissy fit — I mean, criticism — the Obama plan provoked from Mr Ryan was deeply revealing, as the man who proposes using budget deficits as an excuse to cut taxes on the rich accused the President of being "partisan". Mr Ryan also accused the president of being "dramatically inaccurate" — this from someone whose plan included a $200-billion error in its calculation of interest costs and appears to have made an even bigger error on Medicaid costs. He didn't say what the inaccuracies were. And now for something completely wonkish: Can we talk, briefly, about politicians talking about drugs? For the contrast between Mr Ryan last week and Mr Obama on April 13 wasn't just about visions of society. There was also a difference in visions of how the world works. And nowhere was that clearer than in the issue of how Medicare should pay for drugs. Mr Obama declared, "We will cut spending on prescription drugs by using Medicare's purchasing power to drive greater efficiency". Meanwhile, Mr Ryan held up the existing Medicare drug benefit — a programme run through private insurance companies, under legislation that specifically prohibits Medicare from using its bargaining power — as an example of the efficiencies that could be gained from privatising the whole system. Mr Obama has it right. Medicare Part D has been less expensive than expected, at least so far, but that's because overall prescription drug spending has fallen short of expectations, largely thanks to a dearth of new drugs and the growing use of generics. The right way to assess Part D is by comparing it with programmes where the government is allowed to use its purchasing power. And such comparisons suggest that if there's any magic in privatisation, it's the magical way it makes drug companies richer and taxpayers poorer. For example, the department of veterans affairs pays about 40 per cent less for drugs than the private plans in Part D. Did I mention that Medicare Advantage, which closely resembles the privatised system that Republicans want to impose on all seniors, currently costs taxpayers 12 per cent more per recipient than traditional Medicare? But back to the President's speech. His plan isn't about to become law; neither is Mr Ryan's. And given the hysterical Republican reaction, it doesn't look likely that we'll see negotiations trying to narrow the difference. That's a good thing because Mr Obama's plan already relies more on spending cuts than it should, and moving it significantly in the Grand Old Party's direction would produce something unworkable and unacceptable. What happened over the past two weeks, then, was more about staking out positions than about enacting policies. On one side you had a combination of mean-spiritedness and fantasy; on the other you had a reaffirmation of American compassion and community, coupled with fairly realistic numbers. Which would you choose? *By arrangement with The New York Times









INDIA is entitled to pat itself on the back for playing a key role in the United Nations Security Council adopting a resolution that for the first time addresses the hostage-taking element of Somali piracy ~ an estimated 638 merchant seaman are currently being held for ransom. A call for immediate release of all hostages and international cooperation in countering that menace is a feature of UNSC Resolution 1976. Another important element is a call for the setting up of special anti-piracy courts in Somalia with extra-territorial jurisdiction: that will settle the legal wrangle over how captured pirates (the Indian Navy/Coast Guard have nabbed quite a few) would be brought to justice.


Yet there are several issues still to be addressed. It is an open secret that while governments do not "get their hands dirty" they pressure the owners of hijacked ships to pay the ransom pirates demand, doing so averts the state dealing with humanitarian complications. Since the routes through which the payments are made are known, there is need for close international coordination to block them: once the ransom system collapses piracy will cease to so profitable. The UNSC would also do well to formulate new rules of engagement that facilitate navies turning pro-active on the high seas ~ they now have to await the pirates getting violent before effective force can be brought to bear. Even the policing operations undertaken by various naval forces would acquire greater authority if they operated under the UN flag. The policing may have brought some relief to coastal shipping off East Africa, but the pirates' response of a mother-ship and skiffs game plan has extended their operational zone so wide that preventive patrolling is difficult. Only when ships report being in trouble can naval units be despatched to their aid.

What passes for a government in Somalia does have a point in contending that the problem will have to be tackled on land, but not everyone will accept that "rehabilitating" fishermen-turned-pirates is critical to the solution. For starters that government has made no serious efforts to either crack down or resettle the pirates. True it lacks the resources for the "fight", but then it should request the requisite men and material from the international community to get the job done. In the interim, all stakeholders must employ every available means to squeeze the pirates.




THE argument of  West Bengal's health department ~ in a shambles as it is ~ that the infrastructure cannot be improved in view of the model code of conduct is specious, contrived and will not wash. Indeed, it would have been laughable were it not for the disastrous  impact it might have on the needs of the suffering. In a convenient cover-up of non-performance over the past five years, the department has issued an order which merely iterates the election-eve code to justify masterly inactivity since 1 March. Theoretically, it cannot perhaps be faulted when it claims that there can be no tendering for the supply of  cooked food to hospitals, security deployment and scavenging once the code comes into force. Nonetheless, the short point must be that these are in the realm of essentials in the state-run hospitals, and ought to have been in place at any point in time, irrespective of the code. Hiring of staff cars ~ topped with the red beacon ~ may be a luxury in relative terms; but if the code is cited to keep the hiring of ambulances on hold, it is an indirect admission of the fact that hospitals are yet to be equipped with emergency transport. To take recourse to the Election Commission's customary order suggests that the fundamentals in public health care were not in order till 28 February; in a crucial segment of public policy the model code is being trotted out as a handy defence of the indefensible.
What exactly, may we ask, prevented action between May 2006 ~ when the present dispensation assumed office ~ and the day prior to the enforcement of the code?  Was the tendering process ignored for as long as it has even for food and ambulance? Answers to such queries must await an investigation by the next dispensation. Well and truly has the health department tied itself up in knots. Callous negligence has driven a lame-duck administration to use the fig-leaf of the model code of conduct to conceal ineptitude, almost farcical. It shall cut no ice, and the patient on the hospital bed will be the first to see through the game.




Wednesday's meeting of the international contact group on Libya achieved little beyond the iteration of the very obvious ~ Muammar Gaddafi must step down. Of course, this will signal the cessation of the air-strikes and facilitate the pullout of the Western powers from the mess. But if the broad consensus in Doha suggests a forward movement ~ unequivocal support to the rebels ~ the reality remains ever so forbidding. Both the rebels and the US-Anglo-French axis must be acutely aware that a change of guard in Tripoli will not translate to democracy and free speech anytime soon. The stakes are huge and two contentious issues remain unresolved ~ the weakness of the anti-Gaddafi opposition and the legal implications of outside assistance. Both issues have been skirted in the ten-point communique. Indeed, the contact group has stopped short of a pledge on open support for regime change imposed from outside. This would signal an unexceptional degree of international policing, and the Western powers have clearly fought shy of drastic option. This neutralises the perceived forward movement since the London meeting which had established the Group. Notably, an attempted resolution of the crisis will founder over Gaddafi's continued presence. The nub of the matter remains as it was since the country was in ferment, specifically that Gaddafi is loath to give up power... not even for the benefit of his son who expressly has other plans.

Another thorny issue is the supply of arms to the rebels. There is no consensus on whether the Western embargo applies only to supplies to the government, but also to those now literally up in arms against the regime. Still more sensitive, if not intractable, is whether the government's frozen assets abroad can be unfrozen to fund the rebels. This is a critical facet of international law that even subsequent meetings of the contact group may not be able to address. A settlement may be elusive and the hostilities are likely to fester not least because the UN mandate ~ which spurred the Western mobilisation ~ does not envisage the forcible removal of Muammar Gaddafi. It will be a long haul towards change, if at all.








THE 21st century man is passing through a  critical phase. He is confronted with a crisis of culture and civilisation. With the so-called progress of  technology, the greatest danger is the virtual extinction of the finer sensibilities of man.

An incomparable humanist who was far ahead of his time, Mahatma Gandhi had devoted himself to the cause of advancement and excellence of man. His primary concern was never to look at one's own self but always strive for the welfare of others. This would lead to a complete personality. It calls for a sympathetic and dynamic vision of life. I quote the Mahatma: "We are living in times when values are undergoing quick changes. We are not satisfied with slow results. We are not satisfied with the welfare merely of our caste-fellows, not even of our own country. We feel or want to feel for the whole of humanity. All this is a tremendous gain in humanity's search towards the goal." (Harijan, 30 May 1936).

Gandhi's philosophy of Sarvodaya (Universal Dawn) calls for a coordinated effort on the part of every human being. It envisages a relentless effort to be justified to others in order to be justified to one's inner self, the self that glorifies humanity. To become a real partner in national and trans-national progress, the primary lesson to be learnt and practised is "to reduce oneself to a cipher". Gandhi advocated that every moment of one's life should be devoted to make others happy and worthy of humanity. In one of his memorable statements on sarvadharma-samabhavana, Gandhi observed: "After long study and experience, I have come to the conclusion that (i) all religions are true; (ii) all religions have some error in them; (iii) all religions are almost as dear to me as my own Hinduism, in as much as all human beings should be as dear to one another as one's own close relatives. My own veneration for other faiths is the same as that for my own faith; therefore, no thought of conversion is possible. The aim of the fellowship should be to help a Hindu become a better Hindu, a Mussalman to be a better Mussalman, and a Christian a better Christian. The attitude of patronising toleration is false to the spirit of  international fellowship. If I have a suspicion in my mind that my religion is more or less true, and that others' are more or less false, instead of being more or less true, though I may have some sort of fellowship with them, it is of an entirely different kind from the one we need in the international fellowship. Our prayer for others must be not 'God, give him the light that Thou hast given me', but 'Give him all the light and truth he needs for the highest development'. Pray merely that your friends may become better men, whatever their form of religion." (Report of the First Annual Meeting of the Federation of International Fellowships, Satyagraha Ashram, Sabarmati, 13-15 January, 1928).

Gandhi advocated Brahmacharya as one of the important components of Sarvodaya. It is primarily intended to guard oneself against harbouring base thoughts and actions and be prepared for any kind of sacrifice for the well-being of mankind. The first decade of the 21st century bears witness to utter indiscipline and the absence of  values. We marvel at science and technology, but there is scant regard for trans-national sensibilities and the broader vision of the unity of man in the spirit of excellence. The net result may be the disaster of humanism. Brahmacharya, in Gandhi's reckoning, could lead to behavioural change. "Brahmacharya must be observed in thought, word and deed. It may be harmful to suppress the body, if the mind is at the same time allowed to go astray. Where the mind wanders, the body must follow sooner or later. It is necessary here to appreciate a distinction. It is one thing to allow the mind to harbour impure thoughts; it is a different thing altogether if it strays among them in spite of ourselves. Victory will be ours in the end, if we non-cooperate with the mind in its evil wanderings. We experience every moment of our lives, that often while the body is subject to our control, the mind is not. This physical control should never be relaxed, and, in addition, we must put forth a constant endeavour to bring the mind under control." (From Yeravda Mandir, Navajivan Publishing House, Ahmedabad, 1935, p 18).

Contemporary society is plagued by character assassination, corruption, orthodoxy, hatred and violence in virtually every sphere of life. There is an appalling absence of self-control and purification through self-analysis and self-advancement, the invaluable tenets of the Gandhian philosophy of Sarvodaya.
That philosophy is a perfect blend of religion and morality. His path towards mankind's Universal Dawn encompasses Ahimsa (non-violence), Satya (truth), Asteya (non-stealing), Brahmacharya (chastity), Asangraha (non-possession), Sharirashrama (physical labour), Aswada (control of the palate), Sarvatra-bhaya-varjana (fearlessness), Sarvadharma-samanotva (equality of all religions), Swadeshi (Indigenousness), Sarvadharma-samanatva (equality of all religions), and Sparswabhavana (discarding of untouchability).

These tenets are crucial if man has to countenance the challenges of the 21st century. The philosophy of the greatest good of all is profoundly relevant at this point in time. A votary of non-violence responds to the concept of Universal Dawn not out of  personal interest, but to strengthen the inter-personal bond of love. In the words of Gandhi, "A votary of  ahimsa cannot subscribe to the utilitarian formula. He will strive for the greatest good of all and die in the attempt to realise the ideal. He will, therefore, be willing to die so that others may live. He will serve himself with the rest, by himself dying. The greatest good of all inevitably includes the good of the greatest number, and, therefore, he and the utilitarian will converge in many points in their career, but there does not come a time when they must part company, and even work in opposite directions." (Young India, 9 December 1926).

Gandhi defined the greatest value of love for mankind in terms of absence of hatred. The advancement of humanism is inseparably linked to how one judiciously does away with hatred and invites love even at the cost of life. "I hold myself to be incapable of hating any being on earth. By a long course of prayerful discipline, I have ceased for over 40 years to hate anybody. I know this is a big claim. Nevertheless, I make it in all humility. But I can and do hate evil wherever it exists." (Young India, 6 August 1925).

This is the vision of  Sarvodaya which ought to be the philosophy of  humanism.
Gandhi upholds Sarvodaya as the touchstone of Truth. "Truth and non-violence are as old as the hills". (Harijan, 28 March 1936). At the same time, he highlights the close inter-relationship between the two and considers them to be the most essential facets of mankind. "Ahimsa and Truth are so intertwined that it is practically impossible to disentangle and separate them. They are like the two sides of a coin, or rather a smooth unstamped metallic disc. Who can say which is the obverse, and which the reverse? Nevertheless, ahimsa is the means; truth is the end. If we take care of the means, we are bound to reach the end sooner or later. When once we have grasped the point, final victory is beyond question. Whatever difficulties we encounter, whatever apparent reverses we sustain, we may not give up the quest for truth, which alone is being God Himself." (From Yeravda Mandir, Navajivan Publishing House, Ahmedabad, 1935, p 13).

With Truth and non-violence as the guiding spirit of Sarvodaya, the inner spirit of man is the most invaluable asset for ascent and excellence of humanity. The spirit of tolerance is the primary pre-requisite.
When will  we wholeheartedly respond to the clarion call of the Mahatma?

The writer is former Professor of Education, Visva-Bharati University







Mr Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, vice-president of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has been active in politics since his days at Allahabad University where he studied arts and law. Naqvi, 54, first contested the election to the Legislative Assembly of Uttar Pradesh in 1980. He was elected as the Lok Sabha member for Rampur in 1998. The same year, he was appointed a minister of state in the ministry of information and broadcasting with additional charge of parliamentary affairs. Mr Naqvi is one of the most prominent Muslim faces of the BJP. Currently, he is into his second term as a member of the Rajya Sabha for Uttar Pradesh. He has been part of several parliamentary committees. He spoke to SRI KRISHNA on the ongoing Assembly elections and the BJP's campaign against corruption.

 What are the prospects of your party in the Assembly elections?

As far as the five state Assembly elections are concerned, our prospects are very good. We are confident that we would win some seats in these states.

What was the focus of your campaign for these elections?

In Assam, where the party contested all seats and is fighting alongside Janata Dal (United), we will be doing very well. In all the states we are fighting very strongly and effectively and would make an impact on the electoral outcome. We are confident that we would be able to increase our tally in these states. In Assam, our focus was on corruption, infiltration and price rise that are affecting the common man. The BJP has been fighting against illegal immigration to this border state.

In West Bengal, we would focus on corruption and the plight of the farmers. Another issue that we would focus on in West Bengal is how Miss Mamata Banerjee of the Trinamul Congress is supporting Maoists to serve her political interests. In Tamil Nadu, Puducherry and Kerala, our focus was on price rise which is indeed a very major issue as also corruption and how these are affecting the lives of the common man. 

On the issue of corruption, there are charges against BJP chief minister BS Yeddyurappa in Karnataka. How do you propose to counter this campaign spearheaded by your rivals?

There is a difference… while the charges against us have not been substantiated, in case of the ruling UPA government, these have been proved. For example, as in the case involving Mr PJ Thomas, the former chief vigilance commissioner.

How is your party going to fight the issue of corruption which you have been highlighting ever since the UPA-II came to power?

We launched a nationwide Jan Sangharsh campaign against corruption, price-rise, black money and various other ills plaguing the nation, including scams, on 6 April. This shall be the stepping-stone for the initiation of an effective and aggressive movement against the Congress-led UPA government by organising rallies and anti-corruption marathons across the country. The first phase of the Jan Sangharsh campaign will be held in the five election-bound states after the polls are over and shall continue till 15 June. The rallies in districts shall be preceded by padayatras (parades) and prabhat pheries (morning processions) to make the general public more aware and to appeal to it to actively participate in our campaign against corruption and nepotism. Every family should be represented by at least one member. 

Could you elaborate on how you would be conducting this campaign?

The party will organise "Bhrashtachar Virodhi (anti-corruption) Marathon" in all major cities of the country. We will enlist the participation of young people as they are the ones who can effectively transmit the significance and importance of the Jan Sangharsh campaign to all chowks (squares), corners, streets and mohallas (neighbourhoods). The Jan Sangharsh campaign will involve the staging of a street play based on the theme "Aam aadmi par hai bhari ~ Singhasan yah Bhrashtachari (whether power-play or corruption, common man is the worst sufferer)" across the country. A number of youth ensembles will dramatise the theme in their local languages with the sole object of making the public aware and more sensitive towards the issue of corruption.

These Jan Sangharsh campaigns are being organised to focus on ways to curb corruption, accumulation of black money and inflation. The awareness campaign is geared such that the message can be conveyed to people in a simple language and through use of popular musical tunes. We think this will work well.

 What is the party's view as far as giving support to Anna Hazare's fight against corruption is concerned?
The party has been fighting against the corrupt practices of the Congress and the UPA government for the past three-four years and we are making sure that the issue is not forgotten. Anna Hazare's protest and agitation is, I think, an expression of the anger of the people against the government, especially with regard to corruption.

 What is the BJP's stand on the VK Shunglu report on the Commonwealth Games scam which has also pointed a finger at Delhi chief minister Mrs Sheila Dikshit ?

One of the important issues that the BJP would be focusing on is the Shunglu Committee report. It is definitely an important document that has made a serious charge against the Congress and Mrs Dikshit. 






Our experience of working with each other in these fora has been positive and holds promise.
Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh in China during the third Brics summit

I am certain that nobody can prevent us from returning to power.

West Bengal chief minister Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee

She is running the railways well. She will also run the state well if she becomes the chief minister.
Union finance minister Mr Pranab Mukherjee on Trinamul chief Miss Mamata Banerjee.
I'm thinking it over but I'm yet to take a final decision. Although I took a conscious decision to retire, I feel like coming back and joining the campaign. Many CPI-M candidates have requested me to speak for them.
Former Lok Sabha Speaker Mr Somnath Chatterjee
The Congress has a strong base in the district right from the panchayat level to parliamentary level. No other party today matches its strength.
Raiganj MP Mrs Deepa Das Munshi.
Respected Annaji, my respect for you is decades old. Before I entered politics, I was a full-time RSS pracharak. At that time, national leaders of the RSS who came to attend our meetings invariably discussed your rural development activities so that they could be emulated. It had a tremendous impact on me. In the past, I also had the good fortune of meeting you.
Gujarat chief minister Mr Narendra Modi in an open letter to Gandhian Mr Anna Hazare
The government has become bankrupt and the circular is only a reflection of this bitter truth.
Mr Kamal Kumar Chakravarti, secretary, West Bengal Secretariat Officers' Forum after the West Bengal government issued a circular stopping all office expenses of government employees
Wisden acknowledges his greatness by naming him as the Leading Cricketer in the World for 2010.
Wisden's citation for Sachin Tendulkar
The long beep of the EVM was sweeter than the ringtone on my mobile phone.
Ms T Malathi, a first-time voter in Chennai

A 15th-floor hotel room shook and swayed. Admire Japanese for their stoicism.
Foreign secretary Miss Nirupama Rao who was in Tokyo when an earthquake struck Japan's coast this week






Amid the din, disputes and dust of the assembly polls the most significant current election has gone virtually unnoticed. The heaviest polling in the ongoing elections occurred during the panchayat polls of Jammu and Kashmir. More than 80 per cent of the voters are estimated to have cast their ballots. They voted in defiance of the threatening call by separatist leaders to boycott the polls. Why and how did this happen? It happened not because of the police or security forces but because democracy took charge. After the commitment for Panchayati Raj in J&K, a dramatic change has occurred in that troubled state. Director-general of police (DGP) Mr Kuldeep Khoda stated a 45 per cent drop in militancy in Jammu and Kashmir had been recorded from January to March when compared with the corresponding period last year. The activists who seek reform through new laws and new institutions should ponder the implications of this development.
Give people self-rule and they will guard the interests of their turf with courage and commitment. Self-rule does not imply sovereignty. It implies democracy. In the various trouble spots across India, where demands for separatism spout, what people really want is democracy. Denied that, they confuse their plight with the lack of sovereignty. In a vast multi-lingual, multi-ethnic and multi-religious continental nation like India to talk of democracy without a vibrant federal system is pure hypocrisy. The Directive Principles of our Constitution clearly demand federalism so strong as to make the primary unit of the village akin to a self sufficient republic.
The Panchayati Raj introduced in India thus far is but a half measure. For genuine self-rule, the real authority of governance must devolve to that segment of the citizenry that is affected by the issues to be addressed. According to British philosopher Harold Laski, genuine authority stems from the coercive power of the state. That means authority over police. Each administrative tier should be granted power over the appropriate level of police. For genuine Panchayati Raj, a new and primary level of policing may need to be established that would be under the authority of the village panchayat or the local Ward Council. One has to reflect only on the fantastic data source against terrorism that such an arrangement would provide for Intelligence agencies at the national level to appreciate the benefits that would accrue from genuine federal democracy. It is the local people that know best who is coming or going and what suspicious activity is occurring in their respective neighbourhood. Was it not significant that Punjab police made little headway against militancy during Governor's rule when it enjoyed draconian powers? The police successfully curbed militancy in Punjab only after Panchayati Raj was established in the state.   The mere introduction of Panchayati Raj in Kashmir after 30 years has shown splendid results. Terrorists are snubbed and polling is the heaviest in India! As recently as last month, J&K chief minister Mr Omar Abdullah announced his commitment for devolution of power to an effective Panchayati Raj system. "You can take a firm message from here to the Centre that my Government is committed to Panchayati Raj in Jammu and Kashmir," he told the officers from the Centre's Panchayati Raj department.

The chief minister, who was berated for his ineffectual handling of militants a short while ago, has shown spectacular results against them today. The magic does not lie in Mr Omar Abdullah. It lies in Panchayati Raj. It may be recalled that the recent panchayat elections in Jharkhand also recorded heavy polling despite Maoist threats. Should not a radical version of Panchayati Raj serve as the roadmap for political reform in India?    

The writer is a veteran journalist and cartoonist







When three of the most powerful voices in the world speak in unison, their word becomes law. Barack Obama, Nicolas Sarkozy and David Cameron have pledged, in a jointly signed article, their intention to intensify military action in Libya. This, they believe, is the only way to oust Muammar Gaddafi, who is showing no signs of quitting even after weeks of bombardment by Nato forces. If anything, the Libyan dictator, who took out a victory parade recently, is sending out signals that are quite the opposite. Messrs Obama, Sarkozy and Cameron agree that such brazenness cannot be countered by strictly adhering to the mandates of the United Nations security council resolution of 1973. The latter prescribes preventive strikes in order to protect civilian populations from errant rulers. It does not advocate all-out war against oppressive regimes. So the only way for these leaders to overcome the legal constrictions is by making a moral case for interventionism — and that is precisely what they have done. As they put it, the world would commit an "unconscionable betrayal" if it let Mr Gaddafi stay on. This, apparently, clears the way for another America-style experiment with democracy in Libya, although, after the failed attempts to install democracy in Haiti, Iraq or Afghanistan, one would have thought otherwise.

The idea that any country can export democracy to another betrays the first principles of what it means to have a democratic form of governance. The history of democracy, especially in the West, shows that different societies had to fight long, hard and internal battles to secure their own rights and freedoms. If democracy, as a US president famously said, refers to government of the people, by the people, and for the people, then it is inherently contradictory, if not defeatist, for external powers to impose their own models of democracy on other nations. No foreign invader managed to successfully establish democracy by 'liberating' a people from the clutches of a tyrant. The business of bringing democracy to a nation is best left to its own people — it must come from the bottom up, not top down.

None of this is to deny that civil society in Libya needs the support of the West to win their right to a more equitable existence. But that support must not come in the form of a convenient formula that is coloured by the prejudice of those who have crucial stakes in the resources of the besieged nation. Democracy implies the right of the people to make mistakes on their way to founding a new order. External meddling can often exacerbate issues that are fundamentally domestic and tied to specific contexts and histories. French intervention in Algeria in 1991, which led to a decade of civil war, bears testimony to the harm that can be wrought by foreigners driven by self-interest. Democracy is not created by exporting the US Bill of Rights overnight. The only thing that can be usefully exported for such a purpose is the richness of human experience — and that can be achieved without engaging in active warfare.







Whether or not the joint committee to draft a lok pal bill agrees on anything, the Jantar Mantar crowd that spread the word through Facebook, Twitter, SMS and gushing emails has absolutely no doubt who should be the ombudsman. Kisan Bapat Baburao Hazare, whose bespectacled countenance under the Gandhi cap resembles a genial owl with a parrot's beakiness, is the 'Modern Mahatma'. Swept away on a heady current of populism, people with no thought of long-term stability believe he alone can keep India on the straight and narrow.

That's because Hazare, the former military truck driver, does not baulk at merging the roles of investigator, prosecutor, executioner and prophet and politician. No namby-pamby due process, softie constitutional freedoms or individual rights affected his determination to exorcize the devil drink from his native village of Ralegan Siddhi in Maharashtra. Confucius would have admired his communitarianism, Senator Joe McCarthy applauded his ruthlessness in stamping out un-Indian activities. Indira Gandhi might have ordered him to administer her Emergency.

The government had given up trying to impose prohibition and the legendary dry days had been relegated to just that — legend — when Hazare formed a youth group to help him take the law into his own hands. Their pledge to purge and purify the village was taken in a temple, because, like his mentor, Hazare knows that India's masses respond most fervently to religion. The saffron-draped (or undraped) godmen fluttering about the Jantar Mantar invested his crusade against corruption with a special aura, while a resplendent Bharat Mata presiding over the stage ensured this was not another mundane political rally. It was popular puja that Uma Bharti and Om Prakash Chautala couldn't be allowed to defile. The two actors flanking Hazare got up to resemble Manmohan Singh and Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi paid public compliment to the prime minister even though Hazare mocks Manmohan Singh's job, chuckling smugly he can achieve more from outside.

When he banished drink, drinking and drinkers from Ralegan Siddhi, some defiant villagers dared to buy their poison in another village. Those free marketeers wouldn't have been able to do that if the real Mahatma had succeeded in abolishing trains. But Gandhi was also a softie. Richard Symonds, a British Quaker, claims he looked the other way when Sabarmati Ashram inmates surreptitiously wolfed chocolates and biscuits behind the bushes where cyclist pedlars secretly catered to their craving. Gandhi also allowed Symonds to drink beer when recuperating from a long illness in Delhi because his landlady in London had told him beer was strengthening.

Our Modern Mahatma is made of sterner stuff. Drinkers had to be taught a lesson. So they were tied to poles and soundly thrashed. Hazare justified the punishment by arguing, "Doesn't a mother administer bitter medicines to a sick child when she knows that the medicine can cure her child? The child may not like the medicine, but the mother does it only because she cares for the child." He cares. No wonder he is hot property. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh proclaims his virtues (while he wriggles uncomfortably). His 'model' chief minister, Narendra Modi, seeks his blessings (which now embarrasses him). Modi can't be serious against corruption, sniffs Assam's Tarun Gogoi, since he hasn't instituted a single case with the Central Bureau of Investigation. Gogoi has instituted no fewer than nine. Gujarat hasn't even had a Lokayukta for seven years.

The Congress chief of Uttar Pradesh wants Hazare to crusade against the corruption and human rights violations said to flourish under Mayavati. Lal Krishna Advani is torn between trying to co-opt him against the United Progressive Alliance and stealing his thunder by claiming that only the Opposition's unparliamentary antics during Parliament's winter of discontent triggered the jana andolan. But a combined opposition crusade in Lucknow would oblige Mayavati's own Bahujan Samaj Party to campaign against her. Since the BSP's Shafiqur Rahman Barq lumps the Babri Masjid's demolition with the spectrum scam to demand a joint parliamentary committee to investigate both, the demonstration would also pit BSP against the Bharatiya Janata Party. Mayavati herself might then feel the need to join the protesters against her government in order to flaunt her repugnance of corruption and respect for human rights. What Bengal thinks today etc., for did not Ajoy Mukherjee march against the United Front government in which he was chief minister? Others are cashing in on contradiction. A Rajasthan minister of state, Golma Devi, has announced a fast unto death to protest against her government's treatment of her parliamentarian husband. That's democracy.

Fasting is powerful emotional blackmail. Akshay Kumar Singhal in Ahmedabad is fasting unto death against reservation for minorities. Surjit Singh Dang of the Jagrat Bharat Party is threatening to do so to expel criminals from politics. But not all fasts are productive. Irom Sharmila Chanu beat Hazare hollow (she is the world's longest hunger-striker, having started on November 4, 2000) but there is no sign of the authorities repealing the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act. Instead, Irom is arrested and force-fed whenever her condition deteriorates. Some fasts, like that of Potti Sreeramulu, are posthumously rewarded. Like those Sabarmati cheats, some hunger-strikers are suspected of a quick munch and sip when no one is looking.

Taking a lesson from Singapore's ruling People's Action Party, which doesn't tolerate armchair analysts, Digvijay Singh demands that Hazare should experience the hurly-burly of elections before criticizing politicians. That might teach him that it's impossible "to practise politics without corruption", as the president of Karnataka's Janata Dal (Secular) puts it. India adores martyrs and martyrdom as much as it admires showmen and showmanship. Enthusiasm knows no bounds when both are harnessed to a popular cause, like getting rid of the British or cleansing public life. Hazare must be responsible for an intriguing SMS giving me unrecognizable strings of letters to complain to "if any Central Government employee demands money (bribe) for any official work". Presumably, state government employees can demand what they will. So can Central employees for unofficial work. Nor does the ban extend to gifts, favours and introductions.

Such and other exceptions have killed all previous attempts at anti-corruption legislation. No Lok Pal can perform miracles if the highest officers of state are beyond the reach of the law. No law can be effective if courts are understaffed and dilatory. Apart from the mammoth backlog of cases, a petition challenging the appointment of Rajasthan's ombudsman has been pending for 20 months. Courts have to rely on investigating and policing agencies which are themselves rotten in most parts of the country. In the circumstances, absorbing street theatre such as Hazare provides or Kapil Sibal's plausible claim that not even the most dynamic Lok Pal would have any impact on daunting challenges of education and healthcare can be the government's alibi for inaction.

Hazare's popularity indicates the intensity of passion in a land where everybody has at some time or other paid a bribe for a normal service. But he will only obstruct remedial action by continuing to hog the footlights. Media support will vanish if he plugs the scope for leaks and scoops by insisting that committee proceedings are videographed. His ignorance of history is exposed when he proclaims that "the second independence struggle" is against "the kale angrez (black Englishmen) who rule us today". True, many politicians and civil servants mimic the hauteur of their British predecessors, but the all- pervasive corruption that is destroying India is as desi as Kautilya.

Only an elected representative government has the moral right and administrative competence to fulfil public demand and rescue India from drifting further along the road of failed states. However tempting the Ralegan Siddhi prescription may appear, 1.2 billion Indians cannot be tied to poles and thrashed. The most realistic remedy would be to ensure that the systems we already have start functioning again as they did before the kale angrez took over.







The move to resume cricketing ties between India and Pakistan is premature, even after the Mohali spirit lifted sentiments in both countries. What the Mohali engagement did was more symbolic than substantial and there is no doubt that it has opened up many possibilities. But they still remain possibilities which need to be tested in the light of the still existing realities. These have not changed much in the last few weeks. Pakistan remains a dangerous place, with almost every day witnessing terrorist actions directed against different targets. The security of the Indian cricket team will be a matter of serious concern for the foreseeable future in Pakistan. The near fatal attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Pakistan is too recent to be ignored. The security situation in that country has not improved since and the potential risk for an Indian team may be greater than for the Lankan team. It is almost impossible to provide fool proof security when the teams play in open stadia. Indian cricket teams have received warm welcome from civil society in Pakistan in the past but the political and security environments were different then.


Bilateral cricketing relations were snapped after the November 2008 Mumbai terror attack. Both countries are trying to pick up the threads in all areas of bilateral relations now. While Pakistan is keen on a return to the pre-Mumbai state of mutual engagement it has not responded positively to India's concerns and acted on them. The recent disclosure of the Pakistan Canadian Lashkar-e-Toiba operative Tahawwur Rana about the role of the Pakistan government and the ISI in the Mumbai attack exposes yet again the duplicity of the Pakistani establishment in its India policy. The Pakistan government is yet to satisfactorily comply with India's demands on the trial of those responsible for the attack. There are also reports that anti-India organisations are freely carrying on their campaigns.

A number of goodwill gestures like release of prisoners have been taken by both countries in recent days. Talks have also been scheduled between officials of both governments in the coming weeks. While India should be keen on normalisation of relations with Pakistan it should not compromise on its stand on what Pakistan should do to contain terror. A visit by the Indian cricket team is not advisable from this point of view too, apart from the security aspect.







India has the dubious distinction of having the largest number of stillbirths in the world. According to a study published in 'The Lancet' medical journal, an average of 2.6 million stillbirths occurred every year between 1995 and 2009 and 23.2 per cent of these were from India. This means that an average of 1,680 babies were born dead every day in the country during this period. In 2009 alone, over six lakh children were born dead in India.
Of course, the situation has improved over the past 15 years — both at the global and national level. At a global level, for instance, stillbirths dropped from an estimated 3.03 million in 1995 to 2.64 million in 2009. And yet there is reason for concern as the stillborn figures remain depressingly high. Although the situation has improved in India, the fact that the average stillbirth rate is 22 stillbirths for every 1,000 births is worrying. It is higher than the global average. Worse, in some states the rate is as high as 60 stillbirths per 1,000 births. Health experts say that the figures could be higher as stillbirths often go unrecorded.


Stillbirths are caused by childbirth complications, maternal infections during pregnancy, maternal health problems like hypertension and diabetes, fetal growth restrictions and congenital abnormalities. These are conditions that are largely treatable. Timely medical intervention could prevent these deaths.

The large number of stillbirths are a damning indictment of the abysmal state of pre-natal care in the country. Improving maternal nutrition will help prevent fetal abnormalities. Sadly, the health and wellbeing of women in this country, even when they are pregnant is not given priority within the family or the community. Women and girls are the last to be fed in the family and the most unlikely to be given medical treatment. In the circumstances, how can we expect the fetus to be healthy? Clearly, problems like the high rate of stillborns are closely linked to gender discrimination and until we address patriarchal mindsets, stillbirths will continue. But meanwhile, there are ways to prevent stillbirths. Studies have found that women who go to hospitals to deliver are less likely to have stillborn children. The public must be made aware of the strong correlation between hospital deliveries and healthy babies.







Polling has just been just completed in four states and now only West Bengal awaits its turn. One common, dominating feature of these elections has been the spectre of all political parties vying with one another in giving freebies to the voters.

Gone are the days when a free meal or liquor could buy votes. India is shining — so the value of freebies must be correspondingly higher. Take Tamil Nadu, for instance. In 2006, DMK announced giving free colour TV sets (to be financed by the tax payers' money) to alleviate the misery of the poor! Many people who already had TVs collected the free sets and sold them to splurge on booze for a few days.

This time, DMK has added new sops like free mixer-grinder for all ration card holders and free laptops for SC, ST and BC (backward classes) first year students in professional colleges. AIDMK, not to be outdone, promises laptops for all 'poor' first-year students in technical colleges. Wikileaks informs us that in the last election cash envelopes were given to voters in some places along with the morning newspaper and party voting slips.
Further, according to media reports, DMK has promised to give Rs 30,000 for the wedding of a daughter who has passed matriculation exam (being projected as an incentive for getting girls educated).

Incidentally, if the objective is to facilitate education and empowerment of the girl child a much better scheme is the one by Nitish Kumar in Bihar where a cash amount is being given to the poor rural families to purchase bicycles for the girl child for commuting to school, instead of subsidising the marriage. Critics also allege that the DMK scheme of giving free TVs increased the subscriber base and revenue of the cable TV channels which are owned by the relatives of the DMK supremo.

Moreover, whenever the government purchases and distributes freebies, it creates a big scope for politicians and officials to get a hefty cut and the people can't complain about the quality. By contrast, the Bihar government way of giving cash to buy bicycles eliminated the 'cuts' by middlemen and increased the chance that the receiver gets a better product or at lower price as she herself looks around and bargains.

In several past elections, competing political parties promised free electricity to 'poor' farmers which, in practice, meant free power to virtually all in rural areas. As a result, the demand for electricity skyrocketed as people switched from other fuels to free electricity for cooking (using electric stoves) and had no incentive to economise on the use of electricity for whatever purpose.

Power crisis

The bankrupt state electricity boards had no money to invest in additional power generation. The promise of free electricity resulted in long hours of power cut. The poor eventually suffered most. Small workshops had to go without power which caused work stoppage and loss of income. Bigger factories could afford to run captive generators. Poor people had to live in darkness for hours while the more affluent could get power from inverters  or generators.

This is one part of the picture. On the other side, the Centre is giving income tax exemption amounting to some Rs 45 crore to the International Cricket Council. It is being argued that it is a prior commitment made from 2006 onwards (when ICC Champions Trophy was held) in relation to profits made by any entity from holding international sporting events in India. Presumably the rationale behind the provision was that it would attract mega sporting events to India. But, does cash-rich ICC or BCCI need any tax exemption as incentive?

India is undisputably the most lucrative market for holding cricketing events, irrespective of any tax concessions. Hence, that logic does not apply in the case of cricket World Cup, IPL or any such commercial cricket venture, even if it may be valid for holding international events in other less popular and less profitable sports. The people who gain most from being associated with the big sporting events are rich and politically powerful people (just think of the names of the present and past bosses of ICC, BCCI, IPL, CWG, even state cricket associations) who benefit from the swelling coffers of the organisers which is further helped by tax exemptions and government favours of various kinds.


All these underline one basic malaise of the Indian democracy. We have not got rid of our feudal mindset. The top bosses of political parties treat these as their fiefdoms — like emperors they hoist their offsprings as successors if and when they decide to retire. In a similar vein, when in government, they consider tax payers' money as if it belongs to them and would distribute largesse as a matter of right.

So, they find nothing wrong in giving free TVs or mixers to win votes or throwing crores of rupees and government plots to our cricket superstars, the way the kings used to do in earlier times to show appreciation to court performers. The easiest is to announce prizes for one Mahi (who, at this stage, does not need a crore or two, on top of his fabulous sponsorship income but at one stage could not afford to have a good bat) and bask in reflected glory; far more difficult is to improve the game's infrastructure in distant towns and villages so that many more Mahis can come up.

(The writer is a former professor of economics, IIM, Calcutta)







If Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya is regarded as the patron Saint of Delhi, his disciple Amir Khusrau would well be regarded as the bard of northern India. Even in his lifetime he was known as 'Tuti-yi-Hind', the parrot of India.
 He composed songs in Farsi (Persian) and Hindavi, spoken around Delhi. To this day he is the top favourite of qawwals of India and Pakistan.

Amir Khusrau (1253-1325) must have been a most affable person. He was court poet of a succession of Sultans of Delhi as well as was loved by Nizamuddin Auliya. One verse in Persian sums up his affection for his Sufi mentor.

Man tu shudam, tu man shudi
man jan shudam, tu tan shudi
ta naguyad kasi pas az-in
man digaram u tu digari
I have become you, you have become me.
I have become life, you have become body
From now on, let no one say that
I am other and you are

A legend goes that when Nizamuddin was dying, Amir Khusrau was not in Delhi. Nizamuddin asked his followers to advise Khusrau not to come and touch his grave lest he rose to embrace him and thus break the ordinance of Allah that no dead person should rise from his grave. Consequently, when Khusrau arrived back, he was kept at a distance from Auliya's grave. He composed these lines in Hindavi:

Gori sove sej par mukh par dare kes
Chal Khusrau ghar apne sanjh bhain sau des
My fair one sleeps on the bed,
& scattered her hair across her face.
Khusrau it is time you also go to your home
Shades of evening have spread over the land.

Lovers of poetry will welcome the publication of 'In the Bazaar of Love: The Selected Poetry of Amir Khusrau' translated by Paul Losensky and Sunil Sharma (Penguin Books). It gives lot of information about Khusrau's life but the translation could have been improved.

Thoughts of death

Dr S P Bakshi, now 98, comes from my part of the Punjab and is almost of the same age and like me obsessed with thoughts of death and dying. His short verses make good reading. I quote the first few verses from his compilation 'The Quest' (Pilgrims):

Ah, who can tell what lies across
The vale of life, beyond the pass
Of death, where all must go, alas
But none returns.

We do not know when tolls the bell;
For whom it tolls, we cannot tell;
There is no warning when all hell
May come on us.

When death comes knocking at our door,
We have to go, and come no more.
We cross but once the
unknown shore
Of the great beyond.

The breath that comes, it comes and goes;
But will the next one come, who knows;
Is this the last? if so, what
The end of Life?
What is today, is not
Our present joys may end in sorrow;
There is no peace which one can borrow
In the best of times.
In Praise of Karunanidhi
A long and hard penance have I done
I may not be a sanyasi, but I'm nearly one,
No disciple of mine can any wrong do
And Raja especially is a stranger to corruption.
I am a patriarch and it is my duty
To see that every member of the family —
Past, present and yet to be born —
Becomes a minister
or an MP —
And thus carry forward my glory?
So Sonia and Manmohan Singh beware
If you invite my displeasure
I'll shake your government at the Centre,
In my hand I hold your fate
Because I am Lord Murugan incarnate.
(Contributed by Kuldip Salil, Delhi)







We could only advise him to go home and live among known devils.

A father and his 6-year-old son were walking in front of my house one afternoon and just as I was seeing them pass by my gate, suddenly the father got an attack of epilepsy and fell on the footpath. Bubbles started oozing out of his mouth and his whole body was shaking terribly. The boy sat beside him helplessly, holding on to a bag that his father had dropped. Immediately a few people gathered around them.  One man got off his bike, took out his house key and placed it in the man's palm. He held the man's fingers tightly.

As the man was slowly recouping, people spoke to the little boy and found out that the two were from a nearby town. The man opened his eyes and realised where he was. He said that he had come to Bangalore in search of a job. He was a mason. But even after five days, he did not find any job. He was under treatment for epilepsy but could not take the tablet because he could not get food to eat. He had spent all the money that he had come with.  He had brought his son along because his wife had left him a year ago and there was nobody to take care of the little boy back home. Hearing his sad story, the man who first helped him with his key, offered Rs 100 and said, "Go back home. You will get a bus from the nearby bus-stand". Three students stood by and one of them gave the man another Rs 100. Then a woman passing by stood to find out what had happened. She gave the man Rs 50 and said, "you are safer in your own little town.

Bangalore is too big a city and you will get lost. Go back and take care of your health."

The man said, "I have been roaming for the last five days and nobody is ready to employ me. When I beg for food, they turn me out saying, 'you look fit and fine. Why don't you work and earn a living?' What should I do?" None of us had any right answer for that question. We could only advise him to go home and live among known devils.

It transpired that the poor man was a Muslim and all those who gathered and helped him were Hindus. So, basically human beings are humane. When do they turn mad and stop seeing a human being as a human being and start seeing things beyond? Who is responsible for all those bloody communal riots? Definitely not you, me or the common citizen!



                                    THE NEWYORK TIMES





Next week marks the first anniversary of an environmental disaster — the explosion at BP's Macondo oil well that killed 11 workers, sank the drilling rig, sent 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico and threw thousands of people out of work. Yet Congress is behaving as if nothing at all happened, as if there were no lessons to draw from the richly documented chain of errors and regulatory shortcomings that contributed to the blowout.


Even worse, Congress is pushing in exactly the wrong direction. The House Natural Resources Committee passed three bills this week that would force the administration to accelerate the granting of drilling permits in the gulf and open huge new offshore areas to oil and gas exploration. The compromise 2011 budget makes major cuts in clean energy programs designed to lessen this country's dependence on fossil fuels.


What makes this particularly discouraging is that, Congress aside, there has been a surprising amount of progress, thanks largely to the hard work of thousands of people and the extraordinary resilience of nature. More than 99 percent of the gulf has been reopened to fishing, jobs are returning, and the Interior Department has tightened oversight. Yet without Congress's help progress will slow and many crucial tasks will remain undone.



Here is a one-year report card and a look ahead:


THE GULF After prematurely claiming victory last year, the Obama administration has since done exhaustive sampling across the gulf and concluded — along with many independent scientists — that the oil has now mostly evaporated, been captured or consumed by microbes. One thousand miles of soiled beaches have been reduced to less than 100. Gulf seafood is safe to eat.


Louisiana's wetlands — vital fish nurseries — are soiled, and the full extent of the damage to the gulf's ecosystem and its species, especially to fish larvae and the tiny organisms vital to the food chain, may not be known for years. More will be learned when the government issues its preliminary, legally mandated assessment next fall. Until then, and for years after, the watchword is vigilance: the herring population in Prince William Sound did not crash until three years after the Exxon Valdez spill.


RESTORATION The gulf had serious problems before the spill. One-third of Louisiana's marshes, wetlands and barrier islands disappeared over the last century, victims of industrial development and levee-building along the Mississippi River. The administration correctly saw the spill as a chance to help underwrite a huge restoration effort, drawing on the $5 billion to $20 billion in civil and criminal penalties BP is likely to owe. To jump-start the effort, the White House may ask BP to make an advance payment on these penalties. But none of that can happen without Congress. Under current law, the fines would flow mostly to a fund to clean up future spills.


REGULATION The spill exposed grievous flaws in federal oversight, including a destructively cozy relationship between the oil industry and its regulators in the Interior Department. The department has since been reorganized and tough new standards applied to all aspects of the drilling process.


Industry and local politicians started pushing for new deep-water drilling permits the moment the drilling moratorium was lifted last fall. The Interior Department has been right to move cautiously. It has also insisted that new operators fully prepare for worst-case scenarios and have access to new equipment capable of stopping a runaway well. Such equipment — known as a capping stack — is now available, but has yet to be tested at great depth.


Here again Congress can be helpful. At a minimum, it should codify the Interior Department's regulatory changes so that future administrations do not rescind them. It could go further by making the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — the agency responsible for the health of America's coastal waters — an equal partner in decisions about where oil companies can and cannot drill. Environmental concerns must play a primary role.


INDUSTRY A presidential commission concluded that the Macondo blowout reflected not just BP's carelessness but an industrywide "culture of complacency." Right after the spill, a half-dozen of the biggest companies banded together to develop new systems to contain a blowout. But so far the industry has turned a deaf ear to the commission's modest but sensible suggestion that it establish an independent safety institute to audit industry operations, much as the nuclear industry did after the disaster at Three Mile Island.


BP will pay a high price for its negligence. But this is a rich and powerful industry long accustomed to getting its way.


If Congress chooses to keep enabling the oil barons, rather than demanding that they change their ways, the lessons of the gulf disaster will be wasted. And America's waters will remain at risk.







After two years of dithering, it is good to see the Obama administration championing freer trade. Last week, the United States and Colombia announced a deal that will improve, and we hope finally win passage of, a 2006 trade agreement signed during the Bush administration. The amended version will strengthen worker protections in Colombia while boosting American exports.


Republicans and Democrats in Congress must now overcome their parochial interests and approve the entire set of trade initiatives snagged on Capitol Hill. That includes an amended agreement with South Korea, first signed in 2007, and programs to grant preferential access to imports from Andean countries and to help American workers who lose their jobs because of competition with imported goods. Those lapsed in February.


The agreements with Colombia and South Korea would cement relations with key allies and slash tariffs on a range of American agricultural and industrial goods. The Andean preferences would help to combat the cocaine trade by creating jobs in other export industries. These deals (and another with Panama) have languished for years mainly because of Democrats' — more to the point, their union backers' — lack of enthusiasm for free trade.


President Obama seemed to have broken through on South Korea in December, after his aides renegotiated the agreement with Seoul to improve the terms for American carmakers. Then Republicans, who claim to champion trade, refused to pass the agreement or extend assistance for workers until the administration moved to gain approval of the Colombia deal.


Democrats have long opposed that agreement, arguing that Colombia's labor laws are too weak and the government has not done enough to stop attacks against members of labor unions. And they refused to renew the Andean preferences unless the trade adjustment assistance was extended, too.


The new deal with Colombia should cut this Gordian knot. Bogota has committed to restore land to people displaced by conflict, increase state protection of union members and increase prison sentences for those convicted of killing them. It will change its criminal code to penalize with up to five years in prison anybody who interferes with workers' rights to organize and bargain collectively.


The administration also expects that Panama will soon satisfy President Obama's conditions for moving forward on its 2007 trade agreement. Those include passing new laws to protect labor rights and agreeing to international standards to combat cross-border tax evasion.


Some Democrats may never be persuadable. Representative Sander Levin of Michigan and Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio have made clear their opposition to the amended Colombia deal. But these agreements are good for the American economy and good for national security. Congress should waste no more time and approve them.








New Yorkers, unfortunately, are all too accustomed to seeing state legislators sent off to jail for their misdeeds. When a court officer slipped handcuffs on Alan Hevesi, the former state comptroller, on Friday morning, however, Mr. Hevesi became the highest-ranking elected official in New York's modern history to go to prison for corruption.


The former sole trustee of the state's nearly $141 billion pension fund pleaded guilty to accepting more than $1 million in travel expenses, sham consulting fees and campaign contributions from people wanting to invest some of those billions. He was sentenced to one to four years in prison.


His conviction should be an urgent reminder to Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Legislature of how much they need to do to clean up Albany. Pay-to-play isn't just a problem in the comptroller's office, it is a problem throughout the entire political system. The state needs ethics reform, campaign finance reform and redistricting reform. It must restructure the state comptroller's office.


No reform can protect against all forms of fraud, but New York is the only large state in the country that still lets one public official control such a huge pool of investments. What the comptroller's office needs is an independent, financially savvy board of directors to approve the awarding of investment contracts — with the single goal of protecting and increasing state pension assets, invested for more than a million workers and retirees. New York's lawmakers should also adopt a public financing system for campaigns, starting with the comptroller's office.


Thomas DiNapoli, who took over as comptroller in 2006, has made important reforms, but the sole trustee still has too much power. As Attorney General Eric Schneiderman says: "Being a sole trustee gives more power than a good comptroller should want and more power than a corrupt comptroller should have." Exactly.









Corporations are roaring. Wall Street is rolling in cash. C.E.O. bonuses are going gangbusters. It's a really good time to be rich!


If you're poor, not so much. The pall of the recession is suffocating. The unemployment rate is still unbearably high. The Census Bureau reported in September that the poverty rate for 2009 was 14.3 percent, higher than it has been since 1994, and the number of uninsured reached a record high. And the Department of Agriculture has reported record "prevalence of food insecurity."


So in a civil society, which of these groups should be expected to sacrifice a bit for the benefit of the other and the overall health and prosperity of the nation at a time of great uncertainty? The poor, of course. At least that seems to be the Republican answer.


Under the guise of deficit reduction, the Republicans are proposing to not only make the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy permanent, but to reduce their taxes even more — cutting the top individual rate from 35 percent to 25 percent to "promote growth and job creation." And they plan to pay for this by taking a buzz saw to programs that benefit the poor, elderly and otherwise vulnerable.


But the spurious argument that cutting taxes for the wealthy will somehow stimulate economic growth is not borne out by the data. A look at the year-over-year change in G.D.P. and changes in the historical top marginal tax rates show no such correlation. This isn't about balancing budgets or fiscal discipline or prosperity-for-posterity stewardship. This is open piracy for plutocrats. This is about reshaping the government and economy to benefit the wealthy and powerful at the expense of the poor and powerless.


And it's not that the rich haven't already gotten their tax cuts. According to an analysis released Thursday by the Economic Policy Institute, the average tax rate for the top 1 percent of households dropped by about 20 percent from 1979 to 2007, while the average tax rate for all Americans dropped by just 8 percent over that time. However, in just the period from 1992 to 2007, the tax rate on the top 400 households in America — those with an average annual income of nearly $350 million — fell by more than a third. In fact, the tax rate for these supermillionaires is now less than the tax rate for average Americans.


This even though, as the institute pointed out, "between 1992 and 2007, a time in which income for the average household and top 1 percent grew 13% and 123%, respectively, the income for the top 400 households grew fully 399%."


As my colleague Catherine Rampell pointed out last month on the Economix blog, the top 1 percent of Americans earn a fifth of the income and control a third of the wealth.


 More tax cuts would be gluttony in a time of starvation. That is not America. That is a nation about to be plundered, and a people laid to waste.








This was the week we've been waiting for! Decades into the future, you will be able to tell your grandchildren where you were when Mitt Romney announced that he had formed a presidential exploratory committee.


Who knew he needed to explore? He said he was running on his Christmas card, for Lord's sake.


My job today is to give you a run-through of every book Mitt Romney has ever written. Fortunately, there are only two: "Turnaround," which is about his stint as the leader of the troubled 2002 Salt Lake City Olympic Games, and "No Apology," his campaign tome, which used to be subtitled "The Case for American Greatness" but is now "Believe in America."


Perhaps three. When the new paperback edition of "No Apology" came out in February, early readers noted that not only had Romney added a new subtitle but also a new preface, ranting about the founders-hating big spenders who are now running the country. And, most notably, he had also changed some critical chunks of the original to make the text more Tea Party-friendly.


For instance, paperback Romney has now noticed that the Massachusetts health insurance law that he championed as governor does have some flaws, all of which are because of anti-freedom provisions that the Democrats in the State Legislature put in. Also, the stimulus was way, way worse than he originally thought.


We all know that Mitt has a habit of, um, mutating to the political winds. So even in its earlier incarnation, the book had a decidedly uneven tone. "Despite my affiliation with the Republican Party, I don't think of myself as highly partisan," Moderate Mitt wrote toward the end. This comes after 300 pages of unrelenting attacks on Barack Obama and every member of his party since Andrew Jackson. He blames Bill Clinton for everything from cutting military spending to presiding over an administration during which "birth to teenage mothers rose to their highest level in decades." I'm sure this week's Romney does not regard that as a partisan statement even though teenage birth rates actually fell spectacularly during that exact period.


The book is heavy into policy and rather sparse on personal history, except for the parts that relate to his dad being a successful businessman and Mitt himself being an entrepreneurial hero along the deal-making, business-closing, job-slashing private equity line. Romney's earlier book, "Turnaround," had some great stories about his Mormon ancestors, including a great-grandmother who single-handedly drove her children to Mexico in a covered wagon during the Indian wars. "At one point along the way, she came across freshly slaughtered U.S. Cavalry horses. She paused only long enough to pry the shoes from the wasted horses, re-shod her own wagon horses, and journey on," he wrote. Truly, "No Apology" could use a whole lot more of Hannah Romney and a whole lot less about the causes of the decline of the Ottoman Empire.


Also, there is not a single mention in "No Apology" of the fact that Romney once drove to Canada with the family Irish setter strapped to the roof of the car. I regard this as a critical oversight, although perhaps it was Seamus that Romney was thinking of when he chose his title.


But, according to the book, "No Apology" refers to Romney's objections to President Obama's alleged habit of going around the world, asking other countries to forgive America for its faults. This Obama apologizing tour is an article of Tea Party faith, but one that PolitiFact analyzed a while back and found it to be false. ("Yes, there is criticism in some of his speeches, but it's typically leavened by praise for the United States and its ideals.")


Anybody can make a mistake, but it's a bad sign when one of your errors is your title.


Of all the awful books by presidential candidates I have read this year, "No Apology" was the hardest to get through. To be fair, Romney does write a lot about the issues, but in a way that makes you feel as if you're trapped at a school assembly where a long-winded donor is telling you what life is all about. ("If I may return to my engine analogy from earlier in this chapter: Our economy is powered by two pistons ...")


"Turnaround" is a much easier book to read, even though it requires a pretty keen interest in how the Salt Lake City Olympics planners saved the day after Mitt took over in 1999. I was particularly fascinated by Romney's insistent contention that he is a fun guy. ("I love jokes, and I love laughing.") There is not much evidence of actual humor, although Romney says that when he visited the Clinton White House, he prankishly protested being given a visitor's badge that had a red A on it, saying, "I'm not the one that cheated on my wife."


 Maybe you had to be there.









Los Angeles


ON Monday the Supreme Court will consider whether to fundamentally alter the way American patent law is litigated. Specifically, in the context of an otherwise unremarkable patent dispute, the Court has promised to decide the degree to which juries should be allowed to question whether a patent should have been issued at all.


It's a critical issue: the current approach, under which juries are explicitly discouraged from questioning a patent's validity, all too often means that dubious patents are nevertheless enforced. That inhibits innovation, the very thing that patent law is supposed to encourage.


A patent's validity is first judged at the United States Patent and Trademark Office, where thousands of experts on everything from business practices to stereo equipment toil to evaluate every submitted application. It's a herculean task: inventors have filed more than 450,000 applications every year since 2007; last year the number was close to 500,000. To accurately evaluate all of those purported inventions would cost tens of billions of dollars, multiples more than what the Patent Office receives in federal outlays or could plausibly raise on its own with application fees.


As a result, patent examiners give most applications only a quick look, spending on average 16 hours to 17 hours per application — nowhere near the time needed to assess whether an invention is truly new and not obvious. Worse, those hours are typically spread over two to three years, and they are interspersed with work on hundreds of other open files.


These problems could in theory be fixed with more money. But resources aren't the only issue. The extent and quality of Patent Office review is also limited by the fact that the process is not adversarial. Indeed, the only parties involved in Patent Office review are the applicant and the applicant's lawyers — people with an obvious incentive to see the application move forward. Contrast that with litigation, where patent plaintiffs have to square off against very motivated patent defendants.


Why, then, does the current system discourage juries from second-guessing the Patent Office? The primary reason is that judges are reluctant to invite lay jurors to overrule the experts. That makes sense in the abstract. But in practice, even the best examiners are so overwhelmed and so poorly informed that the benefits of their expertise are fully dissipated. Juries know less, true, but at least they get to see a complete evidentiary record and to hear arguments on both sides.


The consequences of misplaced Patent Office deference are significant. A patent holder whose patent covers a technology that was in fact obvious to the world has a strong incentive to sit quietly after the patent is issued. Other parties will inevitably come up with same idea on their own; when they do, the patent holder can threaten litigation and as a result extort cash from companies that neither knew of nor remotely benefited from the patent holder's work. Indeed, a growing number of "patent trolls" employ this exact strategy today, using bad patents to literally tax legitimate business activity.


If the current approach were abandoned and juries were instead given real freedom to review patent validity, not much would change at the Patent Office. Examiners would still evaluate the validity of patent applications and document their views. And, in the event of litigation, those views would still be admissible in court. The key difference would be that the examiner's view would then rise or fall on the merits, rather than enjoying substantial deference from the jury.


With this reform in place, the patent system would still protect genuine inventions. But it would also give relief to the countless businesses that today find themselves vulnerable to patents that shouldn't have been issued in the first place. After all, reform is not just about helping patent holders. Patent reform is also about protecting companies of all stripes from a patent system that would otherwise dangerously overreach.


Doug Lichtman is a professor of law at the University of California, Los Angeles.









Oh, puh-leeze!


Some readers of The New York Times are unimpressed with the idea of substituting natural gas for imported oil, even though such a move would help wean the country from its dependence on OPEC. Or so it appears after I made that argument in my column on Tuesday, noting that natural gas is a fossil fuel we have in abundance and is cleaner than oil to boot.


After that column was published, I was buried under an avalanche of angry e-mails and comments, most of them complaining that I had ignored the environmental dangers of drilling for gas, particularly the use of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a technique that involves shooting water and chemicals into shale formations deep underground.


"No mention of the disastrous consequences of fracking?" read one e-mail. Many readers pointed to a study by a Cornell scientist — reported in The Times the same day my column appeared — claiming that methane gas emissions posed a bigger threat to the environment than dirty coal. Another reader called my column "a disgrace."


Really? Let's take a closer look. To begin with, fracking is hardly new. In Texas and Oklahoma, it has been used for decades, with nobody complaining much about environmental degradation. It must be a coincidence that these worries surfaced when a natural gas field called the Marcellus Shale was discovered in the Northeast, primarily under Pennsylvania and New York. Surely, East Coast residents wouldn't object to having the country use more natural gas just because it's going to be drilled in their own backyard instead of, say, downtown Fort Worth. Would they?


As for the actual environmental questions, there are three main ones. First, fracking supposedly allows gas and dangerous chemicals to seep into the water supply. This is pretty implausible. Water tables are 1,000 feet or less from the surface; fracking usually takes place well under 7,000 feet. In Dimock, Pa., where methane appears to have leaked into the water supply, state environmental officials say that the problem was not fracking but rather sloppy gas producers who didn't take proper care in cementing their wells.


The second problem is the disposal of the chemical waste. In the Southwest, producers bury the waste in sealed containers deep underground. The geology of the Marcellus Shale, however, makes that much more difficult. Some of that waste is being sent to existing underground waste dumps, leading to the possibility of spills. Other waste is being buried in shallower ground, which creates a fear of contamination. Ultimately, producers in the Marcellus Shale will have to do a better job getting rid of the waste.


Finally, there is the concern raised by Robert Howarth, the Cornell scientist, who says that natural gas is dirtier than coal. His main contention is that so much methane is escaping from gas wells that it is creating an enormous footprint of greenhouse gases. His study, however, is not exactly iron-clad. Industry officials have mocked it, but even less-biased experts have poked holes in it. The Environmental Defense Fund, for instance, has estimates of methane gas emissions that are 75 percent lower than Howarth's.


Nor is Howarth what you'd call an unbiased observer. Although he told me that he had "a strong reputation, which I value, for objectivity," he also acknowledged that he has testified about the hazards of fracking and sometimes wears a "no fracking" pin. (He does so, he said, "because I'm a citizen of the world.")


The truth is, every problem associated with drilling for natural gas is solvable. The technology exists to prevent most methane from escaping, for instance. Strong state regulation will help ensure environmentally safe wells. And so on. Somewhat to my surprise, this view was seconded by Abrahm Lustgarten, a reporter for ProPublica who has probably written more stories about the dangers of fracking than anyone. In a comment posted online to my Tuesday column, he wrote that while the environmental issues were real, they "can be readily addressed by the employment of best drilling practices, technological investment, and rigorous regulatory oversight."


The country has been handed an incredible gift with the Marcellus Shale. With an estimated 500 trillion cubic feet of reserves, it is widely believed to be the second-largest natural gas field ever discovered. Which means that those of you who live near this tremendous resource have two choices. You can play the Not-In-My-Backyard card, employing environmental scare tactics to fight attempts to drill for that gas.


Or you can embrace the idea that America needs the Marcellus Shale, accept the inconvenience that the drilling will bring, but insist that it be done properly. If you choose this latter path, you will be helping to move the country to a fuel that is — yes — cleaner than oil, while diminishing the strategic importance of the Middle East, where American soldiers continue to die.


It's your call.









So far the environmental debate has continued through the king of hydroelectric power plants, Environment Minister Veysel Eroğlu. Finally the real addressee, Energy Minister Taner Yıldız comes to the forefront. Mr. Minister made (not so much) informative claims recently on CNNTürk.

The environment-related debate is brand new in Turkey. Its frame and content is locked up by developmentalist engineering, arrogance of politicians and the business world's appetite for big cash. Since its content misses the real topics, such as developmentalist obsession and sustainable energy sources, uninformed people are showered with an abundance of figures and demagogy. Such language full of self-insurance, with claims of being a ball of fire, scientific, innovative and above ideologies naturally tends toward a monologue as opposed to a dialogue.

Nowadays, the discussion is focused on two nuclear plants that are planned in Turkey, on the backside off the recent nuclear disaster of Japan. The so-called information that circulates in the whitewashing operation in favor of nuclear is nothing but nonsense comparisons made for years by nuclear lobbies in France and the United States. This is roughly nonsense, "People die more of smoking than nuclear accidents."

One thing for sure today is that we don't know how much nuclear waste will harm the Earth and life. Since nuclear technology is not old enough we do not completely understand its consequences. As a matter of fact after me "the deluge attitude" rules for now. But the remarks of the top decision maker on nuclear energy policies in Turkey on nuclear waste go beyond this. The minister says nuclear waste will be under the responsibility of Rosatom, the Russian company to build the plant on the Mediterranean coast. As though, when a company becomes in charge, nuclear waste will not cause any harm anymore!

The nuclear lobby continues with a full whitewashing operation in the aftermath of Fukushima disaster in Japan. We see Necmi Dayday, a former member of the International Atomic Energy Agency, telling daily Zaman that despite the disaster in Japan, constructions of nuclear plants do not stop in the region. I, on the other hand, asked the Japanese top-notch daily Asahi Shimbun's editor-in-chief, who was in Istanbul recently, about the fate of nuclear energy in his country. "There will be an inevitable debate there," he said, "but I can certainly say that from now on it won't be easy to build a new nuclear power plant in Japan."

In the same interview, engineer Dayday implies something like, "It is not certain if radiation is the real cause of disease for people who died or injured as a result of the Chernobyl disaster." That's correct; nothing is 100 percent certain in life! The Fukushima disaster was because of the earthquake and tsunami anyway! In the same conversation, we also learn that Chernobyl-type reactors are no longer manufactured. But it is not told that some are still active and there are equally dangerous reactors in neighboring Armenia and Bulgaria.

Nuclear energy not a fate

Despite the claims, Greenpeace-Mediterranean's Energy (R)evolution Scenario for Turkey released in November 2009 shows that it is quite feasible to design an energy policy based on renewable energy and energy efficiency despite the claim that the current system and nuclear technology have no alternative!

On top, the lack of national nuclear technology experts means a new kind of dependency. Whereas it is possible to specialize in renewable energy; for instance, increasing productivity of the wind via an effective distribution network. Similarly, the economy doesn't have to be energy obese, so to speak. R&D and new technologies ended absolute dependency between development and energy long ago. But the most terrifying is uncontrollable energy consumption and waste in an energy obese Turkey.

We've always said: The nuclear debate in Turkey gives thanks to the resistance of environmentalists and persistence of the government. A good example was when the energy minister was proudly announcing, "We will put all the water into operation," another invitee reminded him the "Great Anatolia March" to Ankara organized by "We won't give you Anatolia," Platform This was the unique moment when he lost his calm!






The U.S.-Islamic World Forum convened in Washington this week for the first time since its inception in 2004 to attract attention from the American public and make it more convenient for U.S. policymakers to attend and exchange views with the impressive number of participants joining from Muslim countries.

İbrahim Kalın, the top adviser to the Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, was also in town to attend the conference, though he also met with U.S. governmental officials, Congressional leaders and some Washington think tanks to talk about current foreign and domestic issues of Turkey.

It is a well-known fact that Turkey's image in Washington has been damaged by the latest abusive actions in the media. Previously, it was the extreme tax fine on the Doğan Media Group that was highlighted as the principal proof while referring to the governmental pressure on the outspoken press. To be fair, the link between the tax authorities and the administration was far too obvious for the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, officials to deny.

In recent months though, that was replaced with the growing numbers of arrests of journalists tied to the Ergenekon coup-plot trial, which has been going on for about four years now. And this time, AKP officials claim that they cannot do anything, since Turkey has a full, independent judiciary.

On the one hand, Turkey is conducting the seemingly "unfair" practice of holding hundreds of suspects in long periods of detentions without conviction at the same time that the prosecution is unable to prove those actions as absolutely necessary for the fairness of the trials; on the other, the Turkish press is under heavy pressure from the government in so many ways. And for some, raising these critical issues in Western capitals runs against Turkey's interests and also damages its image and unity.

It is equally very difficult to see any merit in the arguments that suggest that no department in the U.S. government can and should assess and condemn abuses happening around the world, as the U.S. "has its own share of sins, as well." Are we supposed to cheer for more bad behavior? If the Turkish administration really cares about abuses in Guantanamo or Abu Ghaib, then it should take a lead in creating an international commission to scrutinize U.S. standards. It is simple.

Nonetheless, it might be useful to focus on a bigger question here, rather than the superficial and discredited arguments of the last century.

Turkey's distorted secularism for decades indeed clamped down on the demands of the religious and ethnic minorities; cries for international attention in those decades were well deserved, and I think they received a lot of heed, though maybe it was still not enough.

While we agree on the idea that Turkish secularism often treated various minorities very unjustly in the last century, it proved to be difficult to get any sort of hint from Kalın about what he thinks about secularism's role in the Turkish model going forward.  

Kalın, during a conversation with a half-dozen journalists, conceded that freedom of the press is a universal value and that his administration should not be resentful toward criticism from abroad, but it is an approach that greatly differs from Erdoğan, who, on the very same day, was exchanging serious barbs with U.S. Ambassador to Ankara Francis Ricciardone. Ricciardone, with his frankness and clarity on the issue, has proven that the misgivings about his nominations in the past were unfounded.

Nevertheless, Kalın strongly believes that all reputable human right reports around the globe "treat Turkey unfairly," who also disagreed with the claims suggesting any deterioration about the standards of democracy and freedoms in Turkey. (Therefore, the argument goes; Turkey's lead in the world in jailing 54 journalists, almost double the numbers of China and Iran, does not mean anything.)

Kalın recognized that the terms of arrests are growing too much in the high-profile coup allegation trials, much like Erdoğan's position on the matter. He also stated that his administration's clear wish was to see the trials ending as quickly as possible.

Right after it, however, Kalın evoked a comparison again that draws parallels between the Ergenekon case and the Gladio trials in Italy. According to Kalın, "the Gladio trials took 9-10 years; there were about six thousand arrests and thousands of pages of indictments." The parallel sounded somewhat worrying, signaling that the current trials might go on for quite a long time.

We had a chance to talk over Turkey's Libya policy as well with Kalın who said he doesn't understand why the Libyan opposition is angry with Turkey, or why they are protesting, "since Turkey has not caused the current killings" or "problems."

A day before, I asked Ambassador Ali Aujali, the representative of the Libyan Transitional Council in Washington, what he thinks about Turkey's Libya policy. Aujali had plenty of angry arguments toward Turkey and then concluded his remarks by saying "Turkey is guilty until it proves otherwise;" earlier, he had said, "Erdoğan needs to stand by Libyan people just as he did with Egyptian people."

The Libyan opposition is also angry with Ankara especially for Ankara's striking inaction in terms of freezing the assets of members of the Moammar Gadhafi regime in accordance with the UNSC 1973 resolution. Kalın said it was just some "technical difficulties" that prevented Turkey from observing it. According to one Washington source who deals with the region closely, Turkey, by letting the Gadhafi regime operate freely, "gave a lifeline to the Gadhafi regime to satisfy its needs."

According to a source who is close to the State Department, David Cohen, a new appointee who recently replaced Stuart Levy as undersecretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Crimes, will be traveling to Ankara on April 20, primarily to hold talks on Iran sanctions, but also to freeze problem will be well on the agenda if Turkey does not move to fulfill its international obligation by then.

It must be noted that Kalın, who has a background as a religious scholar, appeared at ease during his panel performances at the conference, and he also seemed to be well versed on the administration's policies in a wide variety of foreign affair issues. However, the arguments he used to rebuke criticism about Turkey's worsening freedom record melted quickly when faced with the international reports. 

It is also great to see the conservative and pro-Islamic portion of Turkey finally feeling comfortable enough to start taking on a mission to protect its image in world capitals. However, we all need to realize Turkey's image can only be improved when we all push the Turkish state to elevate its freedom rankings instead of protecting it while it is sinking.






Turkey's political parties have finalized their deputy candidate lists for the June 12 general elections, and the nominees from East and Southeast Anatolia give clues about their goals in the region.

The "unassertive" candidates from the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, indicate that the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, will easily reach their goals of building a wide coalition of different groups from right to left, from Islamists to Kurdish radicals.

The Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, is not effective in the region anyway. During a conversation with journalists, the MHP's parliamentary group acting chair Mehmet Şandır said MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli would not go to the southeastern province of Diyarbakır, which gives the BDP's a higher chance. According to Şandır, the reason behind MHP's lack of ambition is a "fear of provocation," but the fact is is that the party has no power in the southeast.

The main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, has emerged with serious offers in the region for the first time in years. In the 2007 general elections, the CHP failed to get what they wanted in the southeast. In that period, the party focused on "military and economic solutions" to the Kurdish question, rather than political solutions. Even the remarks of Deniz Baykal, the former CHP leader, were considered "nationalist" at that time. The CHP naturally failed to win seats from most of the eastern and southeastern provinces, Diyarbakır, Hakkari, Şırnak, Batman and Van in particular.

Does CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu want to reverse the situation? He has appointed human rights advocate Sezgin Tanrıkulu as deputy leader, held conferences in search of candidates, promised new openings, as well as a "third way," but none of these suggestions have proven to be adequate.

But all this does mean that the CHP is still trying. Their efforts finally grabbed Kurdish attention, but it has not been enough. Kurds in the region are not expected to turn their back on the two strong actors, the AKP and BDP, so suddenly.

Kılıçdaroğlu must be aware of this fact and was in search of some tactical methods for deputy candidate selection in the region. The CHP leader must also have realized how difficult it is to convince Kurdish voters through political initiatives, so Kılıçdaroğlu gave place to influential names and strong tribal leaders on the lists.

Diyarbakır has 10 deputies in Parliament. In 2007, the AKP had six, and the BDP had four seats. This time, the number increases to 11. The BDP is ambitious again in Diyarbakır with deputy candidates such as Leyla Zana, Hatip, Dicle, Emine Ayna, Altan Tan and Şerafettin Elçi. Five of them will definitely be elected.

The AKP has placed Agriculture Minister Mehdi Eker on the first row and Diyarbakır Chamber of Commerce President Galip Ensarioğlu in second. But his cousin, Salim Ensarioğlu, is an independent candidate, so that might cause a split in votes.

Salih Sümer is the CHP's deputy candidate from Diyarbakır. He was once elected from the former True Path Party, or DYP, and served as a minister. The AKP's Eker and the CHP's Sümer, however, belong to the same tribe.

The AKP nominated Finance Minister Mehmet Şimşek from Batman. He will run against the BDP's influential candidates, Ayla Akat Ata and Bengi Yıldız. The CHP has intentions of remaining in this race though a "tactical" candidate again. In the CHP's Batman list, Farih Özdemir is placed on the first row. Özdemir is from the Raman tribe and a former DYP deputy. This is likely to increase the CHP's chance. In 2007, the four seats were split equally between the AKP and the BDP.

Another province the CHP targets for deputies is Van. The AKP's Hüseyin Çelik is a key player here, but has been nominated from the southeastern city of Gaziantep. Other names, except Gülşen Orhan, who entered the list from the 4th row, were scrapped. Ankara deputy Burhan Kayatürk is in the first row, but has been criticized for neglecting his electoral region. The CHP in Van joins the race with Zahir Kandaşoğlu, who is the current chairman of the Van Industry and Trade Chamber but was formerly the 10-year-long chairman of the Union of Chamber of Commerce and Commodity Exchanges of Turkey, or TOBB. He is said to have a chance in the province.

One of the CHP's tactical candidates is from the province of Bingöl. The city has three deputies and the AKP won all of them last time. The CHP nominated Zeki Korkutata, a cousin of former Welfare Party, or RP, deputy Hüsamettin Korkutata. Even if they win no seats in Bingöl, the CHP might increase its votes here.

The main opposition party also wants to have tribal members on board in the region. The CHP aims to see deputy seats won in the east and southeast on the evening of June 12 and increase its votes as much as possible.

Kılıçdaroğlu has seen that it will not be easy to reach the 30 percent target without going beyond the Central Anatolian province of Sivas – in other words, without having any Kurdish votes.






Voyagers of hope are yearning for a decent life in remote realms of the world due to turmoil in their own countries. They are refugees. The drama of refugees continues to develop in quite saddening ways. One of the painful incidents that will likely to be remembered as "Deaths in Mediterranean" took place recently. Death came between hope to hundreds of refugees trying to escape from Tunisia to the Lampedusa Island in South Italy. A boat with 350 people on board sunk due to bad weather conditions and many children and women drown in the sea.

The scene of the tragedy, Lampedusa, comes to agenda very often these days as the first stop of refugees who are trying to flee from their countries to Europe. Since the beginning of 2011, approximately 26,000 refugees have arrived in Lampedusa. In other words, the island's population has quadrupled. Before January 2011, Lampedusa was a small tourist resort. Even the refugee center set-up "just in case" was closed down for not having anyone inside. This is why the island was not ready for the flocks of refugees. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in an attempt to stop the flow intervened in the situation. He called the European Union countries for help, but returned empty-handed. Berlusconi was even ready to launch paper works for the refugees already in the island. But all he wanted was to stop further flows.

No natural disaster; this is man-made strategy

Hundreds of African refugees drown overnight during a time when discontent for migration has peaked in Europe. However, a security-based perspective in some European circles has overlooked the incident. For some media members have approached the issue that borders were not protected well enough and that security controls should be increased. Voices saying Europe should not have too many holes like a slice of Swiss cheese are being raised more often. In other words, hundreds of refugees died in this particular incident will not mean much considering the fact that 16,000 refugees have died while trying to look for shelter in Europe in the last 15 years.

On the other hand, although this tragedy seems to stem from a 6-magnitude storm with high winds and massive waves in the sea, this was not the real reason for the disaster. Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi is forcing them out of their country. His goal is to use refugees as a weapon and increase migration-related concerns in Europe. He seems quite successful. Europe thinking itself as a frontier of prosperity is now building walls, therefore ignoring fundamentals of the union, and ignoring people who need security. By enforcing new laws Europe is using immigration laws as a legal weapon to protect borders. However, immigrants and refugees in fear of life security have courage out of desperation. This reality is the messenger of more similar tragedies yet to come.

In the light of what happened to the people on the Lampedusa, I can say that no one flees their country without a reason. Hope for a decent life and security for families are forcing these people to leave their countries. Of course, efforts need to be exerted in order to eliminate conditions that give people no chance but to leave their homeland. However, migration is a human right, too.

Entire world turns into immigrants

Despite the fuss in Europe, only a scarce amount of 43 million refugees around the world live in developed countries. That is to say, developing countries carry the burden. For instance, although Africa and Asia are seen as the source of migration moves, they are actually host, or even target, continents as well. Africa has 40 percent of the world's refugees. The number of refugees in the Middle East has tripled in the last three years.

This is valid for internal displacements, too. Their number is increasing gradually. According to the Geneva-based Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, more than half of people who are internally displaced are in Columbia, Sudan, Iraq, Congo, and Pakistan. About 12 million of 28 million people who are displaced internally are children. Likewise, the distribution of immigrants in the world doesn't give much different results. As the total number of immigrants in the world exceeds 214 million, a big chunk of immigrants are in Asian and Latin American countries.

Immigrants are one of the most crowded communities in the world even in today's figures. International Organization for Migration, or IOM, estimates number of immigrants would be 405 million in 2050.

In short, Europe is on alert against the wave of migration that has started in the aftermath of uprising in North Africa. However, the drama of the hundreds of refugees who died on Europe's doorstep, once again illustrates the suffering of voyagers of hope. Besides, it's a crystal-clear fact that the European Union is a responsible party in this tragedy for not changing its refugee policies despite the crisis in Arab countries and for mobilizing coast guards to prevent refugees from coming into Europe rather than providing them access to security.

Recep Korkut is a social worker and a journalist who has written articles about minorities, international issues, migration and refugees. He can be reached at






Living and working in a different country and culture is a complicated challenge by itself. The emerging status of that country makes it even more difficult for sure. However raising your kids in such an environment is the most difficult of all. But on the other hand, being a kid in Istanbul has its merits too.

The home environment is the first checkpoint. If you choose to live in the city and in an apartment, developing relations with similarly aged kids within the same apartment is very useful for after school play dates. Even though the relationship is a bit more complicated, language is not a barrier for kids. They get along and understand each other very fast. Unfortunately like in other big cities of this world, the streets in Istanbul are not child friendly at all. If you live in a compound, life is a bit easier to let them play outside the home. Most child-friendly houses are located in compounds in the suburbs. There are four main areas where expats are located based on their house allowances and salaries. Zekeriyakoy and Kemer Country are the most popular and expensive ones.

Schooling is the second checkpoint. Next to international schools, you have Italian, French, German and British schools. There are also private local schools where the education language is English. In these schools, kids are also taking some lessons in Turkish. They have high-quality international education systems. However these are the least preferred options by expats due to their enforcement to learn Turkish. Due to traffic sometimes kids are traveling hours to go to their schools and come back, therefore my advice is to send them to the nearest one. The quality levels of international schools are more or less the same.

Some expat families like their kids to hang around with the kids from their own country of origin. They want them to learn their own cultural behaviors also outside their houses. Others prefer international kids as friends. However, being in a foreign country and exploring different tastes of life as a kid can be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Different norms and values, noises, architecture, food, music and language enrich their perspectives. They become multicultural individuals who can manage their relations and survive in complex environments. The world would be a better place if we enabled all kids to visit other countries and understand other cultures. Learning a new language is easier for kids. It is not very easy to learn Turkish, but it is a great asset for the future to communicate with the Turks in Turkey, in Europe and in Turkic republics. Turkey is expected to be one of the largest economies of the world when they grow up. Doing business with natural resource-rich, Turkic-speaking republics is also getting popular. As Nelson Mandela once said, "If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. But if you talk to a man in his own language, that goes to his heart."

Being raised as kids of expat families will most probably enable them to select international jobs themselves in the future. By teaching them how to respect and understand other cultures and turning their living in a new country into a colorful international experience, you can raise them as individuals who can find solutions to multicultural issues within corporate, social or political environments. This is not only great for their future, but an excellent contribution from your side for a better world.






As an executive board member of the Righteous Women Platform, which was founded to bring more female members into Parliament, I've tried to closely follow the preparation of the political parties' candidate lists. I failed to properly monitor the National Movement Party, or MHP. On the other hand, the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, was the one that acted the most openly and clearly.

The main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, seemed undecided about what to do until last minute. CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu has told us the number of women parliamentarians will be increased by 80-90 percent; that makes 16 female deputies. Yet we have seen 109 women candidates in the lists and 30-35 of whom are nominated from the rows from which they are most likely to be elected. For the moment, the CHP has eight female parliamentarians. So, the figure will increase four-fold.

Women who top the lists

Plus, CHP has four female deputy candidates at the top of the lists:

- Güldal Mumcu from İzmir

- Gülsüm Bilgehan from Ankara 2nd Region

- Sena Kaleli from Bursa

- Dilek Yılmaz from Uşak

In the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, it's been said all along that the number of female deputies will be doubled and that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is willing to do so. In contrast to the CHP, there are only 78 female candidates on the AKP lists, more than half of whom rank in the rows from which they are less likely to be elected. AKP has only one woman nominee at the top.

- Nimet Çubukçu from Istanbul 2nd Region

In MHP: 3 women at top

I was quite surprised that MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli expressed regret last week about the scarcity of female candidates, because I don't remember him at all that encouraging women to join the party. (Only 176 of a total 2,455 applicants to the MHP were females although that was not a bad figure at all in such a male-dominated party.)

Bahçeli, however, has made a surprise and placed 68 of these 176 women on the lists. Considering that the MHP has only two female parliamentarians, this improvement is remarkable. As I looked at the lists the other day, I was happy to see three females at top in MHP electoral charts:

-  Meral Akşener from Istanbul 3rd Region

- Füsun Çorapoğlu from Çanakkale

- Ruhsar Demirel from Eskişehir

What does Canan Güllü say?

As I was mulling over the evaluation of the lists, I realized that the views of Canan Güllü, the chairwoman of the Turkish Federation of Women's Associations, were in line with mine:

"In the 2002 general elections, we were talking only about the likelihood of women candidates being in the lists. In the 2007 general elections, it was about if women could be placed in the top rows of the electoral lists. And in 2011, we have hoped for women involved in work with nongovernmental organizations and human rights research would be in the lists. But unfortunately, our hope seems to have been postponed until the next elections.

"The CHP only nominated one female (from Kırıkkale) at the top of the list in the 2007 elections. But this time, the party has nominated eight females on top in three different provinces. There is an increase, but it is not enough. Candidate lists are still male-dominated and the decision-makers in the AKP, CHP, MHP, and BDP are all males," Güllü says.

Çiğdem Aydın, the chairwoman of the Association for the Support and Training of Women Candidates, or Ka-Der, is extremely angry.

"We are very disappointed," Aydın said, calling on women in the women's branches of all political parties to revolt by suggesting that they "not work for men on the top of the lists."






Some representatives of the center-right, which remains just a simple detail in political life in these days, have been nominated in the main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, deputy candidate list.

In the 2007 general elections, CHP nominated figures such as İlhan Kesici, Lütfullah Kayalar, and Edip Safter Gaydalı.

I think this in becoming a CHP tradition. From now on, we will see the names of few former True Path Party, or DYP, and Motherland Party, or ANAP, members scattered in the CHP's electoral lists. And this time, the proof is Turhan Tayan, Aydın Ayaydın, Aytun Çıray, and Salih Sümer's names being slotted into places from where they are likely to win. All have DYP/ANAP background.

It means nomination of veteran names of center-right parties that failed to overcome the 10 percent national election threshold was one of the promises Kılıçdaroğlu made in the party general convention. Yet we've skipped this somehow.

Meanwhile, does the inclusion of a few Ergenekon case suspects in the lists not require an explanation in terms of the nomination criteria given that there are many Ergenekon suspects?

Personal skills

Kılıçdaroğlu referring to the Ergenekon suspects has said, "We don't see any of them as the Ergenekon suspects. We've nominated each for personal skills."

How could Sinan Aygün's personal skills, as the president of Ankara Chamber of Commerce, or ATO, contribute to a social democratic party? Which leftist value can he represent, considering the fact that he is the one who once said, "We are not [slain Armenian-Turkish journalist] Hrant Dink. My name is Sinan Aygün. We are not Hrant Dink," adding that he hung Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code, which criminalizes insulting the Turkish state or Turkishness, on his wall?

How could Mehmet Haberal, who followed a rightist line before the September 12 military takeover, convert to being a leftist, especially after the claims made by Neşe Erdilek, wife of Necdet Bulut?

CHP conducted and published numerous studies/reports before the release of final copies of candidate lists. All of these studies were critical signs that the party was on a leftist direction despite deficiencies. But no one can expect that aforementioned rightists would implement policies addressed in the reports.

Then, why are they heading to Parliament? Is it for submitting resignations after a week? Mr. Kılıçdaroğlu said these rightist candidates might have changed in time. We have little time left until the June 12 elections. And I think we have every right to see concrete evidence of how they've changed.

We are excited by numerous CHP nominees as well. In the post-election period, which party policy will these different people implement together? Turkey has rightist inclinations already. And the leftist re-orientation in the CHP, which has been launched by some names in the CHP party assembly and by the party reports, has been harmed by these center-right nominees.

The result of previous trials of center-right openings in the CHP is self-evident anyway.

* Özgür Mumcu is a columnist of daily Radikal, in which this piece first appeared. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.






Since the parties' candidate lists were submitted to the Supreme Election Board, the discussion on the Turkish street, as well as among intellectuals and in newspaper columns, has been captured with what is claimed to be and described as a "tilt in the CHP."

Is there really a tilt or a shift in the political ideology of the Republican People's Party, or CHP? Do the "preferences" of the new CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu and deputy chairman Gürsel Tekin – who we all know played a far more important role than anyone else in the preparation of the CHP lists – in selecting CHP candidates indeed demonstrate an ideological shift in the CHP from center-left toward center or even to right?

Such a claim is of course serious and must be substantiated with some concrete actions further than the mere existence on the CHP lists of names of some people known to be centrist or center-right. At least, it is too early to make a definitive conclusion on the issue. For now, what must be seen is an effort by the new CHP leadership to abide with the "catch all" principle of politics by enriching the "typical" candidates with social democratic, leftist or socialist backgrounds by complementing the list with centrist or center-right names.

The dust will soon settle and more people will perhaps realize that what happened in the CHP has another and very important dimension. For the second time in the history of the CHP the party is trying to rejuvenate and reinvigorate itself rather than sticking to some 70- or 80-year-old slogans, the meaning of most of which have long been forgotten. The first such attempt was done by the late Bülent Ecevit, who took over the party from the legendary İsmet İnönü, the second man in Atatürk's time, the leader of the "national chief" period of the 1940s, the first prime minister of the Republic, so on and so forth. "Land belongs to the one who uses it", "land reform", "equal pay to equal work", "Rejuvenation", "Labor union, social security, job security and social state" and such slogans together with a strong hope for a better future carried Ecevit and social democrats to over 43 percent in elections at the time.

Now, once again rather than some archaic slogans and lofty rhetoric, the CHP has started releasing strategy papers on many problems of the Turkish society and the state. The CHP is trying to nourish hope in people that poverty does not have to be one's fate and it is the duty of the social state to help out the needy sections of society without humiliating them with an "alms culture."

Definitely, the CHP must have selected its candidates through by-elections not only in 18 provinces but also throughout the country. That is a serious failure relegating Kılıçdaroğlu even among the supporters of the CHP who have been carried away with his convention speech back in May during which he indeed promised full democracy within the party and a return to by-elections. Yet, even in 18 provinces the CHP was the only party that resorted to by-elections in determining some of its candidates.

Once the current discussions within the CHP and in society on developments within the CHP calm down and if not only with some select candidates but with some policy openings as well, the CHP opens up to the center and center right without alienating itself from its social democratic base, then the party might indeed become a serious alternative to the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, in the June 12 elections.

It is no joke, but since the 2002 landmark electoral victory of the AKP, Turkish democracy has been without a serious and viable challenge to the ruling party. That democratic anomaly hopefully will be greatly eradicated in the coming June 12 elections and the AKP will probably still come with over 300 seats in the 550-member parliament. Nothing can be achieved overnight. The real challenge to Turkish democracy will be, of course, if the changes in CHP don't produce the expected results in the elections while contrary to expectations the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, fail to overcome the anti-democratic 10 percent national electoral threshold and stay outside of Parliament. Under such a scenario AKP might come strong enough to write a constitution on its own without risking going to a referendum (over 367 seats) or with a referendum (at least 330 seats). Turkey's best interest, however, is in an AKP with less than 330 seats because such an AKP will be compelled to develop consensus and thus reconciliation with at least one of the opposition parties if it really wants to write a new constitution. Of course, a new constitution is no joke and if written single-handedly by the AKP will not be a national charter, but an AKP constitution. Irrespective, such a charter carries Turkey to a presidential regime aspired by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan or not, and that Turkey will be far less democratic than the current problematic democracy of this country.

Thus, changes in CHP lists and political approaches have a further meaning than how they might under normal conditions have been perceived.






A close friend of mine who settled in Canada years ago is here in Istanbul.

This is my friend's first visit in 18 years.

"I am amazed by the liveliness here. Everybody is out on the streets," my friend says.

The "liveliness" my friend refers to is not the entertainment kind, but about recent protests and people taking the streets to question injustice or to demand their rights.

When my friend arrived in Istanbul, there were demonstrations of high school students against the coding claims in the national university placement exam.

Demonstrations were organized in many different cities, including Sivas and Çorum.

My friend read in newspapers over the weekend about seven different marches behind the slogan "We won't give you Anatolia," his facial expression was worth seeing.

It was unbelievable because what is happening on the roads of Anatolia these days is also unbelievable.

From Artvin, Hasankeyf, Bergama, Antalya and Seferihisar, villagers joining the marches on the Anatolian roads, are welcomed in every village and town as new supporters join them. The caravans, or the rally, metaphorically called 40 days and 40 nights' walk, will end in Ankara.

Big Anatolian Walk

People protesting the construction of the Ilısu Dam, which is to leave Hasankeyf and its 8,000-year-old past underwater, people who do not want hydroelectric power plants in nature's miraculous valleys of the Black Sea, and people who do not want to sacrifice olive trees to mine explorations, are walking to Ankara.

This is a big Anatolian walk.

As renowned author Yaşar Kemal says, "We have become an enemy of nature." Those who do not agree with such animosity gather for a walk and say, "We won't give you Anatolia."

The caravans will meet in Ankara in the second week of May.

I have to talk about yet another gathering in front of Parliament.

Protestors gathered against the government, which has failed to find a solution to domestic violence and rapes targeting women and children.

Murders of women in Turkey have increased by 1,400 percent in the last seven years. There is not a single law to prevent such killings.

According to women's organizations making evaluations on political party candidate lists, Turkey will not have a relevant law against murderers and rapists for a long time since no candidate is involved in the women's movement.

Emek is ours, Istanbul is ours

This is not our topic, however. What surprises my friend from Canada is the "liveliness."

The other day, friends of journalists Nedim Şener and Ahmet Şık, who are both arrested for possible links to the alleged Ergenekon gang, gathered in the front of Kadıköy Court House, Istanbul, carrying placards saying, "We will touch it even if we burn," under a heavy rain.

Turkey is standing up against a "suspicious" university placement exam, for the protection of Anatolian land against hydroelectric power plants, mining companies and nuclear power plants, protesting the arrest of journalists and trying to stop domestic violence.

Every day a new protest is organized.

In the meantime, there is some resistance for the conservation of Istanbul's cultural and historic heritage.

The group IstanbulSOS made a call for tomorrow.

A protest was being organized for the Emek Cinema, one of the most beautiful and the oldest cinemas in the district of Beyoğlu.

The building will be torn down and replaced by a shopping center.

"Shopping centers, plazas and residences in Istanbul are not only changing the silhouette of the city, but as a society we are slowly losing our individual and collective memory along with our homes, schools, streets and cinemas. Emek is ours, Istanbul is ours," said the IstanbulSOS.

This time, we will take the street for Istanbul.






It has been more than two centuries since the Jacobins and sans-Culottes, the bloodiest thugs of the bloody French Revolution, put thousands of clerics to the guillotine. Yet the French zeal against religion has not faded away. This time, however, the target is not the Catholics, who had suffered immensely in the past under the iron fist of a bizarre French principle called laicite. It is rather the Muslims, whose loyalty to their faith clashes with the dictates of a jealous god called "the French Republic."

What I am speaking about is the new tide of secularism policing that the French government put in practice. The burqa, the all-covering face veil, which is worn by very few women in France, is now banned by law. So, French policemen are fining veiled women, or, far worse, dragging them to their headquarters to admonish them about the right way of life.

Sarkozy as Taliban

Meanwhile the zestful president of the French Republic, Mr. Nicolas Sarkozy, is enlightening us about the virtues of this ban. It is for upholding "French values of equality and secularism," he says. I bet it is. The problem is that those "French values" do not seem to honor the right be left alone from government interference. Alas, they even justify a tyranny, which mirrors that of the Taliban: while those Afghan despots force women to put the burqa on, their French counterparts force them to take it off.

Now, what you and I think about the burqa does not matter here. In fact, I am among those who believe that it is a bad medieval tradition, which has nothing to do with Islam, and should better be abandoned. So, if the women in that excessive veil asked my opinion, I would advise them to take it off, too. But advice is the furthest point that I, and anybody else, can legitimately go. We cannot use state powers to "liberate" those women from what they wear out of their genuine convictions – just like the fact that an ideological nudist cannot claim to forcefully "liberate" us from our shirts, pants and underwear.

We should see that there are various religious communities on Earth with quite burdensome practices. Ultra-Orthodox Jews have extremely detailed laws about how they should live, eat, dress and have sex. Buddhists monks live a life of routine hunger and poverty. The Amish in America reject all the blessings of modern technology. All of those practices might look very oppressive to us, but it apparently makes purists happy. So, let them be happy, and let us mind our own business.

Yet "minding your own business" is apparently not a very French idea. The common French political mind rather seems to be swamped by a totalitarian presumption that every citizen has to accept a particular form of culture. And those who fail to conform – such as Jews in the past, and Muslims today – are stigmatized. 

Mr. Sarkozy, whose il-liberalism is only matched by his arrogance, heralds even more fronts in this culture war. He says he wants "no halal food options in school canteens, no prayers outside and no minarets." Just replace the word "halal" with "kosher" here, and the "minaret" with "star of David." You will get the poisonous French anti-Semitism of a century ago – the times of Captain Dreyfus. The difference today is just the change in the composition of the hated Semites – now they are the Arabs, and, by extension, all Muslims.

Turkey's lessons

We in Turkey very well know that this rampant Islamophobia in France is the main reason why the majority of French society is categorically against Turkey's accession into the European Union. That's why we are not terribly impressed by the French critiques of our democracy, such as Ms. Marland-Militello, the parliamentarian who questioned Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on religious freedom in Turkey in Strasbourg early this week. Erdoğan's rhetoric was indeed a bit harsh in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, or PACE, meeting, and a few of his arguments were really not convincing. But his reaction to the self-righteous and overbearing attitude Turks have being facing from some Europeans, especially the French, was understandable.

We in Turkey are also realizing these days that some of our misfortunes in the past century stem from our big mistake of taking France as a beacon of modernity. We imported the fanatically anti-religious laicite of the Third French Republic, which not only brought oppression to our believers, but also paranoia to our seculars. Similarly, we imported the assimilation-focused nationalism of successive French Republics, and were drawn into a madness that our Ottoman ancestors would have never dreamed of: banning languages and cultures other than Turkish. Hence we created our own "Kurdish problem."

At the end of the day, the trouble within mainstream French political culture is the lack of the "liberte" principle that they superficially cherish in the famous motto of their famous revolution. That is a liberty, which is only valid for those who are secularized, and assimilated, enough. That is a liberty, in other words, which is not liberty at all.






As the financial situation of Greece continues to deteriorate, the possibility that the country will either default or resort to the voter-friendly word of "restructuring debts" is now certain. It is just a matter of weeks, if not sooner. Portugal has at last asked for a financial bail out as well from the European Union and soon after Spain will also join the boat. 

So what are the Greeks doing about their situation? Since the first harsh measures were announced they have kept on demonstrating and striking. Most recently they started a movement of civil disobedience and alternative economic schemes with an emphasis on bartering and swapping services in the regions. But the economic situation continues to deteriorate. Not because of strikes and civil disobedience but because the measures imposed on Greece have failed. And last week the journalists went on a five-day strike, thus depriving politicians the means to glorify themselves. As a result of this strike, the population has relaxed a lot; it does not listen to news any more. The politicians have also relaxed somewhat since there is no television to show themselves on. 

This atmosphere of blissful oblivion made some humans of Greece think a little and wonder whether or not a new movement, a movement of "ignoration" or ignoring the politicians would be more effective than the demonstrations. And the conclusion was that it would. Such a movement would have as objective to ignore the government. Nobody would watch the news and nobody would implement any of the austerity measures announced by the government. If newspapers report anything the government says, they will not be purchased. State television would not be watched. If salaries or pensions were to be further reduced, then the people would stop paying their bills or even their taxes. They could pay for half a ticket on the subway instead of a whole ticket to counter balance the exaggerated increase of the price of the tickets. One cannot imprison a whole population. If the government announces snap elections, everybody votes, and everybody votes out all the political parties that were associated with stealing and reducing the state budget. Honest, enthusiastic and knowledgeable people will be put on the lists. Thus, new politicians will appear with new and fresh ideas and they might be able to avoid repeating the mistakes of their predecessors. And you must never forget that it was Gandhi who first implemented a similar movement back in 1915 in South Africa, when he and his followers refused to follow apartheid laws. Remember that damage and wrongdoing are not what a society in trouble needs. 

Movements of "ignoration" or non-violent ones are always effective, since the governments do not know how to react to them. Material damage does not happen, police are not injured but taxes are also not paid when the state offers no benefits to the taxpayers. But the most potent weapon in this method is the humiliation to which the politicians are submitted since they are ignored by all. And after Greece, it will be Portugal, then Spain and then Italy where this movement can be tried out. In Belgium at least they have not had a government for over 10 months and its economy is deteriorating less. 

Ponder our thoughts, dear humans, for your benefit.









The manner in which scams and scandals lurk almost everywhere has been exposed by the fact that the Benazir Income Support Programme organisation has taken a hasty U-turn on the matter of 100 illegal appointments made in the organisation by forging documents. Chairperson of the BISP Farzana Raja had just days ago defended the appointments. But the winds appear to have changed rather quickly following the publication last week of a story by this paper on the issue. An officer, whose signatures had been forged and placed on the appointment letters has also approached the court. The officer it seems is now being victimised while the BISP media director now tells us the appointments were cancelled as they had not been approved by the management. The affair reflects just how bad things. Organisation after organisation has been destroyed by the favouritism that steals money away from rightful use and places it in the laps - or more realistically speaking, the bank accounts – of the undeserving. We are told that the president had been briefed about the appointments. He obviously thought it unnecessary to interfere. This is hardly surprising given the conduct of the top PPP leadership on a whole range of similar matters. The reality is that corruption has become endemic, infiltrating every nook and cranny of our country. What is worse still is that those who attempt to thwart it, or at least refuse to indulge in wrongdoings themselves, are punished like the officer who declined to assist with the appointments.

The failure of top officials to react, even with embarrassment, when such deeds are exposed, makes matters worse still. Conscience everywhere appears to be diminishing rapidly. The BISP is a programme intended to help the poorest of the poor. Instead, like so much else, it seems to have become a way to benefit the powerful and allow them to buy over cronies in all kinds of places and win favours by offering bribes. Other programmes, it seems, are being taken along that same road by those responsible for running them. We must be thankful that in this case, as a result of reporting and the actions of an officer, a crime has been prevented. But in other places, malpractice of all kinds continues. It is possible that some of it goes unnoticed despite the vigilance of the media and also the courts. This is nothing less than a true tragedy which affects all of us adversely, highlighting the sorry plight of our nation.







Surprise and concern were expressed recently when Pakistani citizens were killed in Bahrain, apparently by protesters against the ruling royal family. Their deaths are placed into a wider context as we learn that as many as 10,000 Pakistanis are serving with, or training, the armed forces of Bahrain. Retired members of our armed forces are being recruited at monthly salaries of up to 100,000 rupees. The struggle which is ongoing in Bahrain is also sectarian. The ruling family is Sunni while the majority of the population are Shia. Those retired service personnel being recruited here to serve in the Bahrain National Guard are predominantly Sunni as well, meaning that they will be deployed against Shia protesters.

Such is the concern felt by Iran – a state with a considerable interest in events unfolding in Bahrain as well as parts of Saudi Arabia – that Tehran has expressed its concern about the role of Pakistan, conveying its resentment in no uncertain terms to Islamabad. There are reports that our ambassador to Tehran had been summoned by the Iranian Foreign Ministry to be served a demarche, but when questioned about this by journalists on Thursday Foreign Office spokesperson Tehmina Janjua made the slightly alarming admission that she had no idea what a 'demarche' is. Slightly alarming because a demarche is a formal diplomatic protest issued by one country to the representatives of another; and if Ms Janjua does not know what this is then we have to wonder at her competence to fill the office that she does. It would appear that we have chosen to ignore the Iranian protest, perhaps sparking a rift in our relations with Tehran. That we have chosen this course is also indicative of our role vis-à-vis countries like Saudi Arabia and Bahrain within the context of the upheavals in the Arab world. The signal is that we are supporting them as they have in the past supported us, with the quid-pro-quo being that mutual support in pursuit of mutual benefit will continue. There is no meaningful threat as yet to the regime in Saudi Arabia, and the monarchy would be keen to ensure that the status-quo remained undisturbed. We are thus seen as supporters of the Sunni regimes in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, with possible consequences for ourselves if Iran chooses to react more strongly. Events in the Middle East may seem far away and of little consequence to us, but the reality is that they are very close to home, and could damage us in ways yet uncalculated.







Following the fracas over Haj policies, freebies handed out and corruption of various kinds, the federal cabinet has announced a set of measures to try and address these. We certainly hope that these measures will bring about some improvement in things as they stood last year. The decision not to allow journalists, party loyalists or parliamentarians 'free rides' for the next three years and to ensure that they pay for themselves, is obviously a good one. It will be welcomed by every citizen. In fact, the time frame set could easily be made permanent. Other measures, such as granting concessions in rates to people from less developed parts of the country, are also to be welcomed. The fact that just over 179,000 Pakistanis will perform the Haj this year, an increase of some 10,000 over the previous year, will also benefit people.

What is however most important is that the policy announced be adhered to and followed. 'Back door' means to defy the rules set down must not be permitted. We have seen this happen in various matters from time to time. At least in the matter of the Haj there should be some adherence to principle. The scams we saw last year, the aftermath of which lingers on, were shocking. We must not see a repetition. Vying for 'freebies' has become an unfortunate habit. This culture must be abandoned and the expectations of those who aim to gain favours from the government must be squashed. The Haj policy must aim to help those truly in need of assistance, rather than others whom the politicians wish to please for personal reasons.








A columnist should never tackle the same topic two weeks in a row, advise masters of the trade. So forgive me for ignoring this counsel and barging in headlong where we have been before – ad nauseam. But I couldn't help myself when I came across this posting on Arab News Online.

Taking part in the raging debate over the ban on the Muslim veil that came into force in Nicolas Sarkozy's France this week, a reader who identifies herself as "A Muslimah" writes: "Time and time again in 'free, democratic' societies women are manipulated and taught to believe that their freedom is directly linked to the removal of their clothing. Such emphasis has never been placed on men, though. It's the removal of women's clothing and not the choice to wear whatever they like that – women are brainwashed into believing – preserves their freedom, as is evident from this (French) ban on the veil."

Her whole post deserves to be read by everyone, and widely shared. But I have to round it off with her closing lines: "Yet, those supporting the ban would have us believe Muslim women are the ones who are manipulated and suppressed. But it's hardly surprising to see free societies ban women from covering their bodies. These are the nations in which women are used daily as mere commodities for buying and selling. The lands of the living Barbie dolls, where the daily objectification of women and young girls as sexual playthings has reached the mainstream. The female physique has become public property. Women must be on public display at all times."

Need I add more? I am yet to come across a more fitting and right-on-the-nose take on the issue. Perhaps only a Muslim woman could have spotlighted the absurdity and rank hypocrisy of this whole circus in the continent that takes pride in its image as the land of freedom and civil liberties.

In the land of Magna Carta, no eyebrows are raised if you go around in your birthday suit, go French kissing or get intimate in public. In fact, such actions only prove your liberal ethos and qualification to be part of Western societies. But you are a grave threat to peace and stability of the state the moment you cover your face. How ridiculous can you get.

Do the Europeans even realise the absurdity of their actions? Did President Sarkozy watch the scenes of French cops rounding up and rouging up veiled women in nationwide crackdown even as head-to-toe fully clothed Christian nuns watched? This is why I believe this debate has more to do with politics, rather than religion.

This is not about individual freedoms, religious tolerance or Islam's incompatibility with France or Europe. There are two issues at the heart of this conflict. First is old-fashioned politics. Even as Europe's politicians, from Belgium to France and from Switzerland to Denmark, trumpet their liberal values and secular democratic credentials, they tap into the deep-seated insecurities and paranoia of their Caucasian and Christian European populace for swift electoral gains, or power.

So Sarkozy, hoping of re-election, not just comes up with this weird idea of banning the veil and punishing those refusing to take off the piece of cloth that is part of their religious beliefs; he presides over a national debate as to why Muslims cannot be part of the liberal and democratic French society.

His interior minister, Claude Gueant, under fire for terming the French campaign against Libya's Qaddafi a new crusade, has gone to the extent of saying the problem is with "the growing numbers of Muslim populations."

In the Alpine paradise of Switzerland they have outlawed mosque minarets because they do not blend in with a European skyline.

In Denmark and other Scandinavian countries and in Holland, they have found another way of rejecting the Muslims – by targeting their sacred icons and beliefs, from caricaturing the Prophet to attacking the Quran in films and art.

Paradoxically, all this is done in the name of Europe's liberal ethos and tolerance. So even as they pontificate to us about an individual's freedom to say and do what he or she wants, they are targeting the very same freedom by forcing the Muslim woman to take off the veil.

The second – and core – issue at the heart of this conflict is the deepening fear psychosis of the white, predominantly Christian West about Islam and the Muslims eventually running over and taking over the West and annihilating their entire civilisation. Looked at it from their perspective, you would understand their insecurity and growing paranoia.

On the one hand, their numbers are diminishing, and not just in Europe. The continent that ruled the world for nearly four centuries is shrinking and aging fast. It is yet to recover from the destruction and depletion of its numbers during World War I and II. To maintain its ascendancy, it needs a young population, and lots of it. It's precisely for this reason that, willy-nilly, it has had to take in the growing numbers of immigrants from around the world, especially from those lands that it not long ago ruled. The new arrivals are heading to the West not merely because it offers greater economic opportunities and freedom; many of them are victims of the long years of colonisation of Asia and Africa by European powers.

On the other hand, notwithstanding these compulsions, the West finds it difficult to reconcile itself to the reality of its changing demographic profile and what it sees as a cultural and intellectual invasion, especially from Islam and Muslims.

European pundits have long talked about Europe turning into Eurabia and London into Londonistan. While in the past few decades millions from Arab and Muslim lands have migrated to the West in search of a better life, Muslim ranks in the West have been expanding also because more and more white Europeans and Americans are turning to Islam for guidance and inspiration.

With excessive materialism and moral decay destroying the family unit and society as a whole, more and more people are finding spiritual solace in Islam. So if the religion is the fastest growing in the world today despite a relentless global crusade against its followers, you know where to look for answers.

Therefore, we need to look from this perspective at this wave of Islamophobia, from burning the Quran to banning the veil. More important, Muslims must desist from responding to these bouts of bigotry with bigotry. Hatred cannot fight hatred. Only love and understanding can. As the Quran suggests, when faced with adversity we must fight it with something that is better.

The current wave of Islamophobia is largely fuelled by ignorance, myths and insecurities. You can counter it with by promoting knowledge and true understanding of the faith that came not just for the Arabs but for the whole of mankind. Not an easy task by any means. We have no other choice, though.

The writer is a columnist based in the Gulf. Email: aijaz.syed@hotmail .com








What precisely did the Pakistan cricket team achieve in Mohali that deserved they be feted, garlanded, eulogised and showered with millions of rupees from public funds? They lost a match they should have won; their batting was disgraceful and their fielding was even worse; the captain messed up on the batting order and the power play and shot his mouth off when he should have said nothing. Their fault was not that they failed, but that they failed to give success a chance.

Of course, that's not to say that the team should have been pummelled on arrival, although a rotten egg or two would have been a more accurate barometer of public feelings. But to welcome them as heroes was gross. They arrival should have been ignored. Their woeful performance at Mohali deserved no better.

What, then, was the point of the wholly contrived reception? Was it to show pride in Pakistan's reaching the semi-finals of an event which has only six serious competitors? Should we not, almost as a matter of course, be expected to reach the semi-final given the popular interest, money and attention lavished on cricket? Avoiding defeat by Bangladesh, Ireland, Holland, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Canada and even a weakened West Indies, is hardly a cause for celebration.

What a contrast from the time when we were world champions in squash and hockey, but our boys got little attention from the media. It is sad to see journalists stumped for superlatives in praise of a cricket team which occupies a lowly position in world cricket rankings and, for that matter, the 200th-ranked tennis player in the world merely because he is from Lahore. So much have standards fallen that the ordinary now passes for great.

We are told ad nauseam about our reservoir of cricket talent but very little about the universal fact that achievement has more to do with effort than ability. In other words, even if there is plenty of talent our future will be bleak unless we can match that with hard work and diligence. True, miracles can be achieved, but mostly by sweating. Unfortunately for our cricketers, hard work is synonymous with oppressive drudgery. Take Shoaib Akthar, for example, who failed to even achieve a 70-percent level of fitness on the recent tour. There was a time when he looked threatening as he ran up to bowl, but now he looks like a ruined piece of nature, a caricature of his former self, so worn out and so chubby.

The prime minister said he was grateful to the cricket team for providing him the opportunity to visit India. If he was so eager to go to India he could have gone with the kabaddi team. We keep saying sports and politics should not be linked and then do just the opposite by having prime ministers talk over war-and-peace issues during the course of a cricket match and, indeed, use the fixture as a much-sought-after opportunity to do so. No wonder a puzzled world has washed its hands of the Pakistan-India conundrum.

As for the peace that Gilani thinks is in the offing as a result of his chat with Manmohan Singh in Mohali, if the Indian TV talk show the other day on which I was a panellist, is anything to go by, the level of paranoia, hate and suspicion of Pakistan manifested by Indian panellists suggests that peace is no more around the corner than is a white Christmas.

Undeterred, Mr Gilani laid on the praise with a trowel when he had the team over for tea at his official residence. Perhaps he sensed an opportunity to burnish his own credentials with the awam in an attempt to lift his wilted standing among them. But there is little that is happening in Pakistan nowadays which brings cheer to the public's heart, and certainly not the performance of his dysfunctional government. What Gilani failed to appreciate is that in the public mind this team deserved no glory and hence there was no glory that they possessed which could have rubbed off on him.

"Show me a good and gracious loser and I will show you a failure" is a sentiment which best captures what the public believes. Instinctively reflecting this sentiment, someone said when asked what Afridi could do to assuage the public hurt: "To have the team voluntarily forfeit their match fee as penance and donate it towards the construction of a fielding academy." He recalled that when an archer of the Roman army consistently failed to hit a target, Emperor Gallerius sent him packing with this admonition: "Not to have hit once in so many trials argues the most splendid talents for missing." We, on the other hand, shower money on those who miss, and extol their talent.

Prior to the match in Mohali I felt the team had done well to make it to the semi-finals, considering the threats and scandals which had led to one player fleeing and left others with sullied reputations. And, of course, the unsettling impact of the blood and gore in which Pakistan is awash. But, thereafter, I had second thoughts. Had not Italy also have terror, murder and bloodshed for thirty years, under the Borgias and yet managed to produce a Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance? True, we are only at the beginning of what seems to be a long war, but the only exceptional talent we have produced over the past decade is Kamran Akmal, perhaps the one Test cricketer who demonstrates, with unfailing regularity and without a tinge of remorse, that he can drop a catch with his left hand, his right hand and even with both his hands.

It's just as well that the Indians were indulgent at Mohali because, had the boot been on the other foot, I suspect that their players would have been arrested on charges of match fixing. Actually, had the bookies not had India as the favourites, they would have gone on a shooting spree. Tendulkar look mightily relieved that he had finally found someone to hold on to a catch and end his wretched knock.

The Mohali cricket saga is another example of our loss of sense of proportion and of a state of denial about ourselves and our cricketing prowess. While the prognosis seems clear, we have yet to face up to its diagnosis.

The writer is a former ambassador.








The rate at which our rulers are increasing the prices of items of daily use, we should look forward to the day when they might charge a tax on the air we breathe. Given the fact that unemployment is rampant – even the government has admitted it is – (the number of unemployed stood at 3.02 million, according to the Pakistan Labour Force Survey 2009-10) and that minimum salaries for the working class are meagre, the official minimum wage being Rs7,000 or $82 a month, the ever soaring prices of food and fuel amount to squeezing the poor like a lemon is squashed in the presser.

On March 31, the prices of petroleum products and CNG shot up for an umpteenth time during the last three years of the Pakistan People's Party regime. The price of diesel, widely used in public transport vehicles, has more than doubled – from Rs 41.60 in May 2008 to Rs 92.90 in April 2011. This measure is bound to have a multiplier effect on transport costs and consequently the prices of other essential items, especially food items which have already registered up to 150 percent increase since early 2008.

During the tenure of the PPP, the price of wheat flour has jumped from Rs14 per kilogramme in January 2008 to Rs30 per kilogramme in December 2011, cooking oil has gone up from Rs350 to Rs865 per five kilogramme, sugar from Rs20 to Rs70, packed milk from Rs35 to Rs70, basmati rice from Rs 50 to Rs90, beef from Rs 140 to Rs300 and mutton from Rs250 to Rs500. The prices of lentils such as moong and mash, which are considered the poor man's food, have risen by more than 100 percent during this period.

Further, there were spells spreading over weeks which saw the prices of vegetables, skyrocketing by 200 to 300 percent in the second half of 2010. At one point in time, the price of onion, essential for almost all cooked food, soared from Rs 30 per kilogramme to Rs 150 per kilogramme and then remained at Rs 80 per kilogramme for several months. Shortages of wheat, flour and sugar for several weeks also took their toll on low-income groups.

Needless to say, soaring food prices have raised the level of malnutrition in the country. The other day, Wolfgang Herbinger, Director for the World Food Programme (WFP) in Pakistan, was quoted as saying that the Pakistan government had pushed food prices too high for an impoverished population, and that malnutrition levels had risen.

He also said that food prices were high and that ordinary consumers were paying double the price for wheat compared to three years ago. He quoted statistics that suggest malnutrition levels in Sindh have reached 21 to 23 percent. A World Food Programme survey in early 2011 found that in some flood-hit areas 70 percent of people were taking out loans and using them even to pay for food. The UN official rightly said that the government has a monopoly on determining the wheat market through its massive purchases, hence it is directly responsible for this price-hike.

Owing to the price-hike, poor households are forced to substitute their food with less nutritious and sub-standard food. Recently, a woman, working as a house maid and whose husband is a private security guard in Islamabad, told this scribe that she mostly cooks vegetables, and occasionally lentils, for daily meals and that too by purchasing the cheapest available vegetables from the market in the evening when the grocers would dispose of the residual and mostly sub-standard vegetables at low rates.

Her family, like most low-income families in this country, would taste protein only at the annual festival of Eidul Azha. When asked about her strongest desire, she replied: "I wish I could have an egg at breakfast." I had expected she would wish for gold ornaments or a house of her own.

When she was asked what she would do if she received an extra few thousands rupees, she said: "I would buy meat for us to eat." This is the state of those households where both men and wife are employed. Obviously, the misery of the families where only one person is earning money is much worse. In our country, a vast majority of people can be categorised as the 'working poor.'

In these circumstances, an increase in fuel prices is excruciating for the poor workers who have been made to pay higher fares for public transport. In big cities such as Lahore, Islamabad and Karachi, the two-way fare between home and workplace for a commuter costs at least Rs1500 per month and may be as high as Rs3,000 per month for those living at some distance from the workplace.

Another essential expenditure is the cost of the bare minimum shelter. Monthly rent for a single-room accommodation in a slum of Lahore or Karachi is a minimum of Rs2,500 to Rs3,000. One can imagine the plight of a labourer, earning Rs6,000 to Rs7,000 per month – the standard wage of an unskilled labourer. Having paid for his transport fares and accommodation, a poor worker is hardly left with Rs1,500 to Rs2,500 to sustain himself and his family.

Obviously, one man's earnings cannot meet all the household expenses – the cost of food, electricity, water, natural gas or kerosene oil. In most cases, to make both ends meet, women and children join the labour force. Even then, a family of five to six people cannot meet all its essential requirements. Clothing, medical care and education are luxuries here. Hard-working and skilled people are forced to wear used clothes, live in slums, and indulge in self-medication or turn to quacks for the treatment of illness.

There is little comfort for middle-income groups, too. In the last couple of years, the prices of cloth and garments have doubled. The same is the case with the fees of private schools and colleges. Add this to the fact that medicine prices are ever increasing. In the absence of functional public health and education systems, middle-income groups are sliding downhill.

That this strangulating price-hike is an outcome of the economic policies of successive governments is clear. The state is so weak, and lacking in moral legitimacy, that it cannot collect tax from the rich. Nor has it demonstrated a willingness to put an end to wasteful government expenditure.

Governments have only one handy weapon, that is, to bleed the poor as much as possible through printing excessive currency (deficit financing in economic jargon), taking bank loans at high interest rates, raising the utility prices and taxing the items of mass consumption like fuel, edible oil, sugar and other eatables.

In Pakistan, existing inflation is not a product of the economic factors of demand and supply, but has resulted from poor governance and oppressive policies adopted by a callous and selfish elite.

The writer is a freelance journalist.







The 18th Amendment has been declared one of the major achievements of the present government and credit has been taken by all its coalition partners. Under the amendment more and more ministries are being devolved to the provinces in order to bring about greater provincial autonomy in accordance with the spirit of the Constitution.

However, provincial autonomy is not an end in itself. The important thing to consider is whether amendments to the Constitution are taking us any closer to our strengthening of federalism in Pakistan, developing a more pluralistic society, accepting diversity of all forms and shades in the provinces and strengthening Pakistan by its federating units stronger. Perhaps the most important question would be whether the power shift from the centre to the provinces will bring about improvement in governance also.

Federalism is not just about provincial autonomy; rather it is about the equation between the centre and the federating units and between the various federating units themselves. It assumes that devolution of power and responsibilities to provinces would facilitate better and more effective systems. But we cannot consider devolution of power from the centre to the provinces an achievement in itself. There is an inherent flaw in the assumption that somehow devolution, by itself, generates better governance. Devolution can be the first step towards better governance. But contrary to popular belief, there is no cause-and-effect element to devolution, one which would automatically bring about better and more efficient governance.

Improvement in governance in any system requires strong institutions, competent government machinery, improved laws and regulations, efficient mechanisms in place and strong economic growth. The efficient running of the government depends on an equally vibrant parliament, a vigilant society aware of its fundamental and civil rights, an independent judiciary and a strong media. After more than sixty years of independence, most of these requisites are glaringly missing.

There is this much trumpeted "new and budding" democracy in Pakistan, yet the reality is abysmally different. It is important to understand the real constraints in the strengthening of federalism and democratic institutions in Pakistan, and all that it entails.

Pakistan is not a homogeneous country; in fact all its federating units are dissimilar to each other. There is not only diversity in ethnicity, habitat, climate, terrain, language, culture, dress, beliefs, traditions, mannerism, rituals and norms but there is actually a great deal of hostility and antagonism between some of the federating units stretching back in time.

There are also gaping differences in the extent of development, urbanization, industrialisation, resources, literacy, access to social services like education, and healthcare, clean drinking water, opportunities of employment, livelihood and communication. In fact, an outsider who visited Islamabad or some posh locality in Lahore and Karachi would not believe that just a few of hours' drive from the more developed cities there are places where people have never had the luxury of electricity, plumbing, clean drinking water, a school, or a doctor. They don't know what television is and are little aware of life outside their villages. For them time is standing still for centuries and life has little to offer. This is not talking of a forgotten small community in a jungle somewhere, but actually of millions of people in Pakistan living like this. They live in the same century as the rest of us, only existing in prehistoric times in terms of the quality of their lives.

In such a country there cannot be a single benchmark to measure human development, or progress in terms of a nation. The federating units and their districts in some ways appear to exist in different times and ages in terms of development. For a person unfamiliar with this reality of Pakistan it might be hard to believe, but for the people who have travelled well within Pakistan and are familiar with the reality of its rural and remote areas, it is just the stating of a fact.

For such a widely diverse country federalism seems to be the only logical system, which although does not provide all the solutions but has the flexibility within itself to accommodate and find solution to problems unique to each of the federating units. It also provides the opportunity to the people to be citizens of one country while retaining their individual identity with respect to their particular regions. But federalism has never actually taken roots in here because of the assumption of the ruling establishment that Pakistan is one country and should be governed through a strong centre.

To be concluded

The writer is a journalist and has extensive experience of research and monitoring in disasters. Email:







The writer is a lawyer based in Islamabad.

The Higher Education Commission seems to have fallen victim to devolutionary righteousness. The probity of Senator Raza Rabbani is indisputable. But to err is human. It is imperative to apply constitutional principles across the board, and the HEC is no holy cow. Pakistan is a federation and giving effect to the concept of provincial autonomy is vital for the future of democracy. But does the principle of provincial autonomy and devolution, as articulated by the Constitution, require the HEC to be partially devolved and partially disbanded?

Even if the reorganisation of the HEC is not mandated by the Constitution, would redistribution of its authority to multiple authorities within the centre and the provinces promote the cause of provincial autonomy and higher education? And in the event that the demolition of the HEC is not legally required, would it qualify as a sound policy choice?

The first question is whether the post-18th Amendment Constitution requires the HEC to be devolved to provinces. And the answer is no. Let us quickly revisit the Constitution's legislative scheme and requirements related to devolution. The parliament at the centre is only allowed to legislate in relation to items explicitly included in the federal legislative list, and in consultation with the Council of Common Interests when it comes to matters listed in Part II of this list.

All residuary powers, including those in relation to items included in the erstwhile concurrent legislative list (which could be legislated upon by the parliament and the provincial assemblies prior to the 18th Amendment), fall within the exclusive domain of provinces. But legislative subjects do not exist in isolated compartments. Despite the abolition of the concurrent list, the centre and the provinces still retain overlapping legislative competence in innumerable matters including higher education.

Article 270AA introduced by the 18th Amended prescribes transitional arrangements to strike the right balance between continuity and change. It states that all laws in force at the time of the 18th Amendment will remain in force till amended by the competent legislative authority and the federal government will constitute an Implementation Commission to shepherd the devolution process. This means that only a provincial assembly (to the extent of its province) can amend laws related to items that were in the erstwhile concurrent list and stand devolved to the provinces after the 18th Amendment. Meanwhile, the Implementation Commission is to oversee devolution of government ministries and departments that manage responsibilities that have now fallen within the exclusive scope of provinces.

So if parliament after the 18th Amendment were no longer competent to touch the Higher Education Commission Ordinance, 2002, because its authority to do so has been transferred to the provinces through abolition of the concurrent list, the HEC would need to be devolved. But the federal legislative list, post-18th Amendment, includes entries that exhaustively cover the scope of the HEC's authority.

Part I covers implementation, educational and cultural pacts and agreements with other countries (Item 3), federal agencies and institutes for research, professional or technical training, or promotion of special studies (Item 16), and education in respect of Pakistanis in foreign countries and foreigners in Pakistan (Item 17). And Part II includes, national planning and national economic coordination including planning and coordination of scientific and technical research (item 7), and standards in institutions for higher education and research, scientific and technical institutions (item 12).

Item 38 of the erstwhile concurrent list included 'curriculum, syllabus, planning, policy, centres of excellence and standards of education', which now fall within the domain of provinces. But simultaneously through the 18th Amendment two items have been added to Part II of the Federal Legislative List to confer on the federation and the Council of Common Interests the shared authority to oversee planning and coordination of research and standards in institutions of higher education. Given that entries within the Federal Legislative List directly endorse all the powers and functions vested in the HEC under Section 10 of its Ordinance, the HEC remains a legitimate federal authority under the post-18th Amendment Constitution.

Whether or not provinces should have exclusive control over higher education is a separate policy question. The point being made is that the 18th Amendment has not given birth to a legal or constitutional requirement to devolve the HEC. As there is overlap of legislative competence in the area of higher education, the provinces are also not barred from creating their own higher education commissions that approve charters of provincial universities and set standards higher than those prescribed by the HEC. But such commissions will be new institutions and not successors of the HEC. If the HEC Ordinance has to be amended or repealed it is still parliament (and not provincial assemblies) that is the authority competent to do so.

Even advocates of the HEC's devolution acknowledge that the authority to set standards in institutions of higher education and oversee research remains a federal power and hence the suggestion that the HEC will be replaced by another federal commission. But there are problems with this design.

One, it does absolutely nothing to promote financial autonomy of provinces or the cause of higher education. Even if the fiscal powers of the HEC are abolished under the garb of devolution, it doesn't help the provinces for the HEC doesn't generate any revenue of its own. The source of its funding is grants from the federal government and foreign partners. So even if provincial commissions can be the successors-in-interest of the HEC, who will fund these commissions on an on-going basis other than provincial governments through their existing budgets? Foreign grants in the realm of education will remain a federal subject under Part I of the federal legislative list. With no new sources of revenue and the abolition of the HEC and the federal government's responsibility to fund higher education, provinces will be footing the bill of higher education from their share of the NFC award.

Two, deconstructing an autonomous HEC and distributing its disjointed components across the spectrum of federal ministries would actually be against the spirit of the 18th Amendment. Given that Part II of the Federal Legislative List covers the HEC's primary functions (setting minimum standards for higher education and coordinating research), Article 154 of the Constitution requires the Council of Common Interests to formulate and regulate policy in relation to these functions and exercise supervision and control over the institution implementing such policy. And if there is to be an autonomous statutory body to deal with some components of higher education that the federal government and the CCI will monitor jointly, why tear away other components such as authenticating degrees, facilitating students in foreign countries, and coordinating foreign grants and stick them under the cabinet division, the foreign ministry and the economic affairs division respectively?

Finally, demolishing the HEC and distributing its parts among a diverse set of federal ministries is bad policy. Granted the HEC has been the subject of genuine criticism. But critics have questioned the subjective choices made by this body (choice of projects, speed of implementation, mechanisms employed to match performance of academics with career progression and imprudent use of resources) and the claims of its accomplishments.

Even its harshest critics have not argued that the functions being performed by the HEC do not belong together or that the HEC as a public authority is guilty of corruption or malfeasance. Now that the institution is to be placed under the control of the CCI, let us tweak the system of checks and balances to supervise the HEC better and enhance its performance. The HEC is not broken yet. Let us address its weaknesses and build on its successes. There is no need to reinvent the wheel.







When in USA, do as the Americans do. The writers, I mean. They don't shy away from truth.

After disappearing from these pages, I am back doing what I've done for 25 years. My favourite writers at The New York Times continue to gun for the crooks, as they were doing when I left them back at Christmastime last year. Journalists don't appear fatigued; nor have they thrown in the towel. Instead, they are, as ever, hard-hitting, rough and determined. They don't walk on eggshells as some of my colleagues have taken to doing back home in Pakistan, especially in today's age of fanaticism. Yours truly being one of the guilty.

So, it was not a writer's block that got to me. Apart from self-censorship, something more sinister hit. It was a sense of disconnect. Watching the nightly "horse and pony" shows on primetime TV channels sealed my heartsickness. Our so-called leaders spat out vulgarities that were of the vilest order on their opponents while our anchors gleefully cheered them on. The end-result: garble, glossolalia--repetitive and non-meaningful.

Nobody ever talked about Pakistan. It was all about their leaders and how heroic they were--Asif Zardari, Nawaz Sharif, Altaf Hussain, Asfandyar Wali and a troupe of lesser beings whose pygmy stature got cranked up to Olympian heights.

Cult worship was never so rife as today.

The few voices of reason in newspapers got drowned out. So, to write the same old story, to repeat the same old allegations, to name the same old crooks appeared to me a useless exercise. Who was listening? I'd tell myself. Who cared? I would say. My defeatism got worse as I looked at my columns written decades ago of the same leaders who today professed piety. The evil they committed was there in black and white, the proof against their corruption solid as a rock. Yet, it has been dead and buried. Forgotten and forgiven.

Speaking to a retired army general in Islamabad before flying to the US, I asked him why the top brass was silent. Pat came his reply: "We don't want to be seen meddling. Our chief has succeeded in repairing the image that was damaged during Musharraf era. GHQ prefers to stay away because no one wants us back. Democracy is what the awam want." Really I said, wondering whether the ex-fauji was for real! He then proceeded to quote me the chat shows on television channels. "All the participants, including the anchors, want democracy to work."

The general was not impressed by my argument. "Unless the people demand action, we can't do anything," he continued. Nobody is talking of martial law, for heaven's sake, I said. All I'm saying is, who is minding the store as the country is running on empty with a clueless driver at the wheel who has no roadmap to follow, except pious platitudes for his starving people. Who is accountable for all the litany of failures occurring every minute? And the most vexatious fact is that while the viewers and readers are informed of the unforgivable happenings around the country, no names get mentioned under whose watch the transgression takes place.

Now here's how media can affect change: Did you know that a core group supported by American NGOs helped bring down Arab authoritarian governments by fomenting protests? Key leaders of the Middle Eastern revolts were "trained by the Americans in campaigning, organising through new media tools and monitoring elections," according to The New York Times.

Write away then, perhaps your story may escape the slush pile to spark off a Facebook revolution!
The writer is a freelance journalist with over twenty years of experience in national and international reporting. Email:










Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron during his visit to Pakistan admitted that Britain was to blame for decades of tension and several wars over the disputed territory, as well as other global conflicts. When he was asked how Britain could help to end the row over Kashmir, David Cameron stated: "I don't want to try to insert Britain in some leading role where, as with so many of the world's problems, we are responsible for the issue in the first place." Students and academics in Pakistan have appreciated remarks of prime minister acknowledging Britain's aberrations, but mere admitting the wrong done is not enough. Since Kashmir dispute is unfinished agenda of the partitions, it is responsibility of Britain to play its part to resolve the dispute, which has already resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Kashmiris. Anyhow, David Cameron has the habit of saying things to appease his hosts.

During his visit to India in July 2010, David Cameron had made an outrageous statement against Pakistan when he charged Pakistan with looking both ways on the issue of terrorism, adding that it was not right for Pakistan to have any relationship with groups that were promoting terror. Such comments were interpreted as endorsing India's stand. However, while in Pakistan a few days ago, he said he had come here "to mark a new chapter in the relationship between our two countries" and announced a 650-million-pound aid for this country's education sector. Whereas his desire for a strong relationship and also help to revamp education sector are admirable, but his refusal to help resolve Kashmir dispute amounts to abdicating his responsibility in resolving the issue that was creation of the British Raj.

The Partition Plan of 3rd June 1947 had envisaged that over 550 princely states would join India or Pakistan keeping in view the aspirations of their people and geographical contiguity. Kashmiris had faced repression even before the partition when the East India Company had sold Kashmir to Gulab Singh, a former governor of Maharaja Ranjeet Singh for 7.5 million rupees. Once again, at the time of partition when people of Kashmir had dreamt of freedom, the plan of annexing Kashmir was contrived and implemented by Lord Mountbatten and Nehru, and Raja Hari Singh was coerced into signing the controversial document, as he was hesitant to go against the wishes of Kashmiris. India and Pakistan had three wars over the Kashmir dispute; and many rounds of dialogue including the stalled composite dialogue were held, but no progress could be made due to India's intransigence.

It has to be mentioned that about one month before the partition of the sub-continent in August 1947, Muslim Conference had organized a convention and passed a resolution for merging with Pakistan, which stated: "This convention of Muslim Conference has reached the conclusion that geographical conditions, 80 per cent Muslim population, important rivers of Punjab passing through the state, language, cultural, ethnic and economic relations and contiguity of the state with Pakistan make it imperative to merge with Pakistan". India however occupied the State through military force and claimed it as an integral part of India. Earlier, changes in the Radcliff Award were made through intrigue by Lord Mountbatten by giving Gurdaspur to India otherwise India had no road link with Kashmir. After India usurped Kashmir, volunteers from Pakistan entered Kashmir to help Kashmiris in their struggle for freedom from illegal occupation. And it was India that had taken the matter to the United Nations under Chapter VI of the UN Charter dealing with Pacific Settlement of Disputes. Anyhow, Britain and other big powers give overriding consideration to commercial interests over international covenants, agreements commitments and moral values. They eye India's economic growth and buying list for sophisticated weaponry. Last year, leaders of five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany had visited India with a view to securing orders for military equipment and other nuclear-related materials. Except China, all of them are keen to raise India's international image as an emerging global power. President Obama's statement supporting India's candidature for the United Nations Security Council permanent seat was reflective of the fact that humanitarian obligations and political ethics have no place while conferring this prestigious status. Anti-Pakistan statements by foreign leaders during their visits to India were indeed disturbing for Pakistan but that knocked the bottom out of their pretense of upholders of democratic rights of the people, as India has ignominious record of human rights.

German Chancellor's views that Islamabad was using terrorism to reap political benefits and French President Nicholas Sarkozy's claim that world does not accept that Pakistan trains the terrorists and similar urging by British Premier speak volumes about the overriding consideration given to business deals over issues of human rights. They had shown utter disregard to Pakistan's remarkable role played as a peace-loving and a responsible state in the world politics in the past. Anyhow, after signing nuclear deal with the US, Nuclear Suppliers Group's countries are concluding deals for selling equipment to India. They would not care that India as a state is rich but it is a land of appalling poverty where more than 500 million people are living below a meanly defined poverty line. Its human rights record is also dismal, which is obvious from human rights organizations reports. Very recently report issued by the US State Department dealt at length on gross human rights violations committed by Indian security forces on Kashmiris.

Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, during his visit to India had accused Islamabad of allowing terrorist groups to form safe havens in its territory. He said: "Terrorist groups were free to launch attacks on India and NATO troops in Afghanistan from Pakistan, which is not acceptable". British Prime Minister David Cameron during his visit to India in end July 2010 had said that Pakistan could not be allowed to "look both ways" or export terrorism to its neighbours. Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel during her visit to India had said: "India is suffering as a consequence of terrorist attacks. We still remember the attack in Mumbai. At that time we criticised what was done by these perpetrators. We want to do whatever we can to ensure that these terror attacks are not repeated." It is true that foreign relations are no altruistic pursuit but extremely self-centered, self-serving motivated actions. But it is difficult to imagine that heads of above three European countries could stoop so low as to issue statements against Pakistan with a view to selling their military hardware and other stuff to India.

—The writer is Lahore-based senior journalist.








In the past, conventional forces used to besiege an enemy country in order to defeat it or to fulfill their strategic aims. But in the modern era of globalization and technology, a rival country can be besieged through some different tactics which include various subversive acts conducted in that country by a single country or a number of countries which want to obtain their joint selfish goals. In these terms, although our country has been facing multiple crises of grave nature, yet the same have been intensified by the foreign enemies recently as part of the siege of Pakistan. At present, Pakistan and its security forces are facing suicide attacks, bomb blasts, sectarian violence, drone attacks and targeted-killings coupled with intermittent battles with the militants.

In this respect, on April 3 this year, a double bomb suicide attack outside a shrine in Dera Ghazi Khan killed more than 40 people. On March 30, a suicide bomber struck a convoy carrying Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) chief in Charsadda, killing 12 people. In two days, it was the second attack against Maulana Fazlur Rehman who survived fortunately. While in one of the major attacks, more than 40 civilians and policemen were killed when on March 18, 2011; an unmanned US aircraft fired four missiles into a building in Datta Khel area of North Waziristan.

Although drone attacks have continued intermittently on Pakistan's tribal areas in the last few years, which have killed many people, yet this strike was so lethal that on the same day, Pakistan's Chief of Army Staff, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani strongly condemned it as "unjustified and intolerable" and said it was a violation of human rights. He elaborated, "A jirga of peaceful citizens including elders of the area has been targeted carelessly with a complete disregard to human life. He further indicated, "Such an act of violence takes us away from our objective of elimination of terrorism…it was imperative to understand that this critical objective could not be sacrificed for temporary tactical gains", adding that "security of the people of Pakistan, in any case, stood above all."

Meanwhile, apart from other cities, such incidents as linguistic clashes, sectarian violence, firings and particularly targeted killings have become a routine matter in Karachi. Taking cognizance of all the subversive events, Pakistan's civil and military leadership has been revealing from time to time that Indian secret agency RAW, Israeli Mossad and some other foreign agencies are involved in supporting insurgency in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and separatism in Balochistan including acts of terrorism in other cities of Pakistan. It is of particular attention that some opportunist elements like the US, India, Afghanistan and Israel are in collusion as part of a plot to 'destabilize' Pakistan for their common strategic interests. For this purpose, American CIA, Indian secret agency RAW and Israeli Mossad including Blackwater have rapidly established their collective network in Pakistan. They have recruited Pakistani nationals who are vulnerable and can work on payroll, giving them high financial incentives to work for them. Notably, some reports suggest that this notorious firm Blackwater has been recruiting smugglers, employees of the security companies, experts of the psychological warfare, scholars and journalists in order to fulfill anti-Pakistan designs of America, India and Israel.

It is mentionable that in the last three years, Pakistan's security forces and intelligence agencies have caught a number of foreign spies along with sophisticated weapons, working against the integration of the country. In this respect, a number of times, arms and guns were also captured from Americans traveling in vehicles in various cities of Pakistan, camouflaged with dark mirrors. On the one hand, Pakistan's security forces have successfully coped with the Taliban militants in the Malakand Division and South Waziristan, while on the other, situation has deteriorated in the country where subversive events like suicide attacks, targeted killings, attacks on buildings, oil pipelines, sectarian violence etc. have accelerated due to the presence of external spies. It is notable that on April 23, 2009 in the in-camera sitting of the Senate, Federal Minister to the Interior, Rehman Malik had displayed documentary evidence of Indian use of Afghanistan to create unrest in Balochistan. It is believed that the main aim of in-camera session was also to show the engagement of American CIA and other external agencies as part of a conspiracy against Pakistan because at that stage, Islamabad did not want to publicly point out America.

Besides, Pakistan's Foreign Office spokesman Abdul Basit without naming CIA had revealed, "The evidence of foreign powers' involvement in the destabilisation of Pakistan will be shared with relevant countries." Governor of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Awais Ghani had disclosed that some world powers were trying to divide Pakistan, adding that if he were not a governor, he would have exposed them. During the Malakand and Waziristan military operations, ISPR spokesman, Maj-Gen. Athar Abbas has repeatedly indicated foreign hands in helping the insurgents in order to destabilize Pakistan.

It is mentionable that Pakistan is the only nuclear country in the Islamic World; hence the US, India, Israel and some western powers are determined to weaken it. Notably, despite American cooperation with Islamabad, its main aim along with India and Israel remains to de-nuclearise our country whose geo-strategic location with the Gwadar port entailing close ties with China irks the eyes of these countries, therefore, they are in collusion to weaken Pakistan. For this sinister aim, a well-established network of Indian army, RAW, Mossad and CIA which was set up in Afghanistan against Pakistan so as to support insurgency in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and separatism in Balochistan have been extended. Now, it has been expanded in whole of Pakistan as recent suicide attacks, bomb blasts and targeted killings in Karachi and other cities of the country have proved. In this context, some other incidents like kidnappings and killings of Iranians and Chinese engineers in the last three years might also be cited as example.

In fact, the problem was not restricted to Balochistan alone, it also related to the Karakorum Highway, which was extended to Khyber Pukhtunkhwa and the tribal areas of Pakistan. The fight in the name of Islam started in Bajor, Malakand and Swat, when in 2004; China signed an agreement with the government of Pakistan for an extension of the historical highway from Gilgit to Swat, passing through Dir and Chitral. That highway was named the Karakorum Highway phase II. As soon as some parts of that plan were brought to world's attention, a siren went off in the capitals of some countries—especially Washington, New Delhi and Tel Aviv. The USA took it as a threat to its global plans, and India felt that it threatened its integrity. American close ally, Israel also took it as a greater threat from an Islamic country.

It is established fact that CIA, RAW and Mossad are collectively working inside Pakistan. In this context, these secret agencies have been spending huge money to train and equip the militants who have been entering Pakistan on daily basis and have been conducting subversive acts of various types—assaults on our security forces and inciting sectarian violence. These foreign agencies have also purchased the services of some Indian Muslims so as to fulfill their nefarious designs. They intend to create perennial unrest in Pakistan, while main purpose remains to disintegrate the country.

In this regard, Indo-Israeli lobbies are working in the US and other western countries in order to implicate Islamabad. With the help of especially American media, these lobbies are propagating that the next terror-plan to attack the US homeland will be prepared in Pakistan. In this respect, recent release of the new secret documents which have targeted Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Syria including some other Islamic countries in general and Pakistan in particular are the plot of their collective enemies through WikiLeaks. Particularly, the main aim of these diplomatic cables is to distort the image of Pakistan by maligning our political leadership, army and superior spy agency, ISI which is the first defense line of the country in thwarting the conspiracy of the foreign enemies. Without any doubt, US has been playing a double game against our country, while its allies—India and Israel continue the siege of Pakistan with its support.








I read a news item in daily of 12th April, 2011 based on a letter written by the Cabinet Division to the Administrative Secretaries of other Ministries wherein the Prime Minister has held the top bureaucracy responsible for bad governance and resultantly tarnishing the government's image in the eyes of the public.

I had mixed feelings after going through the news item. It is praise-worthy that the Prime Minister has taken notice of bad governance and has boldly admitted this fact, although it has taken him three years but still, as they say, it is never too late. Such a bold statement from the Chief Executive is also encouraging from the aspect that we have taken a start to make admission of wrongs in an endeavour to correct it; otherwise I have not seen any statement from any of top-level government functionary that the governance is not good.

As regards the responsibility for bad governance, it is not all truth that the top bureaucrats are solely responsible for it, especially when the Prime Minister could be able to take notice of it after long three years, in spite of the fact that opposition leaders and members of intelligentsia and media have repeatedly been drawing the attention of government to bad law and order situation, corruption up to the top-level, high prices of essential commodities and repeated increase in petrol prices. But the government representatives in their speeches in public functions and the Parliament have never tried to address the real and genuine grievances of the general public but consider it sufficient to say that we have been elected for five years and let us first complete five years, where after we would become accountable - if they are then answerable.

The Prime Minister has on several occasions stated in his public speeches that the people of Pakistan have given them the country on "mustajri" for five years and should question their credibility only after five years, although the Prime Minister should know that even if the land is given on "mustajri" for five years, the owner receives the lease money in advance every year but the people of Pakistan to whom the Country belongs in the democratic set up, have not been able to achieve the desired and required benefits. It is, therefore, not fair to say that only top-bureaucracy is responsible for all evils.

In an exhaustive articles under the caption "Governance: statutory appointments" published in this newspaper "Pakistan Observer" in its issue of 13th July, 2010, I had drawn attention of the government to the appointment against statutory posts which under the Rules of Business, are made by the Federal Government with the approval of the President or the Prime Minister, as the case many be. Such appointments include Chairman, Heads and Members of Autonomous Bodies and Corporations and in common man's language these are also called political appointments and politicians are also appointed against such posts to bestow political favoures. In some statutes the criteria for making such appointments is laid down and in some others this is left to the discretion of the Federal Government.

In that article, I had discussed in detail the appointment of Chairman, Evacuee Trust Property Board where no criteria for appointment is fixed in the statute and it is left to the direction and wisdom of the Federal Government that the appointment should be merit based and the qualifications and experience of the incumbent must commensurate with the judicial, financial and administrative powers attached to the post, but, I am sorry to say, these are not taken into consideration for making such appointments. The appointment of present incumbent was made through notification dated 7th December, 2008 and the terms and conditions were to be issued separately which have not been issued till now. It was largely published in the media that the appointment of the former Chairman, OGDC and NICL could not be termed as merit based appointments as the competency and the integrity of the appointees was not made the sole consideration but extraneous considerations prevailed.

As I had earlier suggested and now restate that if the Federal Government readily wants to establish good governance, they should immediately review all the statutory appointments to ensure that they are all merit-based and the competency and integrity of the incumbent is above board. If in an organization the top-man is honest and competent, the good governance will automatically flow from top to downward and the image of the government will not be tarnished in the eyes of the public who, I am sure, have become much wiser by now and do understand that we all are responsible for good or bad governance.








The year 2011 has been declared as the International Youth Year by the United Nations. Being a signatory of the UN charter, Pakistan needs to echo the programs of the UN and its development arm the UNDP. Therefore the Centre for Poverty Reduction and Social Policy Development (CPRSPD), a joint initiative of the Planning Commission of Pakistan and the UNDP has announced a Youth Idea Challenge to engage the youth through a video competition.

The youth of Pakistan is the biggest stakeholder in its future. UNDP figures reveal estimates that out of a total population of 165 million about 104 million are under 25. Out of these about 36 million are between the ages of 15-25 and 53% of this age group are literate. The population of the industrialized world is advanced in age, whereas Pakistan is comparatively a country of the youth. The youth has phenomenol energy but little guidance or direction. This fact alone has turned Pakistan into a breeding ground of militancy, extremism and religious bigotry.

The youth challenge video competition is being promoted through social media such as Facebook and the entries are requires to be UTube compatible for further social media engagement. Each educational institute can send three entries of three-minute duration. The competition is open to ages 13-25 and the themes are centered around the New Development Approach (NDA)) framework of the Planning Commission. The NDA plans to engage the youth, focusing on innovation and aiming for market and governance reforms.

The youth idea challenge was announced a week ago and they have managed only 28 followers, as of this writing, which is disappointing given the potential of momentum on Facebook. The video submission categories are: our cities; knowledge and productivity, social networking, youth entrepreneurship and market reforms. Two winning entries would be posted on the websites of CPRSPD and the Planning Commission. Video cameras would be awarded as prizes. The program was launched on the 6th of April and in a little over two weeks academic institutions are supposed to enroll and then submit entries addressing profound economic issues following sketchy competition guidelines. These entries would then supposedly contribute to economic policy formulation. This unrealistic scenario itself speaks of the hasty announcement of a scheme that is not aimed to achieve anything more than hoopla.

The government of Pakistan has a full fledged Youth Affairs Ministry which is not involved in this video competition initiated by the CPRSPD. The cumulative learning of the Youth Affairs Ministry and their youth outreach resources have been bypassed by the Planning Commission to pay lip service to UNDP's stress on the youth.As far as Economic realities and planning is concerned Pakistan is taking on IMF Loans and is a signatory to IMF's Structural Adjustment Program (SAP) since 1991. SAP is centered on the policy of market liberalization, privatization and deregulation. Since 1991 till April 2006, the Government of Pakistan had completed or approved 160 transactions at a gross sale price of Rs. 395 billion. Privatization however, caused social development slow down. The pre-privatization decade (1981-1991) witnessed an annual average growth rate of 6.7 % of GDP which declined to 4.4 % during the privatization decade (1991-2001). Two major objectives of privatization of debt-servicing and poverty alleviation have not been achieved. The total external debt doubled from US $23 billion in 1991 to US $55 billion in 2011. Poverty too has worsened.

An even scarier reality of IMF's controversial SAP is the globalization of poverty as it has exacerbated issues of inequality by making social services inaccessible to the masses in all countries where it was implemented. SAP advocates curbing government spending on social services such as health, education and the provision of water etc. The Planning Commission itself has halved the Public Sector Development Program from Rs 663bn in 2010 to Rs 385 bn in 2011. What economic growth can be spurred from such a policy?

One must remember that the end goal of this youth challenge by the Planning Commission is the NDA. Given the grim economic realities it is hard to reconcile them with an NDA that advocates a youth led growth model. In the current economic scenario, brain drain is likely to continue.

Pakistani youth is bright, capable and globally aware. In the US the baby boomers (born after the second world war) main concern is the declining population group of Generation X (Born during the 1960's to 1980's) since they would support the social security net of the baby boomers. In Pakistan we are taking massive debt with impunity, inconsiderate of enslaving our future generations. Meanwhile we are also curbing investment in education, health and social services. We try and appease the youth by such gimmicks as the Youth Idea Challenge. No one is fooled. The economically empowered educated youth has no faith in our political leadership and seeks opportunities abroad. The less privileged amongst the youth are angry, frustrated and make ideal recruits for militant organizations. Religion is being employed to garner youth engagement by organizations and individuals with nefarious agendas as the movers and shakers of Pakistan turn a blind eye to this crucial issue.

Pakistan desperately needs genuine youth engagement initiatives providing skills training and economic opportunities. One commendable public-private partnership in this regard is the Habib University Foundation (HUF) where the House of Habib business group of Karachi has partnered with the Sindh Government. Other local corporates need to follow HUF's example and fulfill their corporate social responsibility agenda by fruitful youth engagement initiatives.

—The writer is freelance contributor of international standing.








Will "mission creep" in the West's intervention in Libya end up creating, inadvertently, a jihadist citadel at Europe's southern doorstep? Of course, the Western powers must be applauded for their efforts, with the support of Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, to prevent a slaughter of Libya's civilian population. The democratic world should never stand by idly while a tyrant uses military force to massacre civilians. But, if despots are to be deterred from untrammeled repression, any intervention – whether military or in the form of economic and diplomatic sanctions – must meet the test of impartiality.

The current political upheaval in the Arab world could transform the Middle East and North Africa in the same way that the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 fundamentally changed Europe. Indeed, 1989 was a watershed, producing the most profound global geopolitical changes in the most compressed timeframe in history. But, in the decades since, the Arab world's rulers, regimes, and practices seemed to have remained firmly entrenched. In 1989, Francis Fukuyama claimed in a famous essay that the Cold War's end marked the end of ideological evolution, "the end of history," with the "universalisation of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government." Yet, two decades on, the global spread of democracy has been encountering increasingly strong headwinds. Only a small minority of states in Asia, for example, are true democracies.

In fact, a new bipolar, Cold War-style ideological divide has emerged. The rise of authoritarian capitalism – best symbolised by China, but also embraced by countries as disparate as Malaysia, Singapore, Kazakhstan, and Qatar – has created a new model that competes with (and challenges) liberal democracy. The popular upsurge in the Arab world shows that democratic empowerment hinges on two key internal factors: the role of security forces and the technological sophistication of the state's repressive capacity.

Yemen's popular uprising has splintered the security establishment, with different military factions now in charge of different neighbourhoods in the capital, Sana. In Egypt, it was the military's refusal to side with former President Hosni Mubarak that helped end his 30-year dictatorship. Long used to wielding power, the military had become increasingly wary of Mubarak's efforts to groom his son as his successor. Yet today's heady talk of freedom cannot obscure the reality that the people's "revolution" has so far led only to a direct military takeover, with the decades-old emergency law still in force and the country's political direction uncertain.

As for the second key internal factor, a state's ability to police mobile and electronic communications and Internet access has become as important as jackboots and truncheons. China, for example, is a model of despotic efficiency: its internal-security system extends from state-of-the-art surveillance and extralegal detention centers to an army of paid informants and neighbourhood patrols that look out for troublemakers.

In response to calls by some overseas Chinese for people to gather on Sundays at specific sites in Shanghai and Beijing to help launch a molihua (jasmine) revolution, China has revealed a new strategy: preemptively flood the protest-designated squares with police to leave no room for protesters. More importantly, as the world's leader in stringent, real-time censorship of electronic communications, China is strongly placed to block any Arab influence from reaching its shores. External factors are especially important in smaller, weaker countries. Nothing illustrates this better than Bahrain, where Saudi Arabia sent forces under the Gulf Cooperation Council banner. Libya, too, is a weak, divided country. Indeed, with the CIA conducting covert operations inside Libya and aiding the rebels there, the danger is that the West could be creating another jihadist haven. After all, the broadening of the NATO-led mission from a limited, humanitarian goal to an all-out assault on Libya's military signals to some Arabs that this war is really about ensuring that the region does not slip out of Western control. The intervention has seemingly been driven by a geopolitical imperative to bottle up or eliminate Col. Muammar el-Gaddafi so that his regime cannot exploit the political vacuum in neighbouring Egypt and Tunisia.

While it is now clear that much of the Arab world is in transition, the end point is not yet clear. But Barack Obama's administration apparently has concluded that Arab monarchs are likely to survive and that it is acceptable for the United States. Unfortunately, this double standard sends a message that democratic empowerment in any society is possible only if it is in the interest of the great powers. No one has a greater interest in broad acceptance of this noxious idea – that promotion of human freedom is nothing more than a geopolitical tool – than the world's largest, oldest, and most powerful autocracy, China.—The CG News







TURKEY has long been sincerely trying to play its role to sort out Afghanistan problem and for this purpose it has hosted several rounds of talks between Pakistani leadership and Afghan President Hamid Karzai in an effort to help them bridge their differences and remove misunderstanding. It transpired during visit of President Asif Ali Zardari to Ankara that the two countries have agreed on a kind of concrete mechanism with potential to make headway in resolving the conflict.

The reported understanding to establish a Taliban office in Turkey that could serve as a focal point for contacts by different parties and holding of negotiations presents a ray of hope in an otherwise dark settings. This is apparently in line with reports that the United States, UK and Karzai Government are in direct or indirect contact with Taliban leadership and in this regard role of Saudi Arabia has also been surfacing in media reports. All these developments bear testimony to the fact that their public posture notwithstanding all stakeholders are convinced that there can be no peace without substantive dialogue with Taliban. There is, in fact, a fundamental flaw in Western thinking, as they try to draw lines among Taliban by describing them as good and bad ones, whereas Taliban have become a symbol of resistance to foreign occupation of Afghanistan and barring a handful of Westernized elements, almost entire population of that country is fully supportive of the goal that Taliban are pursuing now. Ground realities also confirm this, as Taliban resistance cannot succeed without active support from the masses. Therefore, it is time that the plan to establish diplomatic presence of Taliban in Turkey is openly supported by all stakeholders and formal dialogue is opened with them to find solution to the Afghan imbroglio. Excessive reliance on use of force has not so far produced any positive result and is unlikely to yield in foreseeable future; rather there are reasons to believe that this approach has promoted more extremism and terrorism. There is every reason for Pakistan to enter into dialogue with Taliban who, by and large, have never worked against vital interests of the country. Talks in the past with Pakistani Taliban helped create peace conditions in some areas of FATA and Swat but unfortunately these arrangements were sabotaged under foreign pressure and influence. Now that the United States and Afghan Government themselves are in search of face saving mechanism to get out of troubled waters of Afghanistan, Pakistani leadership should renew its policy of dialogue, which, after all is one of the three 'Ds' albeit neglected one.







FOR the first time in many months, the National Assembly is taking up the issue of drone attacks in a serious and effective manner. On Thursday, members belonging to PML (N) boycotted proceedings of the house to record their protest over unending attacks by the US unmanned aircraft, killing innocent people. Members representing other parties also focused on the issue during their speeches on President's address to the joint session of the parliament, demanding of the Government to allow PAF to retaliate in case of further provocative attacks by the United States.

We have been pointing out in these columns that the parliament being the highest policy and decision-making body, the members should give precedence to issues of national interests over petty political considerations. However, unfortunately, the emphasis so far has been on political issues, putting those of national security and economy virtually on the backburner. The country has suffered immensely because of this shallow approach on the part of our political parties and their representatives in the parliament, who mostly consumed the precious time of the parliament on frivolous issues. The Government too is to be blamed, as it is not giving due importance to the views of the parliament, as reflected in its policy towards unanimous resolutions passed by the two houses over issues of national security including drone attacks. Parliamentary Committee on National Security had done remarkably good job in drafting comprehensive recommendations on how best to uphold the national interests but regrettably the authorities concerned gave no serious consideration to these recommendations. In fact, these recommendations, which were incorporated in unanimous resolutions as well, sent strong message to the United States but these became somewhat irrelevant because of non-serious attitude of the Government towards their implementation. Now again, in the backdrop of alarming situation created by drone attacks, the meeting of the Committee has been convened on April 19, which is an appreciable move and we hope this time round the Government would abide by its recommendations in letter and spirit, as it is only then that it can protect national honour and prestige in the face of humiliating attacks by the United States. Governments sometime become victim to compromises and it is, therefore, job of the opposition to keep an effective check and convey sentiments and feelings of the people not only to the rulers but also to the outside world.






KARACHI continues to simmer despite attempts by the PPP and MQM to ease out the situation through dialogue and some measures to accommodate each other's concerns. Target killings have become order of the day and the toll has increased to thirteen in the latest spate of such killings and political parties including MQM are complaining that their workers are being targeted.

Karachi, unfortunately, in due course of time, has become a den of criminals and mafias of different sorts that have made peace of the city hostage and the Government seems to be hapless in checking their activities. The situation has not reached to this point in few days; rather it took years but the authorities concerned paid only lip-service to the growing menace and did not take any practical step to stem the rot. The latest scenario conveys a vivid impression that the situation has also assumed political contours, as different parties are fighting for war of dominance and influence in the city. But regrettably, ordinary people and daily wage earners are becoming victim of the circumstances, as most of those killed in sniper firing are people hailing from poor families. It is condemnable that the political parties — be they ruling or opposition parties — are using these hapless souls mercilessly for creating law and order situation and advancement of their self-centered political agenda. It is in this perspective that people are losing hopes of any improvement in the situation and some circles have even started making demands for handing over of the city to the army. Karachi being vitally important for economy of the country, we would urge all stakeholders to sit together and agree on a transparent and across-the-board action against all sorts of criminals without consideration to their political affiliations.








THE Gillard government's first budget is an opportunity to put substance behind Julia Gillard's recent claims about her economic credentials and the direction in which she aspires to lead the nation.

Her task is to ensure her government delivers on her good instincts and puts an uncertain administration back on course. The Prime Minister set out the likely motif of next month's budget in her "Dignity of Work" speech this week. That's not a bad place to start. Our mining boom economy is crying out for workers, yet 1.4 million people remain unemployed or on disability support and there are 250,000 families where no adult has worked for at least one year.

Today's strong demand for skills and labour provides the best possible time to break the curse of long-term welfare dependency, too often handed down from generation to generation. Chronic unemployment and a benefits culture is a breeding ground for social exclusion. As Ms Gillard says, it is simply "not fair" for taxpayers to pay for those who can "support themselves". Next month's budget is her chance to demonstrate that Labor is truly the "party of work not welfare, the party of opportunity not exclusion, the party of responsibility not idleness". These are old Labor values that can be traced to her predecessors such as the Whitlam government's Clyde Cameron. Yet since then, Labor has been ambivalent about the tough love that is needed to break the welfare stranglehold. Ms Gillard must ignore the special pleading of the welfare lobby, which has been on 24-hour rotation on the ABC since her speech.

Welfare-to-work reform will not deliver short-term savings, and to be effective will require parallel reform to our incentive-sapping tax system. That's where the worries start. Under both Kevin Rudd and Ms Gillard, Labor's tax reform record has been weak. Wayne Swan bungled the potentially worthwhile resources rent tax proposed by Ken Henry and ruled out the GST from the "root and branch" tax review because it was politically inconvenient. The Treasurer has dismissed the Henry review's proposal to reform the tax and benefits system by lifting the tax-free threshold to $25,000 because it might put a mild burden on middle-income voters. And he has been dragged into a delayed October tax "forum" as the political price of forming a minority government. Meanwhile, Labor is struggling to sell a carbon tax that appears to be more focused on redistributing income than sharpening incentives. When you add the proposed means-testing of the private health insurance rebate, hitting the wealth generators starts to look like a habit.

Ms Gillard needs to junk her rejection of a "big Australia", recalibrate immigration levels and fix urban infrastructure bottlenecks. Australians will benefit by welcoming more migrants. Fixing the rorts in the student migration program is one thing: restricting the supply of willing foreign workers to a labour market marked by excess demand is counter-productive. Mr Rudd's Infrastructure Australia was a good idea for casting a national focus on our lagging infrastructure, but Labor has too often broken its promise to commit infrastructure spending to proper cost-benefit scrutiny: witness broadband and Ms Gillard's $2bn railway election bribe to western Sydney. The most pressing budget task will be to get the bottom line back into the black in a way that sharpens incentives rather than simply slugs those with the deepest pockets.

While we would not presume to tell the Treasurer how he should spend his leisure moments, his recent essay on John Maynard Keynes for the Australian Fabian Society makes us nervous. The Fabian penchant for comandeering the apparatus of the state for the purposes of democratic socialism is hardly the ideal foundation for the "tough" budget Mr Swan has promised to turn this year's $40 billion-plus deficit into surplus by 2012-13.

Labor must break the habit of frittering away the proceeds of the China boom. A once-in-a-century mining and energy bonanza offers the promise of extending this prosperity over decades. Yet Labor's policy failures in budget stimulus spending, tax, infrastructure and labour market reregulation have compounded the structural adjustment pressures from the multi-speed economy and the strong dollar. True, the Howard government splurged too much of the bounty from the boom's first phase, including on family tax benefits designed to woo the swinging mortgage-belt voters. The then treasurer, Peter Costello, managed to quarantine some of the boom for enterprise-promoting tax cuts, but this late-period Howard government failed to deliver matching spending discipline. Masked by record high commodity boom revenues, the result has been a structural weakening of the budget's underlying position, which has been compounded by Labor's excessive and inefficient stimulus spending. Now Treasury says the post-crisis mining boom is generating less tax revenue than before. That leaves us highly exposed to any significant break in our China luck.

Mr Swan is dealing with this in the oddest of ways, portraying the needed tightening as part of a grand Australian Keynesian tradition. It is true that after splurging on a large-scale stimulus response to the global financial crisis, the budget now must make way for a massive mining development boom. But it is foolish to portray this as a new era of Keynesian policy that will seek to actively manage the business cycle.

Mr Swan's task is to return the budget's underlying structure into balance. When the economy and the terms of trade are booming, such as now, the budget should naturally swing into bigger surpluses than we've been used to running. This money should be quarantined as a reserve for when the economy and the commodity price cycle turn down, when the budget would naturally swing into deficit.

Getting fiscal policy into such a medium-term mining boom framework requires a more disciplined approach to the $320bn (or one-quarter of the economy) that Canberra is budgeted to extract this year and the $360bn it has planned to spend. The Treasurer might think about how being "Keynesian on the upside" to make room for a mining boom squares with $40bn or so of broadband infrastructure that has not been through a proper cost-benefit analysis. The National Broadband Network should be rethought to get value for money and relieve inflationary pressures it will inevitably exacerbate.





GAMBLING is often joked about as a national obsession that is capable of seeing us bet on two flies crawling up a wall or turning an official blind eye to Diggers playing two-up on Anzac Day.

While we must not let the wowsers destroy this sense of fun, The Weekend Australian believes the nation cannot ignore the terrible toll that problem gambling exacts.

When the fun turns to addiction and people punt beyond their means, families are torn apart, lives are ruined and sometimes it even ends in suicide. The evidence suggests gaming machines are particularly addictive; they are certainly all-pervasive. The Productivity Commission has found 40 per cent of gaming machine revenue comes from problem gamblers.

Against this background, it makes sense for a federal parliamentary joint select committee to inquire into gambling. But as Chris Kenny writes in today's Inquirer, the difficulty is that the committee is following a pre-ordained path under an artificial 2012 deadline, imposed by independent MP Andrew Wilkie as a pre-condition for supporting the Gillard government.

Mr Wilkie and South Australian senator Nick Xenophon are to be applauded for their dedication to the cause, but the hospitality industry is right to be concerned about the way this agenda is being pursued. And the states, which control gambling, are not surprisingly defending their authority (and their revenue). Rushed, costly and heavy-handed implementation of a compulsory pre-commitment scheme could infringe the individual rights of many Australians. It could also damage the viability of the pubs and clubs that provide extensive social networks, entertainment, employment and services for their communities.

Central to this debate is the comprehensive report delivered by the commission last year. It maps out a range of measures, including trial pre-commitment schemes, initially on a voluntary basis. This newspaper believes proper consultation and trials, conducted over a sensible period, can eventually lead to a national strategy, as the commission suggests, by 2016.

Clearly, when Mr Wilkie found that the government desperately needed his support after the election, he and Senator Xenophon thought they had hit the jackpot. They should now pause, take a step back and pursue their gambling reform agenda at a more sensible pace and in a more consultative manner.





THE automaker's cuts underline the sector's problems.

Anyone needing evidence of the hazards of propping up the Australian car industry to quarantine jobs should look no further than yesterday's announcement that Ford Australia will cut its workforce by 240. The decision to reduce daily production of the Falcon and Territory from 260 to 209 because of falling demand comes just two months after car companies extracted a promise from Prime Minister Julia Gillard she would not cut their billions of industry assistance. Since rationalisation of the sector began 25 years ago, tariff cuts have led to more choice and lower prices for consumers, but taxpayers' money continues to underwrite the industry. Ford says jobs will go from Broadmeadows and Geelong but that most workers will be redeployed, with the remainder shed through voluntary redundancies. The strategy to cut volume makes sense. After all, if people aren't buying them, why make them? Ford would be aware of the problems encountered by Mitsubishi a few years back when it discounted the Magna only to see the market collapse. Union leaders blamed the downsizing in part on tariff cuts yet there is no going back on restructuring. After 60 years of support and endless reform plans, the industry continues to face major challenges. By now, the unions and companies should have worked it out.







DEBATE about climate change is bedevilled by a disconnection between theory and practice. When presented with evidence of longer droughts, rising sea levels, more intense fires, more frequent cyclones and hurricanes and the like, most people agree without thinking too hard about it that something really should be done. That is the theory. In practice though - when the question becomes what in detail should be done, how it will affect people and what it will cost - the arguments and disagreements start, the detail is pored over and found to be unsatisfactory, and the whole project suddenly is made to appear too large, too unmanageable, too expensive, and frankly, not worth the trouble. So it is with electricity prices this week.

If action against climate change requires anything, it is a wholesale review of how modern urban living uses energy produced from greenhouse gas-producing sources such as coal and oil. Electricity prices will have to rise, to indicate to consumers the true cost of power - in damage to the planet as well as its production. But rising electricity prices affect everyone. Without even considering its effect on industry and employment, dearer electricity hits consumers where they live. Modern life relies on electrical appliances. Airconditioners and heaters make flimsy houses habitable, doing the work that solid construction materials once performed. Refrigerators, dishwashers, washing machines and vacuum cleaners reduce housework. A thousand electric appliances bake, toast, slice, chop, filter and brew. Computers connect people to the world. And then there is lighting and hot water. Some of these may be frivolous or unnecessary; in a pinch, people can survive without them - as recent natural disasters in Queensland and New Zealand have shown. But many have come to seem essential. With the modern expectation that a family will have two breadwinners, time is short. Electric labour-saving devices are central to the normal functioning of a household. So action against climate change, by challenging the assumption that electricity will be cheap, challenges most people's daily routine. That is one reason the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, is finding the going so hard in her campaign to tax carbon dioxide emissions, which will raise the cost of coal-generated power - which right now is most power. Fear of change can easily be sown by those with an interest in doing so - such as the talk-back radio demagogues.

To this already difficult situation, the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal has added extra difficulty. Its report on electricity pricing for NSW has recommended - in almost apologetic tones - that the state government authorise rises in power charges of up to 18 per cent. The recommendations are based on factors quite separate from any carbon tax that Gillard may introduce. The rises are needed to cover the cost of business for the electricity generators and distributors - to allow for extra investment in new equipment and networks. The tribunal acknowledges that, if the state government allows them, they may bring hardship to some poorer households. The government, which was critical of price rises when in opposition, is to take a critical look at what the power industry wants to invest, but in the end it will come down to a choice between a reliable energy supply and high costs, or lower costs with more possibility of blackouts. Consumers may say they will accept the risk of blackouts as long as bills are kept low - but all politicians know their attitude will last only until blackouts start. Then consumers will punish them. O'Farrell will probably do best to allow the power rises, or most of them, this early in his term, to avoid problems later - closer to an election. But he should also put effort into programs which show electricity consumers how to waste less power. Simple steps - low-energy light bulbs, turning off appliances and not leaving them on standby, and so on - cut household consumption substantially without much change in behaviour.

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The federal government, meanwhile, is pressing ahead with its carbon tax. The Climate Change Minister, Greg Combet, promised on Wednesday to compensate households on lower and middle incomes for cost increases due to the tax. This is the first salvo in the government's response to the Coalition's scare campaign on the issue. It lacks detail, and so still leaves the government vulnerable, but it is at least a start. Since this is not a welfare measure but an environmental one, the government should explain why all households are not compensated. But the message of the week is clear, and it is written in dollar signs: electricity is about to cost more - start working out ways to use less of it.





MARRICKVILLE COUNCIL is being torn apart by Middle Eastern politics. Should Marrickville, or should it not, punish Israel with a boycott for its alleged human rights violations? The question is, of course, on everyone's lips across the Middle East. The fate of nations hangs in the balance. Is a mere boycott enough? Should Marrickville send troops?

Other Sydney councils, strangely enough, have not followed Marrickville's principled example, and its lone voice - although important and widely respected - may not be enough to persuade members of the Israeli government to stop whatever it is they have been doing. Marrickville boots on the ground would certainly show them that Sydney's inner west is not to be trifled with. On balance, though, we think that in the first phase, diplomacy deserves a chance before Marrickville lives are put in harm's way. As a back-up, the municipality might show a hint of steel by stationing a taskforce comprising the entire waste disposal department off the Israeli coast, ready to bang Israeli bins together at a moment's notice. Services in Marrickville may be disrupted, but ratepayers can be confident they will be keeping the Israelis awake at night.





SELF-INTEREST is a powerful motivation. Businesses, industries and unions representing their employees that oppose or doubt the Gillard government's planned carbon tax are all quite rational in wanting to protect their own immediate interests. The problem for Australia is that this recalls the tragedy of the commons in which cattle herders destroy their future by acting on their short-term self-interest in grazing as many cattle as they can. It is up to government to promote the overall long-term national interest.

Industry union leaders are justified in arguing that the government must mount a more effective political campaign to explain its policy. However, Australian Workers Union secretary Paul Howes' warning - aimed at his restive members - that AWU support for the tax will be lost if one job is lost is ridiculous. For a start, it is impossible to guarantee that no job will be lost under any economic policy change. More importantly, new jobs will replace old jobs. Germany, the world's fourth-largest economy and biggest exporter, has built a renewable energy sector that employs more than 300,000 people and produces 17 per cent of its electricity. Germany has gained a head-start in the global economic and technological contest. Its renewable energy companies, some using Australian technology, dominate global markets.

The results of The Age survey of Australia's top 50 companies are not surprising. Companies in positions of market dominance will seek to protect what they have and the government concedes they have a right to do so. The 15 per cent that oppose a carbon tax tend to be in highly exposed energy-intensive industries. About half of the companies have a position of wait and see. That protects their short-term interest but still has consequences. There are significant risks of lost opportunities and penalties for Australia, as the world's highest greenhouse gas emitter per person, if it continues to be a laggard. Companies with a global perspective, such as BHP, are more receptive to carbon pricing.

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Investment flows show where the world is moving, which may be why some financial and investment companies favour a carbon tax. The economic and technological transition is under way. Global spending on clean energy reached $243 billion last year, doubling the 2006 total, and has exceeded fossil fuel investment for three years in a row. In 2008, for the first time, more renewable than conventional energy capacity was installed in Europe and the US. On Monday, Chinese companies will sign a $6 billion joint venture deal to develop renewable energy across eastern Australia.

The European Union, the world's largest economic bloc, has had emissions trading covering 30 countries for six years. Emissions have fallen since 2005. Some of the richest economies have elements of a carbon tax including: Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, the Netherlands, Britain, Germany (all since the 1990s and additional to the later EU scheme), South Korea, India, Switzerland, Ireland and some US and Canadian states. Most nations at least have a bipartisan view on carbon pricing, as Australia did until 16 months ago. Since the Coalition changed its mind, the government has struggled to get Australians to look past narrow self-interest to the sustainable economic prospects that transformational policy can create. For that to happen, the government must paint a much clearer picture of what that future holds.






The act sets down that Easter Sunday must fall on a fixed day – the Sunday following the second Saturday in April

Three years ago, Easter Sunday fell on 23 March. This year, it is more than a month later, on 24 April. The lurching date of Easter – which since the fourth century has been set as the first Sunday after the first full moon following the spring equinox – has long been a source of mingled charm, irritation and, when (as this year) it falls exceptionally late, downright inconvenience to businesses, schools and the holiday season. There is, however, a remedy to hand. It takes the form of the Easter Act 1928, a prescient piece of legislation which is already on the statute book, ready and waiting for a government brave enough to issue the implementation order. The act sets down that Easter Sunday must fall on a fixed day – the Sunday following the second Saturday in April. The effect would be that Easter Sunday, instead of falling on any date between 22 March and 25 April as now, would fall in the narrower window of 9 to 15 April. This year, if the act had been in force, Easter would have been last Sunday – resulting in a decent working interval between it and the royal wedding. All this could happen if the government chose to do it. It is a myth that the churches have a veto; the act merely requires that "regard shall be had" to their opinion. Churches would rightly still be free to celebrate Easter on the day of their choice rather than over the public holiday – as the Orthodox church already does. The secular majority, however, would at last have an annual spring break that makes a bit more sense.





Another difference between the Bush years and the age of Obama is that the latter has at least some regard for the rule of international law

In a joint newspaper article yesterday, the US president and British prime minister told the world that they would maintain their assault on an Arab country until its regime collapsed. The inclusion of the French president as a third signatory was less familiar, but a sense that the casus belli is being breezily redefined while stalemate takes hold on the ground is eerily reminiscent of 2003.

Libya, however, is not Iraq, as a close reading of the grand triumvirate's words makes plain. Barack Obama has been a reluctant warrior, and his chief purpose in signing the piece was not perverting an avowedly humanitarian campaign, but rather extending a low-cost lifeline to allies in Paris and London, who have been feeling politically isolated. Nato's air power has not yet proved decisive and, despite some confident claims at its Berlin summit, most of its members are reluctant to step into the space created by American reticence. The White House's caution was reflected in an op-ed that proposed transition from dictatorship not to democracy, but to the more fudgeable prospect of "an inclusive constitutional process".

Another difference between the Bush years and the age of Obama is that the latter has at least some regard for the rule of international law, and this was evident in painstaking drafting. It acknowledged that the legal mandate was about protecting civilians, and was explicitly "not to remove Colonel Gaddafi by force". Nonetheless, the trio said, removed he must be, not as the objective of the action but as an inescapable precondition to securing the humanitarian goals. The argument is reminiscent of Catholic teachings about the difference between sought moral consequences and those that are merely foreseen. There was no place for such nuance in the born-again certainties of George Bush. But changing war aims via Jesuitical distinctions is too clever by half.

For one thing it raises expectations that may be impossible to fulfil. All manner of military options are currently being considered which could change things on the ground rapidly, but for the moment the balance of forces appears to be stuck, and the allies ought not to narrow their options. Negotiation or partition would have their problems; but so too would a more full-throated deployment of force. It is too early to say which course will minimise the sum of Libyan misery. Even if Gaddafi does go in the end, as must be hoped, this might be as part of a deal that will never get done if his departure is made a precondition to the brokering.

The deeper anxiety is that the perception of mission creep will retard the greatest struggle of the lot – for international relations governed by the rule of law. Faltering advances have been made over the years since the second world war, as yesterday's conviction of two Croats for war crimes underlined, but progress was greatly set back by Iraq. The three leaders' careful drafting might have satisfied their own lawyers, but if critics at home and abroad feel caught out by the small print that can only undermine the campaign's legitimacy. Three Conservative and two Labour MPs yesterday demanded a recall of parliament, arguing that policy had moved on significantly without the Commons having a say. If similar resentment takes hold in the sceptical capitals which ultimately acquiesced in the unopposed security council vote, then a fragile consensus will shatter.

The current attorney general would do well to remember the damage done during the Iraq affair, when dubious interpretations of resolution 1441 were used to license the course the superpower was already set on. This created the sense that the UN's role was a fraud. Whether it has been right or wrong on Libya, it has proved capable of shared resolve, and shown it can have teeth. The new language of regime change may leave the council descending into accusations of bad faith – and the planet slipping back into a more lawless world.





If you haven't yet heard of Glencore, you will – and you certainly should, if only because your pension fund is likely to buy into the company soon

If you haven't yet heard of Glencore, you will – and you certainly should, if only because your pension fund is likely to buy into the company soon. The market value of the privately owned Swiss-based mining and commodities trading group, which is about to float up to 20% of its equity for the first time on the London Stock Exchange, may end up equivalent to something not far short of the whole GDP of Libya, at upwards of $70bn. This is a colossal event, and not just for the stock market. A company of this size cannot help but be a major market player, especially since Glencore has just revealed that it is the world's largest commodities trader, controlling 60% of the zinc market, 50% of the trade in copper, 45% of lead and a third of traded aluminium and thermal coal. Oh, and 3% of the world's oil and 9% of its grain too.

With China's insatiable demand for raw materials apparently ensuring that world commodity prices will remain high for a while to come, it is no surprise that Glencore will now generate the biggest ever flotation on the London market or that it is shortly likely to be the first listed company for 25 years to be catapulted straight into the FTSE 100. But its arrival will further increase the exposure to oil, gas and mining shares in the FTSE, which is fine while world trade routes stay open and as long as Glencore's mining investments in places like Colombia and Kazakhstan steer clear of the kind of environmental and political implosions that almost holed BP below the water line in the Gulf of Mexico a year ago. Still, with the former BP chief Tony Hayward now on the Glencore board, how could that happen?

The Glencore flotation also matters because of the sheer scale of the individual rewards that it will bring for those at the top of the company. Glencore's 485 existing employee shareholders are set to coin $100m each from the listing, of whom 65 elite commodity traders are in line for personal windfalls of more than $500m. Chief executive Ivan Glasenberg will sit at the top of this money mountain with a stake worth a cool $9bn. And you thought bankers had it good.

Glencore has come a long way since its early days under the fugitive oil trader Marc Rich. Nevertheless, its move into the market limelight from the secretive environment of Swiss company law marks a major change of regulatory and transparency obligation. Inevitably, banks, accountants and lawyers are falling over themselves to get a slice of the Glencore action – a slice worth around $275m. Pension funds and index trackers will follow. The public's money will soon be exposed. The Glencore flotation is a massive event. It affects everyone. At the very least, all those involved must do their due diligence inquiries and look before they leap.







North Korea is facing food shortages. International aid agencies report that the situation is dire, with millions facing the prospect of starvation in coming months without help. Even if those estimates are exaggerated, there is no escaping the fact that North korea cannot feed its own people.

What is not so clear is why that is so. The Pyongyang government blames nature for the shortfall, but experts insist that the problem is political — poor decisions and misplaced priorities. But even if North Korea's problems are man-made, what does that imply for the response?

It's "another" food crisis in North Korea. Since the 1990s, the country has suffered chronic food shortages and malnutrition. It is estimated that at least 1 million people, out of a population of 22 million, died of hunger in the last great famine. Today, an estimated 5 million people — almost 20 percent of the population face food shortages. One in every three children is malnourished.

Chronic malnutrition has stunted the growth of the population: North Koreans are physically smaller than Koreans who live south of the demilitarized zone. Today, the daily food ration made available through the public distribution system is 380 grams, less than half the estimated daily caloric requirement.

Some of the shortfall is made up in private sector transactions or foraging — diets are often supplemented with grasses and bark, when they can be found. The government is cutting the daily ration to 360 grams per day. But even with those reductions, government stocks will run out in May. Last November, the United Nations put the cereal shortfall at 867,000 tons, but that estimate has been increased and is approaching 1.1 million tons.

North Korea blames the shortages and impending emergency on bad weather — heavy rains in August and September and an unusually cold winter — and an outbreak of foot and mouth disease. But imports have not picked up: The U.N. says the North has bought only 40,000 of the 325,000 tons it said it would purchase. Again, Pyongyang blames circumstances beyond its control, pointing to rising food prices worldwide as the problem.

The failure to import raises suspicions that the chief source of North Korea's problems is policy decisions in Pyongyang. Many fear that the government is hoarding food, either to ensure that the military is well fed and does not have reason to challenge the regime or to have enough in stock to "reward" its citizens in 2012, the centenary of the birth of Kim Il Sung, president for life (although he died in 1994). That year is to be marked by spectacular celebrations. Those suspicions are fueled by reports that the North Korean staple food output actually increased by 3 percent in 2010-11 from the previous year.

Western governments have refrained from giving assistance out of fear that aid will be used to prop up or even be seen as vindicating the policies of the Pyongyang regime. Those concerns are sharpened by the policies of the North Korean government. Its nuclear program and missile tests represent continued defiance of the U.N. and the oft-repeated will of the international community.

Even South Korea, which has demonstrated an enormous concern and readiness to help the North, has run out of patience. Last year's attacks on the South Korean Navy corvette Cheonan and the shelling of the island of Yeongpyeong, acts of war by any definition and which resulted in the loss of dozens of lives, hardened their hearts.

There are also fears that a third nuclear test might be in the works and that the North wants to acquire as much food as possible beforehand in case the test results in even more international sanctions.

Aid providers are demanding that any assistance be monitored. That is a difficult condition for the North to accept. Pyongyang's refusal to follow through on that demand — despite accepting it in negotiations — led to the suspension of aid from the United States in 2008. U.S. officials say they will need the level of access agreed then — at the least — to go ahead.

Aid groups say they had "unprecedented access" (access unavailable) when they were preparing their assessment of conditions in the country. The debate over assistance to the North raises the basic question of how much the people of a country must suffer for the mistakes of their rulers. Ordinary North Koreans have nothing to do with the misbehavior that has made their country an international pariah.

Some misguided advocates may even harbor dreams that difficult conditions will ultimately undermine the regime in Pyongyang. That is fantasy. Starving populations do not revolt; they weaken and they die. While governments in Tokyo and Washington rightly seek to coordinate policy with their ally in Seoul, it is also right to ask if Seoul is so emotionally connected to the Cheonan sinking and the Yeongpyeong shelling that its reasoning is suspect. By holding out for an apology for the attacks in 2010, is not Seoul making the same mistake as Pyongyang, and forcing the innocent to pay for the deeds of the guilty?

There is no satisfying answer when dealing with North Korea. The pain that the country suffers is largely self-inflicted. Poor policy decisions lead to "chronic hunger and food crises" and the government's foreign policy belligerence has stripped it of friends and allies. But millions of ordinary people are suffering for those mistakes. That is too high a price to pay.






Scholars have long dreamed of a universal library containing everything that has ever been written. Then, in 2004, Google announced that it would begin digitally scanning all the books held by five major research libraries. Suddenly, the library of utopia seemed within reach.

Indeed, a digital universal library would be even better than any earlier thinker could have imagined, because every work would be available to everyone, everywhere, at all times. And the library could include not only books and articles, but also paintings, music, films, and every other form of creative expression that can be captured in digital form.

But Google's plan had a catch. Most of the works held by those research libraries are still in copyright. Google said that it would scan the entire book, irrespective of its copyright status, but that users searching for something in copyrighted books would be shown only a snippet. This, it argued, was "fair use" — and thus permitted under copyright laws in the same way that one may quote a sentence or two from a book for the purpose of a review or discussion.

Publishers and authors disagreed, and some sued Google for breach of copyright, eventually agreeing to settle their claim in exchange for a share of Google's revenue. Last month, in a Manhattan court, Judge Denny Chin rejected that proposed settlement, in part because it would have given Google a de facto monopoly over the digital versions of so-called orphan books — that is, books that are still in copyright, but no longer in print, and whose copyright ownership is difficult to determine.

Chin held that the U.S. Congress, not a court, was the appropriate body to decide who should be entrusted with guardianship over orphan books, and on what terms. He was surely right, at least in so far as we are considering matters within U.S. jurisdiction. These are large and important issues that affect not only authors, publishers, and Google, but anyone with an interest in the diffusion and availability of knowledge and culture. So, while Chin's decision is a temporary setback on the way to a universal library, it provides an opportunity to reconsider how the dream can best be realized.

The central issue is this: how can we make books and articles — not just snippets, but entire works — available to everyone, while preserving the rights of the works' creators? To answer that, of course, we need to decide what those rights are. Just as inventors are given patents so that they can profit from their inventions for a limited time, so, too, authors were originally given copyright for a relatively short period — in the U.S., it was initially only 14 years from the first publication of the work.

For most authors, that would be enough time to earn the bulk of the income that they would ever receive from their writings; after that, the works would be in the public domain. But corporations build fortunes on copyright, and repeatedly pushed Congress to extend it, to the point that in the U.S. it now lasts for 70 years after the creator's death. (The 1998 legislation responsible for the last extension was nicknamed the "Mickey Mouse Protection Act" because it allowed the Walt Disney Company to retain copyright of its famous cartoon character.)

It is because copyright lasts so long that as many as three-quarters of all library books are "orphaned." This vast collection of knowledge, culture, and literary achievement is inaccessible to most people. Digitizing it would make it available to anyone with Internet access. As Peter Brantley, director of technology for the California Digital Library, has put it: "We have a moral imperative to reach out to our library shelves, grab the material that is orphaned, and set it on top of scanners."

Robert Darnton, director of the Harvard University Library, has proposed an alternative to Google's plans: a digital public library, funded by a coalition of foundations, working in tandem with a coalition of research libraries. Darnton's plan falls short of a universal library, because works in print and in copyright would be excluded; but he believes that Congress might grant a non-commercial public library the right to digitize orphan books.

That would be a huge step in the right direction, but we should not give up the dream of a universal digital public library. After all, books still in print are likely to be the ones that contain the most up-to-date information, and the ones that people most want to read.

Many European countries, as well as Australia, Canada, Israel, and New Zealand, have adopted legislation that creates a "public lending right" — that is, the government recognizes that enabling hundreds of people to read a single copy of a book provides a public good, but that doing so is likely to reduce sales of the book. The universal public library could be allowed to digitize even works that are in print and in copyright, in exchange for fees paid to the publisher and author based on the number of times the digital version is read.

If we can put a man on the moon and sequence the human genome, we should be able to devise something close to a universal digital public library. At that point, we will face another moral imperative, one that will be even more difficult to fulfill: expanding Internet access beyond the less than 30 percent of the world's population that now has it.

Peter Singer is a professor of bioethics at Princeton University and Laureate Professor at the University of Melbourne. His most recent book is "The Life You Can Save." ? Project Syndicate, 2011.









On April 8 the government presented three Bills – the Employees' Pension Benefits Fund Bill, the Overseas Employees' Pension Benefits Fund Bill and the Pensions (Consequential Provisions) Bill -- in parliament to pave the way for the setting up of a contributory pension scheme for those who are employed in the private sector, in foreign employment or for those who are self employed. These Bills will be debated and probably approved when taken up for the second reading on April 27 and would be effective from May 1.

A few days before the Bills were suddenly and unexpectedly slipped into parliament, Labour Minister Gamini Lokuge and his ministry officials had assured trade unions and employers that another round of talks would be held between finance ministry officials and the stakeholders before preparing the final draft to be presented in parliament.

Despite these assurances no further discussions were held and the Bills, which will have an impact on the lives of nearly two million private sector employees, in their present format appeared to be more of an exercise in ambiguity than of clarity.

The number of unanswered questions and the uncertainty as to how the various provisions in the Bills would be implemented on the ground ran into thunder and lightning from trade unions, employees and employers. Among the questions that need to be answered are whether the scheme is optional or mandatory? Does it apply only to those who are employed on a permanent basis? How do the benefits accrue at retirement? In case of a pensioner dying soon after retirement, will his or her family continue to receive the pension and how will the scheme be sustained?

The private sector pension scheme requires that the employee contributes two per cent of his or her salary while the employer contributes a similar amount with an additional contribution of 10 per cent from the employee's retirement gratuity. An employee qualifies for his pension at the age of 60 and the quantum of the pension would depend on the number of years an employee has contributed to the fund.

Trade unions say the cabinet paper seeking approval for a private sector pension scheme was different in tone and tenor from the Bills that were presented in parliament last week by Prime Minister D.M. Jayaratne.

The stakeholders are of the view that Bills such as these should have been presented in parliament only after fine tuning them through open discussion and debate because an important fact we should keep in mind is that the private sector pension scheme unlike the one catering to the public sector is of a contributory in nature.

The Ceylon Federation of Labour (CFL) had said this scheme was being adopted by the government to pander to the demands of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) while some other unionists say that the pension scheme is a source for the cash-strapped government to borrow from.

A question being asked by political analysts is whether the Bills are being rushed through parliament so that the government in a breaking news announcement on May Day could proclaim that unlike previous administrations the Rajapaksa regime had not ignored private sector employees and now that the government had gifted them with a pension scheme, these employees too could live happily ever after.

With the dawn of the National New Year we wish that Sri Lanka's transformation into the wonder of Asia is built on the bedrock of a participatory democracy based on good governance and transparency.





Tactics of warfare and regret are in use over Libya. The NATO seems to be in a fix as it deeply gets involved in the North African country while implementing the United Nations-mandated no-fly zone. Reports of 'friendly fire' and the jargon of 'collateral damage' are now excessively being used, which indicates that the coalition is stepping into a quagmire that might engulf it in times to come. With fighting raging on the ground and no end in sight to the defiant Muammar Gaddafi regime, the scenario presents another Afghanistan in the making. The imperfection with which allies are targeting sensitive installations in Libya, resulting in civilian casualties, paints a horrible picture of a full-fledged war.

The rebels who were more than anxious in calling for an increase in air strikes seem to have been battered down and lost hope to a great extent, as a set of miscalculations over Brega, Ajdabiya and Misrata have come quite toiling.

Notwithstanding, the headway that the allies, especially Britain and France, would have made in making inroads over Libyan airspace, the mandate is far from accomplished. Though Libyan air force is grounded, the intention of saving the civilians from pro-Gaddafi forces is up in thin air. Irrespective of the fact that Resolution 1973 talked about all exclusive measure to protect the unarmed population, no strategy is working to their benefit. This brinkmanship is a telling tale of mutually assured destruction. The absence of political approach to resolve the conflict is posing multiple problems for the entire North African horizon and the Europe at large. Millions of people are in limbo inside the war-weary country and a similar number in a state of flux at its borders and inside Europe. The mass exodus into Europe and other Middle Eastern destinations will come to pose a severe test to the sensitive multicultural texture of the region, and bring with it new socio-economic and political challenges.

The crisis in Libya should not be solely seen from the prism of militarism. The European Union, the NATO and the United States' expediency to go for the kill without exhausting diplomatic avenues has provided the hardened regime with the political muscles and excuse to fight on. Unlike Tunisia and Egypt where the civil uprising was pampered in a political language, the irresistibility to dislodge Gaddafi has overshadowed Libyan's hope for a genuine change. The NATO has a responsibility to scale down and rethink its priorities.

Khaleej Times





The most and longest negotiated issues in Sri Lankan politics in history might be the ethnic problem and the devolution of power. These issues have been in the public discourse since the early eighties.  An interesting point in this regard is that Sri Lankan society has not been able to come to an agreement during the past forty or more years on the question whether an ethnic problem persists in the country even after a thirty year long bloody war.

There are still people who contend that there is no problem among ethnicities in Sri Lanka which itself has been a contentious matter among the same communities, while some others are of the view that it was the differences between communities on the rights and recognition of particular communities that had resulted in the armed fighting. Those who deny the existence of a problem between communities naturally deny the need for a solution as well.

It is against this backdrop that the Government has initiated talks with the main Tamil political party alliance, Tamil National Alliance (TNA). The moot point is what the two groups are talking about, since the TNA is a coalition of parties that had long been complaining about injustices and discriminations by the Sinhalese dominated governments against the minorities, especially the Tamils while the powerful constituent parties in the ruling coalition the UPFA contend to the contrary.

The ethnic problem and the issue of devolution of power had been discussed in various fora's since 1984 when President JR Jayawardene convened a Round Table Conference as one of his promises given at the 1977 Parliamentary election. However, the Conference was exposed as a farce as it was revealed President Jayawardene had no genuine intention to look into the Tamil's grievances. Also the newly formed Tamil armed groups wanted the forum to be used as a propaganda platform.

This was followed by the famous Thimpu talks in 1985 in which the Tamil armed groups collectively and officially put forward their "Tamil Nation" theory. The talks broke down with violence back home orchestrated both by the security forces and the Tamil armed groups escalating.

With the Indian pressure another Conference was convened by President Jayawardene in 1986. Again pressurized by the Indian diplomats Gopalaswamy Parthasarathy and Romesh Bandari the Conference called "Political Party Conference" (PPC) mooted the concept of devolution of power with tentative powers to be devolved and the provinces as units for devolution.

The list of forums on the ethnic problem and devolution of power includes the Indo-Lanka peace Accord of 1987, Premadasa - LTTE peace talks in 1989/90, All Party Conference (APC) in 1989, the Parliamentary select Committee headed by Mangala Moonasinghe in 1991, Chandrika-LTTE peace talks in 1994/95, the Parliamentary Select Committee chaired by Professor GL Peiris in 1995/97, Ranil Wickremesinghe-LTTE peace talks in 2002/03 and Mahinda Rajapaksa-LTTE talks in 2006.

Interestingly, none of these platforms could move the problem ahead of the point where it was in 1986, when the concept of Provincial Councils was mooted. The only forward steps were the bringing about the Constitutional changes, the 13th Amendment to the Constitution and the related Provincial Councils Act of 1987 and the two Constitutional Amendments in 1986 and 1988 in order to recognize the Tamils' language rights.

The TNA in a statement after the recent local elections had said that "The Local Authorities election results affirm the results of the Parliamentary elections held in April 2010 and puts the democratic verdict of the Tamil people in favour of an acceptable durable and reasonable political solution beyond any semblance of doubt." The TNA seems to argue on the same line with the UPFA which contends that the people had endorsed its policies at the elections.

What was the UPFA policy on the ethnic issue which had been "endorsed by the people" of the south at the recent elections?  And what are the leaders of the Government going to decide at the talks with the TNA?

The state run website, Lankapuwath had recently described the theme of the negotiations between the Government and the TNA as something "to bring about political solutions and re-organization purposes." However, it is not clear as to where the political solution to the ethnic problem is in the Government's priorities list, given the recent remarks by some of the leaders of the Government.

Some Government leaders such as the Construction, Engineering Services, Housing and Common Amenities Minister Wimal Weerawansa have publicly stressed that no more political solutions are needed after the decimation of the LTTE leadership as solutions are proposed earlier in order to bring the insurgents to the negotiating table.

 Hence, it is not clear as to whether the genuine objectives of both parties to the talks are coinciding, without which these talks too would be added to the failed negotiations of history.





The three-member panel appointed by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon to advise him on alleged human rights violations and accountability issues in Sri Lanka during the last phase of the war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam organization handed over its report on April 12th. It is expected that the UN Secretary-General will publicise the contents in due course. At the time of this article being written the report was yet to be made public.

Sections of the media notably some wire services have gone to town describing the report as the "UN  Report" and as the "UN War crimes report". Wittingly or unwittingly  this  media "spin" has bestowed upon the report a degree of importance which it may not deserve in the final analysis. It has to be pointed out in this respect that the report in question is neither a UN report nor a war crimes report.

The official UN press release of June 22nd 2010  that announced the appointment of this panel stated then as follows –"The Secretary-General has appointed a panel of Experts that will advise him on the issue of accountability with regard to any alleged violations of international human rights and humanitarian law during the final stages of the conflict in Sri Lanka".


It could be seen therefore that this panel of experts is only an advisory body to Ban Ki Moon. Although appointed by the  UN Secretary-General it is technically not a UN Panel. The report it has prepared may have been commissioned by the UNSG, but it is not a UN report.

Likewise some of its contents may very well relate to the alleged  or real war crimes but that does not make it a war crimes report. It is at best an advisory report authorised and procured by the UN Secretary-General. It's  terms of reference at the time of  appointment  as  outlined in the official press communiqué were –

"The panel will advise the Secretary-General on the implementation of the commitment on human rights accountability made in the Joint Statement issued by President [Mahinda] Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka and the Secretary-General during the latter's visit to Sri Lanka in May 2009. It will look into the modalities, applicable international standards and comparative experience with regard to accountability processes, taking into account the nature and scope of any alleged violations in Sri Lanka. It will be available as a resource to Sri Lankan authorities should they wish to avail themselves of its expertise in implementing the commitment"

The official statement further said "In the conduct of its mandate, the panel hopes to cooperate with concerned officials in Sri Lanka. It is expected to complete its advisory responsibilities within four months of the commencement of its work.The Secretary-General remains convinced that accountability is an essential foundation for durable peace and reconciliation in Sri Lanka. Through the panel the Secretary-General expects to enable the United Nations to make a constructive contribution in this regard".

The three members of the panel were Marzuki Darusman ( Indonesia), Chair; Yasmin Sooka ( South Africa); and Steven Ratner ( United States).


Whatever the expectations of Ban Ki Moon it is an undeniable fact that the circumstances leading to the appointment of the panel and the course of events afterwards have been enmeshed  in controversy. The situation may very well worsen after the contents of the report are revealed.

There is every likelihood that some leading western nations would take the lead in exerting pressure on the UN to follow up the release of the report with further action against Sri Lanka. This effort would be backed by some reputed international human rights organizations, Tamil Diaspora groups and certain sections of the global media.

The Government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa would resist these moves resolutely and refuse to give in. Whatever their differences with the Rajapaksa regime the majority of the Sri Lankan nation would be in solidarity with their president and government in this particular show of defiance. Even the opposition parties are very likely to concur with the Govt in this.

It is not difficult to decipher the logic in this nationalist stance. The initiative taken by Ban Ki Moon to get Sri Lanka to establish a process of accountability regarding allegations of human rights violations, crimes against humanity and war crimes has been opposed bitterly in Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka registered its disapproval in very strong terms when the panel was appointed by the UN Secretary-General. It refused to cooperate with the panel. Moreover a protest demonstration was launched by cabinet minister and National freedom front leader Wimal Weerawansa opposite the UN office in Colombo at that time.Weerawansa himself went on a "fast unto death" then.


The UN feared a replay of that scenario when the panel report was released. On March 31st the UN in Colombo held a "drill" of sorts to educate their employees on how to conduct themselves if and when a crisis situation occurred again.

Moreover the official handing over of the report too was delayed. Although the report was ready in March itself the release was put off  to coincide with the festive season in Sri Lanka during the Sinhala-Tamil new year in April. It was calculated that the holiday mood would prevent rapid mobilisation of demonstrators.

So far there have been no protests but there is every chance that they would be launched if and when the report is publicised or when the "avuruddhu jolliya" is over. However no protests are likely if the Government clamps down for reasons of its own.

As expected the Government has rejected the report. The External Ministry issued a terse statement upon receipt of the report. It stated as follows – "The Government of Sri Lanka has received a copy of the report of the Secretary General's Panel of Experts on accountability in Sri Lanka. The Government finds this report fundamentally flawed in many respects. Among other deficiencies, the report is based on patently biased material which is presented without any verification. The Government will, in due course, comment in detail on the contents of the report".

It appears that even the Foreign Ministry officials would issue their studied critique of the report only after new year celebrations are over. The haste displayed by ministry officials in issuing the statement is visible in the omission of UN in the reference to Secretary-General. It simply says Secretary-General and not UN Secretary-General.


While the Government frowned upon it, International Human Rights organizations hailed the report as a welcome development. They expressed  full support and full disclosure of  details.

"Sri Lankans must be allowed to see the panel's findings. The report concerns a critical period in their recent history and they deserve to read it in full," said Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International's Asia-Pacific director. "Ban Ki-moon said that 'accountability is an essential foundation for durable peace and reconciliation in Sri Lanka.' He must stick to his word -- accounting for violations committed in the recent conflict is the first step to future reconciliation."

 "Secretary-General Ban's creation of a panel of experts and his decision to make the report public show that the UN has not forgotten Sri Lanka's war victims," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "In the face of two years of stonewalling by the government, the public release of this report will help move justice forward in Sri Lanka." "The government has opposed the panel of experts from the beginning and has done nothing to suggest its position has changed," Adams said. "UN members that care about justice for grave crimes should now make sure that they show all possible support for Ban's efforts."

As stated before the Sri Lankan Government has been against the appointment of a panel by the UN Secretary-General and condemned it as being unnecessary and unwarranted. Ban Ki Moon however stated that the Colombo Government had agreed in principle to this move. Colombo however denied this flatly.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon was under strong pressure by Human Rights agencies and the overseas Tamil lobbyists to intervene and stop the fighting during the last stages of the conflict. The Secretary-General did not do so presumably because the western nations and India wanted the LTTE to be finished off at that point of time.


Ban Ki Moon visited Sri Lanka after the war was over. He flew over the Mullivaaikkaal area where the final phase of fighting occurred. Upon his return he told the media that there would have been a lot of civilian casualties as a large population had been trapped in a small area where intense fighting had taken place.

After meeting with President Rajapaksa a joint statement was issued on May 23rd 2009. It is this statement that is cited by UN circles as proof that the Sri Lankan Government had agreed to the setting up of a mechanism ensuring accountability. That statement despite its length is reproduced in full below because of it's importance –

"Following is the joint statement by the Government of Sri Lanka and the United Nations at the conclusion of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon's visit to Sri Lanka on 23 May:

At the invitation of Mahinda Rajapaksa, President of Sri Lanka, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon, paid a visit to Sri Lanka.  During the course of his visit, he held talks with the President, Foreign Minister as well as other senior leaders of Sri Lanka. During his stay, he also consulted other relevant stakeholders, members of international humanitarian agencies and civil society. The Secretary-General visited the internally displaced persons (IDP) sites at Vavuniya and overflew the conflict area, near Mullaitivu that was the scene of the conflict.

President Rajapaksa welcomed the Secretary-General as the highest dignitary to visit Sri Lanka in the post-conflict phase.  This was a reflection of the close cooperation between Sri Lanka and the United Nations as well as Sri Lanka's commitment to work with the United Nations in the future.


President Rajapaksa and Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon agreed that following the end of operations against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), Sri Lanka had entered a new post-conflict beginning. In this context, the Government of Sri Lanka faced many immediate and long-term challenges relating to issues of relief, rehabilitation, resettlement and reconciliation. While addressing these critical issues, it was agreed that the new situation offered opportunities for long-term development of the north and for re-establishing democratic institutions and electoral politics after 2 ½ decades. The Government expressed its commitment to ensure the economic and political empowerment of the people of the north through its programmes.  

President Rajapaksa and the Secretary-General agreed that addressing the aspirations and grievances of all communities and working towards a lasting political solution was fundamental to ensuring long-term socio-economic development. The Secretary-General welcomed the assurance of the President of Sri Lanka contained in his statement in Parliament on 19 May 2009 that a national solution acceptable to all sections of people will be evolved. President Rajapaksa expressed his firm resolve to proceed with the implementation of the 13th Amendment, as well as to begin a broader dialogue with all parties, including the Tamil parties in the new circumstances, to further enhance this process and to bring about lasting peace and development in Sri Lanka.

President Rajapaksa and Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon discussed a series of areas in which the United Nations will assist the ongoing efforts of the Government of Sri Lanka in addressing the future challenges and opportunities.  

With regard to IDPs, the United Nations will continue to provide humanitarian assistance to the IDPs now in Vavuniya and Jaffna. The Government will continue to provide access to humanitarian agencies. The Government will expedite the necessary basic and civil infrastructure as well as means of livelihood necessary for the IDPs to resume their normal lives at the earliest. The Secretary-General welcomed the announcement by the Government expressing its intention to dismantle the welfare villages at the earliest, as outlined in the Plan to resettle the bulk of IDPs and call for its early implementation.  

The Government seeks the cooperation of the international community in mine clearing, which is an essential prerequisite to expediting the early return of IDPs.


The Secretary-General called for donor assistance towards the Common Humanitarian Action Plan (CHAP) jointly launched by the Government of Sri Lanka and the United Nations, which supports the relief, shelter and humanitarian needs of those in IDP sites.  President Rajapaksa and the Secretary-General recognized the large number of former child soldiers forcibly recruited by the LTTE as an important issue in the post-conflict context.  President Rajapaksa reiterated his firm policy of zero tolerance in relation to child recruitment. In cooperation with the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), child-friendly procedures have been established for their "release and surrender" and rehabilitation in Protective Accommodation Centres.  The objective of the rehabilitation process presently underway is to reintegrate former child soldiers into society as productive citizens. The Secretary-General expressed satisfaction on the progress already made by the Government in cooperation with UNICEF and encouraged Sri Lanka to adopt similar policies and procedures relating to former child soldiers in the north.

President Rajapaksa informed the Secretary-General regarding ongoing initiatives relating to rehabilitation and reintegration of ex-combatants. In addition to the ongoing work by the Office of the Commissioner General for Rehabilitation, a National Framework for the Integration of Ex-combatants into Civilian Life is under preparation, with the assistance of the United Nations and other international organizations.  

Sri Lanka reiterated its strongest commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights, in keeping with international human rights standards and Sri Lanka's international obligations. The Secretary-General underlined the importance of an accountability process for addressing violations of international humanitarian and human rights law. The Government will take measures to address those grievances".

This then is the full text of the joint statement. An in depth perusal of the joint statement reveals that no explicit or concrete assurance or pledge had been given by Sri Lanka that an accountability mechanism as envisaged by Ban Ki-Moon would be set up. The relevant passage in this case is the final paragraph.

It states that Sri Lanka reiterates its commitment to promotion of human rights in keeping with international human rights standards and Lanka's international obligations. According to the paragraph the Secretary-General underlined the importance of an accountability process for addressing humanitarian and human rights law. It then says the Government would take measures to address those grievances.


It can be seen from this that the Sri Lankan Government is on firm footing when it says it never agreed to the setting up of an international accountability process or mechanism. The joint statement has vague references but there is no categorical assertion to that effect. Given the Rajapaksa regime's uncompromising adherence towards the sovereignty of Sri Lanka it does not seem possible that the President consented to international intrusion. In any case the wording of the joint statement does not support the claim that the setting up of an accountability mechanism had been agreed upon and has been recorded in the statement.

What happened however was that initially the UN and western nations like the USA wanted Sri Lanka to set up its own mechanism to investigate the final phase of war, identify possible war crimes and penalise those responsible if any. But Sri Lanka took up a diametrically opposite position in this regard.

The official position of Sri Lanka on the question of  possible human rights violations and war crimes has been  that of a vehement denial. Colombo has taken up the stance that no such violation or crime had been committed. In an eloquent expression of this viewpoint President Rajapaksa stated that the soldiers had fought with a weapon in one hand and the human rights charter in the other. Setting up an accountability mechanism would be a contradiction of this position.

Moreover the Sri Lankan armed forces were the victors in the war. They had defeated a powerful organization condemned worldwide as terrorist. Setting up an accountability process to inquire into their conduct during the final phase of the war amounted to the victors being treated as the vanquished and being meted out "victor's justice" was the dominant feeling in the Colombo corridors of power. Also the armed forces had acquired "heroic" status after the war and any perceived attempt to tarnish their image would be resented by the people at large.

Besides the war victory had boosted the popularity of Mahinda Rajapaksa immensely. It was on the strength of the war victory that the United People's Freedom Alliance won the Presidential election and routed the opposition in Parliamentary and Local authority polls. Against such a backdrop it would have been political suicide for him to agree to such an international probe. Even a domestic investigation would have had political repercussions. Also such a move could have triggered off a revolt within the armed forces.


Under these circumstances it was extremely unrealistic of the UN and some western nations to expect President Rajapaksa's agreement to the setting up of an accountability process. Given the dimensions of the intricate Sri Lankan situation it just was not possible. Even a future UNP president will not be able to probe the conduct of the armed forces without risking popular unrest and political hara-kiri.

This does not mean that Ban Ki-Moon was at fault for seeking an accountability process. It only means that the political environment in Sri Lanka is currently not conducive to such expectations. That "parippu"cannot be boiled in this "thanneer".

In such a situation there was a behind the scenes tussle on the issue. The UN tried its best with the backing of some western nations to make Sri Lanka set up an accountability process. This was resisted by the Rajapaksa regime.

It must be noted that India did not subscribe to these moves at that time. India wanted Sri Lanka to put the war behind and get on with rehabilitation, reconstruction, development and political settlement. The UN and some western nations continued to emphasise the importance of accountability as a pre-requisite to ethnic reconciliation and national unity. In spite of persistent efforts by Ban Ki-Moon to get Sri Lanka to set up its own accountability process, President Rajapaksa did not oblige. Finally a disappointed UN Secretary-General decided to appoint his own panel to "advise" him in this respect. As Ban Ki-Moon went ahead with his plans despite opposition by the Sri Lankan Government, the excreta collided with the oscillator.

(To be continued)...

DBS Jeyaraj can be reached at









"In many Jewish circles today it has become more important to believe in Israel than to believe in God." - Richard Forer

Richard Forer joined the American Israel Public Affairs Committee for the same reason most Jews joined this Israel lobby.

He refers to what he calls "the primal fear of many Jews around the world - the fear of another holocaust".

He felt strong support for Israel at the time of its invasion of Lebanon and the capture of Israeli Gilad Shalit. However, some of his friends disagreed.

Retelling a story of his discussion with a friend, Forer raises every single argument and justification ever offered for the occupation of Palestine.

As a result, he decided to study the history.

"(That is) something I'd never really done," he said. "What I found astounded me and blew all of my beliefs apart."

He found out that everything he, as a Jewish American, had grown up believing was false.

He discovered that the propaganda about Israel wanting peace was not true. What Israel really wanted was more land.

"That's always been their primary objective; peace is secondary to that," he said.

He learnt that Israel's pre-emptive attacks on Egypt, Syria and Jordan in 1967 were based on a falsehood that they would have attacked Israel.

Forer discovered that stories put out by Bill Clinton and Dennis Ross after the 2000 Camp David summit were also lies about how Yasser Arafat "would not go along with a very fair and generous offer made by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak".

The entire history of Israel and the Palestinians put out by Israel is deceitful, according to Forer.

On growing up, he said: "I identified more as a Jew than as an American... I felt that Israel was the one place where Jews could go if ever they were persecuted again."

In his book Breakthrough: Transforming Fear into Compassion, Forer tells how he changed his thinking about Israel as a benign and democratic state to a tribe of people dominated by fear.

"If Jews looked at the history and not at the fictions, their fear would crumble," he says.

"They would realise that the Palestinians were not only human, but that the Jews have de-humanised the Palestinians through their indoctrination."

Forer's transformation took place at the time of the second Lebanese war. The typical response to his transformation was to call him a self-hating Jew.

Forer makes the important point, after his visit to the West Bank, that the Palestinians and Arabs are not angry at Jews, but at the Zionist ideology and the government of Israel that oppresses them.

"Every single person I met (in the West Bank) said it's not about Jews or Muslims, it's about human beings, it's a human rights issue," he said.

Interestingly, he notes that the government of Israel does not represent the Jewish people.

"That's just an excuse they make," he said.

"Most of the Jewish people in Israel are apathetic. They don't know what's going on."

"They don't even know that the Separation Wall is built mostly in Palestinian territory.

"They just live in denial," he added.

"If the Israelis were honest, they'd say if the Palestinians would just lie down and do what we tell them to do, then we'll have peace and, maybe, we'll give them eight to 10 per cent of Palestine."








Shocking is not a sufficient term to describe Justice Richard Goldstone's decision to recant parts of the 2009 report on alleged war crimes in Gaza.

The document, known as the Goldstone Report, was compiled after a thorough investigation led by the South African judge and three other well-regarded investigators. They documented 36 incidents that occurred during the Israeli Operation Cast Lead, an unprecedentedly violent attack against small, impoverished and besieged Gaza. It resulted in the death of over 1,400 Palestinians, and the wounding of over 5,500.

Goldstone is both Jewish and Zionist. His love for Israel has been widely and affectionately conveyed. In this particular case, he seemed completely torn between his ideological and tribal position and his commitment to justice and truth, as enshrined in the mandate of the UN Human Rights Council.

After 18 months of what seemed a wholly personal introspection, accompanied by an endless campaign of pressure and intimidation by Zionist and pro-Israel Jewish groups from all over the world, the man finally surrendered.

"If I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone Report would have been a different document," he wrote in the Washington Post on April 1. But what did Goldstone learn anew since he issued his 575-page report in September 2009?

The supposed basis of Goldstone's rethink is a follow-up report issued by a UN committee chaired by retired New York Judge Mary McGowan Davis. Her report was not a reinvestigation of Israel's — and Hamas' — alleged war crimes in Gaza, but a follow up on the Goldstone Commission's findings, which urged the referral of the matter to the International Criminal Court. McGowan Davis made this distinction clear in a recent interview with the Israeli Jerusalem Post. According to the post, she said, "Our work was completely separate from (Goldstone's) work." She further stated, "Our mandate was to take his report as given and start from there."

So how did a probe that used Goldstone's findings as a starting point go on to inspire such a major refutation from one of the authors of the original report?

McGowan Davis' report merely acknowledged that Israel has carried out an investigation into a possible "operational misconduct" in what is largely known outside Israel as the Gaza massacre. The UN follow-up report recognized the alleged 400 investigations, but didn't bear out their validity. These secret inquiries actually led to little in terms of disciplinary action.

More, the UN team of experts claimed there was "no indication that Israel has opened investigations into the actions of those who designed, planned, ordered and oversaw Operation Cast Lead."

In fact, Israel is known for investigating itself, and also for almost always finding everyone but its own leadership at fault. Israeli investigations are an obvious mockery of justice. Most of their findings, like those that followed another investigation of the Israeli war on Lebanon in 2006, merely chastised the failure to win the war and to explain Israeli action to the world. They said little about looking into the death and wounding of innocent civilians. Is this what Goldstone meant when he used the words, "if I had known then what I know now"? And could this added knowledge about Israel's secret — and largely farcical — investigations be enough to draw such extreme conclusions such as "civilians were not intentionally targeted as a matter of policy"?

This was the trust of the Israeli argument, which attempted to reduce a persistent policy predicated on collective punishment — one that used controversial and outright illegal weapons against civilians — to the injudiciousness of individual soldiers. Goldstone's calculated retraction is an adoption of "the Israeli position that any misdeeds during the Gaza assault were caused by individual deviants, not by policies or rules of engagement ordered by military leaders," according to George Bisharat, professor at the Hastings College of the Law (as reported by the San Francisco Chronicle, April 7). Bisharat added, "Yet the original report never accused Israel of widespread deliberate attacks on civilians, and thus Goldstone retracted a claim that had never been made. Most of its essential findings remain unchallenged."

John Dugard, professor of law at the University of Pretoria and former UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the occupied Palestinian territory agrees. "Richard Goldstone is a former judge and he knows full well that a fact-finding report by four persons, of whom he was only one, like the judgment of a court of law, cannot be changed by the subsequent reflections of a single member of the committee."

Dugard, well known for his principled stances in the past, is also known for his moral consistency. "It is sad that this champion of accountability and international criminal justice should abandon the cause in such an ill-considered but nevertheless extremely harmful op-ed," he wrote in the New Statesman on April 6.

Unsurprisingly, Israeli leaders are gloating. "Everything we said was proved true," declared Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in response to Goldstone's moral collapse. The New York Times reported on April 5 that Goldstone agreed to visit Israel in July during a telephone call with Israel's Interior Minister Eli Yishai. "I will be happy to come," Yishai quoted Goldstone as saying. "I always have love for the State of Israel."

The fact is, Goldstone's repudiations of some of his commission's findings clearly have no legal validity. They are personally, and in fact selfishly motivated, and they prove that political and ideological affiliations are of greater weight for Goldstone than human suffering and international law and justice. There is no doubt, however, that Goldstone's rethink will represent the backbone of Israel's rationale in its future attacks on Gaza. Goldstone, once regarded as an "evil, evil man" by a prominent Israel apologist in the U.S., will become the selling point of Israel's future war crimes.

If the killing of over 1,400 Palestinians is not a "matter of policy", and Hamas' killing of four Israelis is "intentional" — as claimed by Goldstone — then the sky is the limit for Israel's war machine.

Indeed, "shocking" is not the right term. "Disgraceful" may be more fitting.

— Ramzy Baroud ( is an internationally-syndicated columnist and the editor of

Photo: Richard Goldstone






Some disconcerting facts, or at least disconcerting questions, are beginning to emerge regarding Obama's Libyan intervention.

First of all, the Asia Times reported on April 2 ("Exposed: The U.S.-Saudi Libya Deal") that Saudi Arabia engineered an Arab League voting bloc to approve the American intervention in Libya, in return for Obama giving the Saudis a free hand to intervene in Bahrain and crush the pro-democracy movement -- so troubling to the conservative monarchies of the Persian Gulf -- in that country.

Contrary to the myth that the Arab League endorsed Obama's intervention, half of its members abstained. The members that did vote for it were disproportionately in Saudi Arabia's sphere of influence. Obama got the vote he wanted because the Saudis called their chits in.

So while CNN shows all those smiling people flashing their V-for-Victory signs in Benghazi, the king of Bahrain is using a state of martial law to suppress the pro-democracy protests, with the help of 2,000 Saudi troops. No tear-jerking CNN reports there, and no highly visible State Department denunciations. Know why? Because Bahrain is a "friendly" government, and the anti-government movement is largely Shia in an area where Iran is viewed as the major "threat" to be contained.

In Noam Chomsky's terminology, the Bahraini demonstrators aren't "worthy victims." They aren't being crushed by a radical pariah state that's run afoul of the U.S. foreign policy establishment. Rather, they're an inconvenience to a government that knows how to play ball with Washington. So they're expendable.

Maybe this is the kind of thing White House flack Robert Gibbs was talking about when he said Wikileaks undermined U.S. efforts at "promoting democracy and open government."

Second, Thomas Mountain at Counterpunch ("Bombing Libya," March 23) raises some unpleasant questions about the Benghazi rebels. Benghazi, the city in Libya closest to Italy, has for years been a center of human trafficking from sub-Saharan Africa. An average of a thousand black African refugees a day pass through Benghazi in hopes of escaping to Europe. So Benghazi was the seat of an enormous complex of gangs controlling the human trafficking trade, many of them exploiting their human cargo as ruthlessly as the "coyotes" on the U.S.-Mexican border. The Gaddafi government, according to Mountain, had been unsuccessfully trying to suppress this trade for years. As a result, the criminal underworld of Benghazi has been a prime supporter of the rebellion.

Benghazi is also home to a large number of black African guest workers who do work that Libyans regard as "dirty." Native youth, who refuse to take these jobs, are frequently unemployed and idle. So they wind up joining youth gangs that engage in racist harassment of black African guest workers. These discontented youth were at the heart of the protest movement.

This raises some interesting questions about the reported massacre of black Africans by Benghazi militia -- supposedly because black Africans were recruited as mercenaries by Gaddafi -- doesn't it? I don't know if Thomas Mountain's account is correct. But at least it should make us think twice when we hear the talking heads like Ed Schultz on MSNBC referring to Libyan "freedom fighters."

So once again, the lesson is: Always look for the man behind the curtain.

C4SS Research Associate Kevin Carson is a contemporary mutualist author and individualist anarchist whose written work includes Studies in Mutualist Political Economy, Organization Theory: An Individualist Anarchist Perspective, and The Homebrew Industrial Revolution: A Low-Overhead Manifesto, all of which are freely available online




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