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Monday, April 18, 2011

EDITORIAL 18.04.11

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month april 18, edition 000809, csollected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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






































  2. NEW ORDER  































If you thought Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's two-day visit to Kazakhstan during which he signed seven agreements was a sign of India's growing influence as a major regional power, think again. For while Mr Singh has only begun to speak of bilateral trade outside of the Indian sub-continent, China has already laid much of the groundwork, and literally so, to boost its own trade and economic ties with several Central Asian countries. It has already constructed several thousand kilometres of roads and railways that crisscross through the Asian continent and now Beijing has unveiled plans for a 'New Silk Road' which has been aptly named after the network of land and sea trade routes that for almost 3,000 years served to connect the ancient civilisations of India, China and Persia with Europe and West Asia. The modern network, which will closely resemble the ancient route, similarly aims to connect 21st century China to Europe through Central Asia. The 'New Silk Road', which will complement the 'New Silk Track' railway lines, will drastically improve connectivity and transportation facilities in the region. Once completed, the roadway will connect Lianyungang, in east China's Jiangsu Province, to Kashgar on the western border from where it will go on to Erkeshtan in Kyrgyzstan, and then find its way through Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Iran and Turkey before reaching Europe. The $660 million project is touted to serve as a vital link connecting national capitals, administrative centres, economic hubs and major cities across Central and West Asia to China and Europe that will effectively alter the way trade and commerce is carried out in the region.

In fact, since the original silk route was abandoned in 1400 AD, Asian trade has been carried out essentially by sea for the last 600 years. It may even be said that it is the container-ships of the day that hold the key to the modern day resurgence of several East Asian countries such as Singapore, Hong Kong and, of course, China. Indeed, such is the prevalence of maritime trade that goods manufactured in inner Mongolia to be sold in Europe are today first transported to eastern Chinese sea ports from where they are shipped westwards! Needless to say, this is a terribly cumbersome route but given that the three big Asian players — India, China and Russia — cared little for continental trade and development, nothing was done to change the system. Now all that is set to change as China and even Russia — the two are working on a $25 billion project that will allow them to transport oil between the two countries — are taking measures towards establishing a stronger Asian continent. And it's not just Central Asia but South Asia, too, that has seen a flurry of infrastructure development. China has already built a railway line right upto Lhasa in Tibet and plans to extend it into Nepal, Bangladesh and Bhutan. While all this speaks volumes about the Chinese establishment, it is also a scathing comment on the Indian leadership which has allowed China to build roads and railways leading right to our doorstep — nothing could be a more serious threat. But our Prime Minister continues to obsess with one troubled western neighbour in an effort to please one trans-Atlantic country, all the while ignoring friends, both existing and potential ones, in the region.







The Supreme Court, in its profound wisdom, has granted bail to doctor-turned-Maoist activist Binayak Sen, who was sentenced to life imprisonment after being convicted of sedition by a trial court in Chhattisgarh last December. Earlier, the lower court and the High Court had refused bail to Sen, giving elaborate reasons to justify their rejection of his petition. As the highest court of appeal in the land, the Supreme Court has the right to set aside the orders of lower courts. Hence, it would be incorrect to question Friday's decision to set Sen free on bail. However, the Supreme Court could have avoided the observations that were made while accepting Sen's plea, not the least because they were clearly uncalled for. The petition before the court was not about the merits of the trial court's judgement, hence to suggest, as the Supreme Court judges have done, that no case of sedition is made out against Sen is unjustified. Let us not forget that Sen had moved a petition seeking bail, not the quashing of the judgement holding him guilty of sedition. There's more. The Supreme Court has strangely come to the conclusion that while Sen "can be said to be a sympathiser" of the Maoist cause, that "does not amount to sedition". The line dividing 'sympathy' and 'support' is difficult to locate; those who join Maoist ranks and participate in horrendous violence can also be described as 'sympathisers' of the 'cause' espoused by the Red terrorists — to overthrow the Indian state and supplant it with a totalitarian Pol Pot-like regime. How does their 'sympathy' make them criminals in the eyes of the law yet absolve Sen of having committed any crime? How is one activist different from another when both are committed to achieving a common goal? Yes, the court is right when it points out that mere possession of Mahatma Gandhi's autobiography does not make a person a Gandhian. But that argument becomes irrelevant when an individual, known for his pro-Maoist activism and activities, is found to be in possession of seditious literature and propaganda material. Sen was more than merely curious about what Maoist pamphlets and tracts contain.

This is not the first time the Supreme Court has taken such a lenient view. In the past, a person found guilty of being associated with ULFA has been set free. In another case, the court waxed eloquent on how the state and society should not disown those who take up guns and resort to terrorism. The law may be open to interpretation in its application, but surely it does not provide for observations that amount to commentary beyond the scope of the judiciary. Nor should our judges, more so in the higher judiciary, feel compelled to be seen as being 'politically correct' and pander to views made fashionable by the Left-liberal intelligentsia. Sadly, the Supreme Court's sanctimonious and gratuitous observations while granting bail to Sen suggest otherwise.









While drafting a stringent Lok Pal Bill is a good idea, this alone cannot help us fight the cancer of corruption. A lot more needs to be done.

Social activist Anna Hazare has rightly raised a storm against corruption which has become wide spread and shows no sign of abating. The Union Government has agreed to his demand of taking on board his representatives for the drafting of a strong Lok Pal Bill. In fact, both sides have legal luminaries as members. As the experience of Bills drafted by the Government shows, they leave sufficient loopholes for the guilty to escape the law, in the name of fair play, human rights and equity, as if victims do not have any of these rights.

A brief needs to be given to the members of the drafting committee by civil society, based on its concerns and suggestions, about the methodology of fighting corruption and its demands. Simply trusting the panel members nominated by Anna Hazare to come up with their own prescription of how to fight corruption will not do.

Seeing corruption trials in courts is entirely a different matter from eradicating it. Even the adoption of the Lok Pal Bill by Parliament will not solve the problem of corruption. That will be possible only when Government provides the wherewithal for fighting corruption, like increasing the strength of the judiciary and the investigating agency, seizing illegal assets during the investigation itself and enhancing the budget and manpower for achieving this goal. All this has to be part of the package. Otherwise, the Lok Pal Bill will prove to be just like the preamble to our Constitution or the Right to Education Act which is meaningless without teachers and in the absence of schools.

Indeed a stage has come where the Government is reluctant to act against the corrupt or corruption, as can be seen from the Supreme Court-monitored investigation into the 2G Spectrum scam or the Adarsh Housing and CWG scandals. Let not the institution of Lok Pal become another toothless tiger. When the Lok Ayukta of Delhi sent a report against a Minister, instead of acting on the basis of his findings, the Delhi Government is thinking of having a second look at the law.

The possession of assets beyond known means of income is a criminal offence under the Prevention of Corruption Act. The law should be changed to put the onus on the accused to prove that whatever he or she possesses or owns has been honestly acquired. There have hardly been any cases, except in Bihar and in a couple of other States, where illegally acquired assets have been seized by the Government. The relevant investigating agencies should be authorised to seize all illegally acquired property on the filing of chargesheet against the accused.

The strength of the criminal justice system should be increased so that no case takes more than six months, as against the present 10 to 30 years, to decide in any court of law. Only a single appeal should be allowed instead of layer after layer of appeals.

Under the Prevention of Corruption Act, both the giver and receiver of bribes are guilty of committing a crime. This is a skewed law, because if both are guilty, then who will give evidence? Anti-corruption agencies around the world freely lay traps with the help of decoys posing as bribe-givers to catch corrupt officials and politicians red-handed. The law has to be changed so that only the beneficiary of illegal gratification is charged with committing a crime. It is common sense that nobody willingly bribes, which most often is extorted.

Very often when huge assets are discovered, the case is allowed to linger on. We are told that the law will take its course. But this does not happen for 10 to 20 years because the judiciary has not been strengthened either with infrastructure or human resource to deliver fair and prompt justice, in say six months.

At present, before even starting any inquiry against officials of the rank of joint secretary and above, the permission of the Government is required. This is apart from the sanction to prosecute that is required after completing investigation in a case of corruption. In this manner, we have created two classes of Government employees — the twice-born and the lesser beings. As a result, corrupt senior bureaucrats are provided with double protection and immunity from the law.

The Government can, if it so decides, exercise its right of denying or withdrawing the statutory sanction to prosecute public servants despite the evidence gathered against them by the investigating agency. This could prove to be one of the sticking points while drafting the Lok Pal Bill as the Government would be loath to give up its much-abused power to block an investigation and subsequent prosecution.

Corruption is not a part of the duty of any Government servant and as much has been said more than once by the Supreme Court. But this has had no effect on the Government which remains determined not to give up its power to protect bureaucrats accused of corruption. The Telecommunication Minister is right when he says that the adoption of the Lok Pal Bill by Parliament will not end corruption. This is because of the simple reason that unless other laws, which are tilted in favour of the corrupt and dishonest, are suitably amended or deleted and the judiciary strengthened to decide cases within six months to one year. In the absence of such matching action, the Lok Pal Bill will be a non-starter.

Apart from amending laws and strengthening the criminal justice system, sting operations should be legalised both for the public and media so that they can expose corruption. A percentage of the illegal assets acquired by corrupt public servants, say a minimum of 50 per cent, should be given as a reward to those who expose them. These steps may appear draconian, but serious diseases require surgical intervention.

The outrage over mounting corruption in every sphere of public life in India in not without reason. Indians are no longer willing to see their country being labelled as one of the most corrupt in the world. Nor are they willing to pay the high cost of corruption — both literally and metaphorically. Survey after survey has shown India ranks extremely low on all indices of integrity and probity in public life. Transparency International ranks India at the 87th place with an integrity score of 33 out of 100. The Political & Economic Risk Consultancy Ltd of Hongkong has rated India at 8.67 on a scale of zero to 10, with the high end being the worst case of corruption scenario, just ahead of the Philippines (8.9 points), Indonesia (9.25 points) and Cambodia (9.27 points).

A severe crackdown is more than overdue. The Government has to take this issue seriously. Let it demonstrate its commitment by enhancing the minimum punishment for corruption to life sentence with no remission and the maximum to death penalty for looting the country and its citizens.







It was Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee who had promised 'change' after becoming Chief Minister of West Bengal. But when he tried to bring about the promised 'change', things began to unravel for him, providing a platform for Mamata Banerjee to launch her campaign to dislodge the Left Front from power. Ironically, it's her promise of 'change' that has caught the popular imagination

The 2011 election campaign has been the longest ever in the history of West Bengal. It started before the 2006 State Assembly election when the Trinamool Congress as well as sections within the CPI(M) and its allies began raising questions about the trajectory of change that Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had plotted with his ardent appeals to private domestic and global investors to view West Bengal as an investment destination.

Nervous about Mr Bhattacharjee's determined leap into the arms of capitalists the Trinamool Congress as well as sections within the Left Front raised the alarm. When the Chief Minister jabbed a finger and declared on television that he was a capitalist three times over it produced a seriously negative reaction within his own party and created the conditions for the Trinamool Congress's campaign to get political purchase.

In 2006, the question was: Is there the political will to embrace the capitalist path of development? The krishi amader bhitti, shilpa amader bhobishyot (agriculture is the foundation, industry is the future) slogan captured the dilemma and revealed the conflict. Based on this the Trinamool Congress has gathered support and strength through three elections that have established its credentials as the alternative to the CPI(M). By taking over the initial local resistance of some land owners unhappy over the acquisition of land for the Tata Motors factory at Singur, the Trinamool Congress slipped into the space emptied out by the CPI(M)'s own withdrawal from the idea of industrialisation propounded by Mr Bhattacharjee. The mess over identifying Nandigram as the site of the Special Economic Zone and the incidents that followed from it added to the body of opinion that was uneasy about West Bengal travelling the same road of industrialisation and growth as the rest of India.

Defending the idea of the 21st Century mode of industrialisation in 2006 played itself out through a series of confrontations perhaps altering for a long time to come the way in which West Bengal can do business with the rest of the world. The political campaign to change the Government and by implication the mode of 'progress' has been the discourse of the past six years. The 2011 election will not end the engagement of the political parties, public opinion and the affected population, which includes every individual in the State over the issue of how does West Bengal intend to take advantage of the availability of investments and so move rapidly ahead in the race to be a premier destination.

Pro-investment or anti-investment, pro-private sector investment or anti-private sector investment, capitalist or anti-imperialist has been the dominant discourse in West Bengal over five decades, ever since the 'Communists' created a platform for their particular brand of politics. There was a time in the 1990s when the usual complaint of the urban middle class was that the CPI(M) had failed it because it had failed to attract investment. Other States in the immediate post liberalisation-economic reforms changeover were attracting huge investments and West Bengal's elite was envious of that prosperity. The fall of West Bengal from the business and industry leader state rankled then.

When Mr Bhattacharjee was praised as the best Chief Minister in the country West Bengal was delighted. The path that Mr Bhattacharjee had taken till 2006 had been somewhat brash but not dramatically different from the slow plodding steps that the CPI(M) Governments had taken in the past. The moment he picked up speed was the moment when every ounce of resistance was used to halt the change in its tracks. There were good and worthy reasons for the resistance, because the expectation was that a CPI(M) Government would extract the maximum benefit out of the investor and deliver it to the displaced and so secure their future. Whether this was wishful thinking or hard-headed calculation of the value of the assets that would be appropriated by industrialisation is now a matter of speculation. Economists fought over the 'Singur' issue, fought over how much 'development' had happened under the Left Front's seven terms in office and they fought from a certain disdain for 'capitalists' even though they thought that the free market was a great idea.

Therefore the 2011 elections is not about the slogan of change. It is about how West Bengal intends to transit to a different millennium. Taking on board one representative of the liberalisation-reforms side namely Amit Mitra counts for little. Taking on board a host of retired bureaucrats also counts for little, because the change that is required has to be both at the top and at the lowest levels of governance.

The deliberately slow start to the Trinamool Congress's final phase of campaign is tactical. The final push began after April 9 when Ms Mamata Banerjee travelled to North Bengal to unroll the emotional tsunami that will sweep the CPI(M) out of power in the State. The ground swell of support that the Trinamool Congress believes will lift it into power with the most comprehensive victory ever in West Bengal is also the ground swell that it hopes to use to meet its 200 days change targets.







Since Pakistanis believe that their cricket team cannot lose a match, especially to Team India, they are convinced that there must be something more to the Mohali defeat than meets the eye! Colourful conspiracy theories are still doing the rounds...

This is an outrage. How can we be so quiet about losing to India? We should thoroughly investigate the debacle. We shouldn't have lost that game-simply because we are meat eaters!

Thus, my first objection is based on certain disturbing but confirmed reports: The Pakistan team was served only vegetables during its stay in Mohali. That's why Umar Gul looked disoriented, Mishbah was so slow and Afridi delayed taking the power play. And anyway, what good is power play to a vegetarian, no?

Reports coming from Mohali also state that the night before the game, Afridi and the boys were lured by certain Hindus posing as Muslims into going to a restaurant that only served vegetable thali. Can you imagine, our meat eating boys having veg thalis?

That's why god did not listen to the prayers of 18 trillion meaty Pakistanis. Our current team should learn from great Pakistani players of yore, like Inzimamul Haq, Saeed Anwar and Mohammad Yusuf, who are these days running a successful chain of meat stores. They know where their roots lie: In the land of fat, male camels.

Even more disturbing were reports about the players' discipline. Famous cricket-jihadist and journalist, Sangsar, told me that he found a dozen or so carrots in the mini-fridge in Afridi's hotel room, while Umar Gul and Misbah were seen carrying a kaddu (pumpkin) in the hotel's lobby. When Sangsar spotted them, they claimed that the pumpkin was actually a lamb which they, along with Wahab Riaz, were planning to eat, absolutely raw. But Sangsar is no fool. He knew the players were still high on the thali.

Devastated by the sight, Sangsar began to weep and told them that they were worse than Raymond Davis who at least ate meat. He also contacted the team's manager, Waqar Yunus, who at the time was having a swim in the hotel's not surprisingly eggplant shaped swimming pool.

'Sir, your team has converted,' Sangsar told him. 'They are having vegetables! How can you expect them to play like manly Muslims tomorrow? How can you expect god to listen to the 18 zillion meaty Pakistanis when their cricket team is chewing bhindi and kaddu and mooli?'

Waqar tried to cool Sangsar down by telling him that these were just rumours and that the boys were sticking to their diet of total meat and in fact, the team had been travelling with its own stock of goats, cows and chicken. When Sangsar said that he'd seen some players chewing carrots and watching Indian films in their hotel rooms, Waqar calmed him down again by saying that the boys were only trying to understand the mindset of the Indian players, that's all.

Convinced, Sangsar pleaded that the future of Kashmir, Afghanistan, Palestine, Bosnia, Sudan, Somalia, Libya, Bahrain and the Vatican were riding on the shoulders of a Pakistani victory. To this, Waqar said he would try his best and then ordered a chicken tikka for Sangsar. But Sangsar refused, saying he can't have a tikka prepared by a non-Muslim. 'Don't worry,' Waqar replied, 'the tikka is from the team's own stock of poultry. It is a doosra kind of tikka, prepared by our very own Saeed Ajmal.'

Swayed by Waqar's assurances, Sangsar said that he hoped the Pakistan team after it won against India and then the World Cup, would not celebrate victory by throwing carrots, potatoes and eggplants at each another, to which Waqar said: 'Of course, not! We plan to do a victory lap of the stadium riding camels and fire AK-47s in the air. Then, god willing, we will conquer Delhi!'

Happy and content with what Waqar told him, Sangsar went back to his room. But, of course, Pakistan lost. They played like vegetarians! Even Gambhir, who usually looks as being lacking calcium, showed more teeth in his batting than the Pakistanis; whereas Ashish Nehra, who seems to be always suffering from iron deficiency, bowled faster than Umar Gul.

Devastated and heart-broken, Sangsar appeared on his TV channel and angrily asked the 18 gazillion meaty Pakistanis to go out and save their country's honour by boycotting Indian films, TV soaps and, of course, by burning down Karachi's famous vegetable market, the Sabzi Mandi. Alas, we still have some honour left in us.

The writer is among the most popular Pakistani columnists and satirists. He writes for Dawn. Courtesy: Dawn.







Ivory Coast has been going down for some time, and it may not have touched bottom yet. Nigeria's 140 million people are on the way up, but they must still go through a tricky transition. Nobody knows if they can escape the curse that afflicts others

The war in Ivory Coast is over, or so we are told. Former President Laurent Gbagbo, who clung to the presidency even though he only won 46 per cent of the vote in last year's election, has been dragged from his bunker after two weeks of battle that devastated the capital, Abidjan. President Alassane Ouattara, who got 54 per cent of the votes, is in charge, and Gbagbo is under arrest, and all's well that ends well.

Except that it didn't end very well, did it? Indeed, it probably hasn't ended at all. Mr Ouattara owes a lot to the troops (the New Forces) that fought for him, and they will expect to be paid, mainly in military, police and Government jobs. This will further alienate Gbagbo's supporters (mostly Christian southerners), who already feel they have been occupied by a northern, Muslim Army.

It's not even clear that Mr Ouattara ordered the offensive that was carried out in his name: The New Forces have about 10 semi-independent commanders. It's even odds that the victors will simply overthrow Mr Ouattara and take power themselves in the next year or two.

The militias that fought for Ggagbo are not finished, either. It was French firepower that finally breached Gbagbo's defences, even if New Forces soldiers made the actual arrest. And although the French were operating under the United Nations flag, everybody in Ivory Coast knows that Mr Ouattara has been the preferred candidate of France's President Nicolas Sarkozy for many years.

The French forces have put Mr Ouattara in power, but now they have to withdraw rapidly. It looks bad for the former colonial power to boost an African regime into power, and the longer they stay the worse it will look. But once they are gone, Mr Ouattara may face resurgent southern militias that are still loyal to Gbagbo.

It is the West African Curse: Rampant corruption plus chronic poverty plus ethnic rivalry produce civil wars and insurgencies that last for decades and kill hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians. It happened in Sierra Leone, it happened in Liberia, and it started to happen in Guinea last year (although that country may have stopped on the brink of the pit).

For a long time people thought Ivory Coast was immune because of its far greater wealth: It was the world's biggest cocoa producer and the economic centre of French-speaking West Africa. But the wealth never trickled down very far, and the ethnic rivalries were the same. Indeed, they were actually worse, because the country is almost evenly split between Muslims in the north and Christians in the south.

East along the coast, the curse hasn't struck yet. Ghana, on Ivory Coast's eastern border, has seen a few coups, but no massacres, and it is now a flourishing democracy with a respectable growth rate. Togo and Dahomey are not so lucky, but they have had no huge massacres either. And giant Nigeria has done surprisingly well, given that it has all the ingredients of a classic West African-style disaster.

Nigeria has oil, but most of the money has been stolen by a small elite class while the majority of Nigerians remain poor. It is even more deeply divided than Ivory Coast in ethnic and religious terms. Yet Nigeria never slid over the edge.

It has had many coups, and even when 'democracy' was restored the elections were shamelessly rigged. The Muslim-Christian split dominates national politics, and sometimes leads to local massacres. It is a chaotic, abrasive, almost lawless society — but also a highly successful one, with seven per cent growth and a functioning if deeply corrupt democracy. It is, in a weird way, a very stable country.

The one major threat to its stability is the fact that its elections are getting more honest. When the outcome was decided in advance, the basic north-south deal was safe: A two-term Muslim President from the north would be followed by a two-term Christian President from the south, and then back again. That way, everybody who mattered in Nigeria could count on getting their turn at the trough.

This time, however, the Muslim President died halfway through his first term, and his Christian Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan took his place. Mr Jonathan likes the job so much that he is running for re-election as President, which enrages the northern, Muslim elite who think it should still be their turn.

To make matters more dangerous, this time new election rules and an official who cannot be bought mean that the votes will actually be counted. Last weekend's parliamentary elections saw the ruling People's Democratic Party, the vehicle of both the northern and southern elites, lose ground dramatically to new opposition parties.

If Mr Jonathan wins the presidential election this weekend (results are expected by Tuesday or Wednesday), he will face a Parliament where the PDP majority is both narrow and fragile. If his leading rival Muhammadu Buhari, a former military ruler whose support is solely in the north, should win, Buhari would be in an even more vulnerable and isolated position. The potential for an ugly north-south, Muslim-Christian confrontation is very high.

Ivory Coast has been going down for some time, and it may not have touched bottom yet. Nigeria's 140 million people are on the way up, but they must still go through a tricky transition, and nobody knows if they are exempt from the curse.

Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist.








AN INDIAN scientist, along with his US colleagues, has developed a device to restore the sight of people who go blind due to conditions such as retinitis pigmentosa and age- related macular degeneration.

The device, called a bionic eye or retinal implant, has been co- invented by Dr Rajat N. Agrawal, an assistant professor of clinical ophthalmology at the University of Southern California.

He holds the patent for the device along with his colleagues.

Retinitis pigmentosa is caused by damage to the retina, the layer of tissue at the back of the inner eye that converts light images to nerve signals and sends them to the brain.

The main sign of the disease is the presence of dark deposits in the retina. The disease impacts central vision, which permits a person to read, drive, and perform activities that require sharp, straight- ahead vision.

Age- related macular degeneration affects older adults, resulting in the loss of central vision due to damage to the macula, a central place in the retina which has the largest concentration of cone cells. The cones are nerve cells sensitive to light, fine detail, and colour.

Agrawal's bionic eye consists of a chip fitted behind the retina. The system works by converting video images captured from a miniature camera in the patient's glasses into a series of electrical pulses transmitted wirelessly to the chip, itself an array of electrodes.

These pulses then stimulate the retina's remaining cells, resulting in a corresponding perception of patterns of light in the brain.

Agrawal wants to bring the device to India by producing a cheaper version with the help of Indian scientists. He has founded a non- governmental group called Retina India to carry out the research.

It has been used by 37 patients in the US and Europe, who were completely blind for 25- 30 years. " Some have walked across a zebra crossing. Some could read large letters. But they need training in using the device," Sudamani V., chief operating officer of Retina India, said.

" The implant will be of great help to patients in India," Dr Amit Khosla, the secretary of the Delhi Opthalmological Society, said.

" It costs around $ 50,000 ( ` 22.1 lakh). Though the price is expected to come down, Agrawal wants an initiative in India to produce a cheaper version which can be tried and tested here," Sudamani said.

" Aproposal to produce the device in India has been submitted to various departments," she added.


Agrawal's bionic eye converts video captured on a miniature camera in the patient's glasses into electrical pulses transmitted to a chip fitted behind the retina

Expected to cure retinitis pigmentosa & age- related macular degeneration

The implant is already being used in Europe & the US and costs around ` 22.1 lakh

A proposal to carry out research to produce the device cheaply in India is on the anvil








It was far more than just a matter of bail when the Supreme Court last Friday ordered the suspension of the life sentence that was being served by Binayak Sen. Its significance is not just due to the outrage that had been expressed across the world over the incarceration of a human rights and public activist working in the most backward areas of Chhattisgarh. Binayak Sen's plight served as an opportunity for the highest court of the land to acknowledge the anomalies in the sedition provision and the manner in which it has generally being misused to gag dissidence in our democracy.

As this newspaper reported in the run-up to the court hearing the sedition provision, which was inserted as Section 124A in the Indian Penal Code way back in 1870, is so arbitrary that Binayak Sen could well have been let off for the very same offence with just a fine. For, without a word of explanation, this colonial law provides three very different levels of punishment for those held guilty of sedition: life sentence, imprisonment up to three years or monetary penalty. The definition of sedition is also so vague that the Supreme Court was forced to rule in 1962 that this provision, in the wake of the constitutional guarantee of free speech, would have to be read down to deal only with those who allegedly incited violence against the state.

But, as evident from the experiences of Binayak Sen and numerous lesser-known victims around the country of this draconian provision, the Supreme Court's 1962 clarification has proved inadequate to safeguard against the misuse of the sedition law. It is therefore a welcome development that, subsequent to the order granting bail to Binayak Sen, law minister Veerappa Moily announced that the government would ask the Law Commission to review Section 124A IPC in order to recast the provision or scrap it altogether. The provocation was the oral observations made by the bench comprising Justice H S Bedi and Justice Chandramauli Prasad that Binayak Sen's sympathies for Maoists did not make him liable to sedition.

The importance of the corrective applied by the Supreme Court is all the more evident from the Chhattisgarh high court's failure to recognise glaring infirmities in the case, whether on the issue of conviction or on the quantum of sentence, despite delivering a 35-page order two months ago declining bail to Binayak Sen. The Supreme Court's intervention in this case is in line with its recent verdict that mere membership of a banned organisation was not a crime unless he was found to have committed violence. Binayak Sen's release should pave the way for his acquittal of the charge of sedition.







The tragic case of Sonu Sinha should serve as a wake-up call for the Railways' bosses. That the national-level volleyball player was shoved out of a moving train by hoodlums bears testimony to the woeful lack of passenger security on our trains. As one of the largest rail networks in the world, the Indian Railways ferries around two crore passengers daily. Incidents of petty crime are routine and little is done to deter them. More shocking is the fact that of the 11,500 trains that run everyday, security escort of four to six personnel is provided to a mere 3,500 trains. Severe shortage of manpower cripples railway security with as many as 15,000 vacancies in the Railway Protection Force. Better policing could have saved 23-year-old Sonu from the trauma of having to amputate one of her legs and cut short her sports career.

Given the vital role the Railways plays in the socio-economic context of the country, railway security deserves far greater attention than it presently receives. Having a full-time railway minister - one who doesn't treat the post as a temporary portfolio - is the bare minimum. The Railways is the most susceptible national asset. The targeting of trains by Maoist insurgents in recent years has strengthened this perception. The solution lies in scaling up of and better networking among the various Railways security units. The implementation of an all-India security helpline number for passengers can enable speedy response to crime on our trains. Encouraging public participation and vigilance by reforming and streamlining Railways security infrastructure is also crucial.








The strength of a country is determined by the credibility of its institutions and not so much by the numerical strength of its armed forces. The founding fathers of the Indian Constitution took great care to establish certain institutions which would work as the bulwark of democracy and ensure justice, liberty, equality and fraternity to citizens. These institutions are unfortunately under attack by a predatory executive.

The institutions whose credibility has suffered in recent years include the Central Vigilance Commission, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), the Election Commission (EC), the
National Security Council (NSC) and even the office of the president of India.

Anna Hazare's fast and the tremendous popular support it received actually reflect the frustration and anger of the common man at the failure of our anti-corruption institutions. Not that we do not have them. Not that they were inherently weak. It is just that they were, over a period of time, systematically subverted by the ruling class by planting leaders of poor calibre at the head of the organisations, curtailing their administrative powers and choking them financially.

The controversy over the appointment of the chief vigilance commissioner culminating in the Supreme Court order that the high-powered committee's selection of P J Thomas was invalid was a slap on the face of the government. It is indeed unfortunate that the prime minister and the home minister made such a serious error of judgment. The true story behind the appointment has yet to come out. In any case, the personnel department and cabinet secretariat cannot escape responsibility for the fiasco. And, in the final analysis, why did the president have to approve the recommendation? She also had a constitutional responsibility to ensure that a tainted person did not get her seal of approval.

The CBI has not covered itself with glory except in cases which are politically neutral or where the Supreme Court is itself monitoring the progress of investigations. In politically sensitive cases, the agency has been blowing hot and cold depending upon the equation of the ruling party with the accused. Its handling of cases against Mulayam Singh and Mayawati has been most unprofessional, to say the least. Justice J S Verma, who gave the landmark judgment in the Vineet Narain vs Union of India case, deplored in an article that "the outcome of the CBI's investigation invariably depends on the political equation of the accused with the ruling power, and it changes without compunction with the change in that equation".

Two reasons have particularly affected the responses of directors of the CBI - the keenness to have a post-retirement benefit and the selection of a pliable person for the post. The lust to have an assignment after retirement is, in fact, causing havoc in administration as a whole while selection of weak directors who would toe the government line has devastated the CBI in the past.

The post of chairman, NHRC, was kept vacant by the government for almost a year. There were suitable retired chief justices of India who could have been appointed, but the post was not filled up for extraneous reasons. It was ultimately given to a person whose integrity is now being questioned. Loyalty and pliability have unfortunately become the most important criteria for selection to high positions. Merit is a secondary consideration, if at all.

There was an attempt to subvert the EC as well when a bureaucrat known for his proximity to the establishment was posted to the commission, knowing fully well that one day he would become the chief election commissioner. Fortunately, not much damage was done.

The NSC and the National Security Advisory Board are two apex institutions dealing with security at the highest level. There were great expectations when the NSC was formed. The institution was unfortunately not nurtured and its contribution to national security has been marginal. The advisory board has degenerated into a parking place for persons proximate to the powers-that-be.

There was also an unsavoury controversy over the appointment of the president of India. Happily, that has since been buried. However, the nagging doubt persists. Would the president, in the event of a crisis, play her mandated role and uphold the Constitution or be a rubber stamp of the executive?

State governments, at their level, have been merrily subverting institutions in their respective areas. The police in a few states are functioning as the militia of the ruling party. There is hardly any commitment to implementing the Supreme Court's directions on police reforms. Anti-corruption agencies at the state level have been emasculated. Lok Ayuktas in most states have minimal powers and are therefore ineffective. The bureaucrats have either been reduced to the position of 'babus' or, acting hand in glove with their political masters, have acquired the power of mafiosi. Public Service Commissions are packed with stooges of the party in power, who indulge in corrupt practices and make dubious appointments.

Where will all this lead us? The judiciary can play only a limited role in arresting this trend. If the ruling class does not wake up to the threat and agrees on upholding the prestige of institutions, the future of democracy in the country would be in peril.

The writer is a retired police chief.







The seniormost exponent of sarod today, Buddhadeb Dasgupta 's 79-year journey through life is etched in excellence. His four-decade moulding under Radhika Mohan Moitra places him in the gharana of Ghulam Ali Khan Bangash, that has produced players like Hafeez Ali Khan. Many books, many more albums, a documentary on him: these give an insight into the sarodist's deep understanding of ragas, rare accuracy of swaras, and mesmeric balance between his gayaki and tantrakari. Dasgupta spoke with Ratnottama Sengupta:

Hindustani music, western classical, film music - how do you pursue all this?

I was fortunate to get a guru who sought me out, came home to teach me when i was barely 10, and continued to teach till he died. By his grace i've been on AIR since age 16; played in Rome, Paris, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Moscow, Los Angeles; been a lecturer at Smithsonian and other music conservatories...

Beethoven, Bach, Mozart i mastered by listening to. Similarly, simply by listening i discovered that film music too is governed by the principles of raga. If you listen to the theme music of Chaplin's Limelight, you'll discern the structure of raga Zila. Surely Chaplin didn't learn Hindustani, just as our masters didn't learn to play in a symphony!

Why did you refuse the Padma Shri bestowed by the Indian government?

The government never thought of me until i turned 79. During this time dozens of Padmas have gone to people half my age but not greater in achievement. So the musical intelligentsia thought i didn't deserve it at all. If i accept it now, it will turn me into a comic figure. So, with all humility and with deepest gratitude, i declined to accept it.

At this stage, if at all i'm awarded, it should be a Padma Bhushan, not a lollypop Padma Shri.


Is there a system of studying a person's merit before nominating him?

If there is, it isn't foolproof. From what i hear, there's a state channel, presided over by people important in the government but not competent to assess artistic merit. Another channel is the communities. Maharashtrians, for example, stand solidly behind someone doing good work and headed for the future. The third channel is for those lucky enough to have a friend powerful in the government. Clearly i didn't have one.

Have these awards lived their life?

Yes, they've lost their sheen and need overhauling. They should be assessed by totally impartial people free of political colour. Music awards should be decided by a body of musicians and musicologists. The SNA awards have the right body deciding them.

But the official awards shouldn't be done away with. Government recognition is a must for artistes too. Every country has a knighthood, an OBE, or their equivalents. Through it the state can ensure that heritage is carried forward even if parampara loses its value for the uneducated or uninitiated listener.

Besides, as an artiste ages, his physical ability goes down. So he must be taken care of by patrons. In case of lifetime achievement there should be a concept of pension, as given by governments elsewhere.

Can any parameter be set for these awards?

Yes, there's a strong case for following these parameters. First and foremost is excellence and musicianship. Second, research work on music related subject. Third, how popular he is. Fourth, how many musicians he has created and released in the country.

I score very high on this. I didn't live abroad, i stayed at home and honed players. At least a dozen of them are doing outstanding work today. I am proud of my work as a guru.








Do you know the most stressful part of organising a fashion show, asked a designer at the recently concluded Wills Lifestyle India Fashion Week. Before i could say it must be designing the clothes or finishing them in time for the show, he revealed, "It's the stress of whom to seat in the front row!" Another designer groaned in agreement, "Why don't people understand somebody has to sit in the second, third and fourth rows as well! How can everyone be in the front row?"

A third designer helpfully offered, "Let's do away with the front row! We should start seating from the second row!" All guffawed.

So coveted are front row seats that people have been known to walk out in a huff if these are denied to them. It's not enough that you get invited; where you are seated is indicative of your status vis-a-vis others at the show! And so, many would rather not watch the show than be seen sitting second row onwards.

So critical is the seating chart issue that at times
FDCI president Sunil Sethi has been known to extend the standard 60-foot ramp to 80 feet just so that some more front row seats could be created to salvage fragile egos!

The front row normally seats around 100 persons. The demand for some of the coveted shows goes up to 200 - double the availability. Designers obviously do not want to upset anyone, so they leave it to the organisers to step on designer-shod toes. Clients, buyers, society doyens, Page 3 regulars and fashionistas, sponsors, media and immediate family are the usual front row claimants. In
Delhi, add to that bureaucrats, politicians and cops, and you have a political situation!

Around 20-plus seats are reserved for sponsors, a similar number for the media, approximately 33 for the designers' guests and 20 for buyers.

Media focus on first rowers makes the situation worse. A senior designer accused the FDCI president of showing lack of respect when she couldn't find place in the front row; a beauty doyen flounced out when the coveted row couldn't accommodate her and her entourage. An art gallery owner insisted on her right to sit in the media section front seat till she was forcibly convinced otherwise. Two Page 3 regulars in front row seats squeezed in a couple of friends in between. "Please shift a bit, we can all fit in," they assured the disapproving lady next to them. Miss Afghanistan of 10-15 years ago sashayed in and walked out just as elegantly when offered a second row seat!

Disturbed by the constant shifting and adjustments my neighbour was making, i finally asked, "Are you alright?" Flashing me a smile she confessed, "Oh, it's the problem of wearing a short dress in the front row." Pulling yet again at the impossibly shrinky fabric, she added with a wink, "I surely don't want to be flashing at the front seaters opposite me!" Now i shifted uncomfortably, worried i might be sitting right next to a potential wardrobe malfunction. Hazards of the trade.

It is de rigueur to seat some prominent people in the front row because the presence of A-listers indicates the success of a designer and his show. But then there are those lesser ones who plonk themselves in premium seats without invitation, refusing to budge to the most polite requests.

At one of the shows sat two wide-eyed, middle-aged guys in the most premium seats. Their eyes never moved up from the legs of the models walking the ramp. Up and down the eyeballs rolled as they swallowed convulsively and forgot to shut their hanging jaws, to the delight of the frontbenchers across the ramp. Upon enquiry, we were not surprised to know they were officials from some prominent ministries, taking time off for a look at the leggy lasses, design and designers be damned!

Ah, the vagaries of fashion as seen from the front row.








Most of us know about it but are either too nervous or too ignorant to speak about it. So, it took the horrific plight of two sisters in Noida who had gone over the edge to highlight the growing incidence of mental illness among Indians. That the sisters did not seek help as their descent into severe mental illness began is not surprising, few Indians will do so for fear of being labelled mad and ridiculed or shunned by society. Two out of five Indians suffer from depression which in its most virulent form can lead to self-harm, even suicide. Millions suffer from anxiety, mood disorders, schizophrenia and paranoia without quite realising that they need help. Such illnesses are often dismissed as the blues which can be overcome by simplistic remedies.

In urban areas, loneliness or a competitive work environment often act as triggers to mental illness without either the person affected or those around him being even aware that the condition warrants medical help. The prospect of going to a psychiatrist is usually met with resistance by the person and his family often leading to a worsening of mental health. It is heartening that mental illness is to be mapped in the second phase of Census 2011. If the extent of the problem is ascertained, perhaps, suitable provisions could be incorporated in the draft Mental Health Care Bill 2010 which, at present, leaves much to be desired on this front. An Indian Council for Medical Research study revealed that more and more people are suffering from a decline in mental health as a result of stress caused in the workplace as also social pressure.

The trend is no less in rural areas where such illnesses are often thought to be the result of possession by evil spirits and treated by quacks or godmen. The stigma attached to mental illness is so great that families prefer to shut those with overt signs of mental deterioration away from public sight.

The administration of most mental asylums in India is not designed to cure the patient but rather to obliterate their existence. The lack of importance given to this discipline is clear from the fact that there is a severe shortage of psychiatrists, psychiatric nurses, counselors, social workers and psychologists in this field. The mentally ill person should not be viewed as an object of derision or pity, most such problems can be managed through proper medical care. Often, timely counseling and the assurance of help can prevent those like the Noida sisters from crossing the line into mental illness.





In a war, leaders often lose their sense of proportion as a result of which enemies appear to be much bigger than they actually are. This seems to have been the case for Chhattisgarh chief minister Raman Singh and his aides who spearheaded a campaign against doctor-activist Binayak Sen. The Supreme Court's decision to grant bail to Dr Sen will, hopefully, give Mr Singh a chance to recalibrate this threat perception. However, Mr Singh is not the only one with such problems. Though Congress ministers at the Centre made appropriate and comforting noises after the apex court gave its verdict, many among them also suffer from similar perception problems.

No matter what the Chhattisgarh CM says now ("It's just a bail, case still pending in high court"), the verdict is a loss of face and credibility for both the state and central governments and will hopefully deter them in future from slapping serious charges like sedition without bothering to take a unbiased look the quality of material evidence they have at hand. In a country, where the right to speech is enshrined in the Constitution, going against the government's views cannot be automatically seen as subversion. In any case, even the government admits that long years of ineffective governance have led to Maoism. So they must expect people to relentlessly focus on the shortcomings and the solutions that are being offered. As for helping the Maoists, the Supreme Court said what had to be said: keeping Red literature does not make anyone a Maoist. The law on sedition, as the law minister rightly said, is outdated and needs a thorough evaluation. Otherwise, such misuse will continue and so will people's protest.

However, Dr Sen's case is also a reminder that there are thousands of others languishing in jails on charges of working against the State. Many among them probably do not have access to top lawyers or the support Dr Sen enjoys. For them, the verdict is good news but probably that's all there is to it. It's time that the senior judiciary looked at the quality of the lower judiciary and its ability to interpret material evidence. For many, a mistake there could mean a lifetime behind bars.






There are few experiences in history that demonstrate the self-transformation of corrupt societies into 'cleaner' ones. The case of Hong Kong is one such telling experience for India, though the two societies are dissimilar. Transparency International, the global corruption watchdog, has ranked Hong Kong 13 in its Corruption Perceptions Index, while India is ranked at 87, making the latter one of the most-corrupt nations. But Hong Kong wasn't always a beacon of good governance.

Till four decades ago its administration was plagued by high levels of corruption. The early 70s saw a wave of community consciousness and widespread public resentment against corruption. Like the recent incidents of corruption galvanised Anna Hazare's social movement in India, allegations of corruption against Peter Godber, chief police superintendent of Hong Kong, brought people, especially students, together to fight corruption.

The problem of corruption in India is one of absence of independent institutions to fight it. A major policy change is required to make anti-corruption initiatives effective. At present, the police and other law enforcement agencies pursue cases related to corruption. In many cases, there is an overlap of functions. Also, people involved in these cases are often simultaneously involved in other aspects of policing. If fighting corruption needs to be prioritised, it must be differentiated from maintaining law and order and investigating non-corruption-related cases.

In India, both central- and state-level agencies are entrusted with the task of fighting corruption. But, given the size of the country, there is an urgent need to re-examine the nature, scope, functions, jurisdiction, composition, and overlap of the powers of various law-enforcing bodies with a view to infuse a greater degree of transparency, accountability, autonomy and effectiveness in our fight against corruption.

Establishing an Independent Commission against Corruption (ICAC), similar to the ICAC in Hong Kong, could be an effective way. The ICAC should be an autonomous institution and should not be under any ministry, including the Prime Minister's Office. It should be established through an amendment to the Constitution, which will give it a constitutional status. Alternatively, it may be established by a separate legislation under the Lokpal Bill.

The powers, functions and independence of the ICAC should be in conformity with the guarantees provided to the Election Commission of India. The process of the appointment of the members of the ICAC should be similar to the one used to appoint members to the National Human Rights Commission. But it needs to put greater emphasis on the participation of civil society. The work of the ICAC should be limited to cases of corruption of some significance either in terms of financial implications and their impact on the administration or abuse of power. But while its independence from government agencies and politicians is crucial, it's equally important to ensure that the ICAC doesn't lack accountability. Thus, the need for a foolproof system of checks and balances through an independent board of the ICAC.

There is also a need to strengthen the human rights machinery, as the efforts of the ICAC to curb corruption can potentially infringe upon human rights, which can lead to politicisation. Selective or partial enforcement of the law violates the principle of equality and non-discrimination, and threatens the foundations of the rule of law. We need the ICAC to protect India and Indians against the scourge of corruption.

C Raj Kumar is the vice chancellor of OP Jindal Global University and dean, Jindal Global Law School, Haryana. The views expressed by the author are personal.





Amid the euphoria over the conclusion of Anna Hazare's fast for the Lokpal Bill, a few dissenting voices were heard on two issues: first, the means that were used to force the government's hand and, second, too much power and responsibility is thrust on one institution, the office of the Lokpal.

The first criticism can be more easily defended than the other concerns. The government's record of not listening to genuine grievances unless extreme measures are taken leaves few options open for genuine protestors. But the second argument can't be dismissed. It is true that it is Parliament that is accountable to the people and can be kept reasonably honest by a wide variety of institutions, provided they themselves are reformed and made accountable. It is also true that civil society's most valuable role is that of a watchdog. But to whom is civil society accountable?

At the risk of breaking ranks, I have to admit that civil society needs reforms in governance if it wants to retain the moral high ground. According to a 2009 official estimate, there are around 3.3 million civil society organisations (CSO) and the amount of investment in this sector is quite substantial. Over the years, State funding of CSOs have also seen a steady rise, thanks to the aam aadmi thrust of the government. Many outreach programmes of the government are carried out through CSOs.

While there have been no major scams involving misuse of funds by CSOs comparable to those elsewhere, misuse of resources is nevertheless significant enough to cause concern to civil society leaders themselves. There are known instances of fictitious NGOs being registered to corner grants and charitable funds being used for private benefit. Creative accounting has also reached a new high. In many cases, the outcomes of programmes are commensurate with the amounts spent on them. While foreign donations to CSOs are monitored closely under the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act (FCRA) and by the bigger aid donors themselves, what about those programmes that get government funding? Since government funds are generated from the taxes we pay, the public has a right to know whether CSOs are using them properly.

Addressing the National Academy of Audit and Accounts recently, vice-president Hamid Ansari strongly underscored the need for the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India to screen non-profits, societies, trusts and autonomous organisations. This suggestion deserves serious consideration. Some will argue that CSOs are already subject to independent financial audits and that the audit reports are filed before the income-tax department; that they also have to comply with the reporting requirements of several other authorities including the Registrar of Societies, charities commissioners, and the Registrar of Companies in case of registration under Section 25 of the Companies Act, not to mention the restrictive compliance demanded by the FCRA. So another layer of scrutiny is unnecessary, and it will only further restrict the autonomy of an already over-regulated sector.

It will also be pointed out that NGOs resort to self-regulation, and that organisations such as Credibility Alliance are moving CSOs to voluntary compliance with guidelines to ensure transparency, accountability and good governance. But experience shows that even independent audits are not always rigorous and don't verify outcomes on the ground. Nor are the audited accounts in the public domain. As for voluntary regulation, the number complying with the guidelines is still low.

But while the CAG or other public audit is welcome, there must be some caveats: first, any audit by the CAG should be limited to government funds above a certain threshold; second, the audits must keep the distinctiveness of NGO operations in mind, and audit personnel must be trained to understand how NGOs function. In any case, the CAG audit of CSOs should be only an interim measure until independent national and state-level charities commissions, on the lines of those present in Britain, are established to deal comprehensively with civil society. They should be charged with policy and promotion as well as regulation. They should be created by legislation with their own statute, regulations and resources and their  mandate would be to simultaneously protect the public interest and to provide effective support to civil society.

Pushpa Sundar is the author of Foreign Aid for Indian NGOs: Problem or Solution? The views expressed by the author are personal.





The Right to Information (RTI) has been around for more than five years now. Its role in reducing corruption by enforcing transparency in the working of public authorities is well documented. But the relationship between the RTI and the archival policies of the government remains an area less studied. It took the government years to come up with an archival policy in the form of the Public Records Act (PRA) of 1993, the first comprehensive attempt to regulate and systematise the archival policy of central government institutions. The Archival Policy Resolution (APR) of 1972, framed in tune with the recommendations of the Tarachand Committee on Archival Legislation in 1959-60, gave only guidelines in record-keeping and management. While the government recognised the importance of the recommendation, it didn't feel the amendment of the Constitution feasible in the near future.

As years passed by, the government felt it necessary to have an archival policy at least for the central government institutions. So the APR was passed in 1972. It defined the responsibilities of central government departments and ministries in managing and taking care of their records. It also provided for a department record room for semi-current records in every Record Creating Agency (RCA) and the making of retention schedules for records as well as appraisal of important records with the help of personnel from the National Archives of India (NAI) before they are transferred permanently there.

The PRA of 1993 is an improvement on the APR of 1972. The purview of the PRA not only covers central ministries and departments but also Union Territories, statutory commissions and bodies, public sector units and all committees constituted by the government and any organisation funded by it. Every RCA has to appoint a record officer (RO) whose main duty is to ensure that records of ephemeral value are destroyed and those of permanent value are retained. It's his duty to ensure that records that are 25 years old are appraised and those deemed to be of permanent value are transferred to the NAI. After preserving and conserving the records for five years, the NAI can open it for public access from the 30th year onwards.

As per the PRA, not everyone can access an archival document. One should prove one's credentials as a research scholar or should substantiate the purpose for which the records are being used. Besides a conservative access policy, the main defect of the PRA is that the NAI does not have the power to enforce the transfer of 25-year-old records to it. It also doesn't specify the time limit for transfer once the records are 25 years old. Thus, we still have many untransferred records in various ministries and departments. Ideally, all the records prior to 1984-85 should have come to the archives by now. But hardly any have come. The archival policy of the government needs a serious revamp. The PRA stipulates that every records-creating agency should have a record room and a record officer not below the rank of a section officer to man it. But few ministries have met this requirement. The culture ministry, which is under the supervision of the prime minister himself, lacks a proper record room. There have also been reports of many ministries making retention schedules for their records without consulting the NAI and destroying records. The PRA is one among the few Acts in India which has the dubious record of its penal provisions having never being invoked for violation. The only reason for this could be that the violators of the Act are its creators too.

Similarly, no classified records — top secret, secret, restricted and confidential records — are to be transferred to the NAI without their declassification. Ideally, all records that reach the NAI should be open to the public. But most of the times, the government transfers the classified files without downgrading them, which means that the public can't access them and they are not properly conserved.

In the light of the RTI, the PRA is in for a change. The RTI gives no time limit in accessing records, although Section 8(3) says that any information regarding an event or matter that has occurred 20 years before should be made available. So the PRA's 25-year-rule should change. With the RTI, any citizen of India can access a record now. The RTI also says that the intention or reason of a person in accessing records need not be sought. It also gives the powers to the Central Information Commissioner and the State Information Commissioner as the case may be to make necessary changes to practices in relation to the maintenance, management and destruction of records.

Whether this will have any bearing on the authority of the director general of the NAI is yet to be seen. Similarly, the archival rule is not to allow access to an original record if its duplicate in the form of microfilms are available. Whether the RTI will bring in any changes to it by facilitating the access to originals remains to be seen. The RTI has complicated the PRA of 1993, the only Act governing the record policies of the central government. Most of the states have their own archival policies but largely in tune with the PRA. From the 1960s, the need to standardise the archival policies of the Union and the states has been felt. But it has not come about yet. With the advent of the RTI the PRA has to change.

It seems that access policies will be liberalised and 30-year rule will give way to a 10-year rule. A strong archival policy is vital not only to safeguard the RTI of the people but also to preserve their documentary heritage for posterity. Instead of using the RTI to weaken the already fragile archival act and archives, it must be used to strengthen them by giving them more powers to enforce the PRA of 1993. The government must not shirk from its responsibility of properly managing the records, keeping indexes, making retention schedules and transferring records of permanent value after proper appraisal to the archives.

Sarath S Pillai holds a post-graduate diploma in archives management from the School of Archival Studies, National Archives of India, New Delhi. 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






Delivering the M.C Setalvad lecture organised by the Bar Association of India, Chief Justice S.H. Kapadia urged circumspection and restraint on the judiciary, especially on matters of policy and governance. He spoke of judicial activism, which, even if it comes from a good place and is intended as a check on the arbitrariness of the executive, can shade into a dangerous overreach. He cautioned that judicial activism that runs free of Constitution and statute raises questions about the accountability of individuals who are after all, not chosen by democratic process, and are not answerable to the legislature or executive. He asked the judiciary to ponder whether the question presented to them had a legal or a political content, reminding them that the court's true role is to "review the acts of the legislature and not to substitute its own policies or values".

That is fitting advice, in this atmosphere of extreme hostility to the processes of parliamentary democracy. However, it must also be pointed out that in the Indian experience, far from circumventing the electoral process or thwarting the people's will, our courts have, in many, many cases, protected their interests and expanded their rights. The higher judiciary has tried to act as bulwark against corruption by strengthening investigative agencies, wrested greater openness from the government, filled the gaps where state agencies have failed and acted boldly on welfare issues, environmental protection, sexual freedom, etc. Recent examples are the way Supreme Court systematically sifted through the facts on the 2G spectrum scandal, or the way it held the government to account on the sloppy appointment process for the chief vigilance commissioner's office.

So in turn, we need to be careful of any action that inadvertently messes with the independence of the judiciary. Even the civil society members of the Lokpal Bill drafting committee have piped down somewhat, accepting that the higher judiciary could be kept out of the bill's ambit. The rationale for keeping them out is not to shield wrongdoing, but because it might encroach on their free functioning, which must be carried out without fear for penalties (or hope for reward). The separation of powers is hardwired into our constitution, the principle that no one branch of the state will be able to subordinate the other — and all sides need to underscore their commitment to that bedrock principle.






Rarely, surely, could so much have changed in five years. In May 2006, the Left Front, under Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, was returned to power in West Bengal, with a sweeping majority: 235 of 294 Assembly seats, a gain of 60 or so. The opposition Trinamool had been reduced by half, to 30. It was difficult to see the Left's decades-old stranglehold over Writers Building coming to an end any time soon. The reversal of Bengal's deindustrialisation, it was assumed, would pick up, given the investor-friendly vibes that Bhattacharjee sent out; the opposition was in disarray, its driven leader's populism convincingly rejected for the third time in as many tries.

Yet such is our politics that nothing should be taken for granted, not even the politics of Bengal, predictable though that has been for 30 years now. Barely a year after returning to power, the Left Front government made its crucial mistake in Nandigram, and since then it has suffered one body-blow after another, leaving it with little political capital, and a leader who looks more and more as if he longs for a poetry-filled retirement. The state's governance has suffered, with a government that behaves like it is merely filling up time till it is ousted; and the heavy-handed politics of intimidation and thuggery has spread its tentacles across parties. So loud is the clamouring for change that Bhattacharjee spends public meetings attacking the very idea, an odd descent for a party of supposed revolutionaries.

There are no predictable results in India's politics, but if there were, then this would be the most predictable of them all. This year will likely close as the first since 1977 without a communist in the chief minister's office in Kolkata. The question is whether Mamata Bannerjee, if she fulfils her long quest for that office, will be able to

deliver what she has promised — and, unsurprisingly for someone in opposition for so long that power would seem like a dream to her, she has promised so much to so many that following through on any of it will be problematic. Yet, after 30 years of increasingly strangling one-party rule, it is probable that Bengal's population will think of any change as for the better.






Sport's triumphs are dependent on the moment: the power, precision and speed of one glorious instant. The greatness of an international sporting event is often tabulated by the frequency of that feat on display — the number of records broken, the number of medals collected. But there is something else that defines its indelibleness: its legacy, an ex post facto exuberance that goes beyond a fortnight or so to encompass the community in a grand athletic outreach.

The Commonwealth Games in Delhi last year transformed the city's infrastructure, had the people discovering and delighting in sports other than cricket and gave the country over a hundred medals. Now finally the government is, taking a cue from the best of international practices, opening the gates of the CWG venues for the city's people. For a small fee, the public can use the tracks of the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium and the pools of the S.P. Mukherjee Swimming Complex. There will be summer camps for children and concessional rates for girls. People below the poverty line will not have to make any payment to use the facilities that will be offered on a first-come-first-served basis. The baton passes on from sporting echelons to the commoner.

With this inclusionary gesture, the government is not just drawing in citizens as rightful stakeholders of the CWG heritage, but is also making up for its own gaffe. For, one of the most befuddling moments after CWG came when the government declined to bid for Asian Games 2019. It was a glaring refusal to acknowledge the CWG legacy and the sporting ethos it had infused the city with. Hopefully, the government is waking up from denial mode. It was, we should do well to remember, Manchester CWG 2002 that led in so many ways to London 2012. That's how sport's achievements gather pace across time; that is why a country should take ownership of the many inheritances of the Games.








Assume a company sells a brand of computers which the users love. Assume the company hardly faces any competition worth the name in the market as its technology and marketing package have left others far behind. Now, the third assumption: the company begins to offer a discount on its product for those who want to use it for their operations end to end. Question: is this anti-competitive behaviour? Sure, it is. Just notice, however, in all these stages the company has not merged any other company into its fold. But the abuse of dominance has played out despite the abstinence from any mergers and acquisitions (M&A). 

For a competition regulator, however, breaking through this sort of market dominance, achieved through pricing policies, is infinitely more troublesome than policing obvious activities like M&A. It will involve detective work to track pricing patterns, understanding the technology of the firms dominating a particular sector and then drawing up a case for trust-busting that can stand scrutiny in a court.

Admittedly, the Competition Commission of India (CCI) has had very little time to devote to this sort of painstaking work, as it has had a long tortuous route since its birth. But, presumably, these would also be the routes where abuse of competitive behaviour would be most manifest. For a firm bent on acquiring monopoly, or at least monopolistic power, it makes much more sense to build up control quietly than use M&A, which is like announcing your intentions to the regulator with a semaphore.

To that extent, how timely is the CCI's interest in M&A activities? The stakes are, of course, substantial. Data released by market tracker Mergermarket on Friday shows in the first quarter of 2011, Indian companies were involved in $18.3 billion worth of deals, that is a 270 per cent rise over the same period last year. Most of the deals were inbound. So we are certainly talking big money here. This is also the reason why companies are extremely keen to ensure that regulations fall on the easier side of compliance. To its credit, the CCI too has said its interest in M&A regulations is not to police the phenomenon but to weed out that which aims at cartelisation. 

The problem with the draft M&A regulations is three-fold. Industry will not say it upfront; but, buffeted by the upsurge within the government and civil society to subject it to regulations like the 2 per cent tax to finance corporate governance, the draft regulations look to them suspiciously like another document to keep companies from growing too big. From a stage where the prime minister was keen to obtain the industry perspective on most issues in early 2010, to one in April 2011 where even calling of a formal meeting of the Council of Trade and Industry is a political hot potato, the relations have deteriorated a lot. Bringing in M&A regulations at this stage is, therefore, not the best of ideas. 

One feels that once this overhang of mistrust dissipates, the concerns of industry will come down significantly. But, as of now, pushing ahead with the regulations will mean, for one, having to dilute the provisions sharply to win the support of the industry. That will leave the CCI with little to mount an inquiry. Else, if the CCI and he ministry of corporate affairs play hardball, the entire field of regulations may still have to be dropped in very messy circumstances, but that will make a return to this topic extremely difficult.

The second unstated apprehension of industry is the composition of the CCI. This has been pointed out earlier as well. While comparisons with foreign organisations are not always accurate, the difference between the CCI and the Federal Trade Commission of the US is largely in the personnel manning the two. Since the Indian body has been built with the staff from the earlier Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Commission, which had a very different mandate from the CCI, a question mark on the worldview of the personnel is bound to remain.

The third is the annoyance within industry about making the reportage of any M&A mandatory, from the original stated position of voluntary compliance. The voluntary approach was based on the UK model. The change was brought in on the basis of the report of the standing committee on finance that examined the initial set of regulations. This means that while the onus was earlier on the company to report such deals if it felt it would impact competition, it is now the CCI's headache to pore over each deal. 

This is quite in line with our sarkari mai-baap approach that refuses to acknowledge that responsibility must be shared in a mature polity. The CCI has to prove at every point that it is vigilant and anticipate every possible demon in the market before it okays a deal. But as of now it seems difficult that this provision will ever be rolled back. The Registrar of Companies, for instance, gets snowed under by balance sheets that fall far short of compliance standards but no one ever complains. 

As an aside, once the M&A regulations are notified, it will be impossible to ever merge any of the subsidiaries of the State Bank of India with it. A merger among any of the other public-sector banks will also become very tricky, but since the RBI or the banks have not shown any great hurry to get on with it, one can obviously live with it. 

The other issues which industry is livid about are procedural. For instance, there is the possible clash with the Sebi Takeover Code where the CCI has said any investment by a company which is above the threshold limit into any similar-sized company must be informed beforehand. These are something like the drafting issues that set the industry and the revenue department at loggerheads in the finance bill and are often the debris from budget preparations; they can be overcome. 

The writer is Executive Editor (News), 'The Financial Express',







Nepal Prime Minister Jhalanath Khanal's decision to expand the council of ministers by including members from his own party, the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML), is a clear indication that the radical alliance that came to power two months ago is facing a major crisis. The Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoists (UCPN-M), angry with the prime minister for refusing to give it the home portfolio, had decided not to propose new names for inclusion in the cabinet. Khanal finally administered the oath of office and secrecy to 13 members, all belonging to the CPN-UML, on April 13, even as he was being dubbed as an indecisive PM.

While the alliance between Khanal and the UCPN-M has suffered a setback, the prime minister has also been accused of choosing ministers from his party without consulting its senior leaders. To add to the troubles, the chief of the party's publicity cell, Pradip Gyawali, has revealed that the new MoS for finance, Lharkyal Sherpa, is a Free Tibet activist — a fact that could provoke China, which has taken eager interest in the politics of Nepal. Sherpa's choice might give the UCPN-M, which dominates the ruling alliance, an opportunity to hit out at the CPN-UML for having gone against the "sensitive interest" of the northern neighbour, much against the assurances given by the government of Nepal to China.

The deteriorating law and order situation in the capital Kathmandu is not helping Khanal. Within minutes of being designated as a minister with cabinet rank, Gokarna Bista was assaulted by "unknown criminals". He suffered multiple injuries on his head and shoulder.

Khanal, who also holds the home portfolio, has said that all his energies are directed at completing the drafting of the constitution by May 28, the new deadline, but no one is accepting it as an excuse for the state of law and order. Unpopular and ineffective, Khanal faces the prospect of the UCPN-M asking him to step down and supporting Prachanda, in deference to the understanding in writing reached on February 3 that the duo would head the government on a rotational basis.

Khanal has, however, been warned by his party not to succumb to Maoist pressures. But the only way he can continue in power is by appeasing the Maoists who give him the requisite numerical strength in the House.

The PM knows that pro-democracy parties, which are opposed to the emergence of a radical left alliance and its subsequent control of the government, are unlikely to come together to dislodge his government. So his tactic at the moment is to keep the Maoists on the right side and fix a fresh deadline for the writing of the constitution. That has, however, triggered a fear in democratic forces.

The radical left alliance is, meanwhile, ganging up against President Ram Baran Yadav, alleging that he is out to exercise power himself by bringing the Nepali Congress, Madhesh-based parties and the Nepal army together under an anti-left umbrella.

At the same time, former king Gyanendra seems to have made a move forward, asking parties to shun the politics of "exclusion" that they pursued four years ago. The message he gave to them was that the monarchy — in one form or the other — would be required for peace and political stability in the country, and that the radical slogan that had led to fragmentation of politics would not yield the desired results.

In a message given on the eve of the Nepali New Year on April 14 and during his interaction with mediapersons a week ago, he said the monarchy was not ousted by the Nepali people, who alone have the right to decide on the issue. He said political parties have proved a bigger failure than the monarchy since they have been unable to complete the peace process and deliver the constitution in over four years.

Some others who support the former king have gone a step further and claimed that neither peace nor a constitution acceptable to the people is possible without democratic and nationalist forces coming together. Otherwise, they all will be finished by radical left groups.

None of the political parties has come forward to challenge Gyanendra's statement. While the antagonists and victims of the radical left alliance are looking for an effective platform to counter it, one is not sure if the fear factor alone can unite democratic, nationalist and traditional forces.

The countdown has begun for Khanal as the leader of the government. While no one knows the nature of the political alternative that will emerge, hardly anyone will shed tears on the demise of the current leadership which has earned a reputation for corruption and inefficiency in so little time.







Conduct of the judge:

...A judge's obligation must start and end with his analysis of law, not with personal beliefs or preferences. The judge should not accept patronage through which he acquires office, preferential treatment or pre-retirement assignments. These can give rise to corruption if and when quid pro quo makes a demand on such judges.

Similarly, when a family member regularly appears before a judge, adverse public perception can affect the working of an institution like the judiciary. The active involvement of judges in community organisations has also evoked a similar response when their civil society associates appear as litigants before them. Frequent socialising with particular members of the legal profession or with the litigants, including potential litigants, is certain to raise, in the minds of others, the suspicion that the judge is susceptible to undue influence in the discharge of his duties.

In such a situation, judges must keep the part of impartial, objective, fearless and independent justice alive. A judge must inevitably choose to be a little aloof and isolated from the community at large. He should not be in contact with lawyers, individuals or political parties, their leaders or ministers unless it be on purely social occasions. When one enters the judges' world, one inevitably has to impose upon himself certain obvious restrictions. Judges owe a solemn duty to the community at large and from day to day they must ask themselves whether they have done or said anything which is inconsistent with the oath of office they have taken and which otherwise are consistent with their obligations as a judge.

One more aspect needs to be highlighted. Internal interference from a high ranking judge which, if resisted, could lead the lower ranking judge being transferred or being denied promotion also needs to be deprecated. Similarly, political protection should not be given to corrupt judges...

Structuring of Judgments:

Judgments are not to be written as simplified newspaper pieces for public consumption. The process of reasoning in a judgment should reflect its integrity and explain its conclusions. Judges must eschew any suggestion that duties of the judiciary are owed to the electorate; they are owed to the law, which is there for peace, order and good governance. Judges should account for exercise of judicial power, especially when pronouncing judgments of significance...

The judges of the Supreme Court of India should revisit the original constitutional proposition that courts do not substitute their social and economic beliefs for the judgment of legislative bodies, who are elected to enact laws. We are not concerned with the wisdom, need or appropriateness of the legislation. We must refuse to sit as a super-legislature to weigh the wisdom of legislation.

We must remember that our Constitution recognises separation of powers and that the legislatures and government can be made accountable for their legislation and actions by the electorate if they err. In many PILs, the courts freely decree rules of conduct for government and public authorities which are akin to legislation. Such exercises have little judicial function in them. Its justification is that the other branches of government have failed or are indifferent to the solution of the problem. In such matters, I am of the opinion that the courts should be circumspect in understanding the thin line between law and governance.

In such matters, the courts must try to ascertain whether the issue has a legal content or a political content. In the latter case, the courts should invoke the doctrine of deference.

The function of the courts is to review the acts of the legislature and not to substitute its own policies or values on the society or the legislature. We do not have the competence to make policy choices and run the administration. Judicial activism which is not grounded on textual commitment to the Constitution or the statute, unlike activism in cases of human rights and life and personal liberty raises questions of accountability of a judiciary whose members are not chosen by any democratic process and whose members are not answerable to the electorate or to the legislature or to the executive.

We, judges, should remember that the validity of our decisions cannot rest on popularity. Resisting the pressure to please the majority is the strength of the judiciary, not its weakness. Judges who invoke the Constitution to protect the rights of people and who declare a statute unconstitutional are not legislating from the bench, nor are they thwarting the will of the majority. They are merely carrying out their oath of office and following the rule of law.

In the context of the developing world wherein litigation impinges on the economy or commerce, many judges are cowed into submission rather than walk the tight rope of balancing the public interest and be tarred with the epitaph of "usurping the legislative function". Lawyers and the public, apart from criticising, must engage in constructively empowering the judiciary...

New questions of accountability:

Where the Constitution has not limited, either in terms or by necessary implication, the general powers conferred upon the legislature, the court cannot limit such powers upon any notion of the spirit of the Constitution. Well-established rules of interpretation require that the meaning and intention of the constitution framers must be ascertained from the language of the Constitution itself; with the motives of those who framed it, the Court has no concern.

At the same time the Constitution is not to be construed in a narrow pedantic sense and a broad liberal spirit should inspire those whose duty it is to interpret it. Constitution must be treated as a living organic thing. Hence, it should be interpreted on the principle that "it is better for a thing to have effect then to be made void". This principle is the basis of the presumption of constitutionality.

After 1980 the Court has changed its direction to securing the rights of citizens from arbitrary actions of the executive and creating a human rights jurisdiction by an enlarged meaning of Article 14 (the right to equality) and Article 21 (the right to life and personal freedom). Between them the court has for all practical purposes introduced the "due process provision" in the Indian Constitution in such matters.

In the so-called public interest litigations (PILs) the court freely decrees rules of conduct for government and public authorities which are akin to legislation and oversees their working. To give a few examples: the court in the interest of clean environment has ordered and supervised the use of clean fuel for vehicles in New Delhi; it has framed schemes of admission in educational institutions throughout India, and made the right to education into a fundamental right from a directive of state policy, and made guidelines to be adopted by public institutions for controlling sexual harassment of women in workplaces.

The jurisdictional peg on which it is done so is that such matters affect "the life" of the citizen under Article 21 of the Constitution. Its justification is that the other branches of government have failed or are indifferent to the solution of the problems. In such matters, the Court is acting in advance of the political branches of the government.

By and large such orders have been considered necessary and welcomed by the public, but the question which arises is — can judges ignore the separation of powers in the Constitution and become administrators, and do they have the competence to make policy choices and run administration? Legislatures and government can be made accountable for their legislation and actions by the electorate if they err...

Value-based Judicial Accountability and independence:

...Coming to judicial accountability, there is no difficulty in accepting the principle that in a society based on the rule of law and democratic principles of governance, every power holder is, in the final analysis, accountable to the people. The legislature is accountable to the electorate. The executive is indirectly accountable to the people through the elected legislature. There is no reason why the judiciary should not be accountable to the community for its due performance of the functions vested in it. Power is given on trust and judicial power is no exception.

The challenge, however, is to determine how the judiciary can be held to account, consistent with the principle of judicial independence. How does one achieve the right balance between autonomy in decision-making and independence from external forces on the one hand and accountability to the community on the other hand? While not recommending the regular election of judges or their recall by popular vote I would venture to suggest that judges, unlike legislators, ministers or public servants, should be accountable to the jurisdiction they serve through their absolute adherence to a set core of judicial values. Through inheritance of British constitutional principles judges in many Commonwealth countries are accountable to either the legislature or the executive, in the sense that one or the other of these two branches of government is vested by the constitution with the power to remove judges for proved misbehaviour or incapacity. At times this power has been grossly abused in some of the countries.

Judges inevitably end up in the political arena in deciding controversial cases — whichever side they rule. In resolving disputes between citizens and state or evaluating a constitutional issue, judges are forced to make decisions which are at times termed political. Judges are, however, not in a position to defend their judgments as they are bound by a code of silence. As stated above, judges should account for exercise of judicial power, especially when pronouncing judgments of significance. Public and media criticism of judges and judgments is a common feature today throughout the common law world. Like other public institutions, the judiciary must be subject to a fair criticism. But, what I am concerned with is response to criticism, particularly, criticism, that is illegitimate and irresponsible. In the context of such illegitimate and irresponsible criticism, it must be borne in mind that love for justice is rare — what most people desire is justice which favours them.

Our code of judicial conduct will meet its goal if a talented, hopeful young person looks in the mirror and sees in the reflection the desire to exemplify the standards of justice and the possibility of doing so.

Excerpted from the fifth M.C. Setalvad Memorial Lecture on Judicial Ethics, given by Chief Justice S.H. Kapadia in New Delhi on April 16







The World Cup cricket match between India and Pakistan at Mohali presented an opportunity for an extended meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani of Pakistan. And now, the two countries have expressed their willingness to resume a bilateral cricket series. This comes as a bit of surprise since it was only a few days back that Pakistani expatriate Tanwar Hussain Rana stated in a US court that his participation in the Mumbai attack of November 16, 2008, was at the instance of the Pakistan government and the ISI.

The Indian government has since clarified that there is no dilution of its stand on 26/11. Moreover, India may become party to the lawsuit filed in New York against ISI chief Ahmed Shuja Pasha and LeT leaders Hafiz Saeed and Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, and also tender evidence in this case.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's strong belief that Pakistan should be kept engaged by India, notwithstanding 26/11, has many critics. Pakistan has not so far given up terrorism as an instrument of state policy in its relations with India, formulated by General Zia in the '70s, with special attention to Kashmir.

The home secretaries' meeting in New Delhi saw Pakistan agree to an Indian investigative team visiting and examining some of the major 26/11 suspects. India on its part agreed to provide all its investigative material on the Samjhauta Express blasts.

At the Mohali meeting, Singh said that "we are neighbours and destiny requires that we should find cooperative solution to all the problems we face". Gilani said that notwithstanding the difficulties and differences faced by the two countries, Pakistan wanted to move towards a comprehensive broad-ranging engagement with India.

Though Gilani described the Mohali discussions as a win-win situation, the Pakistan foreign office spokesperson, Tehmina Janjua, described the situation as one of guarded optimism.

So what are the ground realities in this exchange? Pakistan is increasingly submerged in political and religious violence. Peter Lavoy, the US national intelligence officer for South Asia, reportedly briefed the NATO's permanent representatives that despite the impending economic catastrophe, Pakistan was producing nuclear weapons faster than any other country. Dr. Lavoy described both Al Qaeda and the Taliban as existential threats, which still continue to enjoy governmental and ISI support. The assassination of Pakistan's Punjab governor Salman Taseer and minority affairs minister Shahbaz Bhatti went unmourned by the government. General Kayani reportedly felt that any condemnation might trigger problems since there were many in the army who were sympathetic to the objective of the assassins. Kayani is perceived as a major obstacle to an India-Pakistan deal according to one of the WikiLeaks cables recently released. The deal between Gen. Musharraf and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, which was nearing the final stage, was sabotaged by Kayani.

Everybody is agreed that Pakistan is in a dangerous state. General Musharraf conceded in an interview to Time magazine recently that extremism and terrorism were bigger threats to Pakistan than India. However, he went on to add that Pakistan could not ignore India that posed as an existential threat to Pakistan. Pakistan's promotion of cross-border terrorism in Kashmir is not considered terrorism per se, was the view expressed by no less a person than Musharaf during his official visit to Turkey. Meanwhike, jihadi attacks and violence continue to wrack the country, as Taliban bombers attack Sufi shrines.

There is however, no alternative except to persist with the dialogue with Pakistan at all levels, governmental as well as people-to-people. India rightly believes that given a strong economy and good political governance, Pakistan would promote good relations with India. Sooner or later, things are going to change, as they have even in frozen states like Libya, Egypt, Yemen, etc. Till then, India must wait, and meanwhile look after its own security.

At the government level, after the meeting of foreign secretaries at the SAARC conference in Thimphu, followed by the meeting of home secretaries in Delhi in March, the foreign ministers of India and Pakistan are slated to meet in July. The possibility of a composite dialogue between India and Pakistan would naturally depend upon the outcome of that meeting. Till then, India has to wait and watch, and hope for the best.

The writer is a former IB chief and governor of Sikkim, West Bengal and UP






The juiciest story behind the Middle East uprisings doesn't concern Col Gaddafi's "voluptuous" Ukrainian nurse or CIA bags of cash. Rather, it's the tale of how a nonviolent revolutionary strategy crafted by Serbian students and an octogenarian American scholar came to challenge dictators in Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain and many other countries.

This "uprising in a bottle" blueprint was developed by the Serbian youth movement, Otpor, to overthrow Slobodan Milosevic in 2000. One of Otpor's insights was that the most effective weapon against dictators isn't bombs or fiery speeches. It's mockery. Otpor activists once put Milosevic's picture on a barrel that they rolled down the street, inviting people to hit it with a bat. Otpor's strategy mirrors one promoted by a rumpled Boston academic named Gene Sharp, who is little known in America but inspires tremors among dictators abroad. Sharp's guide to toppling despots has been translated into 34 languages so far and was widely circulated in Egypt last year in Arabic.

After Otpor toppled Milosevic, it began to hold seminars for pro-democracy activists from other parts of the world, including many from the Middle East. "About 15 of us went to Serbia from Egypt," Mohammed Adel, one of the leaders of Egypt's awesome April 6 Youth Movement, which helped lead the way in overthrowing President Hosni Mubarak, told me a few days ago. "The methods we learned from Serbia are what we are using in Cairo." A crucial lesson, he said, is the power of nonviolence: "If somebody is beating you, don't attack him. Don't use any violence against them. Just take photos of them and put them on the Internet."

Toppling dictators is only one application of this kind of grass-roots movement. One of the most exciting trends in the struggle against poverty and social pathologies such as crime is the use of similar youth-owned movements to change cultural norms from the bottom up. From the 1970s through the 1990s, nothing seemed to work to dissuade teenagers from smoking. Television commercials warned that smoking kills you or turns your teeth yellow, but teenagers felt invulnerable. And with adults united in disapproval of teenage smoking, what better way for adolescents to rebel than to cough their way through a cigarette? Then in the late-1990s, some frustrated anti-smoking campaigners showed teenagers how cigarette companies were manipulating them into addiction. Starting in Florida, the teenagers then designed a series of funny and withering commercials. One depicted a couple of teenagers telephoning an ad agency that promoted cigarettes. The kids tried to give the agency a prize for killing teenagers in large numbers, flummoxing the staff.

The youth campaign spread to other states and avoided any goody-two-shoes message of "don't smoke." It channeled kids to rebel against tobacco instead of rebelling by using tobacco. Florida had the biggest one-year drop in high school and middle school smoking of any state in two decades. The high school smoking rate dropped in half in less than a decade.

Another example is an extraordinarily successful effort to improve the performance of black college students in calculus. Started at the University of California, Berkeley, after black students there earned an average grade of D+ in calculus, it puts blacks and Hispanics into small groups to provide peer support, and participants by some measures now outperform white and Asian students.

Sometimes the most powerful force for social change is a bunch of irreverent and wise-cracking students, working together.







With intra-BRICS trade ($230 bn) accounting for well under 1% of total global trade ($30 tn), it is obvious there will be a limited impact of the Sanya declaration that intra-BRICS trade will take place in local currencies. Certainly it will have no impact on the dollar's standing as the world's reserve currency even though there has been considerable disquiet over this for some time now—the World Bank once hinted at taking another look at the gold standard. What's important, however, is the symbolism of the declaration and the fact that, with the growth in the BRICS, it is obvious BRICS currencies must have more play in the international currency architecture.

That said, at the end of the day, however, the question is a simple one: Why would any country hold a currency? Since the US and the EU are the dominant trading partners, an exporter holding renminbi (RMB) or real or rand instead of dollars needs to find a way to use the surplus currencies. Given that the currency that is looking to increase its global role is the RMB, the question is about what those holding the RMB will do with it? Will China open up its financial markets to foreign investors? Not likely. While the rhetoric is good, it is unlikely India would like to hold part of its forex reserves in RMB or the real if the non-BRICS world sees little value in them.

The other issue relating to use of such currency directs us back to the problem of the euro. The euro has run into problems as some of the members have turned out to be rogue countries, which have fudged their economic numbers. Do we have inherent trust in each other's economies? The answer is no. China is a global power, but the numbers are opaque. Russia has a different form of governance and is still highly dependent on oil. Brazil gets extravagant at times, and South Africa is a mixed bag. To come back to basics, such a theory would work

provided these five nations assiduously follow a common economic goal in terms of, say, fiscal deficits, inflation targeting, interest rate harmony and so on, which were agreed on by the euro nations. If this agenda is not in place, there would be a fundamental flaw in the model and it will not work. There are lessons to be learnt from having the

dollar as the anchor currency and the cracks in the euro. By creating a system analogous to the euro of accepting domestic currency for trade, we may be creating a problem—while the BRICS have a common political-based economic agenda, the economies are at different levels and do not justify such a move. Let us hold on to the dollar until something better can evolve.





The time for producing the revised draft negotiating texts to conclude the Doha round negotiations will run out by Easter, the date by which the members have agreed to produce the draft. But as pointed out by the WTO director-general Pascal Lamy, the gaps are still too wide in a range of issues. The costs of the non-round to the world economy, and especially to the smaller and least developed countries, which are more dependent on multilateral trade rules, are large. The biggest stumbling block at this stage, according to Lamy, are the Nama sectorals, which are about the proposals to allow for duty-free or lower-than-normal duty on imports in particular sectors within the Non-Agricultural Market Access (Nama) negotiations. Other issues also persist, including those related to agriculture, services, special treatment for developing and smaller countries, and subsidies for cotton and fisheries. The failure to reach a consensus even after 9 years of almost continuous negotiations has taken a toll. The hope for concluding the negotiations has dipped as the slowdown in the global economy has further eroded the already thin political support for larger giveaways by either developed or developing countries and sustain globalisation.

The larger global economies have sought to defray the costs of the failure of multilateral negotiations by forging free trade agreements. Countries like China, Japan and Korea have been at the forefront of negotiating regional trade agreements (RTAs). As many as 114 of the 297 RTAs currently in force have originated after the Doha round in November 2001 and, of these, more than half are in Asia. Such preferential agreements not only undermine the incentives for further trade liberalisation on a multilateral basis but may also prove costly as they distort trade patterns, because such regional agreements often cause trade diversion from third countries to the members of the regional pact. If this causes a shift of resources from more efficient external producers to inefficient producers within the regional pact, the impact can be harmful. RTAs also create rent opportunities for various groups who are likely to block further liberalisation efforts. The broad consensus is that a proliferation of RTAs without an accompanying multilateral trade liberalisation would result in costly trade diversion. So, India should take up a proactive approach to the successful conclusion of the Doha round. One reason for optimism is the better-than-expected pick-up in global trade in 2010, which should leave a little more political capital to the negotiators.





At the outset let me announce my deep respect and professional regard for the four industry veterans—Ratan Tata, NR Narayana Murthy, AM Naik and YC Deveshwar—whose impending superannuation is creating much media noise of late. I have interviewed/met three of the four in the past, and have found them worthy of every bit of praise they're generally heaped with—visionary leaders, business colossuses and all that.

Infosys's Murthy has stridden the Indian IT industry like a tall statesman for close to three decades now, the time he saw his $250 fledgling morph into a $5.7 billion raptor. In the last 20 years he has been at the helm, Ratan Tata has transformed the $2 billion Tata Group into a $67 billion Indian multinational, with its corporate flag flying high in industries and geographies hitherto considered to be the sole domain of developed market transnationals. L&T's AM Naik has led the $10 billion software-to-rigs behemoth from the front since 1999, and led it to victory in many a bruising battle. ITC's YC Deveshwar took the reins of the firm at a far from favourable time—recollect the 1995-96 messy shareholders' fight and ignominious departure of the then chairman KL Chugh—and turned the cigarette major into one of the country's biggest, and most respected consumer goods & hospitality companies.

But, of late, word coming out from these hallowed organisations on how they view the current succession plans, and more importantly the current incumbent, should be cause for some concern for the yet to be identified/named new chiefs. "Our committee has come to the conclusion that we cannot find a replacement for Mr Tata!" And that the committee may have to "rearrange the model," to make it easier for the new chief to manage the hydra-headed group. This from a senior group manager and a member of the five-member search panel mandated to find a successor to Ratan Tata. Dispensing the operating companies-specific part of the Tata chief's job with that of being the principal shareholder (as chairman of holding firm, Tata Sons) is desirable and so is the search panel's reported bias for young Tata-ites to be inducted in the Tata Sons board, and reducing the retirement age on non-executive directors from 75 to 70. But what I find hard to understand is the need to publicly pronounce the incumbent as a kind of a "super-human"—"we cannot find a replacement for Mr Tata"—the only one who could manage "an extremely large, complex and diverse" group, though surely the group will have a new chief come December 2012, as Ratan Tata has made abundantly clear that he is not hanging on beyond that. After all, with every passing decade, businesses are only getting more complex, diverse and large and the one Ratan Tata is leaving is surely more of all these than the one he inherited from the legendary JRD Tata. In 1991, when he took over from JRD, no one gave him half a chance to bring order to a chaotic organisation with prima donnas galore, but all credit to Ratan Tata for showing such a stupendous success. Is the intent here then merely to pay obeisance to one of India's finest business leaders or does it tantamount to pre-judging the new chief, whosoever she/he may be?

Move over to L&T, where Naik has announced virtually splitting the company into nine entities, each with its own CEO, in an attempt to simplify management of the conglomerate. There has been persistent, though unverified talk of splitting the group-wide chairman & MD's post, wherein Naik continues as chairman well beyond his September 2012 superannuation. Something similar is under way at ITC, where the incumbent chief Deveshwar is reportedly angling for an extension beyond April 2012, to see through the group's initiatives in food and personal care. Although Infosys's Murthy has long given up executive positions, and is slated to relinquish the non-executive chairman's chair later this year, he will continue as chairman Emeritus even as a new non-executive chairman and CEO takes guard this August.

At the risk of being accused of being uncharitable to undoubtedly the finest business leaders that India has seen after liberalisation, is there a tendency here to hang on and/or create an aura of indispensability? The affliction of perennially being there in some role or another that characterises Indian politicians—when was the last time you heard a politician fade away voluntarily?—seems to have bitten businessmen too.

True, people like Naik or Deveshwar are super-achievers, and sometimes the organisation may need to turn back to them for advice and leadership even after the normal retirement age or the first innings—much like the case with Apple's Steve Jobs or Coke's Neville Isdell who came back from wilderness and retirement to lead their troubled companies back to glory.

But to have them back was the choice the new management and shareholders took, after much bungling by the new leadership. And Jobs's and Isdell's stature has only grown by quitting first, only to be back because the company needed them desperately. And coming back is not always the trend. Jack Welch, the most successful business executive in American history, retired at 65 years, after seeing GE's market cap go up from $14 billion to over $410 billion in 2001, which has since tumbled to around $212 billion, without anyone even suggesting putting a call to Welch!





The big question facing global markets is how investors will react to the impact of the exit from quantitative easing (QE) by the US Federal Reserve and European Central Bank (ECB). One increasingly popular view among market participants and commentators has been that the end of QE would be negative for emerging market equities. These concerns are based on the assumption that QE created liquidity that flowed into emerging markets, and that economic prospects in developed markets are now improving (one of the reasons for exiting the stimulus) and will, therefore, attract relatively more capital than emerging economies, which are still struggling with inflation.

This view is both incomplete and fails to adequately take into account how investors will rebalance their global portfolios as they evaluate prospective returns and risks across developed and emerging markets.

A look at the relative performance of developed and emerging equity markets does not support the assumption that QE-created liquidity boosted investment flows into emerging markets equities. Instead, developed markets have outperformed emerging market equities since September 2010, just after the Fed first brought up the idea of a second round of quantitative easing. Indeed, one of the Fed's main rationales for QE2 was that it would support returns in US financial markets and thereby boost confidence in the economy. And in that, the Fed was successful: the liquidity-fuelled rally was in developed markets, not emerging markets.

Now take the inflation argument. It is true that emerging markets are facing higher inflation, but it is also true that developed markets are seeing rising inflation as well. The crucial difference is that while emerging markets have been fighting inflation for some time now, and some are beginning to show some positive results, developed country central banks are only just beginning to wake up to the problem. With its April 7 rate hike, the ECB has begun addressing inflation, but the Fed still remains in denial about inflation.

Global investors will respond to the end of QE2 by evaluating the following inter-related issues: Where, in their investment portfolio, they can achieve the best prospective returns at the margin and where they are either over- or under-invested, given those expected returns.

Investors were underweight in emerging markets last year relative to developed markets. That made sense at the time, given rising inflation in major emerging market economies, including India and China, and the equity rally in the US. But now the situation is different: developed countries are at the risk of being behind the curve on inflation while some emerging markets are seeing success in their attempts to fight inflation. In this new context, it makes sense to exit developed market equities, the US in particular, and start rebalancing portfolios back into emerging market equities. This rebalancing will boost flows to emerging markets.

The emerging market economies that stand to benefit the most from this rebalancing out of developed markets are those where policymakers have succeeded in getting on top of inflation. By this criterion, India will lag, along with Brazil, while China and Russia are positioned to attract fresh investment flows.

Among the BRICs, Russia is currently the most favourably positioned.

Inflation appears to have peaked in early February at 9.6% and is now coming down. Growth is steady, with strong demand for natural gas and oil, and high oil prices are keeping the fiscal deficit under control. The combination of sustained growth and falling inflation will ensure strong equity market performance.

China, too, is heading into a sweet spot. Measures to curb loan growth will help moderate inflationary pressures without severely impacting growth, which will remain between 9% and 10%. We expect inflation to peak in the next two to three months before falling back to the 4-5% range in the second half of the year. Investors have factored in an imminent peaking of inflation and are already starting to increase allocations to China.

The situation in Brazil is more muddled. After having been very aggressive in its anti-inflation measures, the central bank recently refocused policy away from hiking interest rates to include so-called macroprudential measures in order to prevent further appreciation of the real. The result is that investors no longer have a clear view of how the government will seek to control inflation, now at more than 6%, if it avoids further interest rate hikes to avoid a stronger real. Until this is clarified, the new policy will constrain Brazilian equities.

The near-term outlook for India's inflation fighting efforts are even less promising. Inflation remains higher than government forecasts and higher than that of other major emerging economies. RBI's tightening programme has yet to convince market participants that it is ahead of the curve on inflation. Progress on reducing subsidies is piecemeal and slow at best. Mounting investor concerns about corruption have yet to meet a correspondingly serious and far-sighted response from the government. Overall, investors are being led to believe that the government's growth bias—a dash for growth—trumps all else, including controlling inflation. In this context, and despite the recent rally in equity prices, investors are likely to remain on the sidelines.

The author is global markets director of the research service, Trusted Sources—







In granting bail to Binayak Sen, the doctor who was convicted earlier this year by a trial court in Chhattisgarh, the Supreme Court has sent a clear message to the lower judiciary and law enforcement agencies throughout the country: the charge of sedition should not be bandied about lightly. Although the court passed only a one-line order, the observations made by Justices H.S. Bedi and C.K. Prasad during oral arguments on Friday add up to a scathing indictment of the weak case the Chhattisgarh government put up against the paediatrician and human rights activist. Their remarks also suggest the trial court did not apply its mind to the case. Justices Bedi and Prasad demolished two key parts of the prosecution's case during the bail hearing. First, they said the mere possession of Maoist literature did not make a person a Maoist. Secondly, and more crucially, they noted that since jailors supervised every meeting Dr. Sen had with Narayan Sanyal — the jailed Maoist leader whose messages he allegedly helped smuggle out — "the question of passing letters or documents does not arise." If Chhattisgarh had a professional police force and well-functioning judiciary, these glaring weaknesses in the case against Dr. Sen would have been spotted at the very beginning of the legal process and the charges thrown out. Sadly, it has required the highest court in the country to lay this bare before the world.

In legal terms, Dr. Sen's appeal against his conviction will now continue at the Bilaspur High Court but the endgame, should that forum uphold the charge of sedition, is clear: going by its own observations, the Supreme Court is likely to acquit him eventually. Unfortunately, the Binayak Sen case is not the only Chhattisgarh-related matter involving blatant injustice to come to New Delhi. For the past two years, the Supreme Court has been considering a public interest litigation petition on the role of officially sponsored anti-Maoist vigilantes who have been responsible for the death and displacement of adivasis on a large scale. Though the Chhattisgarh government has repeatedly assured the court that the vigilante squads have been disbanded, it has dragged its feet on the registration of criminal cases and the provision of compensation for the victims of violence. Moreover, as the well-documented attack on innocent tribals in Tarmetla and other villages by the security forces last month demonstrates, vigilantism continues to exact a terrible human toll in the State. With the Raman Singh government refusing to accept responsibility for the appalling state of affairs in Dantewada, the one hope the adivasis of the region have for justice is with the Supreme Court.





After a voyage of nearly eight billion kilometres that took over six and a half years, the Messenger spacecraft has settled down to its task of scientifically surveying Earth's enigmatic sibling, the planet Mercury. Recently, the American space probe began sending back images of that far away world, the first to be taken from a spacecraft in orbit around it. It is now 37 years since the Mariner-10 probe, which too had been despatched by the United States' National Aeronautics and Space Administration, provided images of that terra incognita as it thrice flew past the innermost planet in the Solar System. While the Mariner-10 could image less than half the planet, the Messenger (an acronym for MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry and Ranging) will cover all of it with 75,000 high-resolution images and also send back data from a variety of onboard instruments. The first such image shows in great detail a 90-km-wide crater called 'Debussy' located in the South Pole, an area that was never seen before. Protected by a shade from the Sun's scorching heat, the Messenger's science mission will last a year as time is measured on Earth. But that is equivalent to just two Mercury days because the planet takes 176 Earth days to complete one rotation. So, although the probe is circling the planet once every 12 hours, it will be able to view any place on the surface under similar lighting conditions only twice during its mission. By combining information from images taken from two different angles, the topography of the planet can be mapped.

Mercury, one of the four inner rocky planets like Earth, could hold the key to understanding the formation and evolution of the planets in the Solar System. It is the smallest and densest of these planets; has the oldest surface; and experiences the largest daily surface temperature variations. Aside from imaging the planet, the mission has been designed to provide answers to six key questions: the planet's density; its geologic history; the internal magnetic field; the materials at its poles; its exosphere; and the structure of its core. The answers to these questions will help unlock many scientific secrets. For instance, knowing the size and nature of Mercury's core will make it possible to decipher its high density and possession of an internal magnetic field that is akin to the Earth's. Diverse data from Mariner-10's flyby of Mercury provided insights into its unknown features and raised questions about the then-prevalent theories. The next year promises to be rich in planetary surprises, as vast amounts of data from the Messenger come flooding back.







The one country which should be most worried about the current unrest in the Arab world is Israel. Though its leaders did express anxiety, particularly when Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak finally announced his political demise, Israel's actions do not betray any sense of nervousness; otherwise, it would have taken some initiative to revive the long-dead peace process and end its political vulnerability. It is concentrating its energy to thwart the Palestinian plan to move the United Nations, in autumn this year, for a formal recognition of a Palestinian state — that has received a ringing endorsement from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank which have certified the Palestinian Authority as fully capable of running the economy of an independent state — but does not see the need to offer incentives to the Palestinians to rethink their strategy. On the contrary, it continues to build hundreds of new settlements in complete disregard of the sentiment among the international community. Israel knows U.S. President Barack Obama is already in re-election mode and will not jeopardise his chances by alienating Israel and the all-powerful Jewish lobby. Having been snubbed once by the Israeli Prime Minister, Mr. Netanyahu, Mr. Obama is understandably reluctant to take him on again. Furthermore, Israel seems to be getting ready for another strike — Cast Lead II — against Gaza in retaliation for the rockets launched against its territory from the Gaza strip. The deployment of the 'Iron Dome,' which is the latest Israeli gadget to shatter incoming missiles, is evidence enough of Israel's intentions. From Israel's viewpoint, the timing may be right as world attention is focussed on Libya and the Arab countries.

The Arab public is not hostile to America as such, but strongly disapproves America's foreign policy. The single most important cause of resentment is America's stance on the Palestinian issue. Mr. Obama's decision to tackle this problem at a very early stage in his presidency was recognition of this fact. But the Palestinian issue ought to be of great interest and concern to the rest of the international community as well. It provides an immensely popular excuse to Al-Qaeda and other assorted terrorists. An unstable Middle East, that is likely to become more volatile following the current unrest in the Arab world, will have disastrous consequences for the energy sector. The new Arab administrations will be more supportive of the Palestinian cause, partly because they will be more reflective of their peoples' sentiments and partly to counter the growing influence of Iran in the region, which has acquired an unprecedented amount of clout in the affairs of the region. The Palestinians have had nothing to do with this phenomenon of increased Iranian influence. In fact, it is Israel and the U.S which have created the space for Iran in the Palestinian dispute by refusing to recognise the result of a democratic election back in 2006, but that does not prevent Israel from using the Iranian card vis-à-vis the West. The old Shia-Sunni and Saudi Arabia-Iran rivalry has grown fiercer than ever.

The basic problem is Israel's continued illegal occupation of Palestinian lands. So long as the occupation continues, the tensions and probability of another Arab-Israeli conflict, or at least another intifada, with its attendant disastrous consequences will remain. There are three possible scenarios for dealing with the issue. Of these, continuation of the status quo is not tenable and is less in the interest of Israel than of the Palestinians, since it will eventually lead to a Palestinian-majority single state. For this very reason, the Palestinians need not show too much impatience with the current situation because time is on their side. Of the other two alternatives, namely a one-state or two-state solution, the first one, as a conscious decision, has to be ruled out as being completely unacceptable to the Jewish side, one should add, for understandable reasons. The whole world, including even Israel at least in words, favours the two-state solution. It is the world as a whole which needs to stir itself if it is serious about tackling the issue while there is time. India, as a part of this world — we think an important part — must do its bit in this effort.

The contours of a possible two-state solution have been defined for a long time. They were first outlined in a non-paper, known as the Abu Mazen-Yosi Beillin document of 1995. There have been several other efforts since then — the Clinton parameters, the Taba negotiations, the Geneva Initiative, etc. Dozens of meetings held between the former Israeli Prime Minister, Mr. Ehud Olmert, and the Palestinian President, Mr. Mahmoud Abbas, had helped in narrowing differences on most issues. WikiLeaks have revealed the extent of concessions which the Palestinian side was ready to make to reach the goal of two states; the Israelis have absolutely no justification in claiming that they do not have a 'partner' on the Palestinian side. The division in the Palestinian national movement should not become a pretext for inaction. On the contrary, the Palestinians could, with good reason, argue that they are lacking an interlocutor with the required political courage to take what would undoubtedly be difficult decisions. The international community must endeavour to help both sides overcome their political weaknesses. They can do this by offering, not a detailed blueprint, which the two parties must directly negotiate with each other, but a set of principles or parameters which would demand each side to make matching concessions, while at the same time protecting their core concerns.

The principles could be along the following lines:

The right of the Palestinian people to national self-determination must be recognised

The aim is to have two states, Israel and Palestine, living within secure, defined and recognised borders

The area of the Palestinian state should be equal in size to the total area of the West Bank which is 22 per cent of the mandated Palestinian territory

Palestine must be compensated, in quality and quantity, for any land that might be absorbed in Israel to enable large, concentrated groups of Israeli settlers to live in Israel

Palestinian refugees will have the right to settle in the territory of the new Palestinian state. They will have the option of claiming compensation for their properties and settle in the countries of their domicile subject to the consent of the 'host' countries. The international community shall set up a fund to compensate the refugees as well as the 'host' countries. A certain number of refugees, whose exact number will have to be agreed among the parties, will return to Israel on family reunification and other humanitarian considerations

The Palestinian capital, Al Quds, shall be located in East Jerusalem. Appropriate arrangements, involving international or United Nations supervision, shall be put in place to guarantee access for adherents of all faiths to their places of worship

A fair and equitable system providing for access to water for both states will have to be worked out. Water is an appropriate subject for regional cooperation.

These parameters could be amended, added to or subtracted from, with new ones added, etc.

India, as a responsible and concerned member of the international community, must not be content with merely repeating the usual mantra of supporting 'two states living side by side in good neighbourly relations.' It can and should take the lead in promoting an approach on the lines indicated above. India can do this by itself, but it would be more effective if it could persuade its partners in the India, Brazil and South Africa Dialogue Forum (IBSA), BRIC or BRICS (Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa), etc, all of whom consist of like-minded countries, to subscribe to some such principles for a just settlement of the Palestinian issue. It is the duty and obligation of the entire global community to do what it can to make it easier for the two principal parties to take the needed political courage to reach a compromise solution, instead of merely blaming the Americans for not doing enough to bring about a settlement to this long-festering dispute.

( Chinmaya R. Gharekhan served as India's special envoy for West Asia and is a former U.N. under secretary general.)








The Obama administration has begun seeking a country, most likely in Africa, that might be willing to provide shelter to Col. Muammar el-Qadhafi if he were forced out of Libya, even as a new wave of intelligence reports suggest that no rebel leader has emerged as a credible successor to the Libyan dictator.

The intense search for a country to accept Colonel Qadhafi has been conducted quietly by the United States and its allies, even though the Libyan leader has shown defiance in recent days, declaring that he has no intention of yielding to demands that he leave his country, and intensifying his bombardment of the rebel city of Misurata.

The effort is complicated by the likelihood that he would be indicted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague for the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Scotland in 1988, and atrocities inside Libya.

One possibility, according to three administration officials, is to find a country that is not a signatory to the treaty that requires countries to turn over anyone under indictment for trial by the court, perhaps giving Colonel Qadhafi an incentive to abandon his stronghold in Tripoli.

The move by the United States to find a haven for Colonel Qadhafi may help explain how the White House is trying to enforce President Obama's declaration that the Libyan leader must leave the country but without violating Mr. Obama's refusal to put troops on the ground.

The United Nations Security Council has authorised military strikes to protect the Libyan population, but not to oust the leadership. But Mr. Obama and the leaders of Britain and France, among others, have declared that to be their goals, apart from the military campaign.

'Lessons from Iraq'

"We learned some lessons from Iraq, and one of the biggest is that Libyans have to be responsible for regime change, not us," one senior administration official said on April 16. "What we're simply trying to do is find some peaceful way to organise an exit, if the opportunity arises."

About half of the countries in Africa have not signed or ratified the Rome Statute, which requires nations to abide by commands from the international court. (The United States has also not ratified the statute, because of concerns about the potential indictment of its soldiers or intelligence agents.) Italy's Foreign Minister, Franco Frattini, suggested late last month that several African countries could offer Colonel Qadhafi a haven, but he did not identify them.

Even though Colonel Qadhafi has had close business dealings with the leaders of countries like Chad, Mali and Zimbabwe, and there have been pro-Qadhafi rallies elsewhere recently across the continent, it was unclear which, if any, nations were emerging as likely candidates to take in Colonel Qadhafi. The African Union has been quietly sounding out potential hosts, but those negotiations have been closely guarded.

As the drama over Colonel Qadhafi's future has intensified, new details are emerging of the month-long North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) bombing campaign, which, in the minds of many world leaders, has expanded into a campaign to press the Libyan military and Colonel Qadhafi's aides to turn against him.

That effort has gone more slowly than some expected; after the defection of the former intelligence chief, Moussa Koussa, no other senior officials have broken with the man who has ruled Libya for 42 years.

Six countries — Britain, Norway, Denmark, France, Canada and Belgium — have provided more than 60 aircraft that are conducting airstrikes against Libyan targets that attack civilians. But NATO commanders say they are still struggling to come up with at least eight more warplanes to ensure the alliance can sustain a longer-term operation and relieve strain on pilots now flying repeated combat missions.

The United States, which carried out the largest share of strike missions before handing off control of the operation to NATO on April 4, has promised additional fighter-bombers and ground-attack planes if NATO requests them. While some European officials have privately complained that the United States should resume a leading role in the missions, American officials say they have not received any formal requests for more aircraft.

Benjamin J. Rhodes, a Deputy National Security Adviser to Mr. Obama, asserted that in a month's time the coalition has accomplished three major objectives: saving the de facto rebel capital of Benghazi from becoming the site of a civilian atrocity, setting up an international command to protect civilians and clear the skies of Libyan aircraft, and providing modest amounts of humanitarian assistance.

Still, the NATO countries flying ground-attack missions operate under different degrees of caution when striking targets that could hurt civilians or damage mosques, schools or hospitals, complicating the campaign, a senior American military official said. Some pilots have refused to drop their bombs for this reason, the official said, but allied air-war planners cannot predict which pilots will be matched against particular targets.

"Without a doubt, it is frustrating working through all this to get maximum effect for our efforts and dealing with all these variants," said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid upsetting coalition partners.

Fear of tribal warfare

American officials concede that the rebel leaders have not settled on who might succeed Colonel Qadhafi if he is ousted, and some fear that tribal warfare could break out if there is no consensus figure who could bind the country together.

White House officials say that while they would have liked to see Colonel Qadhafi depart already, they believe that pressure is building.

"There are aspects of the passage of time that work against Qadhafi, if we can cut him off from weapons, material and cash," Mr. Rhodes said. He added that "it affects the calculations of the people around him. But it will take time for the opposition group to gel."

This month, an American envoy, Chris Stevens, was sent to Benghazi to learn more about the Transitional National Council. The group has pledged to work toward new presidential and parliamentary elections after Colonel Qadhafi's ouster, uphold human rights, draft a constitution and encourage the formation of political parties. Mr. Stevens is expected to stay as long as a month, security permitting, State Department officials said.

The United Nations special envoy to Libya, Abdelilah al-Khatib, a former Jordanian foreign minister, is also meeting with opposition figures, as well as with members of Colonel Qadhafi's government to explore possible diplomatic settlement.

Perhaps the most prominent member of the government in waiting is Mahmoud Jibril, a planning expert who defected from the Qadhafi government. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has met twice with Mr. Jibril, who American diplomats say is the group's most polished and savvy public figure. He also spoke to several NATO, Arab and African ministers who gathered in Doha, Qatar, last Wednesday to discuss the Libya crisis.

Another leading council member is Ali Tarhouni, who was appointed finance minister of the rebels' shadow government. Mr. Tarhouni, who teaches economics at the University of Washington, returned to Libya in February after more than 35 years in exile to advise the opposition on economic matters.

"With respect to the opposition, we are learning more all the time," Mrs. Clinton said in Berlin on April 15. "We are pooling our information. There are a number of countries that have significant ties to members of the oppositions, who have a presence in Benghazi that enables them to collect information. Our envoy is still in Benghazi and meeting with a broad cross-section of people."

Mrs. Clinton told NATO ministers that the coalition had acknowledged the transitional council was "a legitimate and important interlocutor for the Libyan people."

She added: "We all need to deepen our engagement with and increase our support for the opposition." ( Steven Lee Myers contributed reporting from Berlin.) — © New York Times News Service







Even before the troubled Fukushima nuclear plant has been brought under control, two conglomerates vying for contracts in an eventual clean-up are estimating that the effort could take 10 years — or 30.

The widely divergent outlooks underscore the basic uncertainties clouding any forecast for Fukushima: when cooling stems will be restored and radiation emission halted; how soon workers can access some parts of the plant; and how bad the damage to the reactors, their fuel, and nearby stored fuel turns out to be. The United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission has warned that at least one reactor's fuel may even have leaked out of the reactor pressure vessel, something that has never before happened in a nuclear accident.

A global team led by Hitachi said on April 14 that it would take at least three decades to return the site to what engineers refer to as a "green field" state, meaning within legal limits of radiation for any residents. Toshiba, Japan's biggest supplier of nuclear reactors, said it could take as little as 10 years

Both companies have large nuclear-related businesses and appear to be eager to speak about endgame scenarios to a crisis that has heightened global public mistrust over nuclear power. There are also billions of dollars likely at stake in the clean-up, which could help Hitachi and Toshiba buoy their sinking bottom lines. The two said this week that annual profits would fall short of their forecasts because of the widespread disruptions in production and supply chains.

At a roundtable with reporters on April 14, Toshiba's chief executive, Norio Sasaki, wielded an inch-thick proposal outlining the dismantlement plan submitted to the plant's operator, Tokyo Electric Power, last week. Hitachi has presented a competing plan.

Three Mile Island, Chernobyl

The scale and complexity of the challenge is unprecedented. No nuclear reactor has ever been fully decommissioned in Japan, let alone the four certain to be dismantled at Fukushima, after being flooded with seawater to avert meltdowns, and after suffering explosions and other damage. The final fate of the two other reactors there has not been announced, but they too may need to be decommissioned.

The accident at Three Mile Island in 1979 involved just one reactor, and though there was a partial meltdown of the nuclear fuel rods, the chamber holding them did not rupture. The clean-up there still took 14 years and cost about $1 billion. (Two reactors that continue to operate at the site are set to be decommissioned in 2014.)

Recovery from the disaster at Chernobyl in 1986, meanwhile, is an example engineers are not eager to study. Following the multiple explosions and fire that sent huge radioactive plumes into the atmosphere, workers covered the remains of the reactor with sand, lead and eventually entombed it with concrete to halt the release of radiation. The concrete coffin still remains at Chernobyl, and the area remains uninhabitable.

For now, workers continue to try to stem leaks of highly radioactive water from the plant even as they add to the flow by continuing to pump in water — now fresh, not salts. They are also are racing to revive the contained cooling systems that circulate water and do not bleed contaminants.

But serious challenges that remain, including what Japan's nuclear regulator said on April 14 were rising temperatures at one of the units, as well as a series of strong aftershocks. Later, Hidehiko Nishiyama, the deputy director-general of Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, said the situation at the plant remained "difficult."

Removing nuclear fuel

Still, Toshiba's engineers expect the plant to stabilise "in several months," Mr. Sasaki said, and for full-scale cooling to resume. It would be five years before engineers would be able to open up the pressure vessels to remove the nuclear fuel, he said, and dismantling the reactors and cleaning up radiation at the plant would take at least another five years.

Toshiba's team includes engineers from Westinghouse, whose majority owner is Toshiba, and the Babcock & Wilcox Company, an energy technology and services company that handles the disposal of hazardous materials. The two companies helped shut down the damaged reactor at Three Mile Island.

A Hitachi spokesman in Tokyo, Yuichi Izumisawa, said that the 10-year scenario was overly optimistic. He said that Hitachi's engineers expect that it will take that long just to remove the nuclear fuel rods from the plant and place them in casks to transport to a safe storage facility.

Only then can dismantling the plant's structures begin, he said, followed by cleaning up remaining radiation.

Hitachi, the country's second-biggest supplier of reactors, has a team of 50 experts working on its dismantling plan. It has a joint nuclear venture with General Electric and is also working with the American nuclear operator, Exelon, and Bechtel, the engineering firm.

"You basically need to dismantle the plant from the inside, and the inside is till very radioactive," he said. "At Hitachi, we are baffled over what kind of technology would allow everything to be finished in 10 years."

Tetsuo Matsumoto, a professor in nuclear engineering at Tokyo City University, said that how long the decommissioning process would take depended heavily on the state of the nuclear fuel.

"Will it still be shaped like rods? Or will it have melted and collapsed into a big mass?" he said. "It could be 10 years or it could be 30. You just won't know until you open up the reactor." ( Ken Ijichi contributed reporting.) — © New York Times News Service





Four in 10 staff at schools and colleges across England say poverty among their students has got worse since the recession began and that some parents can no longer afford to give their children breakfast, according to a survey by a teaching union.

Teachers also report cases of children wearing ill-fitting shoes, coming to school inappropriately dressed, and missing classes because they cannot afford bus fares. Nearly 80 per cent of staff say they have students at their school or college living in poverty, according to the survey by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL). Most teachers say students whose families are affected by poverty are coming to school tired and hungry. Staff say many such children cannot concentrate and have higher rates of absence.

A teacher from Suffolk, eastern England, said: "More children from middle- to lower-income families are not going on school trips and these families find it difficult to meet the basic cost of living." A teacher working with sixth-form students in Nottingham, central England, says she had a student who "had not eaten for three days as their mother had no money until payday." She knows of students who work long hours to pay for their bus passes and food.

A teaching assistant in a secondary school in central England, said: "Every day I become aware of a child suffering due to poverty. Today I have had to contact parents because a child has infected toes due to feet squashed into shoes way too small." They chiefly blame job losses and higher food prices. Just over half say the government should extend eligibility for free school meals, and 47 per cent call for the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) to be restored. Last week, the OECD, an influential Paris-based think tank, called on the British government to reinstate the EMA to encourage participation in secondary education. It said improving young people's educational achievement would promote growth and help cut the deficit.

Dr. Mary Bousted, general secretary of the ATL, said: "What message does this government think it is sending young people when it is cutting funding for Sure Start centres, cutting the EMA, raising tuition fees and making it harder for local authorities to provide health and social services?

A Department for Education spokesman said: "We're overhauling the welfare and schools systems precisely to tackle entrenched worklessness, family breakdown, low educational achievement and financial insecurity. We're targeting investment directly at the poorest families."

The union surveyed more than 600 school and college staff in England in March. ( Jeevan Vasagar is education editor of The Guardian.) — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011






There can be little question that the news media, print as well as television, have contributed significantly to bringing the issue of corruption to political India's centre stage. The focus on the corruption of elections through 'cash for votes' comes in tandem with the proactive intervention by the Election Commission of India during the April-May elections to State Assemblies. There can also be little doubt that the U.S. Embassy Cables, accessed by The Hindu through WikiLeaks, and the battery of cable reports and cable journalism have played a catalytic role, inspiring the anti-corruption campaign in India, as pointed out by WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. The huge response, especially in urban India, to Anna Hazare's anti-corruption campaign centring on the demand for a radical Jan Lokpal Bill, speaks to the centrality of the issue.

Aggressive role of tabloids

In the early years of independent India, corruption did not draw much attention from ordinary people, although from time to time mainstream newspapers came up with informed coverage of such issues. Unfortunately, the political establishment tended to rationalise the role of corruption in society, with even leaders like the personally incorruptible K. Kamaraj trying to convince the people that corruption and bribing officials were as old as the scriptures and there could be no solution for such problems. It was only the tabloids such as Mumbai-based Blitz, edited by R.K. Karanjia, a leading investigative journalist of his time, which probed corruption and misconduct aggressively. Interestingly journalists like Karanjia had a following among young people from the 1950s through to the 1980s.

Independent India's first dramatised financial irregularity was "the jeep scandal" (1948), which related to the purchase of army jeeps for the country. The charge was that the then Indian High Commissioner to Britain, V.K. Krishna Menon, bypassed protocol to sign a Rs. 80 lakh deal with a foreign firm. The case was closed in 1955 and soon Menon, against whose personal integrity there was not a shred of evidence, joined the Jawaharlal Nehru Cabinet. The "cycle imports scandal," reported in 1951, saw the first conviction in a major corruption case, when an ICS Secretary to the Government of India, S.A. Venkataraman, went to prison for accepting bribes and the conviction was upheld by the Supreme Court.

The Mundhra scandal (1958) made a big splash thanks to sustained media coverage. In fact, it was the press that first hinted at a possible scam involving a sale of fraudulent shares by a Calcutta-based businessman, Haridas Mundhra, to the Life Insurance Corporation of India. Sourcing confidential correspondence between Union Finance Minister T.T. Krishnamachari (TTK) and the Principal Finance Secretary, a senior member of Lok Sabha with excellent press connections, Feroze Gandhi, the husband of Indira Gandhi, raised a question in the House about the "share" deal. Prime Minister Nehru constituted a one-member commission headed by Justice M.C. Chagla to investigate the deal. After finding that a prima facie case had been made out against the businessman, Justice Chagla concluded that Mundhra had sold fictitious shares to the LIC and defrauded it to the tune of Rs. 1.25 crore. The businessman was convicted and sentenced to a long imprisonment and Krishnamachari was obliged to quit the Cabinet. A point to be noted is that in these early cases, the judgments came in an unbelievably short time.

Most complicated scandal

Two decades later came Bofors (1987-1990), which is considered the 20th century's most complicated political corruption scandal in the country. It involved a $ 50 million payoff of what was described as "commissions" into secret Swiss bank accounts for the purchase by the Indian government of howitzers from a Swedish arms manufacturing company. Readers may recall the role played by the press, above all, The Hindu, in digging out the truth and documenting it meticulously. But cover-up, obstruction of justice in various ways, and the weaknesses of the Indian criminal justice system ensured that the conviction at the bar of public opinion did not result in any legal conviction.

The 1990s witnessed an escalation of corruption scandals involving crores of rupees. These included Harshad Mehta securities and banking scam involving Rs. 5,000 crore, the Rs. 900-crore fodder scam, and the Rs. 1,500 crore Sukh Ram telecom scandal. The first decade of the 21st century witnessed over ten major Indian corruption scandals, including cash-for-votes during the 2008 confidence vote in the Lok Sabha and the 2-G scam spectrum allocation scam (Rs. 1,76,000 crore, as estimated by the Comptroller & Auditor-General of India).

It is distressing that rising India has become notorious for its corruption scandals. If you go by the reported cases of corruption across the country during this period, the state exchequer is believed to have lost a whopping Rs. 73 lakh crore (nearly forty times the 2-G loss), according to one estimate.

It is no surprise therefore that when Anna Hazare began his "fast-unto-death" at Jantar Mantar in Delhi on April 6, 2011, thousands of social activists descended on the venue to express their solidarity with the crusader against corruption and back his demand for putting in place a Jan Lokpal Bill, drafted through a civil society initiative. Thanks to extensive coverage by television channels and newspapers, thousands of people gathered around the fasting Gandhian. Similar support movements were seen in Lucknow, Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, and other major cities. After four days of talks, the Manmohan Singh Government conceded Mr. Hazare's demand and agreed to constitute a 10-member committee, with five chosen from the Union Ministers and the rest representing the civil society. The idea is to introduce the Lokpal Bill in Parliament during the monsoon session. The media would do well to keep its eye on this particular ball.








It is not novel for non-officials to be invited to official deliberations for the framing of new legislation. Their views have occasionally been sought on bills pertaining to the social sector and the environment. But it is a new experience in India to set up a joint panel of government ministers and social activists in equal proportions to draft a bill, and the committee being co-chaired by a non-official member — as is the case with the group tasked with drafting a bill to put in place the institution of Lokpal. The panel's first meeting on Saturday had a saving grace or two, and this should be acknowledged while pointing to problems that might lie ahead.
Anna Hazare, the chief architect of the civil society campaign whose efforts produced the extraordinary bill-making panel, has reportedly agreed that the committee's draft will go before Parliament, and then the normal legislation-making processes would apply. This is a significant step. During the recent Jantar Mantar campaign there was insistence in some quarters that the so-called Jan Lokpal Bill (the document produced by activist zealots) must be accepted the way it was, with the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition underwriting its passage through Parliament, a clearly absurd proposition intended to sanctify lawmaking by impassioned, non-elected individuals. A related idea was also jettisoned — that the panel would only discuss the Jan Lokpal Bill, containing the ideas of the Jantar Mantar group on the subject. Fortunately, the panel has now accepted that this will be only one of the source documents that will be considered. This too is an important step forward. An earlier version of the bill that has already been discussed by a parliamentary select committee is thus also now on the table. Further, the non-official panellists have dropped their earlier insistence on videotaping and telecasting the committee's deliberations. If this had been agreed to, it is apt to have led to unprecedented grandstanding by members, rather than careful deliberation.


While we welcome the positives, there remains an important danger to ward off. A sword of Damocles hangs over the panel to conclude its work by the last day of June. This coercive aspect — Mr Hazare had earlier warned that if the bill was not got ready by the suggested date, he would begin another hungerstrike — no doubt owes to the circumstances of the constitution of the committee. So complex are the roots of corruption in India, and so varied the patterns of its spread, it is hard to see how clear-cut ideas can emerge within a short timeframe dictated by external agents. The National Advisory Council, a civil society outfit chaired by UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi which has some eminent persons on it, has also advanced certain ideas on the Lokpal Bill. On Saturday, as the bill-making panel sat in its inaugural session, the National Campaign for the People's Right to Information, led by former Chief Justice of India J.S. Verma, was advancing a noteworthy critique of what had transpired so far, and offering suggestions. It would be a shame if views from these quarters were not considered by the Lokpal Bill committee.


The incumbent Chief Justice of India, Justice S.H. Kapadia, while delivering a lecture on Saturday, also raised a matter of direct relevance to the deliberations on the Lokpal issue. While cautioning the judiciary against accepting political favours, and keeping socialising to a minimum as was the norm in an earlier era, Mr Kapadia urged maintaining of a balance between safeguarding the judiciary's independence and ensuring accountability from it. The Lokpal committee must hear this urging in the right perspective as it debates ideas on the relationship between the Lokpal and the judiciary.








It should not spring a surprise if the mourners of Maulana Showkat's assassination are cold and non-responsive to what the police investigation has found behind the dastardly act. The reason is that penetrative disinformation campaigned by the planners of insurgency in Kashmir has paralyzed the faculty of objective analysis of situations. People have got used to applying their self-created yardstick to each and every happening in the valley willingly discarding objectivity factor. Falsehood becomes an article of faith with those who divorce reason and logic. Unfortunately the saboteurs have succeeded in creating willing suspension of disbelief on a massive scale among the masses of people in the valley. It is a condition of mind or what we technically call the mindset.
The State police authorities focused on the foul murder from day one and in shortest possible time made a significant breakthrough to be rewarded with success in nabbing the main culprits. The law will take its natural course henceforth. There is no weighty reason to disbelieve or contradict the details given by a high ranking and responsible police officer to the local press. Investigation appears to have been conducted with meticulously high professionalism in which the entire episode has been reconstructed after cobbling the fragments and knitting the story. The names and identity of conspirators, their antecedents and political and ideological links, wherefrom and how they procured material like gelatin sticks, where the conspiracy was hatched and who across the border monitored and guided their criminal act, all these things have been thoroughly investigated and made public. The All Party Committee constituted by the JAH in its recent meeting had demanded official enquiry into the murder and the chief minister had said that the government was at the job. Because of refusal to accept the reason and logic and because of lack of trust in the police establishment, the JAH finds itself on the horns of dilemma whether to accept or reject the findings of the police. If accepted, it could stir mass resentment against the militants and their outfits especially LeT and its links across the border. But if they reject the police findings, then they will have to come out with alternative theory, one that will have to be substantiated by convincing evidence. The murder of Maulana Showkat is a tragic event and a loss to the people of Kashmir. But apart from that it should stimulate a crucial debate within Kashmir civil society on public attitude towards militancy. This incident is in a way the beginning of the deepening of crisis in Kashmir. It has the potential of fanning flames of widespread civil disorder in the valley where not only the committed militant activists but their sympathizers and conduits also will come under the scanner. Revolution consumes its children is what a French historian inferred from the long aftermath of the French Revolution. The truth in this doggerel should not be underestimated. A full generation of Kashmiri youth has been brought up in a capsule of falsehoods, hatred and distortions of history. To this particular segment of civil society, the unraveling of facts about the murder of Maulana Showkat will be shocking. A portion of civilian population misled and misinformed turns into cancerous tumour on the body of the polity. Now the Muzaffarabad based UJC has emerged as the arbiter of the destiny of Kashmiris. And the UJC itself is virtually acting as the running dog of ISI's international thuggery. More important thing to take into account is the reasons for which the crime was perpetrated. The new militant outfit Saut-ul-Haq with connections to LeT rejected Maulana's anti- sectarian and pro-humanistic outlook. They could not dislodge him through ballot and hence decided to settle the score through the gun; and they denigrated late Maulan's efforts to persuade the government to establish a university in Kashmir. Evidently the alleged outfit is against education, against communal and factional coexistence and against pragmatism for which the Maulana stood. Kashmiri civil society has to decide which way would lead them to prosperity, peace and progress. This is a serious moment of introspection for them. There are courageous men in that society and they will not compromise with canards and falsehood. Let the truth prevail.






As usual, many decisions taken by the J&K State Board of School Education are wayward and even counter-productive. Some of its schemes are rife with unending controversies. When non-academicians and bureaucrats begin to dabble with deeply academic subjects, more often than not their decisions are faultier and less practicable. The sudden rescheduling of the first year exams of the Elementary Teachers Training (ETT) course by the J&K State Board of School Education from 15th to 20th April, is not only giving a harrowing time to above 40,000 students, but is also giving sleepless nights to board officials, as it has raked up a major controversy. More than 70 per cent of the total ETT institutes/colleges in the state have been sanctioned for Jammu and Kathie districts alone. These two districts account for over 88 per cent (32,262 students) of the total 36,475 students enrolled for the course. However, there is no information about 6,000 students enrolled recently, as the education board authorities are tight-lipped over the issue. Jammu district alone has 173 ETT colleges, which are catering to 16,519 students. Similarly, there are 150 ETT colleges in Kathua district and 15,743 students have been enrolled for the course there. On the other hand, there are eight districts in the state which do not have even one ETT institute. Education Minister had recently acknowledged that a large number of ETT students belonged to other states, mostly Punjab, but he had not mentioned why the students of the state were not opting for the course. The ETT controversy erupted after the school board officials rescheduled the date sheet for the ETT first year exams... Following this a number of disturbing facts, including some private ETT institutes running on fake addresses and above 100 institutes without adequate infrastructure, have come to light. The department and the Board both owe an explanation to the public about how and why the fake institutions have been allowed to run, and what will happen to the students who were lured to these institutions.








The day Anna Hazare sat, at Jantar Mantar Delhi ,on a fast unto death to press for the passage of his Jana Lok Pal Bill (Citizen's Ombudsman Bill) to fight corruption at high places, our Chief Minister in a T. V bite conceded a democratic right to the septuagenarian Gandhian to protest; there by endorsed his fight against the corruption . We believe, while making the comment, Omar Abdullah must have had a comfort feeling that his State has such a law. Therefore, he came publicly forward to encourage Anna Hazare while as his fellow politicians - of any hue - had gone in hiding .Yes , we have the J &K Accountability Commission Act, which corresponds, in all weaknesses, to the Lok Aayukhta Act put in place by some other states in the mainland. We may hasten to note here that our Act is as tooth-less as the proposed legislation of the central government It is evident that the Sate Act went into the rough weather from the very day it was brought on the Statute book, in year 2002 . It was a child born in the inauspicious times . The Act didn't take off , as there were no workable provisions in it for constituting the Commission. It took more than two years to fit in these requirements and the Act was ,accordingly , amended in year 2004 . However, the Accountability Commission started to limp in year 2005 . Thanks to the dynamism and dedication of its first Chairperson - Justice R.P.Sethi - the limp was turned into a gallop and the Commission, gradually, yielded the desired results .Slowly but surely ,the aggrieved persons flocked the Commission to seek the redressal of their complaints.

As stated, left to its bald provisions the Act is a toothless tiger. The Commission ,however, looked to the broad spirit of the law rather than to its narrow letter to make it function effectively. That probably became its undoing . When the heat was turned on the delinquents -who comprised the powerful and the power brokers - the government started to dither . The powers that be entertained a second thought about utility of the Act and means were devised to tamper with it . So, whatever little potency it had came to be nullified, systematically, by incorporating the sterile amendments. Besides , the interested quarters were encouraged to let a highly motivated and sinister disinformation campaign spread about the functioning of the Commission . With the result the Commission's first chairperson, of great eminence, chose to leave in disgust and a disillusioned man . The other eminent persons who succeeded the first Chairperson showed equal dedication and commitment to the job and did their best to salvage whatever could be from the wreckage of the enactment , to make it serve the desired purpose . But the government by then had made the resolve to practically do away with the Commission , in as much as it extracted the last vestige of the inocuous fang from its jaws . Various instances can be pointed out . Reference to the Section 13 may suffice . Under this section a copy of the complaint is to be sent to the competent authority of the delinquent official in case the Commission intended to proceed on the complaint of an aggrieved person . Earlier, the competent authority was supposed to respond in time . However as per the latest amendment he has been relieved of the burden to respond .Under Section-21, the report of the Commission is recommendatory in nature , casting no obligation on the government to act upon it No body knows the fate of dozens of the reports made by the Commission recommending action against the delinquent officers / officials .The State even didn't bother to pursue the matter before the High Court where the delinquent l public officials/officers had gone to challenge the interim orders of the Accountability Commission.With the result , the whole process got aborted at the inception .

After the tenure of its Chairperson and the member expired in year 2008 ,the Accountability Commission is headless . The Act has been virtually turned into a dead letter on the Statute Book. .The nature and composition of the collegium to appoint the Chairperson and the Members is such as to make it next to impossible to have a consensus on their appointment . That is what has exactly happened whenever an attempt was made to constitute the Commission .No wonder, therefore, the Accountability Commission is dysfunctional for want of the persons to man it . In view of this ,our case is no different from that of other states and the Central government where Lok Aayukhta and the Lok Pal are missing from the statute books. Hence ,our need to have a person like Anna Hazare is no less.

It has been the practice of all the successive governments to make only cosmetic moves just to look doing some thing. Whereas, in substance, nothing has been done . With a clear design ,these Governments have had no heart in curbing the malfeasance at the highest bureaucratic and the political levels. The Right to Information Act is another glaring example of lack of sincerity on the part of the State government to do a serious business . This Act was passed by the State Legislature in Jan 2004 .It was so badly drafted and lacking in essentials that ,like Accountability Commission Act, it couldn't work . Then on the public pressure the wisdom dawned upon the government that they came up with correctional measures and amended the Information Act in the year 2008.


Even then it took it three years to appoint the Chief Information Commissioner ,though the Information Commission is still not fully constituted That the State government is indulging in a mere rhetoric and business of show making can be gathered from the other fact that in year 2007 the then Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad made a public vow to root out the corruption and penalize the guilty public officers; apart from honouring the honest officers/officials. Accordingly, he awarded gold medals to the half a dozen public officers for their honest demeanor. The move was ,,indeed lauded by all. According to Azad, the exercise had to be a regular feature .Alas! after the first show we heard nothing about it. On the contrary, the half -hearted campaign against the corruption at the highest places has dissipated, emboldening further the misfeasors. The Omar Abdullah government has enacted State Vigilance Commission Act, but it is still not in force. So much so even the proposed Chief Vigilance Commissioner has not been appointed. Omar Abdullah's endorsement of Anna Hazare's protest will sound honest and meaningful only when the demands of the local civil society activists, who clamour for honest and clean political / bureaucrat set up at the top, are adequately met
They say , there is a silver lining in every dark cloud .May be so. The Accountability Commission is in limbo .

The Chief Minister can do us a favour by allowing it to remain so for some time more ,till this ram shackle and an apology of law is replaced by an effective one .The need of the hour is to add sharpened teeth to the Commission . In that case , the fears that the Commission may become a super Chief Minister ,or a super cop can best be allayed by putting in place an appropriate Appellate Authority in the Act . Moreover, the Commission should be made to work in benches .So that in the event of a certain member recusing himself or herself from hearing any case or bunch of cases another bench is available and the functioning of the whole Commission does not come to a grinding halt .

(The author is former Principal District and Sessions Judge







Adversity sometimes can provide an opportunity to solve long-standing disputes between nations. India and China may be the world's two fastest-growing countries but their accumulated grievances have queered the pitch for an amicable economic relationship. Happily for both, macro-economic troubles that are beginning to ail both countries may just inspire a more lasting bond that would augur well for the world economy at large.
At the BRICS meet in China, Dr. Manmohan Singh and his Chinese counterpart, President Hu Jintao, expressed a keen interest in strategic and economic ties. At first glance, this might appear the usual hot air that blows between two leaders thrown together at a summit; but this time around, the meeting was different; India expressed a desire to correct its trade imbalance and China seemed agreeable. Both need each other, if only to form a common front against the rising protectionism evident in the Western world despite all the rhetoric denouncing it. China needs friends to fend off the pressure to revalue its yuan and India needs Chinese markets to bridge the trade deficit.
Given the Chinese strength in manufacturing, the only way that India can equalise its trade is through its IT and pharmaceutical industries - in other words, its knowledge-based industries. But for the BRICS members a more muscular front against trade protectionism is critical as the Doha Round edges uneasily towards collapse after 10- years of protracted and futile negotiations; that possibility makes protectionism's ugly face all the more visible at a time when emerging markets need multilateral trading to maintain their stride.
At the same time, America's quantitative easing has unintentionally led to currency tensions with emerging markets. More than inflation or lack of fiscal consolidation in the BRICS countries that IMF has recently warned against, it is the contagion-type debt crisis of the peripheral EU countries and the lack of consensus among members on the best way to deal with it that threaten to rock attempts to normalise the world's financial system.
Among all the regional groupings, the BRICS can be the most potent in finding the equilibrium in trade and currency markets because of its current and growing economic clout. The fact that its members are located across the globe, barring North America, lends it a unique geo-strategic potency. While India and China cosy up, the BRICS group at large must find ways to use its hidden advantages to foster a better world economy.
Cheap Chinese exports have decimated Brazil's shoe industry and South Africa's textile sector.
India has slapped anti-dumping duties on an array of Chinese goods. Russia is sparring with Beijing over the price of oil it sells to China. If trade is the mortar holding together the BRICS - Brazil, Russia, India, China and newcomer South Africa - the omens would appear poor for the grouping.
To its detractors, BRICS is an artificial construct - an example of life imitating not art but Goldman Sachs, which coined the acronym BRIC in 2001 for four fast-growing, politically diverse countries that it reckoned were reshaping the global economy. Yet a more optimistic view holds that the explosion in South-South trade, which leapt to 17 per cent of the global total in 2009 from 7 per cent in 1990, has a long way to run.
Moreover, some experts say the BRICS caucus has already shown its worth as a counterweight to the West in global talks on trade and climate change and, within the Group of 20, on how to redistribute power in international financial institutions. In each case, despite differing positions, the five have acted collectively to prevent advanced countries from driving a wedge between them. There is a certain basic logic to their economic interaction. They have not allowed themselves to be co-opted by western countries. Either they're going to hang together or hang alone.
The meeting between prime minister Manmohan Singh and Chinese president Hu Jintao on the sidelines of the BRICS summit may have helped to straiten the latest creases that have appeared in the relations between the two countries. It was not expected that bilateral issues would figure prominently in the talks where multilateral and trade issues were likely to dominate. This was because the forum as such had a collective agenda and the Chinese were keen that it should receive more attention than bilateral ties between individual members. But bilateral issues seem to have been discussed in detail at Manmohan Singh's meetings with both Hu Jintao and Russian president Dmitry Medvedev.
Two important outcomes of the talks with the Chinese leader were the decisions to resume senior level defence exchanges between the two countries and to set up a mechanism for co-ordination and consultation on border affairs. The defence exchanges were stopped by India last year after China denied visa to an Indian army officer who commanded the Kashmir region.
The Chinese action had raised doubts about its stand on Kashmir. The stapled visas issued by the Chinese embassy to residents of the state had also pointed to this. Since India has decided to resume the defence exchanges it should be assumed that the stapled visa issue may have been sorted out. But there is no official announcement yet on the matter. The consultation mechanism on border issues is welcome because there are an increasing number of violations of the disputed border in recent months. It is unfortunate that a permanent resolution of the boundary dispute still evades both countries. The two leaders have sought more tangible progress on the matter but it is difficult to expect any breakthrough in the near future. A dialogue mechanism is being activated to address these concerns. While frequent interactions at the highest and other levels will help to remove irritants, the bigger issues should not be overlooked. It should not also be forgotten that these irritants are created by the Chinese.
In a first-of-its-kind step, Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, (BRICS) signed an agreement under which they would be able to give credit and grants to each other in their own currency instead of dollars.
It is also believed that some Chinese think tanks advocate closer relation with India to reduce New Delhi's strategic consultation with Washington. Notwithstanding India's strategic ties with Washington of late, there is a realisation in China that India pursues an independent foreign policy and Washington cannot use India as a hedge against China. New Delhi needs to reinforce this trust with Beijing, which calls for a fine balancing act. There should be no zero-sum game, neither between US and China, nor between India and China. In spite of some positive feelings between the two countries China has not committed to support India's membership of the UN Security Council. Beijing was also not forthcoming to settle the irritant border dispute between the two countries, which has marred the relations since 1962.
The summit also discussed the volatile situation in West Asia and North Africa, particularly developments in Libya and the impact on the BRICS counties. They collectively voiced their opposition to the use of force in Libya and pitched for a central role for the UN and regional organisations in resolving the matter. (INAV
(The writer is former additional secretary (Economic Affairs), Ministry of External Affairs)







Many efforts have been made by the Government to strengthen and decentralize the planning process so that the development funds consumed by the Plans result in effective outcomes. However, the efforts have not sufficiently fructified. Some of the reasons are that the plans are prepared for each scheme separately resulting in lack of convergence of funds and sectoral integration; planning has traditionally been done at the district level, which is physically removed, from the citizens resulting in Plans that do not reflect the needs and aspirations of the people; there is no tight coupling between the Planned outlay and the actual expenditure incurred and there is no integration between plans of different local governments.
In an attempt to address these problems, the Planning Commission issued guidelines in 2007 that mandated that all plans from 11th Five Year Plan onwards should be prepared in a decentralized manner, starting from urban and rural local governments. Recognizing the potential of Information and Communication to demystify the planning process, the Ministry of Panchayati Raj in collaboration with National Informatics Centres has designed and developed a software, Plan Plus, for simplifying and strengthening the planning process.
Plan Plus Features
Plan Plus is a very simple, easy to use software with local language interface that facilitates generation of District Plans through interactive workflows among all participating agencies. The key features of the software include:
Convergence of Funds
Plan Plus enables intelligent convergence of funds from different schemes for a work, there by ensuring, on the one hand, that the available funds are utilized to the maximum possible extent and on the other hand that important works are not abandoned for lack of funds.
Sectoral Integration
Plan Plus enables sectoral integration by stimulating the planner to think in terms of end-to-end projects rather than in terms of isolated islands of work.
Vertical & Horizontal Integration
Plan Plus provides facility for co-opting of works of a lower tier by a higher tier panchayat thereby facilitating vertical integration. It also incorporates the concept of supra-projects, which enables two or more local bodies (rural as well as urban) to collaborate to take up a work, which is of common interest.
Allows customizable workflows of Plan creation-evaluation-modification-finalization as per State specific needs.
Plan Generation
The software generates various views of the Plan including Sectoral Plan and Scheme wise Plan, besides the normal Plan view.
Generation of District Plan
Plan Plus converges and integrates the Plans of urban and rural local governments to generate a consolidated District Plan.
Plan Plus can be easily extended to facilitate the preparation of state and central government plans.
Graphical and GIS Reports
A number of graphical reports are generated to help the Planner as well as the District Planning Committee to take a view of the investment profile of the Plan. This helps in ensuring that the Plan is not unjustifiably skewed in favor of a particular sector.
Adaptability to the Variations across States
In view of the varying levels of capacities and experiences of different states in the Planning process, the software allows easy customization so that States can configure it to suit their own level.
Local Language
The software supports local languages of the states to enable local bodies to function in their own languages.
At every stage of the Planning process, the Plan is constantly available to the general public for scrutiny thus enabling a transparent and participative Plan preparation.
The software is web based and is available on 24 x 7 basis with appropriate authentication.
Target Users
The Target users in the country of the software are the Citizens, Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs,) Municipalities, District Planning Committees (DPCs), Financial Institutions, and State Government Departments,
Plan Plus was field-tested in four districts viz., Bir Bhum (West Bengal), Palakkad (Kerala), Gul Barga (Karnataka) and Dhamtri (Chhattisgarh). The software has now been launched and training being given to target users of 250 districts in the country that fall under Backward Regions Grant Fund (BRGF).
System Requirements
Plan Plus is web-based, platform independent software that is very simple to use and provides local language support using UNICODE fonts. The software can be accessed using Internet Explore 6.0 or above OR Mozilla Firefox Both online (on-line at http:// and offline versions of the software are available to cater to the connected as well as poorly connected or disconnected environments. (PIB)









It is not unusual for the Supreme Court to hold a view that runs contrary to what is held by the lower courts. Still, the apex court's decision to grant the plea of human rights activist Binayak Sen for bail highlights the prevailing confusion over the interpretation of "sedition". The trial court had held Sen guilty of sedition and sentenced him to life imprisonment while the Bilaspur High Court refused his plea for bail because it largely concurred with the verdict and felt that setting Sen free would be detrimental to peace. The apex court, however, found no merit in the case against Sen, found no evidence against him and declared that no case of sedition is made out. Similar confusion was evident last year when a judicial magistrate ordered the police to charge author and social activist Arundhati Roy with sedition after Roy had spoken in favour of Kashmiri secession. Ironically, it was the government which demurred then and pointed out that sedition must involve an incitement to violence and since Roy had said or written nothing that encouraged violence, no case was made out against her.


While the Indian Constitution makes no reference to sedition, chapter VI of the Indian Penal Code made sedition or incitement to rebellion a criminal offence in the 1870s and made it punishable with life imprisonment or imprisonment up to three years with or without fines. It was also punishable with only a fine. The provision arms the state and the judiciary to apply the law arbitrarily. Kashmiri separatists, Naga insurgents, militants in the North-East and radical , right-wing Tamilians can all be charged with sedition, let off lightly or left alone under this provision. But while the apex court pertinently reiterated that just as keeping Gandhi's autobiography did not make one 'Gandhian', reading Naxalite literature did not make one a Naxalite, neither the police nor the lower judiciary appear capable of making the distinction.


The Union Law Minister's offer to revisit the law of sedition is, therefore, timely and welcome. Censuring government policies and resistance to authority need not always amount to sedition. More importantly, any law that is open to various interpretations is intrinsically bad and ought to be reviewed.









India's number two software exporter, Infosys Technologies, has disappointed investors, who dumped the company stock on Friday to a steep 9.59 per cent fall. The latest results and the profit forecast point to tepid revenue growth and shrinking profit margins, raising questions about the company's much-admired business model. The dismal results have come at a time when the US and Europe are back from the brink. Two other top IT firms — TCS and HCL Technologies — are recording faster growth. While its rivals have been on an acquisition spree, Infosys is sitting on a cash pile of Rs 16,666 crore.


The below-expectation performance coinciding with the sudden resignations of the company's co-founder K. Dinesh and Director T.V. Mohandas Pai has come as a jolt to company watchers. Infosys Chairman N.R Narayana Murthy is slated to retire in August this year and the board is meeting on April 30 to fill the vacancies. S.D. Shibulal is expected to take over as the CEO. Though there is media speculation about Pai putting in his papers as the top job has eluded him, he says he wants to slow down — "14 hours a day, global delivery model, travelling on work, no sleep — it gets you". As competition deepens, shake-ups at the top are becoming common in IT companies. Wipro replaced its key executives in January.


However, Infosys remains a highly respected and professionally managed company. It is not uncommon for company honchos to step aside and make way for a younger leadership. Narayana Murthy quit as the Managing Director when he was only 52. So did co-founder Nandan Nilekani. The management is also conservative about making profit forecasts. Last April it projected a 16-18 per cent growth, but the actual was higher at 25 per cent. India's IT sector is set to expand to $300 billion by 2020, according to McKinsey. This requires strategic planning, investment in manpower and an efficient leadership at the helm to survive in the highly competitive field. 










With US President Barack Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy together committing themselves to the use of armed forces to dump Libya's Gaddafi regime into the dustbin of history, now there is the likelihood of swift military action in the troubled West Asian country. In a newspaper article, the three leaders have made it clear that they will not allow Colonel Gaddafi's forces to massacre the Libyan civilians who have risen in revolt against the dictatorial regime. Their non-ambivalent stand has come after a three-day conference on Libya in Qatar failed to come out with a clear line of action. The Libyan rebels had also appealed to the international community to come to their rescue soon.


Thus, it is now crystal clear — the US along with its allies is ready to get more actively engaged in Libya for bringing about a regime change. There may be no hesitation to use military might. But will it be as easy as it appears? The US will have to work hard to persuade Russia and Germany not to do anything that helps the Libyan dictator to silence the forces of democracy in that country. Russia is of the view that the UN Security Council resolution on Libya does not call for a change of regime there. It only stands for ensuring a "no-fly zone" to prevent the massacre of civilians by Gaddafi's armed forces. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, too, is opposed to the use of the military to dislodge the Gaddafi regime. Both Russia and Germany favour recourse to a political process for the purpose.


This shows that the rift in the North-Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) — which has the UN mandate to intervene in Libya to prevent the killing of pro-democracy civilians there — remains as pronounced as it was at the beginning of the Libyan crisis. NATO must iron out its differences soon in the interest of democracy and peace in Libya. Allowing Gaddafi to perpetuate his rule on any pretext will send a wrong signal to the other dictators in West Asia who have been trying to cling on to power despite massive protests against their tyrannical regimes.









The massive earthquake of March 11 and the subsequent tsunami caused large-scale devastation in Japan. Not only a staggering number of people — over 20,000 — lost their lives but the quake also caused a loss of over $300 billion to Japan. The nuclear disaster in Fukushima has added to Japan's woes. However, a strange yet pleasant fallout of this disaster has been the warming of relations between Japan and China, which had reached its nadir in 2010 — the worst phase in the last decade.


Japan has in the past extended economic and humanitarian assistance to other countries which experienced similar natural disasters. It was, therefore, the turn of those countries to come to Japan's rescue in this time of distress. Within a day, rescue teams from the US, Singapore, New Zealand and South Korea descended on Japan's shores with their rescue teams. Others countries joined subsequently.


So far 120 countries have extended their assistance in various forms. Also, 30 international organisations have come to Japan's rescue. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh signed the condolence message in the Embassy of Japan and India sent blankets and drinking water. These created a lot of goodwill and appreciation in Japan.


Before the earthquake, the incident over Senkaku islands had strained Sino-Japanese relations. The Japanese security community saw China as a potential threat. In an opinion poll in 2010, over 80 per cent of the Japanese said China could not be trusted. Similarly, a poll taken in China in 2010 showed 79 per cent of the Chinese feeling that Japan could not be trusted. The earthquake dramatically changed such perceptions.


After the quake, the Chinese government was quick to offer its sympathy and support. A vast majority of the Chinese endorsed the government stand, thereby changing the predominantly prevalent negative sentiments about Japan that existed in China a few months ago in 2010. In an article in The Japan Times on April 1, Hong Kong-based journalist Frank Ching says that an on-line survey in China conducted after the earthquake showed that "1.2 million of 1.5 million respondents backed their government's efforts to aid Japan". He further argues that just as the 9/11 attack on the US in 2001 provided an opportunity for China to improve its ties with the US, the triple disaster — earthquake, tsunami and nuclear reactor crisis – provided a good opportunity to repair Japan-China relations.


It may be recalled that in 2010 Japan-China ties went terribly wrong when China arrested a Japanese fishing boat captain in the vicinity of disputed islands after his trawler allegedly rammed two Japanese coast guard vessels. In 2010, China's foreign profile had taken a beating and its relations with the US and Europe had deteriorated after it refused to release Liu Xiaobo, the dissident literary scholar, who has been serving an 11-year prison term even after he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. China called Liu a "traitor".


China's softening of foreign policy behaviour first manifested when President Hu Jintao tacitly supported President Obama in criticising North Korea for its uranium enrichment facility, a quick reversal of not endorsing the findings of the international investigation team that claimed Pyongyang as being responsible for sinking the South Korean corvette Cheonan in March 2010. China saw an ideal opportunity in the earthquake to mend its relations with Japan.


At least for now, the acrimony has gone to the back burner. In turn, the appreciation for the Japanese for their way of handling the disaster with calm, orderliness and stoicism without complaining has increased in China. The selfless individual efforts by the Japanese in rescuing those in distress at the risk of their own lives speak a lot about Japanese national character. The news that a 59-year-old company manager, Mitsuru Sato, escorted 20 Chinese female interns to safety and then returned to look for his own family, only to be swept away by the waters, has already become a part of folklore. This single incident has touched millions of Chinese hearts.


It was, therefore, appropriate that China is reciprocating the Japanese gesture of help in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake by providing material aid and sending a search-and-rescue team. In 2008, when pictures of Japanese rescue team members paying respect to Chinese bodies were circulated, this enhanced the image of Japanese people in China. This time around, the Chinese can return some of these gestures to Japan.


The earthquake provides China a huge opportunity to create a reservoir of goodwill in Japan. China may have taken over Japan as the world's second largest economy, but Japan is not an economic pigmy either. By taking advantage of the goodwill created, China needs to seize the opportunity to resolve the dispute over natural resources in the East China Sea and work towards a programme whereby the earlier agreement of 2008 for joint development is taken to its logical conclusion. If China truly is aspiring to be a major power, this is a golden opportunity for it to behave as one.


Japan is traumatised, no doubt, but it showed to the world its self-belief and that the Japanese people do not rely on executive orders to mobilise and organise. It has built its faith and is deriving its strength from civil society, which is rock solid. The force of the natural disaster is great, but the strength of the social framework is still greater. This is the precious wealth that Japan possesses and this came in full display in handling the national calamity with poise and stoicism.


The writer is Senior Fellow, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi.









Saw you the other day, distraught and terrified from the realisation that life had stayed on even when you thought it was long over. I know this feeling. I have lived it before -- this hideous feeling of being lost in the distant darkness of the woods, with nowhere to run or hide, no hand to hold, no sun to see you out of the night.

Death can do that to you. It can banish your soul in ways you will never know and throw you around like the wind throws the leaves shunned by their trees. It can beget pain that will never seem to pass, that will suck the last drop of life out of your heart.


But then, there's more to pain than we think there is. It's the shadow of life itself, showing up in broad daylight just when everything seems so under an eternal shine. It's then that life throws up that other side, the one we hate to see. But as they say, the walk is in the raising of the foot as it is in the laying of it down.


That's what makes the stride called life. That's how it is meant to be: a strange mix of sun and shade, a long journey of rise and fall. Remember the days when we, as kids, would run after clouds knowing we could never catch them; chase butterflies off the flowers least minding the painful prick of thorns and crisscross alleyways around our homes in the hope of catching that fireflies' dance.


Hope would always keep us going. Hope is a strong word, a harbinger of change. Remember when we were little, how mother would feed us tales of hope: of two children that ducked the demons to find their way back home and others who fought the dark spirits to redeem their benighted souls.


She didn't feed us those meals without reason. She knew they would come in handy some day when the demons of despair would seem hard to handle and the pain too pervasive to tame, when you would be alone, pitched against that ugly dark in the mighty battle for life.


It was for then that she fed us hope and put us to rest every night so we could wake up shining bright, ready for life in all its hues. And trust me, once in every life, that hope would be put to test. Your day of trial is now and you must raise your step before you let it fall. Remember the message those lullabies sang us? "Be brave', they said, "stand tall with or without us".


The charms of life are many but death has its own charms. It dashes our hopes to the ground, daring us to pick up the pieces; steals from us our shadows, testing if we can still make that journey. And journey we must for the stream of life to flow, for the mothers' lullabies to make that one, final sense in which everything falls in place the way it should and death becomes part of life itself.


Remember "Gitanjali"? How Tagore had said: "The world does not leak because death is not a crack." It's not a crack….


Yours in life…









In the section dealing with infrastructure in his Union Budget speech, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee said: "Our experience with PPP (Public Private Partnership) model for creation of public sector assets has been good. We have recently launched the National Capacity Building Programme to enhance capacities of public functionaries in identifying, structuring and managing PPPs."

This statement in the budget speech reflects the government's desire for greater use of the PPP model for developing infrastructure, on one hand, and the lack of understanding or perhaps downright opposition of public functionaries coming in the way of a bigger roll out of PPP projects on the other.

The public and private sectors usually have a distinctive, but potentially complementary role to play. In view of this, partnerships between the public and private sectors have the capacity to enable the delivery of high quality infrastructure services. PPPs enable the public sector to benefit from the commercial dynamism, the ability to raise finances in an environment of budgetary restrictions, the innovation and efficiencies, all harnessed through the introduction of private investors who contribute their own capital, skills and experience. A PPP is all about creating a structure in which improved value for money is achieved through private sector management skills delivering significant performance improvement and efficiency savings.

There is now a move globally, whereby more and more of the operations involved with the delivery of public services are being handled by the private or the non-governmental sector. This move is being dictated by the financial difficulties being faced by governments all over the world and the discernible need for the infusion of greater efficiency in the delivery of public services. The experience of developed countries that are moving towards the model of a smaller state buying in services from a variety of different providers holds lessons for India also.

Woeful inadequacies

We in India are familiar with the woeful inadequacies in the delivery of public services. It is also seen that it is far more difficult to restructure government departments for better performance and ultimately it is perhaps simpler to hive off certain operations to the private sector for more efficient delivery. However, notwithstanding the reluctance on the part of some public functionaries, there is an inexorable move, even in India, towards the restructuring of the delivery of public services across various sectors with a larger role being assigned to the private sector. The changes in the delivery of road services over the last 20 years are illustrative of this move.

The provision of roads was till recently regarded as a quintessential public service for which the government was wholly responsible. For this purpose, a full-fledged Public Works Department exists in all states. To begin with, the department had its own labour, albeit work charged, and equipment; purchased its own material, while the department's engineers designed and supervised all the works.

As labour and equipment became difficult to handle departmentally, contractors were engaged first to provide labour and thereafter to bring in their equipment. Subsequently, as controls over cement and steel etc. were relaxed, these contractors also purchased their own material and produced the road works according to the design supplied by the department and under the supervision of its engineers. Finally, the design and supervision work was outsourced to engineering consultants.

The outsourcing process in road construction was considerably hastened with the constitution of the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) and the organisation being entrusted with the huge task of the implementation of the NHDP (National Highways Development Project). Being a nascent organisation, not saddled with an overburden of staff, the only way NHAI could handle the NHDP was by way of outsourcing various operations, i.e. the construction to qualified contractors and the design and supervision task to qualified engineering consultants.

Time & cost overruns

In this manner, while all the activities relating to a road project were outsourced, reducing substantially thereby the management load, the NHAI still continued to carry the risk of time and cost overruns. It was, therefore, decided that these risks be also transferred to the private sector who, it was felt, could manage the risks better.

Accordingly, a concession was provided to a selected private entity under which it would construct the road using the finances raised by it and thereafter operate and provide the service, recovering its investment through a prescribed user fee. Finally, at the end of the concession period the road is handed back to the department. In cases where the user fee was not sufficient to recover the investment made, the NHAI provided a grant (viability gap funding). Further, if viability was not established even after the payment of a grant, the NHAI procured the service from the concessionaire by paying a fixed amount in the form of annuities.

In this manner the PPP model was established for the roads sector. While there have been variants to the examples mentioned here, such as grant of lease rights to appurtenant lands etc., the basic principle essentially remains for the private sector to be responsible for the design, financing, building and operations of the service for the period of the concession with the public sector acting as facilitator and making any provision necessary. The PPP model may appear to represent a radical departure from the traditional departmental one. Nonetheless, it is a result of evolution arising out of the inability of the traditional model to manage and provide the requisite service.

The process of partnering with the private sector started in 1991, with the power and telecom sectors. Over the past 20 years, there have been numerous examples of successful PPPs in telecom, roads, ports and airports. The government's effort in recent times has been to not only rely on the PPP model for a major thrust in these sectors but to also expand and apply it in other sectors.

Despite the government's earnest desire to go ahead with PPP, the progress has been quite uneven, both across sectors and across regions. The telecom sector has been largely privatised with results that have benefited people across the social stratum. The roads and ports sectors have seen a fairly large number of PPP projects.

Policy flip flops

Of late, there has been a tardy roll out largely because of policy flip flops. The airport sector has seen the privatisation of Delhi and Mumbai airports and new green field airports in Hyderabad and Bengaluru. Thereafter, however, the up-gradation of other airports has been undertaken by the Airport Authority of India. The Railways, as expected, have proved a hard nut to crack. In the power sector, a number of merchant power plants have been set up, but transmission and distribution have continued to be largely with the public sector with the privatisation of distribution in Delhi being the only significant achievement. The potential use of PPPs in the education and health sectors also remains substantially untapped across India as a whole.

There is little progress too in the development of urban infrastructure through PPP. The Delhi Government's effort at creating a PPP for their water supply network met with resistance and had to be given up. Investment in urban infrastructure is a major challenge and unless innovative financing mechanisms are found to develop and sustain urban infrastructure, there can be a serious problem.

The incumbent mindset that is reluctant to cede control over construction and operations of projects is a principal cause behind the slow roll out of projects in some sectors and at present the demand for projects is far greater than their supply. This, in turn, masks a number of policy issues, particularly relating to finance.

Secondary market

The growth of non-budgetary financing of infrastructure requires the development of a long-term secondary market for debt instruments supported by insurance and pension funds. The slow roll out of projects has amongst other thing affected the development of such a secondary market. Equally affected and in serious jeopardy would be the government's target of one trillion US dollars of expenditure on infrastructure in the Twelfth Plan of which 30 percent is expected from the private sector. Mr. Mukherjee's statement thus reflects the government's concern over the slow movement of PPP. A significant help forward to PPP efforts can, however, be provided by the states and their local bodies.

Apart from obvious areas like power generation and roads, other areas in which PPP models could be attempted in the states can include power distribution and renewable energy; urban infrastructure such as urban transport, water supply and sanitation; education infrastructure and services; health infrastructure and services; agricultural markets and storages; etc.

No effort at creating a PPP model can take off without the support of a resolute political will. An ambitious programme such as the NHDP could get implemented, incorporating new variants such as PPP, only because of the unstinted support of the political leadership. While the move towards public services being substituted by private efforts is inexorable and inevitable, the need to rapidly create modern infrastructure befitting an emerging India does not allow for a 'hasten slowly' policy.

The writer, a former IAS officer, was Chairman, National Highways Authority of India








 South American poet Jorges Luis Borges writes in his poem 'Happiness' (La Dicha) that "everything happens for the first time". "Whosoever embraces a woman is Adam," he muses. Just as "whosoever lights a match in the dark is inventing fire".


 It is a feeling that may well describe some Bengali voters as they participate today in an election where, for the first time in three decades, opinion polls are showing that the Left may well lose its citadel in Writers' Building.
    The Left is hoping to secure a renewed mandate, fielding more fresh faces than ever before, but Mamata Banerjee, as is her wont, has already made passionate comparisons with the revolutionary change in Egypt. Whichever way the dice turns, in one sense, at least, she is right: nearly one-fourth of Bengal's voters in this election are less than 30 years old and have never seen any government other than one bearing allegiance to the hammer and sickle.


 The West Bengal verdict has wider ramifications for national politics, especially on economic reforms. Despite some unexpectedly vigorous and spirited campaigning by its 88-year-old Chief Minister V S Achuthanandan, the Left may also go down in Kerala, if the state follows the broad cyclical pattern of musical chairs it has followed since the 1960s between a Congress alliance and a Communist alliance.


If the penny does indeed drop on the Left in both these states, then it will do so at a time when nationally it has only 16 MPs left. Notwithstanding its mighty fall in the 2009 general election, the Left is a powerful factor in public discourse and has been an important constraining factor in the process of economic reform.


 A Left without either West Bengal or Kerala would be like a batsman heading out to bat without both his pads. In that sense, it would considerably lessen its bite as a national political force at precisely the time when an imaginative Leftist movement is needed to articulate the social gaps opening up in our polity.


 The Left, in recent times, has struggled to reinvent itself out of hidebound mindsets and vocabularies from the past, and the lessons it draws from the fallout of West Bengal and Kerala will be crucial.


The political spotlight though has been on Tamil Nadu, which has seen the largest turnout of voters since the 1967 election when the Congress was first voted out of power, and Puducherry.


 In the spirit of the times, the Tamil Nadu verdict may well be seen by many commentators as a popular referendum on corruption even though the state politics in many ways is like choosing between Twiddledee and Twiddledum. The Karunanidhi dispensation operates like a feudal family firm, just as Jayalalithaa's cult of insiders seemed to when she was last in power.


Beyond the unique nature of Tamil personality politics though, little separates the two Dravidian parties on policy. The real crux in Tamil Nadu in recent assembly elections has hung on the nitty-gritty of coalitions and Jayalalithaa this time has a formidable one.


Whichever way it goes, the outcome in Chennai will change equations at the Centre. If the Lady of Poes Garden comes back to power then she will energise the perennial Third Front space again, while a diminished DMK, whether in power or out of it, will significantly impact on the UPA's internal power dynamics.


For a party that only a year ago seemed to be assuming that all it had to do till the 2014 general election was to wait it out for a generational change, the Congress is only a major factor in Assam. Tarun Gogoi is hoping to beat anti-incumbency and follow Sheila Dixit to become the only other Congress chief minister in recent times to win a consecutive third term in power.


Assam doesn't much make many headlines in the national press, which tends to ignore it unless there is a crisis. However, it is a crucial strategic state, one where the defining features of politics for the past two decades are shifting with significant movement recently in talks with the ULFA.


 From Assam, West Bengal to Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Puducherry, we will know the people's verdict on May 13 when votes are counted. The stakes for the Congress as an election fighting unit may be limited but make no mistake: the tremors of these polls will be felt in New Delhi, shifting equations in the UPA's inner dynamics and the wider political ecology around it.




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Infosys Technologies appears to have set out on a journey of generational change which will unravel over the next few years. While the retirement of N R Narayana Murthy, the foremost among the founders of India's most iconic software firm, as chairman later this year has been pre-announced, the big surprise is Mohandas Pai, director for human resources and number three in the executive hierarchy, deciding to hang up his gloves. With both CEO Kris Gopalakrishnan and COO S D Shibulal having around three years to go, Mr Pai at 52 could have looked forward to a reasonable term at the top till he turned 60. This, going by what he has said, would have been his for the asking. But he has chosen to step down, saying it is time the next generation took over – there is enormous depth of talent in the organisation – because the business has changed from what the founders have known and been good at.

Software firms have to now offer enterprise solutions custom-made to drive transformational change in clients so they can survive in the tough post-financial-crisis global atmosphere. Several industry leaders have gone through a change of guard, starting with TCS and spreading to Wipro and most recently MindTree. An industry which in a quarter century has grown from scratch to global preeminence, now urgently needs to reinvent itself in order to meet the challenge posed by new low-cost geographies like Vietnam in software and the Philippines in BPO.


Part of this transformation that Indian vendors have started to undergo has taken them down the road to becoming more global. The USP of Indian software cannot remain the cost advantage derived from offshoring work to India. If Indian leaders have to challenge the global top dogs like IBM, Accenture and Capgemini they also have to become truly international. This can only happen by locating delivery centres around the globe and acquiring an international management team. The shareholders of Infosys, interestingly, may at some point start pushing for this as right now arithmetically non-Indians, foreign institutional shareholders and ADR holders, account for over half the shareholding and foreign institutions own more, twice the Indian promoters. Such shareholder activism can come once performance begins to slacken, as seems to be happening right now, compared to the earlier stellar record.

Infosys still leads in pricing – top and bottom lines growing despite fall in volume – but the distance between it and TCS on this score has been narrowing. One reason why Mr Pai may have decided to call it a day is the clash between his immense energy and the conservative groove in which Infosys seems to have settled. He does not want to wait for three years to be able to do bold things and the ability to do so even then may be limited as in the foreseeable future the firm is likely to be run in a collegial way which does not make for vigorous innovation and aggression. Infosys is still a great company but it needs to prove that the young blood, for whom Mr Pai has made way, are best capable of doing so.






Despite all the rhetoric about shared economic interests, the summit meeting of leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (Brics), at Sanya in China last week, stood out for the shared concern of these countries about the 'new assertiveness' of western Europe and the United States, as witnessed in West Asia and North Africa. The Libyan intervention and talk about a 'new great game' in Africa and the fear of rising oil prices (not shared by Russia) seem to have created enough chemistry between the Brics heads of government. The Brics statement on Doha also papers over internal differences between Brics members on what they hope to achieve from the round (here again Russia is an outlier since it is not yet a member of the World Trade Organization). Among the other issues flagged at the summit — concern about the dollar's preeminence as the international reserve currency, particularly in how it delayed global economic balancing, the impact of uncontrolled capital flows and rising commodity prices on developing countries and the need for more representative leadership of multilateral financial institutions, such as the World Bank and the IMF — these issues have been on the table for some time now, and it would be interesting to see to what extent the BRICS as a collective entity can effect substantive change. Arguably, the potentially most significant outcome of the summit was the decision to extend intra-member loans, grants and transact some dealings in member currencies. Realistically, it is hard to see this move having global ramifications, given that no member currency is anywhere close to replacing the US dollar as an international currency. Even talk of the renminbi as a substitute to the dollar proved to be short-lived, given the absence of well-developed financial markets in China and its reluctance to make its capital account fully convertible. Thus, rhetoric aside, this decision is largely a signal of growing impatience and frustration with the United States' inability to rein in its budget and trade deficits, rather than a sense of 'shared prosperity', as the Sanya Declaration states.

The effectiveness of BRICS as a pressure group depends on the cohesion with which they can work together, in the days to come. Relationship management will be vital because expectedly, the interests of the five countries converge on some issues and diverge on others. For example, the group as a whole would stand to gain from standing up to Western pressure on opening up domestic agricultural markets, while simultaneously resisting attempts to impose non-tariff barriers on exports from these countries. Unbridled capital flows, especially of the portfolio variety, are also a common concern. However, on issues such as commodity prices, the interests of the countries could diverge, given that Russia, Brazil and South Africa are largely commodity exporting countries, while China and India are relatively resource scarce. A Prisoner's Dilemma like situation could see the group unravel as rapidly as it came together. However, if the bonhomie seen at Sanya translates into coordinated action, BRICS can be a truly effective agent of much-needed global transformation. According to current projections, the collective BRICS GDP is expected to equal or exceed that of the United States by 2020. It follows that the group potentially wields considerable global influence.







A shaky assumption on freer capital flows is heavily hedged

Life is becoming more confusing. After being repeatedly told how great lower inflation is for growth and the poor, the current finance minister has now repeated what his predecessor said a few weeks back: "Inflation can be tamed, but it will mean the country will have to make do with a much lower growth rate" (The Economic Times, April 14, 2011). Such candour is refreshing, and it is high time that we stop pretending otherwise. And, let us not overlook the connection between growth and job creation.


 It is implicit in the finance minister's remarks that monetary policy and the level of interest rates have an impact on growth and job creation. One wonders when the authorities would be equally candid in respect of the other price of money, namely its exchange rate. Recently, the Reserve Bank of India has come out with a research paper (The implications of renminbi revaluation on India's trade — A study) that analyses the impact of China's exchange rate policy on the huge and burgeoning bilateral trade surplus vis-à-vis India. The paper argues that "by keeping RMB undervalued …it invariably and distinctly provides competitive advantage over its trade competitors and trade partners, including India." Fair enough, but the paper's conclusions are insipid: diversify imports and increase labour productivity. The research paper has shied from the impact of a 25 per cent appreciation (in real terms) of the Indian rupee in dollar terms of the last two fiscal years on the competitiveness of India's tradeables sector,particularly vis-a-vis China. Perhaps such reticence should not be surprising, given that, following the Anglo-Saxon propagated myths, we have been putting great faith in the virtues of a market-determined exchange rate for the last two years, in a complete reversal of the policies we had so successfully followed for the previous two decades. In the process, we have also put our signature to the meaningless G20 communiqués on the issue of global imbalances and the indicators to be monitored. Perhaps the exchange rate is too "holy" a subject for candid comment in public.

The great virtues of a liberal capital account and market-determined exchange rates have been propagated by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for three decades now — overlooking all the evidence and cases on the ground, from Mexico in 1994 to Iceland in 2008, and many in between. Recent headlines in the world's most respected financial dailies made me wonder whether the Emperor is really going to wear new clothes: "IMF gives ground on capital controls" (Financial Times, April 6, 2011) and "IMF reverses position on capital controls" (The Wall Street Journal, April 7, 2011). After downloading the research paper (Capital Inflows: the Role of Controls, February 2011) on which the April 2011 press release was based, I was disabused of the notion. It starts with a highly questionable assumption that "the benefits from a free flow of capital across borders are similar to the benefits from free trade." This is, to my mind, a completely wrong assumption. In fact, market-determined exchange rates convert what is "a unit of account, a store for value, a medium of exchange" into a commodity, with its price changing minute to minute, benefiting the currency trader/speculator, often at the cost of the real economy (which, of course has no mention in the paper). A key conclusion of the paper is that, "if the economy is operating near potential, if the level of reserves is adequate, if the exchange rate is not undervalued, and if the flows are likely to be transitory, then use of capital controls – in addition to both prudential and macroeconomic policy – is justified as part of the policy toolkit to manage inflows." Sir Humphrey Appleby of the brilliant Yes, Minister TV serial could learn a lot from IMF!

The "possible" trinity (free capital flows, fixed-exchange rates, but no control on money supply), which was the accepted wisdom in the 1920s, resulted in a global depression. Today's accepted wisdom – free capital flows, an independent monetary policy, and floating exchange rates – can be as risky for countries like India.

Compared to all the half-truths and convoluted jargon used by IMF, it is high time we pay attention to Keynes, on the subject of capital flows and exchange rates. "We are determined that, in future, the external value of the sterling shall conform to its internal value, as set by our own domestic policies and not the other way round. Secondly, we intend to retain control of our domestic rate of interest, so that we can keep it as low as suits our own purposes, without interference from the ebb and flow of the international capital movements, or flights of hot money. Thirdly, whilst we intend to prevent inflation at home, we will not accept deflation at the dictate of influences from outside. In other words, we abjure the instruments of the bank rate and credit contraction operating through the increase in unemployment as a means of forcing the domestic economy into line with external factors." (Collected Works of John Maynard Keynes, Volume 27).







The government finally gets serious about allocation of natural resources

It takes either a scam or a crisis, or both together, to get the government thinking seriously about governance frameworks and reforms. Shipping gold to the Bank of England in 1991 lead to the product-market liberalisation regime, popularly called "de-licensing". The Harshad Mehta scam led to a shaking-up of work practices in stock exchanges and the empowerment of the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi). The Tata Motors-Singur land acquisition episode led to the hasty drafting of a new Land Acquisition Bill and the Resettlement and Rehabilitation Bill — both still pending before Parliament. And the last six months have seen controversies around coal, gas-pricing, iron-ore, spectrum, forests and environment rock the system.


 So it is obviously time to fix the "natural resources" allocation and pricing system or create one, in case sceptics point out that there was never any system in the first place.

The first sign that shows a government is serious about an issue is when it appoints a high-powered committee to look into matters. Yes, we now have a committee to look into the allocation and pricing of natural resources chaired by the recently-retired Finance Secretary Ashok Chawla. The member-secretary of the committee is a serving IAS officer, Govind Mohan, who has moved on to this task from being joint secretary — infrastructure in the Department of Economic Affairs. The Centre for Policy Research, a think-tank based in New Delhi, has also been brought on board for intellectual ballast.

A Cabinet Secretariat order dated January 31, 2011 announced in unambiguous terms the rationale for setting up this committee: "With a view to enhance transparency, effectiveness and sustainability in utilisation of natural resources, consistent with the needs of the country to achieve accelerated economic development, it has been felt desirable to adopt an open, transparent and competitive mechanism for allocation, pricing and utilisation of the natural resources. In pursuance of the above, the Group of Ministers (GoM) constituted to consider measures that could be taken by the government to tackle corruption, has in its meeting held on January 21, 2011, decided, inter-alia, to constitute a Committee to deliberate on the above issues". This GoM (no surprises here) is headed by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee.

The committee "naturally" has the secretaries of all natural resources ministries as its members. These include Petroleum and Natural Gas, Environment and Forests, Coal, Telecommunication, Defense, Minerals, Water, Land Resources and Planning Commission. For completeness, it also has the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Ficci).

This committee has the onerous task of delivering on the terms of reference below:

# Enhance transparency, efficiency and sustainability in the allocation, pricing and utilisation of natural resources through open, transparent and competitive mechanisms.

# To identify major natural resources that are allotted/distributed by the government of India and the institutional framework for the utilisation of such resources.

# To examine the efficacy and suitability of the existing legal and regulatory framework, and rules and procedures in this regard.

# To suggest measures to optimise the benefits of such utilisation for all stakeholders, while ensuring sustainability of the resources.

# Effectiveness in allocation, pricing and utilisation of these resources.

# To suggest changes in legal, institutional and regulatory frameworks to implement the above recommendation

# And any other issue(s) related to the above.

Many quarters rightfully believe that the task before the committee could be extremely challenging for six reasons:

# It has been given only three months to complete the task.

# The canvas is very wide. It covers coal, minerals, petroleum, gas, forests, land, water and spectrum. All of these have substantively large sub-sectors, for example, gas has coal-bed methane, shale gas, shale oil and hydrates.

# The administrative jungle that it will have to navigate is mind-boggling and complex. Each area has layers of Acts, rules, regulations, policies, guidelines and change memoranda.

# Issues between the Centre and state are constitutionally sticky and difficult to resolve even in the best of times (river-water sharing, royalty on mineral extraction and goods and services tax).

# A mass of economic theory and debate can cloud practical thinking.

# Choices between competitive market structures and administered allocation and pricing at this developmental cycle of our economy could be intellectually demanding.

Still, for carrying out its tasks the committee will have to draw upon a wealth of economic theory built around this area. It will have to grapple with "equity" versus "economic efficiency" choices. It will have to look at promoting sustainable utilisation of natural resources like minerals and coal, among other resources. The depletion of resources today will deprive future generations. In Norway and Alaska, a Petroleum Fund has been created from the surplus wealth produced by the petroleum income for use by future generations. Most importantly the committee will have to take a call on "growth" versus "sustainability" as the bulk of India's mineral wealth is under forest land.

It will have to decide the real opportunity cost of harnessing resources and to collect it from the user — the jargon here being "negative externalities". This principle is often used in the allocation and pricing of forest land, and displacements as a result of large hydro-electric projects.

It will have to take a call on "Predictability of Outcomes" to minimise uncertainty and transaction costs. Auction-driven price discovery may not necessarily work where revenue share mechanisms, such as those used in allocation of oil and gas fields, may be considered more appropriate. It will have to take a call on economic security issues facing the nation, as in high dependence on oil imports vis-à-vis more intensive mining of resources like coal and shale gas.

The starting point for the exercise should surely be to build consensus on the objectives for each of the resources to be priced and allocated. Methods and processes for pricing and allocation should come later. The tail should not wag the dog. Should the objective be revenue maximisation or penetration (the spectrum debate); should it be export maximisation or value-addition (iron-ore); should it be environment preservation (forests) or "growth" through rapid mineral extraction? Such either-or choices will confront the committee at every twist and turn. Thus, it is best if the committee, at stage one, concentrates only on "objectives" for each sector; rather than rush in with pricing-and-allocation solutions that may not necessarily be reflective of national aspirations.

With due respect to Adam Smith, right now we Indians are quite perturbed about many visible and invisible hands surreptitiously dipping into the wealth of our nation. The nation looks forward to Pranab babu and his GoM supported by Messrs Chawla and Mohan to lead us to salvation.


The author is the Chairman of Feedback Ventures
The views expressed are personal 






Sanya was a way station, the real summit is G-20 where India must have a voice of its own

India adds the much-needed vowel to a group of consonants in search of a meaning. Even then BRICS would still be a noun in search of an adjective.

It started as a marketing gimmick of a Goldman Sachs executive seeking business in emerging markets – Brazil, Russia, India and China (BRIC). Indians were flattered, the Chinese were initially supercilious (how can anyone bracket China with these other three wannabes?) but it is the Russians who first grabbed the idea, feeling bruised after their Yeltsin-era wooing of the West began to get spurned during Putin's more assertive reign. Caught between preening about its membership of G-8, the rich man's club, and its desire to keep a foothold in Asia (Russia sought and secured an invitation to the East Asian Summit), Russia founded BRICS (the S added by South Africa).

India's initial response to BRICS was lukewarm partly because India was more focused on IBSA, that other noun without an adjective, and the emerging East Asian Summit (EAS). If India was dealing with the other two great democracies of the developing world, Brazil and South Africa, in IBSA, and was dealing with China in EAS, then why another summit whose only purpose it seemed was to help Russia deal with its schizophrenic existence between the West and the Rest?

So why has India warmed up to BRICS? If the fundamental objective of Indian foreign policy is to secure a global and regional environment and key bilateral relationships that would be conducive to the sustainability and stability of the Indian growth process, then BRICS offers one more platform. While Prime Minister Manmohan Singh himself said famously that all summitry is tourism at public expense, it helps India to be widely engaged both as an insurance and as a means of in fact building a 'multi-polar' or 'polycentric' world that it seeks.

Prime Minister Singh told the Sanya Summit: "The challenge before us is to harness the vast potential that exists among us. We are rich in resources, material and human. We are strengthened by the complementarities of our resource endowments. We share the vision of inclusive growth and prosperity in the world. We stand for a rule-based, stable and predictable global order. We respect each other's political systems and stages of development. We value diversity and plurality. Our priority is the rapid socio-economic transformation of our people and those of the developing world. Our cooperation is neither directed against nor at the expense of anyone."

But China's commitment to respecting "diversity and plurality" is still in doubt and China has not yet won Indian trust on the question of whether it respects the territorial integrity and sovereignty of all nations and whether it stands for "a rule-based, stable and predictable global order."

That BRICS is more a way station than a summit, is proved by the fact that most of the 23 'action points' adopted through the Sanya Declaration are all about more meetings! More than two-thirds of the 32 paragraphs of the Sanya Declaration can be lifted from many similar declarations of the alphabet soup of plurilateral groupings and summits that have now become commonplace in the emerging multi-polar world.

The one good purpose that BRICS can still serve is to exert pressure on the West not to block the 'Rise of the Rest', as Alice Amsden put it in her classic book bearing this name on the rise of 'emerging economies'. Amsden's 'rest' included, apart from China, Brazil, India and South Africa, South Korea, Malaysia, Indonesia, Turkey and a few others, but most of them meet at the G-20 Summit anyway, so why BRICS?

Two recent developments seem to have dominated the Sanya Summit – the events in West Asia and North Africa (WANA), the economic consequences of 'quantitative easing' by the US and the poor quality of global economic management by the US and EU. The Rest are worried about the way in which the West has intervened both militarily in WANA and economically through QE2 and the mismanagement in Europe.

While these are legitimate concerns, and India ought to be concerned since global economic stability and regional political stability in WANA are vital to India's own national security and economic growth, it is not at all clear whether India would benefit more from standing with the protestors, Russia and China, or working with the managers, US and EU.

India's initial response to the popular uprisings in WANA balanced Indian economic and strategic interests with support for the democratic sentiments of the people and for the strengthening of plural and secular political systems in the region. India showed that its foreign policy was not driven by self-interest alone, nor by the 20th century clichés about sovereignty, but by its commitment to the building of a more plural, liberal and secular global society.

That stance, which defines Indian foreign policy not just in terms of national interest and economic necessity, but also a moral imperative is new direction that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has sought to provide. This should not get diluted by an urge to cling to old doctrines, howsoever comforting they may be in times of uncertainty and stress.

Finally, at a time when rising energy and food prices are threatening Indian economic growth, it is not clear if the BRICS have a shared agenda for prosperity. India and China do, but Russia is a beneficiary of high energy prices and Brazil both a cause and beneficiary of high food prices.

The real world summit of consequence these days is the G-20 and at G-20 India's individual personality, as an open economy and an open society, as a plural democracy pursuing inclusive growth, should shine, rather than get subsumed under groupings of convenience with no character.





One reason to go to a prestigious institution like IIM or Harvard is for the contacts you develop there. Now imagine after you come back from such a school, your employer — out of the fear that corporate secrets would leak to competitors — forbids you from maintaining any contact with your former classmates. Yet that is exactly the case with our defence officers, who are not permitted to even exchange emails with their former classmates without the approval of their respective service headquarters in New Delhi.

The paranoia underlying such an indiscriminate policy not only embarrasses individuals but also the nation. The world's largest democracy trusts its officers with deadly weapons but doesn't trust their sense of discretion. It also damages its own return on investment, for the officers who return from the world's best military academies abroad bring back only the knowledge, not the social networks that could serve the nation's interests. This is but one manifestation of India's overall denial of a place for the armed forces in foreign policy. Apart from a very small number of mid-ranking officers who work together on a limited number of issues, the two anchor tenants of South Block, the ministries of defence and external affairs, might well be on two different planets.


But why do we need military officers to engage in diplomacy? Well, not only does the nature of contemporary international politics call for it, but other important nations practise it. Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff of the US and the four-star generals that head its theatre commands are important players in operationalising Washington's foreign policy around the world. The Pentagon's foreign policy resources are comparable to the State Department's. Look around the neighbourhood. The armed forces are key players in politics and security policies of all our neighbours, from China to Indonesia, from Pakistan to Myanmar. Further afield in Southeast Asia, it is not uncommon for retired military officers — like Indonesia's President Yudhoyono — to occupy high political leadership positions.

Given our own firm believe in civilian supremacy over the armed forces, we are clearly uncomfortable with the sometimes dubious role the military plays in domestic politics in other countries. However, to pretend that other countries should operate by our domestic norms is unrealistic. Generals Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, Than Shwe and Chen Bingde and their colleagues shape their nations' policy towards India, we like it or not. Engaging them purely on civilian diplomatic terms, if at all, fails to engage their military establishments. Similarly, joint exercises and military-to-military cooperation arrangements only cover professional military matters. India does not engage in military diplomacy in any meaningful form.

This is part of the reason why India finds itself in a bind with respect to Pakistan, where it needs to engage the real power centre but finds itself with no means to. It is not a matter of matching protocol, for it is not purely military matters that we wish to discuss with General Kayani. Washington, in comparison, handles this a lot better through Admiral Mullen and General David Petraeus, the CENTCOM chief, who are the primary interlocutors with the Pakistan army. Given that these admirals and generals are engaged in diplomatic activities of serious importance to India, can we afford to stay out of the military diplomatic loop?

This is not to say that New Delhi must set its generals and admirals off on diplomatic missions next week. Rather, India must make military diplomacy part of its foreign policy toolbox and create the capacities, structures and processes necessary to put it into action.

Diplomacy must enter the syllabuses of our military academies. Trained military officers must be deputed to Indian embassies and missions around the world, both to add to the numbers of defence attaches as well as to perform non-military functions. Not only will this expose military officers to the conduct of diplomacy but also address another problem — the inability of the Indian Foreign Service to ramp up its numbers fast enough to meet the growing demand. Furthermore, the socialisation of defence and foreign service officers through such postings will create benefits in the long term, in terms of greater understanding and policy coordination.

What about structures? As the late K Subrahmanyam consistently argued, India must restructure its armed forces along the lines of the US, with a joint chiefs of staff and tri-service theatre commands. Like it has done for the US, such a structure will lend itself to the conduct of military diplomacy.

However, while we wait for the political and defence establishments to develop an appetite for major reforms, it is possible to make adjustments to the existing structures to get some mileage. Why not make a senior defence officer the National Security Advisor? Why doesn't the National Security Council have senior military officers in top leadership positions? Indeed, a general in the NSC can well be the point person to engage the Pakistani army establishment.

In the meantime, perhaps we can allow our defence officers to keep in touch with their foreign friends.

The author is founder and fellow for geopolitics at the Takshashila Institution and editor of Pragati
– The Indian National Interest Review







Environment minister Jairam Ramesh has done the right thing by deferring grant of forest clearance to the Posco project in Orissa till objections to their land being taken away by two villages in the project area are disposed of in the manner prescribed under law. The state government says that the people of the villages, who have been resisting their land being taken away, are neither tribals nor other traditional forest dwellers. But these villagers are, in any case, people, with rights of various kinds, whether accorded under the Forest Rights Act or not. They are, further, people capable of political action and mobilisation, as they have amply demonstrated. At the same time, they are people who have the normal ambitions and aspirations of people anywhere, to improve their lot and acquire a better standard of living. Strange indeed it is that a . 54,000 crore investment does not offer something to satisfy these normal aspirations of the people of the project-affected areas. The problem, essentially, is that companies seeking land rely upon governments, their political manager and agents, rather than deal directly with the people whose land they want. An export-oriented project would have few local forward linkages. Modern steel plants are not labour-intensive, and the few hands needed to run the plant would need well-defined skills, restricting the scope for direct employment of local people. Therefore, some creative engagement with the displaced people and more generous and large-hearted compensation policies are called for, to make it acceptable for people to give up land and the only certain forms of subsistence they have. Instead of mustering these, companies tend to engage with the administration, ruling party power brokers and their thugs.

A change of tack on Posco's part is likely to produce a sea-change in the attitude of the protesters. The due process of the law should be respected, both for itself and to shield the project from later legal challenge and disruption. While the government goes through the due process, the company should engage with the people. The environment ministry's latest order provides an opportunity for both developments.








The Centre's plan to make changes in the over-twodecade law to unearth benami property (property held in the name of someone other than the actual owner) is bizarre. The legislation has not been enforced till date simply because rules have not been framed to empower an authority to acquire benami properties. The right way to proceed would be for the government to frame and notify the rules first and improve the legislation thereafter, rather than delay the process altogether in the name of creating a better law. The Benami Transactions (Prohibition) Act should also be backed by larger institutional reforms that make more urban land available and political funding transparent. Real estate is the most widely used medium to generate and hide unaccounted money. Benami properties and under-reporting of land transactions are the obvious instruments. Unclear titles to land facilitate such frauds. A central registry system would help curb the practice. Already, state governments capture electronic records of land ownership that is akin to dematerialisation or holding of securities in an electronic form. The next step is to ensure guaranteed titles to the holders of immovable property. India should adopt the Torrens system where the ownership of land is directly registered by the state. In the system in force now, title instruments are registered, still leaving scope for multiple deeds and unregistered instruments. In the Torrens system, the sovereign is the keeper of all land and title records and the land title serves as a certificate of vaild ownership.

The Centre should develop infrastructure in the form of a central registry to house electronic records of property titles that can be accessed by states. This will clear the air on who owns a piece of land. A change in ownership should get reflected in the database. So, the government must ensure that mapping becomes a part of the registration process. Clean government-guaranteed titles will curb frauds in realty deals and improve governance. Further, a major incentive to generate unaccounted funds would go, if political funding is made transparent.






 The Indian film and wedding industries are always on the lookout for fresh ideas. Both should, therefore, be pleased with the news that a San Francisco-based holiday rental website has tied up with an event management company in Liechtenstein to hire out that entire tiny European principality, just like a hotel suite. Indeed, the German government's revelation that 26 Indians have numbered accounts in Liechtenstein's LGT Bank would imply that many of those who can afford the $70,000 a night (around . 30 lakh) rate stipulated by the renting agency, are already aware of the charms of that country, though they may not have been drawn there initially by mountains and rolling pastures. However, it does seem an almost modest rate to charge, considering that the price (even if bookings have to be made for a minimum of two nights) also includes accommodation for 150 people, about the size of a moderate Indian film crew or wedding contingent, besides customised road signs and temporary currency. All that for around . 20,000 per person seems like a steal, for those who like that sort of thing.

Local businesses certainly benefit when other cities in Europe are routinely taken over for either of these two purposes, but they would be hardpressed to match what Liechtenstein is offering as the clincher: a formal presentation of a symbolic 'key' to the principality to the lucky tenant, just right and dramatic for a film sequence. Extras like personalised seals and medieval processions would also dovetail nicely with the demands of a typical Indian jamboree. If the royal family can be roped in for a party or a d a r s h a n(for a consideration, naturally), then Indians would be even more enthused. So, what if the name of the country is a bit of a tongue-twister for most of us.






There is a good news on the farm front. After the dip in 2009-10 due to severe drought, agri-production in 2010-11 has bounced back on its rising trend. The third Advance Estimates for 2010-11 indicate a rich harvest with foodgrains touching a new peak at 235.9 million tonnes. Of this, more heartening is the production of pulses which has registered a quantum jump of more than 18% to touch 17.3 million tonnes, an all-time high. Oilseeds production has jumped by 20% to cross 30 million tonnes, and cotton by a whopping 40% to touch 34 million bales. These are all laudable achievements by Indian farmers, duly supported by scientists, bureaucrats, agri-business, and, of course, the rain gods to give us a normal rainfall year.

But now comes the challenge of managing efficiently this bountiful harvest. If this is not addressed seriously, and quickly, it can play spoilsport and turn this bounty into a crisis. First and foremost is the need to hold the price line for the farmers, who have toiled hard in the face of rising labour and energy costs, to ensure that they get at least the minimum support price (MSP) that the government has announced.

Already there is a news that in Uttar Pradesh wheat is being sold at . 1,050/quintal as against an MSP of . 1,120 plus, the likely bonus of . 50 per quintal. Earlier, in the kharif season also, paddy prices were below the MSP in several mandis in UP and Orissa. With increasing arrivals of wheat in mandis, the situation is going to worsen. All government machinery related to procurement, be it FCI, Nafed, state agencies, etc., need to be put in high gear. And if these agencies still cannot hold the floor price, the government needs to do some 'out-of the-box' thinking and invite the non-governmental agencies to join them under the PPP mode for procurement.


Cooperatives (like Iffco, etc), NGOs (like BAIF, etc) and the private sector companies (like ITC, HKBs, etc) could be partners in procurement with government agencies. They could buy at MSP and be given same terms and conditions as given to FCI and state agencies. In particular, this needs to be experimented in areas of eastern region where the government is trying to usher in second green revolution and government procurement machinery is somewhat weak.

By bringing in these strong allies in procurement, the country can have a win-win situation. On one hand, farmers can be assured of MSP, incentivising them to adopt modern technologies and raise productivity. On the other, non-governmental agencies can hopefully do the procurement in a more cost-effective manner and make some savings, thereby incentivising them to build backend storage infrastructure that is so badly needed. And, if all this fails, the government should think of the ways and means to compensate the farmers for the loss accruing due to market prices going below MSP. It is going to be challenging, identifying farmers who have sold their produce at prices below MSP, and then transferring money directly to their accounts through an electronic platform using UID. But as they say, the promise of an MSP is a promise by the government, and needs to be honoured to give credibility to its price policy.

    The other challenge is efficiently managing the grain stocks. Saving an already produced grain from damage is much more cost-effective than producing additional grain with scare land and scarcer water. Currently, the country is saddled with large grain inventories of about 46 million tonnes, more than double the buffer stock norms. And in the next three months, with an expected wheat procurement of more than 26 million tonnes, this is feared to turn into a 'crisis of plenty' as the storage capacity with FCI and CWC is limited. Even when states like Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu (and more states are treading that path) are selling foodgrains at token prices of . 1 and . 2/ kg, the country is not able to liquidate the stocks, notwithstanding the harsh fact that there are serious problems of delivery to the needy people which require improvisations. The extra inventory, over and above the buffer stock norms, is currently estimated at more than . 40,000 crore, which is not giving any meaningful return to the country.

The immediate need, therefore, is to find its appropriate use. One such option is to unload a part of it in the domestic market at a price not below the MSP. The other option could be to distribute more through welfare programmes (subsidised ones), and yet another option is to export part of it to make some profits that can be ploughed back to build modern storage facilities. We feel that the international market for grains is reasonably good and India could export 3-5 million tonnes of wheat and rice each, in a gradual manner, to make some profits by the government agencies and/ or by the private sector.

But in the business of trade, speedy decisions are needed. The procurement season has begun, the crop is good, and unless a clear policy direction is given, the country may miss this opportunity. It will not serve anyone's purpose if excessive stocks kept in the open get damaged and spoiled in rains. Timely decision is the need of the hour, and time is already knocking at our doors!

(Co-authored with Rugmini Parmar, Advisor, CACP)










With investments of $64.17 million in energy, mineral resources, agro-industries, transport and communication, food processing, coconut and cashew processing sectors, India became the fourth largest investor in the southeast African country of Mozambique in 2009. Mozambique is a key Indian Ocean Rim country that provides a crucial window to India for trade with landlocked southern African countries such as Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi and Swaziland. Prime Minister of Mozambique Aires Bonifacio Baptista Ali hopes that bilateral trade between India and Mozambique will grow and the target of $1 billion by 2013, which has been set, will be achieved. Baptista Ali, who is a seasoned politician, has held the office of Prime Minister since January 2010. He was in New Delhi recently for the CII EXIM Bank India-Africa Conclave, where Mozambique was the partner country. From a growth in bilateral trade to greater cooperation in tackling the pirate menace in the Indian Ocean, Baptista Ali sees India and Mozambique poised for stronger ties in the coming years.

"The annual India-Africa conclave has now become a very big event and as the partner country, we had a very big delegation — this included four ministers and many senior government officials. There were many meetings with our Indian counterparts which covered different issues of interest to both countries such as trade and bilateral relations. India is now among the top 10 trade partners that we have — in 2009, it was the fourth largest investor in Mozambique. We now look at an increase in investment by the Indian private sector in areas such as agriculture, irrigation systems, energy, roads and infrastructure and electricity. The $1-billion target for trade by 2013 also looks achievable from here," Baptista Ali says.

The Mozambique government wants to be seen as a facilitator for Indian companies. "We are looking at creating facilities for Indian companies investing in Mozambique, including fiscal and taxation benefits. We want to create a good environment for businesses and want to be seen as the best investment destination in the region," he adds. According to him, the best route for Indian companies to set up shop in Mozambique is through joint ventures with local companies. "Our government is working at creating a good business environment and becoming a facilitator for Indian companies. Our capital Maputo can be an ideal entrance for businesses looking at a foray into other parts of the African continent," he says.

As the former minister of education and culture, Baptista Ali would like to see more Indian companies helping his government with technical education and imparting skills to Mozambique's workforce. "Private sector education providers and the Indian government can both help us in different areas of education, including science & technology and vocational training. Human resources development is a priority area for us and cooperation with India in this sector was discussed during our President Armando Guebuza's visit last year," he says. India and Mozambique share common seas and both the governments have been concerned over the growing menace of piracy in the region. During President Guebuza's visit to India last year, the two countries pledged to work together to combat piracy and terrorism in the Indian Ocean and make the region more safe and peaceful. India and Mozambique are also jointly trying to revive the Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation (IOR-ARC).

"We share common seas and our government needs the support of India on security issues. We need to have discussions from time to time and to rope in other governments in the region for stability and security related issues," Baptista Ali says.

Mozambique is an emerging tourist destination in the southern African region and the government is now hoping to woo tourists from India in a big way. "We are looking at boosting tourism to our country from India. People who come to our country to do business usually leave with a very positive impression. We have pristine and beautiful beaches and islands for tourists to enjoy. We are also an important hub for Asian cruises in the Indian Ocean. We hope that our efforts will attract more Indian tourists — the ocean is the same, but Mozambique can provide a very different environment for tourists visiting us from India," the Prime Minister says.

Mozambique has a fairly large community of people of Indian origin, which is the sixth largest in Africa, at roughly 40,000. Gujarati traders started moving into Mozambique from South Africa in the latter part of the 19th Century. "There are a large number of Indians in Mozambique who have been there for two-three generations. And now with new professionals moving to our country, Indians have a comfort factor in Mozambique. There are plenty of Indian restaurants and peopleto-people cultural links. Indians have done well in diverse industries and in science. There are also many Indians involved in medical care services," Baptista Ali says.










Are better human development outcomes the result of more public spending? Does the quality of spending matter, or can we make up for poor spending quality by throwing more money at the job? What has been the Indian experience? Unfortunately, there is little to go by. In the absence of data linking measurable outcomes to outlays, financial journalists like this columnist have often been forced to rest content with analysing Budget numbers while rating government performance.

But such analyses suffer from a major drawback. They are essentially theoretical exercises, limited to numbers on paper. When in reality the most meaningful analysis of government performance is not in cold numbers but what these numbers translate into by way of outcomes for people. After all, that is the whole purpose of the Budget exercise. That was also the genesis of the 'Outcome Budget' introduced by the former finance minister P Chidambaram in February 2005. Warning "outlays do not necessarily mean outcomes", he promised to put in place "a mechanism to measure the development outcomes of all major programmes".

Well said! Except that over the years, Outcome Budgets have not been of much help. They do not shed light on whether the end-objective of government spending — has life become better for the aam janta, are they better educated, do they live longer, is there better gender-balance, etc — has been served.

Of course, the 2011 Census data does suggest life has got better for all of us on most of these parameters. Sex ratios (bar in the 0-6 years' age group) have improved, female literacy is up, as is longevity. But is this improvement the result of government spending priorities? Can differences between states be explained by variations in inter-state spending priorities?

This is where linking Census numbers with data from the Reserve Bank of India's (RBI) latest study on state finances shatters some myths and offers some interesting insights. Thus, contrary to widespread belief, Kerala's spending on the social sector is not the highest among states. Not only does it rank below states like Rajasthan, Bihar and Maharashtra, its spending has come down in the decade to 2011.

Also, the improvement in human development indicators is not so much the result of providence or faster economic growth but the outcome of an across-the-board increase in the share of social sector expenditure in total expenditure in almost all states. The Centre may claim the aam aadmi slogan for itself, but states seem to have imbibed the same spirit. Thus, the share of social sector expenditure has increased, both as a percentage of GDP and as a percentage of total expenditure. Such expenditure averaged just 5.8% of GDP in the period 1990-95 but increased to 6.4% by 2009-10. As a percentage of total expenditure too, the share of social sector expenditure rose from 36.8% in 1990-95 to 39.1% by 2009-10.

But in a country as diverse as India, any study that looks at the aggregate picture is bound to conceal more than it reveals. A more granulated look at state-wise performance on human development indicators and governments' spending priorities throws up some unexpected conclusions.

Punjab's continuing adverse sex ratio, for instance, has long puzzled observers. Why should a state that ranks among the more prosperous states in the country rank at close to the bottom when it comes to the sex ratio? Could it be, as the RBI data shows, that it is a laggard when it comes to social expenditure, spending just 21% of its total expenditure on the social sector while amuch poorer state like Bihar spends close to 40%.
It's the same story when it comes to spending on education. In the decadal period to Census 2011, Punjab's average spending on education was just 11.2% of total spending as against Kerala's 17.3% and — surprise, surprise — Bihar's 19.1% and Rajasthan's 16.4%. Mind you, this has nothing to do with the poor state of Punjab's finances as we are talking of the share of social sector expenditure in total expenditure. Is it any surprise that Bihar shows the most dramatic improvement in female literacy (61%) with UP a close second at 40% as against Punjab's 12.5%?

We've known for a while that catch-up has been happening in the economic sphere with poorer states growing faster than many richer ones. And now with poorer states reordering their spending priorities, it might well be only a matter of time before they catch up with the richer ones in human development indicators too. Now that would be a case of 'good getting better'!







Just as a recovering patient continually checks particular readings which indicate the extent of progress in his health, the spiritual seeker too would have to fall back on certain 'tests' and 'checklists' which would serve to quantify the progress attained thus far. Of two helpful indicators in this regard, one is the poem IF- of Rudyard Kipling, structured almost in the form of a 'questionnaire'. For each question, beginning with 'If ', where the answer is in the affirmative, the reader scores. The first question listed is, "If you can keep your head, when all about you/Are losing theirs and blaming it on you…". When most such "IF-" questions (there are eleven in this poem) meet with positive answers, the verdict, as noted by Kipling himself is, "Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,/And — which is more — you'll be a Man, my son". The second indicator is the expatiation of the concept of 'evolved person' (stitaprajna), as found in Bhagawad Gita. Some of the virtues outlined are: one who is fulfilled within by his own self; one who is liberated of passions, fear and anger; one who is a sage of enduring wisdom; one who has won over his senses; one who is free of ego; one imbued with inner joy, fulfilment and light; one who is moderate in food and sleep; one who is delighted in the welfare of all; one who has resolved his conflicts and one who delights in his own self. Kipling's poem and the observations of Bhagawd Gita are not mere indicators of progress but also are supreme guidelines for rightful, effective and thus truly spiritual living.






The mere fact that a country has democratic institutions tells us very little about whether it is well or badly governed.... India... has been a remarkably successful democracy since its independence in 1947 — an achievement all the more remarkable given its poverty, ethnic and religious diversity, and enormous size.
Nonetheless, Indian democracy, like sausage making, looks less appealing the closer one gets to the process. Nearly one-third of Indian legislators, for example, are under some form of criminal indictment, some for serious crimes like murder and rape. Indian politicians often practice an overt form of patronage politics, in which votes are traded for political favours. The fractiousness of Indian democracy makes it very hard for the government to make major decisions on issues like investments in major infrastructure projects. And in many Indian cities, glittering high-tech centers of excellence exist next to African-style poverty. The apparent chaos and corruption of democratic politics in India has frequently been contrasted to the quick and efficient decision making of China.Chinese rulers are not constrained by either a rule of law or democratic accountability; if they want to build a huge dam, bulldoze neighborhoods to make way for highways or airports, or mount a rapid economic stimulus package, they can do so far more quickly than democratic India.







This is the time for IT firms to start grabbing western talent aggressively because moving low-end jobs to India will no longer suffice.

The goings-on at Infosys, India's largest IT company, provide an opportunity for a review of the industry. In all the effusive praise heaped on it, and its own, often self-congratulatory tone, a few boring old principles of economics cannot be ignored. Three dominate — two from microeconomic theory and one from trade theory. The first microeconomic truth is that because of free entry, the supernormal profits of the last 15 years have been dissipating, because they have attracted other firms to enter and compete on price. The second is that, as a result, the industry demand curve has been flattening out, which means that, soon, no individual producer will be able to influence price. This latter is a normal consequence of commoditisation. The third truth, this time from trade theory, is that, if there are no restrictions on their movement, factor prices will tend to equalise across countries. This means all firms will face similar wage and interest costs. This last point is especially important for firms that trade internationally. Thus, in the beginning, cheap Indian labour was exported via electronic means but foreign capital did not move into India; for the last five years or so, it has begun to do so. It has competed for local labour and driven up wage costs and reduced the profit per unit of output. Hence the need for volume. Add to this the normal ups and downs of business cycles, now made worse by the global slowdown — and to economists, at least, there are no great surprises in what is happening to, and in, the Indian IT industry.

That said, the question remains as to what incumbent firms need to do to at least protect, if not actually drive up, profits. The key lesson here lies in what has happened to China in manufacturing. In terms of economics, China's manufacturing sector and India's IT sector are almost identical, as both have depended on low labour costs for their success. But low wage costs also have a negative, little talked about side to them: They reflect, in relative terms, low skills and low productivity. This is all right for commodity production in exactly the same way as it is for farming. The difference, of course, is that in farming, capital is embedded in land; in manufacturing, it is embedded in machines and in IT, in skills. All three need constant upgrading.

Just like Indian farmers, it is in this last that Indian IT firms seem to be floundering. Like China in manufacturing, they are moving up the value-addition ladder all too slowly. The answer to this problem lies in importing foreigners on a much larger scale. This would be exactly the same as importing capital because, in IT, capital comes in the form of brain power, not money power. Given that the Western recession is likely to last for another five years at least, this is the time to start grabbing Western talent aggressively because moving low-end jobs to India will no longer suffice.







India's stubbornly high deficit is not so much a story of its income stagnating, as one of unbridled spending.

In the rosy glow surrounding India's rise as one of the fastest-growing economies of the world, one aspect that is glossed over is its not-so-comfortable fiscal position. The media and the electorate may get quite worked up about poor governance, scams, corruption and other issues, but fiscal profligacy is seen as a necessary indulgence to keep the economy going.

It is the dangers of such neglect that are flagged by the authors Mr Willem H Buiter and Mr Urjit R Patel in their April 2010 research paper titled "Fiscal Rules in India: Are they effective?" (NBER Working Paper:

Despite the question posed in the title, the events detailed in the paper clearly show that successive Indian governments have simply not paid heed to their self-imposed rules on spending or living beyond their means, in recent years.

India's fiscal position has been allowed to steadily deteriorate by governments that have postponed deficit targets, put them in 'pause mode' to attend to more pressing matters or even tried their hand at window dressing by resorting to "off balance sheet" items.

Mr Buiter and Mr Patel point out that India's fiscal position, measured by indicators such as general government budget deficit and gross debt-to-GDP ratio, "put it in the same camp as fiscally stretched States such as Greece, Portugal, Spain, Ireland and UK". And this is a persisting problem. "Over the last three decades, India has found it impossible to sustain for an appreciable time, an overall public sector financial deficit of less than 8 per cent of GDP….it has been extremely rare for the general government fiscal deficit to be less than 6 per cent".

The fiscal deficit, at a precarious 7.8 per cent in 2008-09 has since moderated to 5.1 per cent, but well above the target of 3 per cent set by Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management (FRBM) Act, for a deadline two years ago!

It is growth at risk

But what's wrong with running big deficits, as long as the economy is growing and the government remains solvent? In answer, the authors point out that persistently high public debt and deficits can actually derail economic growth.

One, if a country's debt position is already precarious, it could make it more vulnerable to sovereign default during a downturn or external shock. High debt usually induces the government to raise tax rates or cut essential spending, neither of which may be great for growth.

Two, big government borrowings can crowd out the private sector and push it to borrow overseas, creating problems of its own. This is particularly relevant to India, where the low external liabilities of the exchequer are often cited as a comfort factor to dismiss default risk.

With more liberal ceilings for foreign borrowings, Indian companies have taken to this route in a big way in recent years. And during the liquidity crisis if 2008, quite a few Indian companies were at the brink of default, unable to service foreign currency convertible bonds.

Populist, spending

Isn't India's high deficit a fall-out of stimulus spending to prime up the economy in 2008-09? Not really, say the authors. They point out that if one includes "off budget items" such as oil and fertiliser bonds, fiscal indicators for India have been slipping since 2004-05. Indeed, India's stubbornly high deficit is not so much a story of its income stagnating as one of unbridled spending.

As the paper notes "The recent profligacy of the central government has its primary driver in populist spending policies by the ruling coalition leading up to the national elections in May 2009; the three stimulus packages …only helped matters along in the same direction"Still, the country has not abandoned its attempts at reining in its fiscal excesses. The 13{+t}{+h} Finance Commission Report recently laid down a five-year roadmap to trim the deficit and public debt.

The 2011 Budget also chimed in, reiterating that the fiscal deficit would be reduced to 4.6 per cent of GDP in 2011-12 and further to 3.5 per cent by 2013-14. While the stock markets seemed quite happy with this "roadmap", it is quite difficult to take such intentions at face value, given that our track record in sticking to targets, even when it was legislated by Parliament, has been quite poor. As this paper observes, India's attempts at fiscal discipline have fallen flat mainly because running high deficits has not entailed any political cost to the party at the helm.

Set a thief!

If the electorate is not bothered about the deficit and even laws have failed to rein in liberal spenders, what is the solution to India's problem of debt and deficits?

The authors suggest that we set a thief to catch a thief. In this case, use the State governments to police the Centre's performance on deficits. While the Central government has taken quite a lackadaisical attitude to deficits in recent years, the State governments have done much better at reining in wasteful expenditure and generally sticking to the rules.

Now Mr Buiter and Mr Patel suggest that we set down clear annual deficit targets for both Central and State governments. If the Centre slips up in meeting its target, it must then pay penalty by making up this shortfall in the next year and also allowing the States to run a higher deficit of the same quantum.

As States do tend to be politically powerful, the Centre may be more wary of violating its limits if it affects them. Remember that coalition politics has endowed State governments with a lot of "informal" clout too at the Centre, so this carrot and stick approach may well work!







Germans have shut almost half the nuclear plants as signs of angst have enveloped this risk-averse nation.

Twenty-five years ago when Chernobyl happened, I was living in Paris and, have grim memories of the plume of radioactive fallout that drifted over much of Europe, including France at that time.

I recall, most Europeans then were filled with contemptuous, disparaging, cynical comfort, that it was the result of 'outdated Soviet technology and careless human error'. Even so, I have nothing but respect for Germany and Japan's aptitude when it comes to application of knowledge, science and technology. That is why Fukushima has been such a crucial, defining moment for many. It has made us start to distrust, doubt and question. If the Japanese have not been able to master this technology and, the Germans have panic running down their spine, then does nuclear energy mask risks that none could see, in the past?

Given the apparent severity, should not all of Europe and the rest of the world bid adieu to atomic energy as soon as possible? The answer seems to be 'no'. Let's take a look.

The news of the Fukushima catastrophe came as a thunderbolt. On March 15, the day the 27 European Union member-states were to agree to perform stress tests on the 153 reactors on European soil, Germany announced the immediate shut-down of seven of its plants for three months. And Germany is not alone. Italy may forsake its idea of revisiting nuclear power, and Poland is asking the same questions.

Austria was the first to demand that stress tests be carried out at the European level, whilst Switzerland has declared it is suspending its nuclear projects in anticipation of more rigorous safety standards. Europe has become the world title-holder of hysteria around nuclear power.

Nuclear Angst

Germany currently relies on nuclear plants to cover 23 per cent of its energy demand. On the other hand, a new era seems to have begun in Germany. The new mantra is to embrace the changeover to clean energy. Germany has drawn up a six-point plan which includes expanding renewable energy. Ambitious plan!

But the reality is that while more than 80 per cent of Germans want to see the country abandon nuclear energy, there is one major caveat: When it comes to key alternate energy projects, most Germans do not want them in their own courtyard. As soon as plans are divulged for mass wind turbines or solar farms near residential areas, home owners and locals are quick to organise local campaigns and legal action to bring construction to a standstill.

Other European countries have already tried to go even further than Germany on the path toward green energy — and failed. Take the example of the Netherlands. The traditional Dutch people's pride in their ancient windmills doesn't seem to have carried over to contemporary wind turbines. Instead, antagonism continues to grow, and the government's targets for wind power are looking increasingly unrealistic. As things stand now, the country won't even achieve 50 per cent of the 6,000 megawatt capacity that had been planned by 2020. It's not that the Dutch lack technological capacity when it comes to wind power. They simply do not want it. Only France maintains its confidence in one of its leading industries where a radical energy shift is much more problematic than in Germany or elsewhere because it is profoundly dependent on nuclear energy.

The second-biggest user of nuclear power in the world after the United States has 104 reactors delivering a substantial share of the country's electricity. Not only does France's nuclear industry create innumerable jobs, but it also supplies reasonably priced electricity to the people, directly boosting the economy. So, despite the swelling fears triggered by the Fukushima disaster, the French may - out of compulsions, rather than disquiet - leisurely plod along the tentative road of nuclear energy.

Dangerous Alternatives

While a majority of Europeans apparently want to escape nuclear energy now, the alternatives in mind are unfortunately not too alluring. We all know that global warming is the cost of using fossil fuels, such as coal and oil. It is estimated that in coal mining, more than 10,000 people die each year. Added to this are lives gone in carrying and burning coal. And, under some circumstances, smouldering coal releases more radiation into the environment than a nuclear power station under normal functioning conditions.

If nuclear is too dangerous, fossil fuels are too mucky and renewable energy is too convoluted, where are we supposed to get our electricity? There are known hazards with other forms of energy making as well. Even solar power releases radioactivity. Solar power stations need large amounts of copper for pipes, and their production discharges uranium.

Boom Time

Unfortunately, the Japanese catastrophe comes at a boom time for nuclear power station construction, driven by the massive demand for energy in rapidly growing economies including India.

In Europe, it's driven by the need to stop burning fossil fuels in the facade of climate change. It is time for politicians to re-think, reassess nuclear power plant developments in their countries. And, scientists and engineers will need to go back to the drawing board to have another look at their assumptions, designing reliable, safe nuclear plants.

(The author is a former Europe Director, CII and lives in Cologne,






The Karnataka Chief Minister, B.S. Yeddyurappa, would not have thought that his plan to honour the Indian cricket stars would land him in a 'legal' soup.

When other State governments offered rewards to the Indian team for winning the world Cup, Mr Yeddyurappa, not to be left behind, announced 4000 sq ft plots in the city for each team member, though there were no players from the State in the team.

When he was told there were not enough 'good' sites in Bangalore to allot to all, he decided to go for cash award of Rs 25 lakh each.

But now even that seems a distant possibility as a Bangalore resident has filed a PIL against the cash award saying that such huge rewards to the already rich players would be a drain on the State's coffers.

Calling the shots?

Infosys' Mohandas Pai was offered either the COO post or CEO post about nine months ago by Chief Mentor Narayanamurthy. He was made this offer informally when he first expressed his desire to quit. Of course, Pai refused this generous offer. One, however, wonders what the incumbent CEO, the incoming CEO and the rest of the board thought of this unilateral offering of the crown. After all, there is something called shareholder democracy and corporate governance and other such noble concepts that companies claim they are ardent adherents to. Or should we just interpret this as an inadvertent admission about who really calls the shots?

Tale of a suit

Shareholders do not miss an opportunity to complain about wasteful corporate expenses. However, at the 75th AGM of cement major ACC, it was a different scene.

A shareholder, known for her chaste Hindi couplets, said "we understand that you are implementing a lot of cost-cutting measures, but we are surprised to see you today in the same suit that you wore in the picture published in the Annual Report- 'Itna to cost-cutting mat kijiye.'

Before the creases of the wide smile on the Chairman, Narotam Sekhsaria's face disappeared, she cleverly sneaked in her demand for a bonus issue to mark ACC's platinum jubilee.

Road to nowhere?

The Environment Minister, Jairam Ramesh, does play to the galleries at times. At the press meet during his visit to Mumbai last week, he was at his best. Describing the status of the proposed Coastal Road between Haji Ali and Nariman Point, as a classic Indian case of Trishanku (neither here nor there,) Ramesh eased palpable tension in a room full of journalists waiting to pounce upon him with questions of Posco and Jaitapur. But, the best was yet to come. "The first notice regarding CRZ violations has been sent on March 30. In this day and age, I'm shocked that it has not yet been reported," he said, continuing the good-natured, light-hearted banter with the media.

Raining releases

The Union Railway Minister and Trinamool Congress supremo, Mamata Banerjee, seems to be taking the "she will mess up the State like she has the Railways" campaign by her Left rivals in Bengal very seriously.

Ever since elections were declared in West Bengal, her Ministry has gone on overdrive issuing one press release after another. Most of these relate to 'record' earnings in wagon purchase, scrap sale, network expansion and highest-ever rolling stock. Now, is Didi seeing red and 'railing' against her opponents?

PR woes

The ad industry's annual gala, Goafest 2011, was a wonderful event. If only one did not have to plead with waiters outside the Conclave venue for a notepad — or a piece of paper — to write on, it would have been even better.

Let's look at the positive side of this - the experience prepared us for the seminars on the next two days, when we picked up every writing pad available in the room they stayed at and some from the lovely lady next door. Except for the Media Badge (thank God for small mercies), the Creative and Media Abby results, and a schedule of speakers (on SMS), one received precious little information of relevance and remained blissfully clueless about the goings on. What took the cake was a PR agency sending in an incorrect caption to a photograph of ASCI members taking a pledge. Forget self-regulation for now; can we start with quality control?

Modi's way

The Gujarat Chief Minister, Narendra Modi, seldom takes back people who are off his radar. But an exception seems to have made in the case of the bureaucrat turned-entrepreneur, Sanjay Gupta. In 2001, Gupta was shunted out to an insignificant posting, which, at the end of the year, he quit and joined the private sector Adani Group.

Last week, after nine years, Gupta was rehabilitated by Modi and appointed chairman of the Ahmedabad-Gandhinagar Metro project. Gupta is known for his project execution skill which, presumably, led to the recall.



                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




It is not novel for non-officials to be invited to official deliberations for the framing of new legislation. Their views have occasionally been sought on bills pertaining to the social sector and the environment. But it is a new experience in India to set up a joint panel of government ministers and social activists in equal proportions to draft a bill, and the committee being co-chaired by a non-official member — as is the case with the group tasked with drafting a bill to put in place the institution of Lokpal. The panel's first meeting on Saturday had a saving grace or two, and this should be acknowledged while pointing to problems that might lie ahead. Anna Hazare, the chief architect of the civil society campaign whose efforts produced the extraordinary bill-making panel, has reportedly agreed that the committee's draft will go before Parliament, and then the normal legislation-making processes would apply. This is a significant step. During the recent Jantar Mantar campaign there was insistence in some quarters that the so-called Jan Lokpal Bill (the document produced by activist zealots) must be accepted the way it was, with the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition underwriting its passage through Parliament, a clearly absurd proposition intended to sanctify lawmaking by impassioned, non-elected individuals. A related idea was also jettisoned — that the panel would only discuss the Jan Lokpal Bill, containing the ideas of the Jantar Mantar group on the subject. Fortunately, the panel has now accepted that this will be only one of the source documents that will be considered. This too is an important step forward. An earlier version of the bill that has already been discussed by a parliamentary select committee is thus also now on the table. Further, the non-official panellists have dropped their earlier insistence on videotaping and telecasting the committee's deliberations. If this had been agreed to, it is apt to have led to unprecedented grandstanding by members, rather than careful deliberation. While we welcome the positives, there remains an important danger to ward off. A sword of Damocles hangs over the panel to conclude its work by the last day of June. This coercive aspect — Mr Hazare had earlier warned that if the bill was not got ready by the suggested date, he would begin another hungerstrike — no doubt owes to the circumstances of the constitution of the committee. So complex are the roots of corruption in India, it is hard to see how clear-cut ideas can emerge within a short timeframe dictated by external agents. The National Advisory Council, a civil society outfit chaired by UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi which has some eminent persons on it, has also advanced certain ideas on the Lokpal Bill. On Saturday, as the bill-making panel sat in its inaugural session, the National Campaign for the People's Right to Information, led by former Chief Justice of India J.S. Verma, was advancing a noteworthy critique of what had transpired so far, and offering suggestions. It would be a shame if views from these quarters were ignored by the committee. The incumbent Chief Justice of India, Justice S.H. Kapadia, while delivering a lecture on Saturday, also raised a matter of direct relevance to the deliberations on the Lokpal issue. The Lokpal committee must hear this urging in the right perspective as it debates ideas on the relationship between the Lokpal and the judiciary.







The most remarkable feature of the April 2011 elections to three Indian states and one Union Territory was the record number of people who showed up to cast their votes. Scams, corruption at high places and corroded institutions of state had clearly not managed to destroy the Indian electorate's faith in the democratic process. What emerges is that the average voter across the country still believes that her vote matters, that she can compel the powerful to ultimately bend to her will just as the rustic Anna Hazare could force the government to relent on the Lokpal panel issue. This conviction has major implications for the future of Indian politics. This time many more millions voted than the last time and many of them were first-time voters without whose participation the voting figures could not have reached such heights. The most remarkable was the voter turnout in Tamil Nadu where 35.7 million people voted this time as compared to 32.8 million in the 2006 state elections. The voter turnout figure was a record 77.8 per cent. It was a similar story everywhere. Even in the remote frontier villages of Kashmir, voters had turned up in huge numbers to vote in the local panchayat elections. On April 13, the very day that voters in South India went to polls, in Kashmir, too, the crowds were thronging polling booths despite a boycott by the separatist groups. A record 78 per cent of Kashmiris are reported to have participated in the first phase of their local elections. Something clearly is afoot throughout the length and breadth of this country. The issue cannot just be corruption, bad governance, or group rivalries. It has to be something more fundamental, a shift that needs to be acknowledged and understood. The high voter turnout reflects a heightened awareness of local issues and rivalries. It also displays the boundless optimism younger voters have for the electoral process. It is this youthful section of our polity that is already having the greatest impact on political dynamics. While much of this phenomenon has not been fully understood, some broad features are already discernible. Recent surveys and studies suggest that the younger generation in this country tends to be more pragmatic than ideological, less prone to deification, and not at all awed by the past. Theirs' is a practical generation for whom voting is a way to make a statement or change things. Their cause may be a collective sentiment, a sectional goal or a purely local issue, but their voting decision is not dictated by partisan, historical, or traditional concerns. If the young voter feels that something other than group objectives are at stake, then she is far more prone to shift her vote to another party or leader, whereas older, more conservative voters in a similar situation would still tend to vote for the party or leader they have always voted for. This dynamic was perhaps most evident in Bihar where the vote for good governance overrode caste and sectional sentiments. It is quite likely that a similar paradigm has developed in other states. The new trend is not necessarily solely pro-development, or anti-incumbent, or anti-corruption. It is because voting behaviour today is more flexible and issue-related than ever before. One consequence is a gradual decline of votebank politics, a shrinking of the pool of votes dedicated to one party or leader, and a concomitant increase in the volume of the shifting vote. The easy arithmetic of caste or sectoral voting behaviour has become vastly more complicated. The electorate cannot be expected to vote solely along caste or group lines. Yet, if in a particular situation group rivalry is the main issue, then opposing groups will vote along sectional lines to ensure victory for their group. This dynamic was evident in the Assam elections where the heaviest turnouts were recorded in Bodo and minority-dominated districts. These groups are determined to have a major say in the next state government. The Assamese majority, which is helplessly watching a decline in its political power, voted in far lesser numbers. Kerala seems to be an exception where voting continues to be channelled towards either of the two major alliances: the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Democratic Front or the Congress-led United Democratic Front. A closer analysis, however, does suggest that even here political volatility is increasing, one measure of which is the growing spread in votes polled over the years by the two fronts. These elections also confirmed another, not so salubrious trend: the continued decline in urban voting levels. The lowest voting in Tamil Nadu was recorded in Chennai south; in Assam, in the capital Guwahati; in Kerala, the urban constituencies scored much less than the rural ones; and in tiny Puducherry, too, there was a significant difference between rural and urban voting levels. The apathetic urban voter is becoming a stereotype. The worst affected by this distressing trend is the national capital New Delhi where voter turnouts are typically less than 50 per cent. Young urbanites are increasingly lighting candles for a cause. Perhaps, it is time they learnt from their rural counterparts that great change can be brought about through the ballot as well. * Indranil Banerjie is a defence and security analyst based in New Delhi







I've always had a soft spot for France President Nicolas Sarkozy. He was the guy with the wrong name and the wrong background who took on the smug talkers with names like Dominique de Villepin and vanquished them. He was the outsider from the wrong schools who believed in energy and talent and had the audacity to smash the taboo that said a French politician can't love America and prosper. Sarkozy was a doer. He thought François Mitterrand's seductive phrase (in French at least) — "Il faut laisser le temps au temps" (You must let time take its course) — was baloney that left you with disasters like the Bosnian genocide. He thought work and reward should be linked, a Gallic heresy, and he worked hard. He hated the dependency culture of an overdeveloped French state, which entrenched rights and enfeebled responsibility. That he was elected President showed that France, deep in its soul, knew it had to escape the Mitterrand-Chirac rut with its glut of erudition and its glob of inaction. That was heartening. The sanctimonious attacks on him from the Left oozed the paralysing conservatism that had blinded France to change. The attacks on Sarkozy from a blue-blooded or petit-bourgeois Right often betrayed the same quasiracist disdain evident in rightist attacks on US President Barack Obama. Yes, I liked Sarkozy — and still do. Then there was his rudeness; his taste for his rich friends' yachts; his need for adulation that helped reduce a good newspaper, Le Figaro, to a fawning mouthpiece; his authoritarian itch from which gypsies most conspicuously suffered; his petulant impatience, his petty vanities and his peevish jealousies — what Nicole Bacharan, a social scientist, calls "the one-man soap opera". These were more than peccadilloes. But sharp elbows were needed to shift France from sleepwalk mode. Only in recent weeks has the distance travelled come into focus: France, reintegrated in 2009 into the command structure of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato), spearheading the United Nations-backed Nato military operation in Libya; providing armed muscle to the UN forces in Ivory Coast; and giving its pacifist-trending ally Germany a lesson in 21st-century Atlanticism. Konrad Adenauer and General de Gaulle must be turning in their graves. Here was Germany standing wobbly with Brazil, Russia, India and China — and against its closest allies, France and the United States — in the UN vote on Libyan military action. And here was France providing America's most vigorous Nato support. This was a dramatic inversion of post-war roles. It revealed the drift of a navel-gazing Germany unprepared to lead despite its power and impatient with Adenauer's Western anchoring. It also demonstrated France's break under Sarkozy from the posturing Gaullist notion of a French "counterweight" to America. These are seismic European shifts. In Benghazi, the capital of free Libya, when they see a Nato aircraft they say, "There goes another Sarkozy". After the French shame of Rwanda, a genocide where Mitterrand let time do its fullest work, that's something. Perhaps it's only now with Sarkozy that another, deeper French shame is passing, one Mitterrand and Chirac knew: the "strange defeat" of 1940 with its paralysing subsequent obfuscations. Certainly, a presidential election next year has not been unrelated to Sarkozy's activism. Nor has a compensatory urge after France took the wrong side in Tunisia. But the President's instinct to save Benghazi and to oust Ivory Coast's usurper was right. Sarkozy has intuited three things. First, the democratisation of the Arab world is the most important European strategic challenge of the decade. Second, it was time "to take the training wheels off", in the words of Constanze Stelzenmüller of the German Marshall Fund, and have Europe rather than an overextended America lead in Libya. Third, the UN cannot always be an umbrella that folds when it rains. If its "responsibility to protect" means anything, it must be when an Arab tyrant promises to slaughter his people. We stand at a high point in French post-war diplomacy and a nadir in German. There were strong arguments on either side of a Libyan intervention, but with a massacre looming in Benghazi, Germany had to stand with its allies. Angela Merkel has proved herself more a manoeuvrer than a leader. Germany often conveys the sense that it now resents the agents of its post-war rehabilitation — the European Union and Nato. I don't think Germany believes its future lies with the Bric countries, as the UN Libya vote suggested. I do think Germany has entered a new era of ambivalence and nationalist calculation. That means several things. European integration is on hold, and as long it's on hold the future of the euro is at risk. The German-French alliance will remain under strain. Obama should look to Sarkozy, not Merkel, for strategic support. A last thought. This restless French leader is at his best with his back to the wall. He's shown that. The same quality means it would be foolish to count him out next year.






UP's trouble couple Indian Police Service (IPS) officer, Mr Amitabh Thakur, and his wife Ms Nutan, both passionate about social activism, are now proving troublesome for the Mayawati government in Uttar Pradesh. Mr Thakur, a 1992 batch officer, is currently on study leave on a fellowship with the Indian Institute of Management, Lucknow, but that has not prevented him and his wife from filing a slew of public interest litigations against the state government. The couple has floated a "National Right to Information Forum" that keeps snapping at the state government's heels and this is giving Ms Mayawati sleepless nights. As a result of this, the Thakurs have become outcasts among their peers. However, there is not much that the otherwise stern Mayawati government can do to make the couple toe the line. "Since he is on leave — that too on court orders — the government cannot punish him and by the time he returns, the tenure of the Mayawati government will almost be over," says a senior colleague. Till then, the "trouble couple" remains as active as ever — much to the chagrin of the Bahujan Samaj Party government. * * * PR or prejudice If The Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh's image has metamorphosed from that of a clean administrator to one who seems to have compromised with corruption, some of the blame should also rest with his media manager, Harish Khare. Instead of building bridges between the Prime Minister and the media, Mr Khare has burnt the bridges. The Prime Minister's image has taken a beating on issues ranging from the 2G spectrum scam to Mr Anna Hazare's crusade against corruption. At best he seems helpless and at worst complicit. But Mr Khare is unperturbed by all this and more concerned about displaying his unflinching loyalty towards a particular media organisation. The talk in the Prime Minister's Office is that Mr Khare is unable to decide whether he is a journalist or a PR person. His favouritism was evident during the Prime Minister's meet with editors, which raised eyebrows. The media adviser's "discretion" cost the Prime Minister dearly, when a leading English daily recently went ahead and published Dr Singh's "off the record" conversation as its lead story. As former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru said in another context, this is quite a "quaint notion of publicity". * * * Naukri nahin to chhokri nahin A Chhattisgarh minister is on cloud nine for being able to "arrange" a job for his son in the state government as shikshya karmi (education worker). Not that his son is not qualified enough to get a high-salaried job or that he needed the `5,000 per month to support his family. The minister, who is a landlord, feels that he can get a suitable bride for his son only by getting him a government job. "I come from a very backward community, members of which prefer to marry off their daughters to government job-holders only," he explained. "A youth, howsoever rich he may be, will not get a suitable bride if he is not a government employee." "Elders in our community always encourage their children to go for government jobs only, reminding them naukri nahin to chhokri nahin." Embedded journalism, did you say? The debate over growing corruption and the possible effects of the Lokpal Bill on the country has been a passionate issue for everyone over the past few days. More so for journalists who have been covering the issue from close. Several of them were involved in a heated debate at a dinner party hosted by Cabinet minister Mr Kapil Sibal in New Delhi this week. Things got a bit out of hand when two scribes became passionate about the issue and started taking personal digs at each other and almost came to blows. Several people, including senior officials from the ministerial staff, had to intervene to resolve the issue. * * * Gogoi brims with confidence Even after polling is over, political leaders are not missing the opportunity of targeting each other in Assam. The Congress Chief Minister, Mr Tarun Gogoi, while thanking the electorate for coming out in large numbers to exercise their right to franchise, took a dig at the Opposition. "My opponents can charge me with corruption but they will have to give me credit for bringing militant outfits to the negotiation table," he said. "Did anyone think that Arbinda Rajkhowa of the United Liberation Front of Asom (Ulfa) would come to present me a souvenir and Bodo rebels would be members of my Cabinet? I am sure that elusive Ulfa chief Paresh Baruah will also come to me." In the same vein, Mr Gogoi claimed that the Congress will get more than 63 of the 126 seats. Pat came the reply from Opposition leader and two-time chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, "All survey and exit polls are predicting the Congress' defeat so the mandate could be twisted only through money and muscle power. Perhaps, that is why Mr Gogoi is speaking about Baruah joining him soon." * * * Modi, a friend of Muslims The Gujarat Chief Minister, Mr Narendra Modi's newfound love for Muslims has become an embarrassment for his own party. At a recently-held meeting of the doctors' cell in Gujarat, the party not only ensured that there were a good number of Muslim doctors present but also issued a statement saying how doctors of the community were making a beeline towards the BJP. Party sources claimed that this special emphasis on Muslims was at Mr Modi's insistence. "He wants to be perceived as pro-Muslim," said a party member. This has led to a whisper campaign in the BJP as many feel that even the Congress did not "appease" Muslims this blatantly. A senior doctor, who is also a member of the BJP cell, pointed out, "Till now doctors were simply professionals. Nobody segregated them as Hindus or Muslims. But Gujarat is now dividing professionals too."






I too was invited in the multifaith prayer service at Jantar Mantar to support the cause of social activist Mr Anna Hazare and the team. On the third day when I finished a reading from the Bible, the Sikh gentleman sharing the dais with me expressed in total bewilderment that such a teaching was almost impossible to live by. The teaching in question which Jesus imparted was, "If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell." The same is also said about the use of our hands and feet. Obviously, the extreme step suggested in the teaching is to make people realise about the seriousness of committing a sin. Corruption is nothing but a sin of excessive greed, of lying, cheating for one's own selfish ends. I also told my Sikh friend that the fast-unto-death taken up by Mr Hazare and others also appears almost impossible to live by and that if we could all try and avoid committing any sin would that not make this human society more wonderful? The commemoration of the last days of Jesus' life leading up to His crucifixion and death on the Cross which the Christians all over the world observe during this Holy Week but which began on April 17, on Passion Sunday, too looks extremely difficult to believe, if not impossible. Besides the fact that people are fed up of deep-rooted corruption in our society, the reason why Mr Hazare's movement got such an overwhelming support was that he was putting his life on line for the sake of a cause which was less for his own benefit and more for the larger Indian society, to free it from the curse of corruption. People know the experience of what it is like to miss even one meal. Christians believe that Jesus, one of the divine persons of the Triune God, died for a much bigger cause. He died to free the whole humanity from the curse of all the sins. Christians believe that by His own bloodshed on the Cross He wiped away our sins and brought us salvation making us eligible for eternal life. However, the big question that still remains unanswered is that if Jesus died to free us from sin, how come sin, including that of shameless corruption, still reigns in the world. Did the death of Jesus and His eventual resurrection from the dead make no difference to our lives? The theological answer to this question is although Jesus died to free us from the bondage of sin, He did not take away the fundamental freedom of human beings to choose between good and evil. — Father Dominic Emmanuel, a founder-member of Parliament of Religions, is currently the director of communication of the Delhi Catholic Church. He was awarded the National Communal Harmony Award 2008 by the Government of India. He can be contacted at In fact, Jesus, himself, had the choice either to connive with the Romans and the religious leaders of the time and walk free from the shameful crucifixion or to live as a totally free person speaking up the truth, even at the cost of death. After all He had taught His disciples, "You will come to know the truth and the truth will set you free". Through His life and His teachings as depicted in the Gospels, He taught us to live in a way that would make us partners with Him in the Kingdom of God that he came to establish, a Kingdom which would be identified with and be based on the values of justice, peace and love. Among other profound things that the Holy Week helps us remember are two central lessons that can really help us live a life in proximity to God is to realise that if one wants to live and stand by truth one needs to be prepared to suffer pain and ignominy even to the point of death. Two, that pain and suffering is not really the end of life. The life of Jesus did not end at the Cross. Overcoming the shameful death that took place on Good Friday, He defeated death by rising from the dead on Easter Sunday. That was the ultimate victory. In those days, death on the Cross was awarded to criminals and so Jesus' death, in the eyes of the world was an utter failure but with His rising from the dead, He brought hope to the whole world. The crux of the whole Holy Week observance lies in this paschal mystery that there is resurrection after death. No wonder then that millions of people are ready to suffer in the name of Jesus because they are sure in their belief that the risen Lord will embrace them all in His open arms with as much love as His outstretched arms on the Cross can hold. And God's infinite love in Jesus is really the unconditional love for us all. — Father Dominic Emmanuel, a founder-member of Parliament of Religions, is currently the director of communication of the Delhi Catholic Church. He was awarded the National Communal Harmony Award 2008 by the Government of India. He can be contacted at







It was Ayn Rand's nightmare: the President who gave hundreds of billions in handouts to homeowners, banks, car executives and various others she would have labelled "moochers" was explaining his vision of why America is great. "It's not the size of our skyscrapers", US President, Mr Barack Obama, told cheering fans at a late-night rally on April 14 at Chicago's Navy Pier. "It's not the size of our gross domestic product (GDP)." It's not even just because we're individuals, he said, adding, "We also have this idea that we're all in this together, that we look out for one another, that I am my brother's keeper". Rand would have considered this warmed over, mommy party, it-takes-a-village piffle. Obama is antithetical to Rand's ideal man, Howard Roark, the architect of skyscrapers who violently refuses to exist for others. Paul Ryan, trying to push the cost of Medicare and Medicaid onto the old, the sick and the disabled while rewarding insurance companies with bigger profits, would be more up her alley. Indeed, Congressman Ryan has said the reason he got involved in public service was "by and large" because of Rand, and he has encouraged his staffers to read Atlas Shrugged. You'd think that our fiscal meltdown would have shown the flaw in Rand's philosophy. She thought we could derive morals from the markets. But we derived immorality from the markets. She wrote about Nietzschean superheroes who made things. She died before capitalism evolved into a vampire casino where you could bet against investments you sold to your clients, and make money off something you didn't own or that existed only on paper. The sexy Manichean 'toons in the novels of the goddess of capitalism don't behave unethically. When they blow up things, it's because they will not be sacrificial victims to evil second-raters. Greed had a less ennobling effect on real genius capitalists. Instead of fighting the looters, they joined the looters. What Rand and acolytes like Mr Alan Greenspan failed to realise is that if everyone acts in self-interest and no one takes into account the weakness to the entire system that occurs when everybody indulges in the same kind of risky behaviour, the innocent and the guilty are engulfed. Nevertheless, Rand is blazing back as an icon of the Tea Party, which overlooks her atheism, amorality in romance and vigorous support for abortion. Tea Party groups are helping to market part one of a low-budget film version of Atlas Shrugged, with no stars and none of the campy panache of the Gary Cooper-Patricia Neal movie of The Fountainhead. Atlas Shrugged aptly opened on Tax Day, getting a rave from Sean Hannity, who said it wouldn't have been released "had Hollywood liberals gotten their way", and a dismissive shrug from most critics, even conservatives. "I will not pan Atlas Shrugged", P. J. O'Rourke wrote in a pan in the Wall Street Journal. "I don't have the guts". "I'm not sure she's dead," he said of Rand. The 1,200-page novel took Rand 12 years to write. After debuting to searing reviews in 1957, it has been going gangbusters ever since. It was at number 19 on Amazon Friday night. Al Ruddy, the charismatic producer of The Godfather and Million Dollar Baby (and a Democrat), spent decades trying to make Rand's master work into a movie. "Dagny Taggart is the greatest role ever written for a woman," he said in his gravelly voice. "She's a great executive, she's gorgeous, and the three greatest guys in the world are all mad about her. Hot stuff about cool geniuses". In 1975, he wanted to pull together "a dream cast", with Fay Dunaway as Dagny, Clint Eastwood as Hank Rearden, Robert Redford as John Galt and Alain Delon as Francisco d'Anconia. He went to New York to talk to Rand, crowding onto a love seat at her agent's with the tiny objectivist, who loved manly men like Ruddy. She agreed that he could focus on the love story. "That's all it ever was", she said. But she wanted final script approval. "Darlink", she told him in her Russian accent as she smoked, "I trust you, but the Russians will buy Paramount to destroy my book". He refused to give Rand, who started as a tyro Hollywood screenwriter in the days of Cecil B. DeMille, that much control. He kept trying, including for a TNT miniseries with John Aglialoro, an exercise machine mogul who owns the rights (he produced and co-wrote the film that's out now), hoping for Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt and Javier Bardem. But after 9/11, he gave up. "At the end of Atlas Shrugged, mills, ships and mines are blown up," Ruddy said. "And I thought, wait a second, do people really want to see a movie about America being blown up and destroyed?" He thinks the story will have a second life with stars. "Atlas Shrugged is the most important novel of the 20th century," Mr Ruddy says, "It will rise again". By arrangement with the New York Times











Having hit a wall on the industrial front, the Left Front took to agriculture and the rural areas through Operation Barga and the panchayats in order to decentralize governance in the grassroots, rural area.
Operation Barga was a significant first although a baby step towards land reform. Priority was accorded to agriculture over industry. The Left Front can stand up and claim a distinguished, positive achievement. It allowed the sharecroppers to have themselves recorded in the government's land records and thus be empowered to claim a share in production. It was the first time that marginal and landless farmers got a foothold in the agricultural scene and the opportunity to have capital formed in their hand. That enabled the agricultural economy as a whole to break the equilibrium at low-employment, low-income levels, to move up to an equilibrium at higher employment and higher income levels. However, the achievements in the area have remained sub-optimal.

Since 1990-91, coinciding with the globalization of the Indian economy, the Front appears to have lost interest either to deepen it or to scale it up to a higher level by spawning collectives ~ thereby obtaining economies of scale ~ and setting up village-based industrialization, in line with China's Town and Village Enterprises (TVEs). They were started as adjuncts to communes in 1960 at that time giving employment to 117,000 people. In 1978, there were 1.5 million TVEs which employed 28 million people. In 1990, TVEs employed half the rural workforce in  China. In 1994, TVEs produced 42 per cent of the nation's GDP and 30 per cent of its exports.     

In Bengal, the Front did reap rich dividends from the Operation Barga initiative and the Panchayati reforms with the former bringing welfare to millions of marginal and landless farmers and increasing agricultural productivity. Thanks to both, West Bengal has had one of the fastest state GDP growth in India, exceeding the national average. From 1993-94 to 2000-01, the growth was in double digits. For the coming year an 8.5 per cent growth has been projected. It is the third highest contributor to the national GDP, the largest producer of rice and potato in the country and a leading producer of crops like oilseeds and wheat.
Lamentably, the very recent thrusts by the Front towards industrialization have failed: one trying to attract a large monopoly house to set up a plant and, the other, in aid of a proposed SEZ. It appears that the Front believes that only big business and SEZs (where, among others issues, labour laws do not operate) are the way

 If that is a sad state of affairs, the economic plan of the Trinamul Congress and its allies, presented in their manifesto, brings no cheer.  Trinamul hardly discusses agriculture; it focuses more on Kolkata being a vibrant part of India as a global power with a world-class airport and airports in district towns. It promises a broad focus on medium and small industries, revival of closed state-sector units, large private investments into a number of industries, creating jobs on a massive scale, building state highways and all other infrastructure, setting up of 300 Industrial Technical Institutes, private capital into the health space among others "industrial clusters" (not in the style of China's TVE, but more on the style of such clusters in Brazil, Italy, even San Diego in the USA) and district-wise industry zoning. Neither the Left nor TMC-Congress have presented any tangible roadmap on eradication of poverty and unemployment.

The forthcoming election will be mark an epoch. If Trinamul and its allies win, they will be riding a tiger, having given the slogan for a change of regime and having raised enormous expectations. Prospective investors may bear in mind what happened to the Tatas at Singur ~ the language of bandhs, which the Trinamul appears to have institutionalized. No economy can run with bandhs called at the drop of a hat. The memory of Trinamul MLAs breaking furniture within the precincts of the Assembly, their many escapades that recall Munich beer hall type putsches, may also not be forgotten.

On the other hand, if the Left wins, they will have to keep a capitalist state, now at its vortex stage, going, think capitalist, act capitalist, forget being comrades, being Leninists critiquing the capitalist order being the only reason of staying with the parliamentary system.

Being part of the revisionist order, they have become so to a very large extent. Those who cast their votes in the Front's favour will be largely voting for a right party despite the fig- leaf that they are Left. Should they lose, that will be the end of all traces of Left opinion in the country and the parliamentary system will turn unipolar, an undesirable outcome, since the system needs checks and balances.

Further, if the winners at the hustings fail to deliver on promises, the portals of Writers' Buildings will be open for the Maoists who, in a shadow presence, are also in the fray. They are participants, by not participating; preaching that power comes from only the barrel of a gun. For sure, they will have an entirely different set of rules, especially the pattern of ownership and the social relation of the people at production stage. If the Left gets physically decimated, Suharto-style, in the aftermath of elections, the field will be clear for the Maoists.

Their entry into Writers' Buildings will be hastened.

To look at the problem from another perspective ~ the very basic one, from which most issues arise ~ unemployment: it is the eradication of unemployment that should be the overwhelming objective of change. This demands a rural solution as the first stage. Industrialization has to start at the rural level and by the rural population themselves, as China has done through the TVEs. The Left Front ~ despite negatives stacked up to the ceiling against it ~ with the experience of Operation Barga and Panchayats is better qualified to do the job. An important adjunct to this will be Anna Hazare-type tents, starting with one at Alimuddin Street on a permanent basis; in front of all the Front's office to act as peoples' conscience and to lead the cultural and social revolutions in the state along with tents in front of Opposition offices. The demand should be not just action but fairplay; change, not revenge.







MOSCOW, 17 APRIL: In a region famous for its personality cults, Kazakhstan's President has added a new feather to his dictatorial cap, with a big-budget movie release that dramatises his childhood.
The Sky of My Childhood, released this week in the Central Asian country, is a dramatised version of Nursultan Nazarbayev's early life. The Kazakh President makes brief appearances at the beginning and end of the film, while three different actors play him at various stages of his childhood.

Mr Nazarbayev, who has ruled Kazakhstan since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, last week won an election with a staggering 95 per cent of the vote: it will keep him in office for another five-year term. The Constitution was changed in 2007 to allow Mr Nazarbayev to stand as many times as he likes, and while he does enjoy genuine popularity, critics complain of minimal Press freedom and widespread human rights abuses. The country's opposition boycotted last week's election, while one of the three candidates who did stand against Mr Nazarbayev said that he himself had voted for the incumbent.

Now, Kazakhs will have the opportunity to see their President's early life on the big screen. In one scene, the child who will become Kazakhstan's future President arranges stones into the shape of a model city that vaguely resembles the country's new capital, Astana. The city was built from scratch under the watchful eye of Mr Nazarbayev. Several outlandish buildings have been constructed in it, including the world's largest tent, designed by the British architect Lord Foster and opened in time for the President's 70th birthday last year.
The young Nazarbayev, growing up as the son of a shepherd in a mountain village in southern Kazakhstan, is also seen in the film courting a girl at a dance, and diligently pursuing his studies.

It is unclear whether Mr Nazarbayev is pushing his own personality cult, or whether the cult is fuelled by underlings rushing to prove their loyalty. The President has grumbled about the cult of personality surrounding him, threatening to fire officials who overzealously celebrate his birthday, and refusing to sign a bill designating him "Leader of the Nation".

But the "Leader of the Nation" law came in to effect last year anyway. Among other things, it means that even if he steps down from the presidency, he will still have a say in running the country, and it also grants him immunity from prosecution for any acts committed during his presidency.

the independent






THE regulator of technical education, which on occasion has been under a cloud for lack of transparency, has cracked the whip on affiliated institutions, but the action comes horribly late in the day. If the All India Council for Technical Education has to conduct what it calls "surprise checks" on no fewer than 500 technical institutions, the malaise can be said to have permeated the system to an alarming degree, virtually beyond redemption. The next conclusion must be that it has afflicted the network with little or no supervision by the AICTE. That supervision, if at all, has been in inverse proportion to the extensive spread of private engineering colleges. Small wonder the HRD ministry had once proposed to bring the AICTE itself under an overarching authority.

The nature of the problems encountered by the AICTE on its "surprise" inspection make a mockery of the technological courses on offer. As revealed by this newspaper, 500 institutions are plagued by mass copying, overcharging of fees, refusal to refund fees and lack of infrastructure and faculty. The problem is overwhelming, and the reality would not have come to such a pass had the AICTE conducted a semblance of monitoring, which incidentally is its raison d'etre. At another remove, the mess is testament to the near total failure of the respective college authorities. And yet, the AICTE has been remarkably mild in whatever  little action it has ordered. In the main, only one institution has been de-recognised and nine others have been put on notice. Which doesn't imply that the remaining 490 colleges, that were inspected, are above board. Otherwise, 500 institutions would not have been brought under the scanner. Generally, all of them have flouted regulations. The AICTE lives up to its opaque style of functioning by not releasing a thorough report of its findings, still less disclose the names of the ten institutions against whom action has been taken






The Pakistan Cricket Board has proposed an India-Pakistan series to the Board of Control for Cricket in India. It has been extremely accommodating. It is prepared for a series in India, Pakistan or a neutral venue. The choice of a neutral venue may be limited. Sri Lanka, with its ample experience in anti-terrorist operations, would be the ideal choice; but after the narrow escape its team had from the bomb attack in Lahore, it is doubtful whether it would have the appetite to host India and Pakistan. West Indies would be a sufficiently remote location; but given its latitudinal remoteness, not many Indians would be prepared to stay awake at night and watch games there. Australia perhaps has sufficiently draconian entry regulations to keep terrorists out. But it fancies itself as a cricketing nation; it would regard it as a come-down simply to play host to two colourful teams that it considers its bumptious rivals. England may have enough subcontinental spectators, but would not think of them as a sufficient excuse for hosting India and Pakistan. That leaves only Dubai. It has a good mixture of passionate spectators from the two nations, and should be able to fill the stadium. And it is sufficiently close for its playing hours to be not too out of tune with the subcontinent's sleep preferences.

Pakistan is no doubt the best country for India to play if the BCCI wants to fleece the gullible Indian watcher. And of course, India is the best country for Pakistan to play if the PCB wants to refill its coffers. But the BCCI would not want to take the risk of having its team decimated by a cross-border fanatic. So it would certainly rule out crossing the border to play in Lahore or Karachi. In India, it has acquired considerable expertise in keeping terrorists out, and state governments are happy to lend it the requisite security forces, partly for the handsome profits they make on the assignments. So from the BCCI's point of view, India is the best venue.

There are enough politicians across the border to spread fears about the risk their team would run in India, with support from the influential anti-Indian lobbies over there. However, there is no reason for the BCCI to give in on venue. It will make good money irrespective of which team the Indians play against; Indian spectators may find Pakistan more rousing, but they will not miss it. So the BCCI can afford to be obdurate; it should reject every venue other than those in India. But Pakistan cannot be wished away; and as long as it is around, there will be a threat of terrorism in playing it, even in India. So the time has come to explore the idea of tournaments without live audiences; after all, television is all that matters to the BCCI's bottom line.






Allegations of war crimes and human rights violations have been a thorn on the side of the Mahinda Rajapaksa government in Sri Lanka ever since its much-celebrated victory over the Tamil rebels in 2009. The allegations surfaced almost immediately after the war. Since then, successive reports by international bodies have claimed that the government had grossly violated the human rights of captives, combatants and the civilian population caught in the crossfire. The response of the Sri Lanka government to the allegations has always been belligerent. It has not only denied these but has also countered them with the allegation that the West was using the human rights issue to impinge on Sri Lanka's sovereignty. The conspiracy theory is immensely popular with a triumphant Sinhala-majority population of Sri Lanka that has voted back the Rajapaksa government to power. The response in Sri Lanka is unlikely to be any different to the latest revelations that an advisory panel to the United Nations has found enough evidence of the government's war-time violations to ask for an independent investigation into the matter. Sri Lanka had earlier refused to negotiate on the profitable European Union trade concessions because the EU insisted on greater transparency in matters of human rights. There is even little reason why it should tamely own up to the UN's criticism of its war-time conduct or its failure to implement a process of reconciliation and justice at home.

Yet, none other than Sri Lanka itself should know the consequences that await it if it refuses to confront its past. The Tamil Tigers' brand of violence would not have gained currency had Sri Lanka acknowledged certain historical wrongs perpetrated against its minority Tamil population. It may give two hoots to what it believes is the West's arm-twisting by moving closer to big brother China, but unless it takes a careful look at its own sins and gives its people the basic freedoms that are their due, the country may soon have to relive the past it wants to forget.





Late last month we received the exciting news that India now has a population of 1.21 billion. This figure generated less discussion than I expected. Maybe it would have been more mind-boggling a few months ago, before all the scams and scandals inured us to the large number of zeros that a billion signifies. Or maybe we were distracted by the other bad news in the census results — the worsening juvenile sex ratio.

This relative inattention was also surprising because in the popular discourse, unconnected to the census, population size is invariably brought up in any discussion of India's problems. This may be a good time to put this public concern and the census numbers together to ask the question posed in the title of this article. Are there too many of us?

Note that I am asking if there are too many of 'us'. Not too many of 'them'. The latter question is always, naturally, answered in the positive, whatever the category of 'us' and 'them'. So the rich think there are too many of the poor around, the Hindus want Muslims to have fewer children, and mistresses of homes wish their domestic help would use more contraception. But if we think of ourselves as a collectivity of Indians, stripped of all our other identities, then, would we have been better off being fewer in number?

This simple question hides many ambiguities. We need to specify much more clearly what we mean by the superficially unmistakable words in it. Who is the 'we' that is better or worse off by an Indian population of 1.2 billion? Is it the world at large? Is it the India that houses this population? Or is it the individuals, families and households that make up this 1.2 billion?

We also need to define 'better off'. Do we mean economically better off? Socially? Psychologically? Physically? Part of the confusion in discourses on population size and human welfare results from the different conceptions of welfare that underlie the arguments.

In the following paragraphs, I skim through some of these complexities in an attempt to answer my question.

First, is 1.2 billion Indians bad news for the world as a whole? In general, it is, but mainly from the self-preserving perspective of the rest of the world. One can expect in the coming months to hear much frothing on this subject by a variety of ideologies in the Western world. The more benign will focus on the global environmental costs of so many Indians in an increasingly interconnected world. More hostile commentators will also fret about the political instability generated by increasing population pressure and its potential for exporting terrorism, as well as the increased numbers of Indians that will come knocking on the doors of these poor little rich countries that are trying desperately to protect their jobs and their culture and their racial survival.

All these fears are wildly exaggerated. They are also less interesting than the implications of this 1.2 billion people for India itself. The academic literature on population and development is messy and contentious and highly politicized, but it is worth sorting through some of its threads to see if we have net reason to rejoice or mourn the census numbers.

Much of the literature on the relationship between population growth and development is about the compositional changes in population with rising or falling population growth rates. It is less about the effect of the absolute size of a population on human welfare. For example, many of the postulated constraints on development by high rates of population growth have to do with the high youth dependency ratios that these high growth rates imply, which in turn imply fewer resources for productive investment.

But to catch some of the effect of 'pure' numbers, let us assume that compositional changes are not an important part of differing population growth rates. So let us assume that the age structure of an India with 500 million people is identical to one with one billion people. Even better, let us assume that all our babies are born ready to roll up their sleeves and get to work right away, so that their presence does not change dependency ratios. Does it still matter whether there are 500 million Indians or one billion Indians?

The literature suggests that it does matter, but it is not clear in which direction. To take the negative effects of large numbers first, these operate mainly through the simple fact that, other things remaining unchanged, the larger the total population size, the smaller the resources available to each person. These resources may be renewable or non-renewable, collectively or individually owned: as long as their total available volume and distribution is independent of population size, more people means a smaller share per person. One can, of course, ask if having less of something is necessarily worse for one, but if we are talking of those resources that sustain and maintain a reasonable quality of life, then it is correct to conclude that larger population size increases the pressure on necessary resources.

This argument is most easily captured by the concept of population density. The larger the absolute numbers of people within a fixed piece of land, the greater the crowding. And crowding, all studies convince us, is bad for many things, including health. It increases the spread of pathogens, it adds to environmental contamination, it multiplies stress levels.

The population density of India in the 2011 census is 382 persons per square kilometre. This is higher than the 324 in the 2001 census, but it is far from out of synch with other parts of the world that are doing quite well on the health front — for shock value, consider long-living Singaporeans, whose country's population density is 7526. Within India too, there is no visible connection between population density and health levels — states with densities well above the national average (such as, Delhi, Punjab, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh) are as diverse in their socio-economic and health circumstances as those below the national average (such as, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, Orissa and Manipur).

In other words, the context is important. Moreover, the 'other things remaining constant' assumption is meaningless according to those who oppose the idea of a negative relationship between population size and human welfare; in this challenge, large populations are in fact good for development.

The most famous form of this optimistic stand relates to the proverb that necessity is the mother of invention. First articulated by Ester Boserup, this argument is made by demonstrating a historical empirical relationship between population density and agricultural innovation. It proposes that the very pressures on resources that a dense population exerts spurs discovery and development of innovative strategies to mitigate these pressures. Conversely, the historically low level of agricultural innovation in sub-Saharan African countries may be related to their low population densities and resultant low need to devise methods for more productive agriculture.

Moreover, defenders of large populations also point out that environmental impacts are more affected by affluence than by population numbers, and since rapidly growing populations are usually poor populations, they are in some sense conserving the environment.

This case is sometimes bolstered by the suggestion that a larger population also means a larger number of potential geniuses to develop the new technologies to better mine or use existing resources as well as develop substitutes for non-renewable or expensive resources. One could presumably include under these technologies things like the Green Revolution, skyscrapers, plastics and dynamite. By the same logic, I suppose one should also mention the larger numbers of potential crooks (inventive or not) in a larger population, and thus explain the rise in scams, guns, murders and bombs with rising population sizes.

However, there seems not to be a convincing relationship between creative genius (or at least expressed creative genius) and population size. So we are back to the idea that the context matters. Whether our increased population size is good or bad for the country depends very much on the other circumstances of our lives and maybe there is no optimum size of population for India.

All this does not mean that population growth rates are irrelevant. Compositional effects of population growth have an important bearing on development. Moreover, even the presumed positive effects of new technology may have serious trade-offs. For example, one hears now of rises in cancer incidence in Punjab, rises that are being attributed to the pesticides and fertilizers that were central to its remarkable agricultural growth in the 1970s and 1980s. That is, there is no easy way to compute net costs and benefits.

It is at the individual or household level that the consequences of absolute numbers are probably the most significant. Smaller household size much more clearly translates into more per capita resources. More important, fewer (and later and longer spaced) pregnancies most readily translate into better health outcomes for women and children — the inverse relation between fertility and maternal mortality, maternal morbidity, infant mortality and child nutrition has been demonstrated in a host of studies and provides the most persuasive case for a negative relationship between India's population size and its development. Healthier mothers and children are good for a country's development. When such mothers now also have more time and resources to indulge interests and capacities that are not related to childbearing, it may or may not add to a country's gross domestic product, but it will certainly add to its human development if one includes individual fulfilment and freedom as indicators of such development.

The author is professor, department of Development Sociology, Cornell University





It's not much as anniversaries go, but most of us won't be around in 50 years, so we'll have to settle for the 150th anniversary of the start of the American Civil War. The groups who re-enact Civil War battles were out in force on April 12, but does it matter to anybody else? How different would the world be now if the South had succeeded in seceding from the United States of America?

As it happens, we have a half-million-word answer to that question: the series of 11 'alternate history' books that the American novelist, Harry Turtledove, has written about a world in which the Confederate States of America won its independence in 1863. It ends up in 1945 with death camps in the CSA and nuclear weapons on Philadelphia and Charleston.

The Confederacy gets its independence in 1863 by winning the Battle of Gettysburg, whereupon Britain and France grant it diplomatic recognition. The rest of the former US is bitter about its defeat, but apart from one brief clash in the 1880s, the two successor countries live in peace for 50 years.

It's the geopolitics that causes the problems. The US, hostile to Britain and France because their recognition of the Confederacy made the division of the country permanent, aligns itself with the new power in Europe, the German empire. As the alliances take shape in the early 20th century, it's Germany, Austria-Hungary and the US versus Britain, France, Russia and the CSA.

When the First World War finally arrives, it is fought in North America too, with trenches from tidewater Virginia to the Mississippi river, and another set of trenches dividing Canada, part of the British empire, from the northern US. The black former slaves of the Confederacy, freed by President Robert E. Lee in the 1880s but then left to rot, rise in a communist-backed revolt in 1915 but are ruthlessly crushed.

Lesser evil

The US army finally conquers Canada, and in 1917 its new 'barrels' (tanks) break through the Confederate trenches in Kentucky and Virginia. A revolution (though not a communist one) takes Russia out of the war, and the US navy begins to starve Britain, which depends on Atlantic convoys for its food. The US and Germany win the war.

The victorious powers impose harsh peace terms on the losers — territorial losses, "war guilt" reparations, and disarmament, just like they did in the real history. So politics becomes radicalized in the defeated powers — Britain, France and the Confederacy, and fascist parties gain control in all of them. The demagogue who is voted into the presidency in the CSA is rather like Hitler in his rhetoric, though his hatred is aimed not at Jews but at blacks.

The Second World War opens with a Confederate blitzkrieg in Ohio that almost cuts the US in half. The weight of numbers swings the balance the other way after a while, but even as Confederate armies retreat, the death camps operated by the Freedom Party to exterminate the South's blacks continue to run. Both sides are racing for nuclear weapons, and some are used in the end, but Germany and the US have more of them than Britain and the CSA, so the victors in the First World War win again. This time, the Confederacy is fully occupied and formally abolished, though a genuinely reunited US will clearly not come to pass for several generations, if ever.

The point is this: it could have happened like that. It is no more bizarre than what actually did happen. Turtledove gives us a plausible depiction of a world in which the Confederacy became an independent great power, and it is even less attractive than the world we know. So it is an important anniversary after all. Even though back in 1861, it could still have gone either way.









The granting of bail by the supreme court to Dr Binayak Sen is an affirmation of the principle of natural justice and an assertion of the citizen's constitutionally guaranteed rights. Sen, who has been known for his dedicated service to the poor tribals of Chhattisgarh, has been hounded by the state government for many years. It was actually his opposition to violation of the human rights of the tribals by the state machinery and exposure of corruption that made him a persona non grata. Unfortunately, the judiciary in the state seemed to have accepted the government's charges against him uncritically and without testing them against the basic rights of citizens. He was convicted for sedition by a Raipur sessions court last year and bail was denied. The state high court at Bilaspur also denied him bail but the wrong has now been corrected by the supreme court.

The apex court's reasoning for granting him bail strikes at the root of the charges against him. It has held that there cannot be a case of sedition against Sen on the basis of his views, actions or alleged contacts with Maoists. Even sympathy for the Maoists does not make him a Maoist or a supporter of Maoists guilty of armed fight against the state. The court tellingly made the observation that possession of Maoist literature does not make a person a Maoist, just as the possession of Gandhi's autobiography does not make one a Gandhian. If criticism of government policies, opposition to its actions and faith in an anti-government ideology constitute actionable sedition, freedom of expression and the right to legitimate political action will be endangered. These rights can be curbed only when there is resort to violence or incitement to it. There was none in Binayak Sen's case.

The supreme court's order has not only struck down the denial of bail to Sen but weakened the charge of sedition against him. The Bilaspur high court will have to take into consideration the apex court's view on sedition when it takes up the appeal against his conviction.  The government's continuing hostility towards him is clear from its request to the court that he be disallowed from entering the state while on bail. The court has left the matter to be decided by the trial court which, it is hoped, will be guided by the wisdom of the highest judiciary and its clarification of the issues involved in the case.







The BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) grouping has more clearly defined its concerns and agenda through an action plan unveiled at its third summit held in Sanya in China last week. The grouping has become more representative of the world's emerging economic powers with the inclusion of South Africa. What distinguishes it from the earlier alignments of developing countries is that it may be in a position to put pressure on developed countries with its combined economic power. Its geographical spread is also an advantage. The comprehensive nature of its interests can be seen from the variety of issues it discussed, ranging from political and economic matters to terrorism and UN reforms. There are differences among the members but there are greater commonalties that bind them together.

The disapproval of the use of force in Libya and endorsement of the democratic aspirations of the people of West Asia and North Africa are reminders of long-forgotten non-aligned positions. The difference is that BRICS may be able to influence the conduct of other countries better than the NAM could. Though the support for the candidature of India, Brazil and South Africa for permanent membership of the UN Security Council, expressed in the joint declaration, need not be taken as a commitment by either Russia or China, it shows a greater receptivity to the proposal. The most important ideas of common action have naturally emerged in the economic sphere. The emphasis on fighting protectionist trends and reforming the global monetary system and international financial institutions is proof of the common perception that the economic order needs to be changed in line with the new realities. An important step taken in this direction is the decision to use their own currencies in place of dollar in mutual credit lines. There was also discussion of a reserve currency in place of the dollar in world trade.

BRICS is in a position to take the world to a more rule-based and just economic order. The member countries have strong economic interests of their own but there may also be realisation that they can achieve them better if they work together. The cause of countries poorer than them will also be served better when they challenge system which is built to favour the rich. BRICS can play an important role in future. G







Revolutions are famous for eating their children. There is not much mystery in this menu. The energy, rage and even chaos that is necessary for comprehensive upheaval is anathema to stability.

 When stagnant kings have fallen, the new order needs calm as much as the old order it has replaced. Lenin famously wondered whether it was possible to make revolution without firing squads; the self-evident answer was 'no'. But the range of the squad guns extended to those comrades whose romanticism threatened anarchy, as much as the leftovers who fantacised the restoration of monarchy.

The dialectic of democracy is a bit different. Revolution has been replaced by evolution. But there do come moments when the confrontation inherent in change is no less dramatic. We saw one during the Anna Hazare moment in the uprising against corruption.

Dr Manmohan Singh is widely renowned as the uncle, if not the father, of the economic revolution of 1991 and 1992 that laid the foundations of New India. His government is being shredded today by the children of his own revolution, by men and women in their 20s who are aghast that their reformed India is still plagued by the maladies of old India, most viscerally the fatal cancer of corruption. The contemporary young have provided the surge that has led India to the doorstep of international economic leadership, and they want the benefits of this growth to rescue the impoverished base of the country, and strengthen the middle class to which they belong. Instead they see wealth being sucked up the needle-point apex of the pyramid, captured by a coalition of capital and comprador politician. They are angry at the thought that the national symbol has become a bloated leech.

The young may be impatient. But they are not unduly intolerant. They have space in their attitude for some leeway. In any case, democracy is a pretty laidback sort of beast, and the young enjoy the relaxed ride it provides. The beast does transfigure into a fire-spouting dragon once every five years or so, but that electoral conflagration has curative powers, nourishing and cleansing. Democracy, more crucially, is a daily fact. It is life without fear, a non-negotiable need of modern India.

Surrender of freedom

We did not win independence from the British in order to surrender our freedom to a gruesome local elite on the excuse of economic progress or stability. Some observers find this confusing, even contradictory, but their cynicism reflects the master-slave syndrome that sustained production systems of colonial Europe. India's economic growth does not require bondage of the worker or the silence of the middle class.

The young, however, are fascinated by change. Their willingness to take a risk with the unknown, or less known, is higher. It is not an accident that Dr Manmohan Singh is the only prime minister who has been re-elected after a full term since Rajiv Gandhi gave a vote to the 18-year-old. Dr Singh achieved this because he won the young with the promise of sustained economic achievement. Singh was their king.

Within a year of reelection, that kingdom is frayed. The bitterness of the young is that much sharper because Dr Singh's promise was that much higher. He was a symbol of their aspirations, because he was honest and transparent. They accepted his argument that coalition politics demanded the occasional compromise, until they discovered the extent and magnitude of compromise. What we are witnessing is the first genuine revolt of the Indian middle class. Do not measure their strength by numbers alone, although those numbers are not small. They control the discourse of the nation, and they set the agenda. Their frustration in Bengal may not be because of corruption, since that is not a problem with the Left. But individual honesty is insufficient without a quantum leap in job opportunities. A person born 15 years after the Left came to power in Kolkata is a voter now; how much patience can we expect of him? It is important to note, however, that the demand on the alternative in Bengal, represented by Mamata Banerjee, will be intense, if only because the expectations are colossal.

The children of change, whether in Delhi or Kolkata, are making their demands clear, and doing so with impressive clarity. If they are left hungry, they will dine on the powerful.






Due to Yemen's strategic location, destabilisation could have serious consequences for the neighbourhood.
Fighting between rebel and loyalist units of the Yemeni armed forces last week marked a dangerous development in the contest between President Ali Abdullah Saleh and his opponents. The clash took place on the road to the international airport where the 1st Armoured Division of the army, commanded by Major General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, has set up checkpoints and established camps.

On March 17 Gen Ahmar, the president's half-brother and chief rival, declared his support for the uprising against Saleh and provided protection for mass protests in the capital, Sanaa. By positioning troops in this strategic area on the outskirts of the city, Gen Ahmar could be preparing to seize control of the airport and the state television building.

Gen Ahmar's move to consolidate his hold on territory in and around the capital has added a new dimension to the multidimensional conflict in Yemen: a personal power struggle between a popular general and a faltering president.

Yemen's protests were initially against poverty, unemployment, and corruption. Yemen is the poorest country in the Arab world. The oil, on which it depends for foreign revenues, is running out. Water is a major problem made worse by farmers who cultivate the slightly narcotic qat plant — which uses a lot of water but yields good earnings — rather than food crops.


Once protesters encountered resistance from Saleh, who has been in power since 1978, they focused on toppling his regime. Although he promised to step down when his term ends in 2013 or at the end of the year if a transitional administration is in place, the protest movement demands his immediate removal.

Yemen's revolt is part uprising inspired by the ouster of leaders in Tunisia and Egypt; part civil conflict pitting the government against, on one hand, protesters seeking democracy and, on the other, southern secessionists.

If the uprisings continue and there is no firm control from Sanaa, Yemen could split, reverting to the two states — North and South Yemen — that merged in 1990 under Saleh's autocratic leadership. Feeling marginalised and excluded from government by northerners, south Yemenis fought a civil war with the central government in 1994 and have been agitating for separation for several years.

Once divided, Yemen could fracture into a number of semi-independent entities that could wage war on each other. Warfare could spring from tribal, religious and straightforward political differences. The population, 24 million strong, is 52 per cent Sunni and 46 per cent Shia. Sunnis are concentrated largely in the south and southeast while Shias (predominantly heterdox Zaidis) are present in the north and northwest. For the past five years Sanaa has been fighting Zaidi Houthi tribesmen on the Saudi border. Their rebellion was suppressed only after Saudi forces intervened.

To complicate the situation further, the government has also been battling al-Qaeda elements who have found refuge with dissident tribal shaikhs in inaccessible mountains. In this struggle Saleh, a former US antagonist, has received logistical and material aid from Washington, seen by many Yemenis as an arch enemy.

Due to Yemen's strategic location, the destabilisation of the country, fracturing or collapse into failed statehood, could have serious consequences for the neighbourhood. Yemen borders on Saudi Arabia, the world's major oil producer, Oman, and the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, main waterways for trade between West Asia, the Gulf, Africa and India.

Full blown civil conflict and instability in Yemen could spill over into Saudi Arabia, which has a restive Shia population in its oil-rich Eastern Province and into Oman, already experiencing protests arising from the Arab spring of discontent.  Across the narrow Bab al-Mandab strait lies Djbouti and the unstable Horn of Africa.

Pirates from Somalia, a state that failed two decades ago, continually prey on shipping in these waters and in the Arabian Sea. Gun runners, people and drug smugglers also operate from these troubled shores while radical Muslim fundamentalists (Salafis) have taken control of most of Somalia and are extending their influence to surrounding African countries.

An extremely worried Gulf Cooperation Council, which is dominated by Saudi Arabia, has put forward a peace plan accepted by neither the rebels nor Saleh who changes his mind about whether or not to stand down depending on how the winds of war are blowing.








Eligible bachelors fall into two watertight compartments!

"Advice is like water, you drink it to replenish your soul". Do I swear by this adage? Not in a million years! Mind one's business and help in case of emergency — that's my funda in life. However, my fellow mortals don't seem to think the same. I am at the receiving end of advice and more advice, unwelcome, unasked for and totally unsolicited. Advice — about studies, jobs, food, fashion and of late the holy bond of matrimony. I wonder what attracts such situations to me. Perhaps, it is something about my face and demeanour.

At the ripe old age of 18 (when I was rarin' to go out into the world), I was accosted by my ex-music master (due respects to him) in the middle of our cramped, dusty main road. Over the next one hour, with traffic nearly running us over, I was told not to worry about banal things like jobs and such-like and spend the next 15-20 years acquiring as many degrees as I could. Looking back, I wonder if he wanted me to make it to the Guinness book of records as the most qualified person on earth. Or perhaps he envisaged silly me as one of the women intellectuals of yore say Gargi, Mytreyi, Lopamudra, etc.

It is not uncommon for my friends to give me oodles of haute-couture advice, which if followed would surely lead to the greatest fashion disaster in the history of human-kind. One bearded and barefooted gentleman (No, it wasn't M F Hussain) who frequents the park I do, spoke to me out of the blue. "You should take the bank exams due in two days," he nearly ordered, "It would be a convenient profession for you". "My calling's something else, Uncle", I grinned falsely (Useful as they are, banks give me claustrophobia).

Lately my neighbour (let's call her M) with 'seven years marriage experience' and 'two-two children', to her credit, took the onus upon herself to educate me on men and marriage. Eligible bachelors according to the lady, fall into two watertight compartments — 'same-age guy' and 'aged-person'. "Don't ever marry same age guy", she warned, her eyes fierce and tone ominous. "They'd go to discos and all, and then cheat on you!" An 'aged-person' would be suitable. My mind immediately conjured up the picture of a man with grey hair and a crinkled face, only to realise that the definition of an aged person in M's parlance would be someone about 7-8 years older than oneself!

There have been innumerable others — young and old, the victim of whose indiscriminate-advice monging I have been. Since, I am destined to get it; I might as well listen and use it to my advantage if I can. After all, every one (except me) is a brainy know-all!








Isaac Herzog has rich intelligence experience. He was an officer in the intelligence-gathering department of Military Intelligence, and his father, Chaim Herzog, was in British intelligence and twice headed the Intelligence Corps in the Israel Defense Forces. Who more than Isaac Herzog could be expected to have internalized the hoary axiom of field security that once a word has been allowed to escape, it cannot be called back?

Thus we can understand the Labor MK's distress regarding his appearance in the diplomatic cables sent from the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv to the State Department, which were reported in Haaretz courtesy of WikiLeaks. To his great embarrassment, the documents reveal Herzog to be a reporter of public and personal moods, almost a political correspondent, for American ambassadors and other officials passing through Israel. Naively, Herzog was convinced that he was speaking to the U.S. representatives in secret. And they, as is the way of diplomats for whom cables home are part of their work, let the whole world in on their conversations with Herzog, thanks to WikiLeaks and its massive exposure of diplomatic documents.

Even more than the substance of Herzog's comments - about Ashkenazim and Moroccans, Amir Peretz and Shimon Peres (what didn't he talk about?) - what's surprising is that he was so willing to tell all to the Americans. This is nothing new. There are always politicians, generally not the most veteran ones, who enjoy the perceived prestige of these conversations. The documents that the Freedom of Information Act requires the U.S. government to make public after several decades, or sometimes less, have revealed the names of such politicians. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, for example, Gad Yaacobi - the late Knesset member who was close to Moshe Dayan - was one of them, and there were also others in the ruling party of the time, Alignment, who were cited in diplomatic cables.

Today the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv is of marginal importance in the big picture of bilateral diplomacy. Most of the communication takes place directly, between Israel's prime minister and defense minister and the White House, U.S. National Security Council and the U.S. secretaries of state and defense. But Israeli politicians have yet to fully recognize that the world has changed. And unless they want to hold such talks with their own witnesses in attendance, so they can document the Israeli version of what is said and whip out the records as soon as the conversation is duly leaked, Israeli politicians would do well to keep from chattering today if they don't want to have to issue denials tomorrow.






Who was chiefly responsible for the fact that Israel was surprised by the Egyptian and Syrian attacks on Yom Kippur in 1973? Many say that it was the Intelligence branch of the Israel Defense Forces - and in particular, the head of Military Intelligence, Maj. Gen. Eli Zeira.

The chief of staff during that war, David Elazar, also pointed an accusatory finger upward, to then defense minister Moshe Dayan, while Dayan placed almost all the blame on the lower echelon, leaving it with Zeira. Dayan deflected a little of the excess criticism in the direction of the prime minister, Golda Meir.

In actual fact, it is not because of a failure to issue a warning that a prime minister, a defense minister or a chief of staff will turn the head of military intelligence into their own human shield. Everything is dependent upon the military outcome of the actions taken before and during the crisis, with no connection to the quality of the warning. If the result is successful, the oversight about the warning is forgotten. It is only when the result is bad that people want the head of the person who was supposed to warn them.

The victory in the Six-Day War was achieved despite a mistaken assessment by the intelligence branch. Then, Dayan made it clear that the intelligence branch bore limited responsibility, that it had to provide an assessment based on the best of the facts at its disposal and that it was up to the political echelon, including Dayan himself, to weigh the intelligence assessment, to add their interpretation of it and to translate it into action on the ground. It was Zeira's bad luck that the Agranat Commission (which looked into the failures of the war ) was not aware of Dayan's exchange of thoughts with Zeira's predecessor, Maj. Gen. Aharon Yariv, who is always presented as being more cautious than Zeira.

In a discussion between the General Staff and Dayan in August 1967, some two months after the war, Yariv spoke about the "narrow path" on which an intelligence expert has to walk, between overestimating or underestimating his enemy.

"What Ahreleh [Yariv] said is true, about the philosophy of the narrow path and the need to be careful not to be caught too complacent or too panicky," Dayan responded. "The intelligence branch has to say how it sees things and what will happen. It does not have to philosophize, something that could lead to complacency. I worry about that every day. If they take away my job, what will I do?"

Yariv replied: "When the possibilities and likelihood of action on the part of the enemy are stated, if the intelligence person takes the worst case scenario, then he can be sure. If it happens, good. If it doesn't happen, then it doesn't. From the intelligence point of view, one has to make a logical analysis on the basis of information plus a bit of a [gut] feeling."

To this Dayan responded: "If the risk is that it will afterward transpire that this caused the State of Israel to be complacent, then the State of Israel has to say that it is true that Military Intelligence said this and that, but I want to take security measures."

In terms of Autumn 1973, the security measures that Meir and Dayan did not take were a diplomatic initiative for peace with Egypt, coupled with a military alert in case the intelligence assessments - that Egypt would not go to war and that the preparations for crossing the Suez Canal were merely an exercise - were proven false.

In terms of autumn 2011, which is likely to see Israel facing its most grave diplomatic and military crisis since the Yom Kippur War, it must be stated now that the guilty party will not be Military Intelligence and its estimates, but the government of Israel, its prime minister and the man who holds the defense portfolio.

Speaking last week at a lecture in Jerusalem, the previous MI head, Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin, warned against the illusion that the current quiet on the borders would continue and that time was working in Israel's favor. Even though he will officially retire from the army in September and was therefore careful not to cast political aspersions, the significance of Yadlin's remarks was unmistakable. It can be assumed also that the present IDF intelligence head, Aviv Kochavi, does not think otherwise; this is not like the transfer of authority from Yariv to Zeira.

The strategic warning has been sounded. What is less important is the tactical question, the timing and the methods for the outbreak of the combined "words-and-missiles Muslim offensive," as Yadlin defined it, with the world sitting sympathetically or apathetically in the gallery.

Between complacency and alarm there is room for initiative. It is not enough for Benjamin Netanyahu to make another flowery and superficial speech and for Ehud Barak to issue another empty self warning and then, like Dayan in Meir's cabinet, to refrain from resigning. They know that too, but out of a fear that a far-reaching diplomatic initiative would topple the government, they may be tempted to embark on a foolhardy military initiative. The government or the country? The choice is theirs.






Whenever the Israeli leadership considers an important choice - to give the Bar-Ilan 2 speech or not; to meet with Justin Bieber or not - the decision depends on the "mood of the public." We have a government that listens, one whose direction is dictated by surveys which are followed blindly.

This form of listening is bad practice for decision-makers. Had Moses been as attentive as our prime minister to the songs of joy or the crying of his people, we would not have been liberated, and we would have been left until today as slaves. In slavery too, there is a significant degree of comfort.

"The public" did not really want to leave Egypt and was ready, at every opportunity, to pass on the chance for independence. Moses did not need surveys to know that he was dealing with a difficult, fickle, complaining people.

Even before Pharaoh decided to let them leave, the people were already complaining to Moses and Aaron that they had been besmirched before the king, at a time when they were actually trying to gain his favor. And when they saw the Egyptians chasing them, they began complaining again: Were there no graves in Egypt that you took us to the desert to die? The shifts between depression and euphoria, so commonplace among the mob, are sharp and quick: A short while later Pharaoh's chariots drowned in the sea, and they were already singing hallelujah.

With difficulty the Land of Israel was reached and suddenly there was nothing to drink. In the desert there was nothing to eat, and there was only nostalgia for the comfort of the free. Refidim was the next stop, and once more there was no water. Luckily there was no electricity back then for refrigeration and air conditioning. Had someone unplugged the mains, Moses would have been stoned and not even able to gaze at the Promised Lane from the other side of the river.

And then, the Golden Calf makes an appearance in the life of the nation, the worst of all sins. For a moment it appeared to the masses that the leadership had gone missing - perhaps Moses had died, perhaps he had ran away - and immediately the people were barbecuing, laughing, praying to other gods.

Without golden calves and money to bow before them, how can those who behave like beasts have lives better than humans? When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he listens to "the wishes of the nation", what does he actually hear in all the mooing?

But why should we go so far back to prove our point? In our very time, have there not been many stories which began with great bravado and ended meekly? Have disasters not befallen us which started with the support of the majority, and only then became a minority?

Everything is in the surveys and carved in memory. A mass as a herd is still the same mass, and the generations are the same generations, only the great leaders of the current generation are small and make us appear to be grasshoppers. David Ben-Gurion was able to differentiate between "want" and "desire," unlike our modern-day leaders.

There are no more breakers of tablets, and there is no one to collect the pieces and put them back together. There are none who come down to the people from the mountain, because he who has never been able to rise can never climb down to be with his people.

The exodus from Egypt is not yet over. It is just beginning, because internal opposition to liberation remains there. This morning, on the holiday eve, I open the window of my home and my country, look outside and inside, in an effort to adjust myself to the spring: The whole country is full of calves, the whole country is full of broken pieces of tablets.

I can see long lines, people hungry and humiliated waiting for handouts; it is hard to identify them because they are transparent. My gaze wanders and I see the neighbors from over there, climbing the fences and the walls in order to get a break; and black people and their children having to pretend to be refugees, when they are migrants to our country. I see the pressure which is pressing them. Where am I: in Egypt, the desert, the Promised Land?

Suddenly it all falls together: That same day a decision is made to charge two of them with getting fat on calves - Egypt's former president, Hosni Mubarek, and another Israeli minister in office, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. They are beginning to become a lot like us in getting rid of the hametz, and we are more like them in the dirt.







Last month, I met with a man who impressed me as none other has over the last 10 years. His name is David Grossman, and he was in New York to receive the National Jewish Book Award for his magnificent novel "To the End of the Land." Grossman, whose talent is enormous, has been fighting for peace in his country for 30 years.

As we came to the end of our discussion we sat as two Jews - one from North America and one from Israel - who deeply care about our mutual fate as part of the Jewish people. He looked me in the eye and said that it was important for me to openly express my ideas about Israeli policies, and that it is vital for others who question to do the same.

Grossman's comment resonated with me because Jews are a people of questioners. We emphatically question and discuss. That very Jewish form of engagement, however, is often seen as a threat rather than an asset when it comes to public discussions and criticism of Israel.

Yet, as Jews, we show that we care and are connected to each other by rigorous inquiry, not blind advocacy. Accordingly, I feel compelled to call upon Israel to redouble its efforts to bring about a two-state solution, especially as we enter spring and witness the Arab world in the midst of revolution and the possibility - however remote - of a blossoming democracy in Egypt.

This week, we also celebrate Passover, that great celebration of freedom. The Pesach Haggadah also reflects the Talmudic injunction to ask questions. As we come upon Passover, and the Seder meal, I am reminded of the example of the four children.

They are all held up as illustrations of how to ask questions, or our inability to do so, and I have come to see their legacies as a great lesson. One is wise, one wicked, one simple and one does not know how to ask, but each of them - rebelling, agreeable, silent or bewildered - participates in the act of questioning.

When I think of the four children, I am keenly aware of the responsibility - the necessity - of asking questions to continue participating in the narrative of the Jewish people. To remove yourself from the story of Israel, as the wicked child does during the Passover Seder, is the only heresy. Exploring Israel's meaning to you, as an American and as a Jew, is to firmly lock yourself onto the chain of thousands of years of Jewish history, and also claim your legacy as an American who is blessed to live in a land of freedom.

Let me be clear: I do not criticize Israel because I wish to separate myself from it. I speak up because I am a committed Zionist who loves Israel. I want it to be a country which lives up to its greatest potential, and I see its current policies on settlements and Palestinian occupation as a grave error, destructive to the heart and soul of a great Jewish country.

To believe that Israel is strong enough, and capable, to be held accountable, and that it is possible for it to become a better place. It is an affirmation of strength and a reminder that Israel must not oppress others as the Egyptians did, but aid them in their emancipation.

"We are without confidence in what we are doing and where we are heading, what our national purpose is," Grossman lamented to me. "All that is evaporating from us, because of the harshness of the conflict, because of the despair that we are in."

When we cease to question, we cease to hope. Do not surrender your freedom so easily - do not give in to despair. Remind yourself this Pesach that you are free to question, and by doing so you reaffirm possibility.

The writer is a leading philanthropist and president of the Samuel Bronfman Foundation.







I like to take the initiative. I know it's considered unfeminine, but I believe that every individual is responsible for her own fate and her own happiness. So when I have an opportunity to do something that's good for me, I try and do it. That is why I joined the initiative launched two weeks ago calling on the government of Israel to accept the Saudi initiative as a basis for peace talks.

Israel can do things that are good for itself. That will allow it to exist for a long time and live in security and, especially, in peace. Israel can take its fate into its own hands and act to achieve this goal. For years they've been telling us that there is no partner for peace, that there is no one to talk to, and above all, that it's not dependent on us - but that is simply not true. The clearest proof is the Saudi initiative.

For nine years (! ) already, the proposal set forth by the Arab League - that is, a collective proposal offered by all Arab states - to end our conflict with the Palestinians in particular, and with the entire Arab world, has been on the table. That is to say, the Arab world recognizes Israel and its right to exist, and has offered to live alongside it in peace. That is to say, there is someone to talk to, there is something to talk about, and it is up to us. They are the ones who made that proposal; Israel is the one who has ignored it until this day.

I believe in a comprehensive regional agreement. Even security experts will admit that such a deal is likely to considerably weaken the hostile and extremist elements - from Hamas to Iran to al-Qaida; and beyond that, I can admit that I'd like to be able to enjoy good neighborliness. I appreciate the Arab culture just as much as I do the European culture, and I want to be able to visit our neighboring countries as a tourist, the same way I'm able to visit Egypt and beyond.

We are not used to thinking about peace anymore. Most of the time we are worrying about the next threat, and we're so worn out that peace sounds to us like something naive, utopian and fallacious. But the reality is that the world is offering us every option, including those that sound unrealistic, and it's up to us to decide what kind of life we want for ourselves and what it is that we're striving for.

I want Israel to take steps toward achieving peace. I want us to believe that it is possible. It is not simple, it is not easy, but it is much more attainable than we realize and we believe that the Arab League initiative offers us the most worthwhile way to do so.

Today, more than ever, the Arab public is waking up and its people want a better life, a life with more freedoms. They are sick and tired of being intimidated and controlled. The Saudi initiative is aimed at the Israeli public; at us - the people who want peace and quiet, here and not in Finland; we must adopt it wholeheartedly, even if our government ignores it.

"We will not allow anyone to dictate to us the terms of peace," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared at the Likud conference last week. On the contrary, Mr. Netanyahu, take the initiative into your own hands and design our peace agreement with the Arab world. Israel Takes the Initiative is calling on you to do that; all of you are invited to join.




                                    THE NEWYORK TIMES





The new settlement between the Environmental Protection Agency, other plaintiffs and the Tennessee Valley Authority resolving clean air violations at 11 T.V.A. coal-fired power plants is long overdue.


As a result, millions of Americans will someday breathe cleaner air. The settlement will also reduce emissions that have brought acid rain damage to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. And it emphatically vindicates the Clean Air Act, which is now under assault from House Republicans.


Under the deal, the federally run authority will close 18 of its oldest and dirtiest coal-fired boilers in Tennessee, Kentucky and Alabama, spend $3 billion to $5 billion over the next decade to install state-of-the-art pollution controls at about three dozen other units, and invest $350 million in energy efficiency and renewable energy projects.


The E.P.A. estimates that the agreement will reduce emissions of nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide by nearly 70 percent, preventing 1,200 to 3,000 premature deaths, 2,000 heart attacks and 21,000 asthma attacks annually. The retirement of older coal-fired plants combined with energy efficiencies will inevitably reduce the company's emission of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas.


The T.V.A., founded during the Great Depression, has undeniably played an important role in providing electricity to poor parts of the country. But it has also been a major polluter, and a litigious one as well.


The authority agreed in a settlement three decades ago to reduce emissions and make substantial investments in emissions control systems. But further significant reductions have been hard to come by, partly because of friendly court decisions and partly because the George W. Bush administration declined to use its Clean Air Act authority to clean up older plants.


The settlement is a reminder of the value of that act, and the damage that would be done — to Americans' health and the environment — if House Republicans succeed in their efforts to weaken it.








Campaigns are delighted at the prospect of a record binge in political spending for next year's elections. But


their lawyers are scratching their heads in wonderment — and potential delight — that the Federal Election Commission has failed to rewrite regulations after the Supreme Court enabled unlimited corporate campaign spending.


Talk about an invitation to corruption, if not chaos, unless the commission suddenly gets its act together.


The commission has deadlocked along party lines on important questions about the supposedly independent nonprofit groups that spent so heavily with secret donors' money in 2010. They will be even bigger and richer in 2012.


The three commission Democrats want to revise regulations to bring about clear disclosure of donors and to restrict contributions from foreign sources. That makes good sense to us. The three Republicans want only minimal changes to the rules. That would mean that corporations and unions could not only spend with no limits, the voters would never know who was behind the cash.


The commission has become borderline useless, since Republican appointees began blocking pretty much any major decision or action, including punishments for politicians found to have blatantly violated the law.


Because of the complex calendar and process, leading campaign lawyers from both parties predict that the commission is "extremely unlikely" to have updated rules in place by the 2012 elections, according to National Journal. Candidates and strategists who regularly cut corners could find a free-spending nirvana.


President Obama must demand something better. By the end of the month, five of the panel's six seats will be open for new appointees. Party bosses traditionally name loyalists for the president's consideration. Mr. Obama should name independent, nonpartisan experts, and the Senate should confirm them. More hacks at the F.E.C. will guarantee more paralysis and even more corruption.









MANY in the West had taken comfort in Al Qaeda's silence in the wake of the uprisings in the Muslim world this year, as secular, nonviolent protests, led by educated youth focused on redressing longstanding local grievances, showcased democracy's promise and seemed to leave Al Qaeda behind.


Indeed, the pristine spirit of the Arab Spring does represent an existential threat to Al Qaeda's extremist ideology. But Al Qaeda's leaders also know that this is a strategic moment. They are banking on the disillusionment that inevitably follows revolutions to reassert their prominence in the region. And now Al Qaeda is silent no more — and is taking the rhetorical offensive.


In recent statements, Ayman al-Zawahri, Osama bin Laden's second-in-command, and Qaeda surrogates have aligned themselves with the protesters in Libya, Egypt and elsewhere, while painting the West as an enemy of the Arab people.


In North Africa, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb claimed that while protesters flooded the streets of Tunis and Cairo, it had been fighting in the mountains against the same enemies. Anwar al-Awlaki, a Yemeni-American cleric affiliated with Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, declared that in the wake of the revolutions, "our mujahedeen brothers ... will get a chance to breathe again after three decades of suffocation" and that "the great doors of opportunity would open up for the mujahedeen all over the world."


Mr. Zawahri has denounced democracy, arguing that toppling dictators is insufficient and that "justice, freedom, and independence" can be achieved only through "jihad and resistance until the Islamic regime rises."


The chaos and disappointment that follow revolutions will inevitably provide many opportunities for Al Qaeda to spread its influence. Demographic pressures, economic woes and corruption will continue to bedevil even the best-run governments in the region. Divisions will beset the protest movements, and vestiges of the old regimes may re-emerge.


Al Qaeda and its allies don't need to win the allegiance of every protester to exert their influence; they have a patient view of history.


Although Washington must avoid tainting organic movements or being perceived as a central protagonist, the United States and its Western allies should not be shy about working with reformers and democrats to shape the region's trajectory — and ensuring Al Qaeda's irrelevance in the Sunni Arab world, the heart of its supposed constituency.


In countries where autocrats have been toppled (as in Egypt and Tunisia), we must help shape the new political and social environment; in nondemocratic, allied states (like the region's monarchies), we need to accelerate internal reform; and in repressive states (like Iran, Libya and Syria), we should challenge the legitimacy of autocratic regimes and openly assist dissidents and democrats.


This is not about military intervention or the imposition of American-style democracy. It is about using American power and influence to support organic reform movements.


The United States Agency for International Development and advocacy organizations can help civil society groups grow; human rights groups can organize and assist networks of dissidents; and Western women's groups and trade unions could support their counterparts throughout the Middle East. Wealthy philanthropists and entrepreneurs who are part of the Middle Eastern diaspora could make investments and provide economic opportunities for the region's youth, while technology companies interested in new markets could partner with anticorruption groups to aid political mobilization and increase government accountability and transparency. Hollywood and Bollywood writers and producers should lionize the democratic heroes who took to the streets to challenge the orthodoxy of fear.


A focused campaign to shape the course of reform would align our values and interests with the aspirations of the protesters. More important, it would answer the challenge from Al Qaeda to define what happens next and reframe the tired narratives of the past.


In 2005, Mr. Zawahri anticipated this battle for reform and noted that "demonstrations and speaking out in the streets" would not be sufficient to achieve freedom in the Muslim world. If we help the protesters succeed, it will not only serve long-term national security interests but also mark the beginning of the end of Al Qaeda.


Juan C. Zarate, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, was the deputy national security adviser for combating terrorism from 2005 to 2009.







Six months after voters sent Republicans in large numbers to Congress and many statehouses, it is possible to see the full landscape of destruction that their policies would cause — much of which has already begun. If it was not clear before, it is obvious now that the party is fully engaged in a project to dismantle the foundations of the New Deal and the Great Society, and to liberate business and the rich from the inconveniences of oversight and taxes.


At first it seemed that only a few freshmen and noisy followers of the Tea Party would support the new extremism. But on Friday, nearly unanimous House Republicans showed just how far their mainstream has been dragged to the right. They approved on strict party lines the most regressive social legislation in many decades, embodied in a blueprint by the budget chairman, Paul Ryan. The vote, from which only four Republicans (and all Democrats) dissented, would have been unimaginable just eight years ago to a Republican Party that added a prescription drug benefit to Medicare.


Mr. Ryan called the vote "our generation's defining moment," and indeed, nothing could more clearly define the choice that will face voters next year.


His bill would end the guarantee provided by Medicare and Medicaid to the elderly and the poor, which has been provided by the federal government with society's clear assent since 1965. The elderly, in particular, would be cut adrift by Mr. Ryan. People now under 55 would be required to pay at least $6,400 more for health care when they qualified for Medicare, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Fully two-thirds of his $4.3 trillion in budget cuts would come from low-income programs.


In addition to making "entitlement" a dirty word, the Ryan bulldozer would go much further in knocking down government programs to achieve its goals. It would cut food stamps by $127 billion, or 20 percent, over the next 10 years, almost certainly increasing hunger among the poor. It would cut Pell grants for all 9.4 million student recipients next year, removing as many as one million of them from the program altogether. It would remove more than 100,000 low-income children from Head Start, and slash job-training programs for the unemployed desperate to learn new skills.


And it would do all that while preserving the Bush tax cuts for the rich, and even expanding them. Regulation of business and the environment would be sharply reduced.


The mania for blindly cutting has also spread to statehouses, many with new Republican governors and legislatures. Several states have cut their unemployment benefits below the standard 26 weeks. Gov. Jan Brewer of Arizona has proposed removing 138,000 people from Medicaid. Many recession-battered states, including some led by Democrats, have been forced to cut other services because Republicans have made it so politically difficult to raise taxes. Education, mental health and juvenile justice funds have been particular targets.


In Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, Maine and Florida, Republican governors have used the smokescreen of a poor economy to pursue a long-held conservative goal of destroying public and private unions. This has nothing to do with creating jobs, of course, and it has shocked many blue-collar voters who are suddenly second-guessing their support for Republicans last November. Several states are also adopting Arizona-style anti-immigrant laws.



President Obama, after staying in the shadows too long, is starting to illuminate the serious damage that Republicans are doing. Their vision, he said last week, "is less about reducing the deficit than it is about changing the basic social compact in America." Other Democrats are also beginning to stand up and reject these ideas, having been cowed for months by the electoral wave. Their newfound confidence will give voters a clearer view of this bare and pessimistic landscape.








LEGAL elites must come to terms with a reality driven by the grass-roots electorate: judicial elections are here to stay. Given this reality, we should focus on balancing important First Amendment rights to financially support campaigns with due process concerns about fair trials.


An ugly, expensive campaign for a seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court is but the latest example of what is now common in judicial elections: millions of dollars in misleading television ads, subsidized by lobbies that have cases before the bench.


In 39 states, at least some judges are elected. Voters rarely know much, if anything, about the candidates, making illusory the democratic benefits of such elections. Ideally, judges should decide cases based on the law, not to please the voters. But, as Justice Otto Kaus of the California Supreme Court once remarked about the effect of politics on judges' decisions: "You cannot forget the fact that you have a crocodile in your bathtub. You keep wondering whether you're letting yourself be influenced, and you do not know."


The need to run multimillion-dollar campaigns to win election to the court in much of the country renders the crocodile ever more menacing.


For more than a quarter of a century, voters have rejected efforts to move from an elective to an appointive bench. Last year, despite a campaign led by Sandra Day O'Connor, Nevada voters became the latest to reject such a change.


Scholars, judges and advocates who find intellectual comfort in seeking to eliminate judicial elections are indulging a luxury that America's courts can no longer afford. Instead they should focus on incremental changes to what Justice O'Connor bluntly calls the "wrong" of "cash in the courtroom."


More than 7 in 10 Americans believe campaign cash influences judicial decisions. Nearly half of state court judges agree. Never before has there been so much cash in the courts. Measured only by direct contributions to candidates for state high courts, campaign fund-raising more than doubled in a decade.


But this is only part of the financial story. Nationally, in 2008, for the first time, noncandidate groups outspent the candidates on the ballot.


Perhaps most tellingly, a study of 29 campaigns in the 10 costliest judicial election states over the last decade revealed the extraordinary comparative power of "super spenders" in court races. The top five spenders in each of the elections laid out an average of $473,000.


In 2009, the United States Supreme Court dealt with this issue, holding that due process is violated when a judge participates in a case involving a party that spent a great deal of money on the judge's election effort. The case before the court involved a West Virginia Supreme Court decision overturning a jury verdict that awarded a $50 million judgment against Massey Coal Company.


One of the justices in the majority of that 3 to 2 decision, Brent D. Benjamin, had been elected after Massey Coal's chief executive spent $3 million on his campaign. The United States Supreme Court held, 5 to 4, that due process was violated because of the lack of an impartial decision-maker. The court made clear, however, that campaign spending requires the disqualification of a judge only rarely.


A year later, the high court held, in the Citizens United case, that corporations and unions have the First Amendment right to spend unlimited amounts of money in election campaigns. In light of these two decisions, corporate and union officials must engage in a perverse guessing game: they want to spend enough to get their candidate for the bench elected, but not so much as to require the judge's disqualification if the campaign is successful.


Rigorous recusal rules are an important step, but merely disqualifying a judge on occasion is insufficient. The most obvious solution is to limit spending in judicial races. States with elected judges should restrict how much can be contributed to a candidate for judicial office or even spent to get someone elected.


That solution has long been assumed to be off the table, though, because the Supreme Court ruled in 1976 that while the government can limit the amount that a person gives directly to a candidate, it cannot restrict how much a person spends on his or her own to get the candidate elected. Nevertheless, large expenditures to get a candidate elected to the bench undermine both the appearance and reality of impartial justice.


The Supreme Court's 2009 decision properly focused on the $3 million in campaign expenditures, not the $1,000 that was directly contributed. In the legislative and executive offices, it is accepted that special-interest lobbying and campaign spending can influence votes; but that is anathema to our most basic notions of fair judging.


Thus, the Supreme Court should hold that the compelling interest in ensuring impartial judges is sufficient to permit restrictions on campaign spending that would be unconstitutional for nonjudicial elections.


States should restrict contributions and expenditures in judicial races to preserve impartiality. Such restrictions are the only way to balance the right to spend to get candidates elected, and the due process right to fair trials.


Erwin Chemerinsky is the dean of the law school at the University of California, Irvine. James J. Sample is an associate professor of law at Hofstra.








They were not scenes from Egypt's Tahrir Square or Bahrain's Pearl Square. Indeed they were from Istanbul's Taksim and Galatasaray squares, Ankara's Kızılay Square and İzmir's Alsancak. The students who organized the demonstrations uses social media tools such as Facebook and were supported in their protest by artists, workers, teachers and parents.

A few thousand high school students filled these squares to protest the Student Selection and Placement Center, or ÖSYM, and its head, Professor Ali Demir.

Readers of the Daily News know how the scandal affecting the future of nearly 1.7 million students erupted.

Demir, who was appointed as the head of this very strategic institution only six months ago, confused the minds of the text-takers on whether or not there was a code in the exam key. After the code was found by a mother of a test-taker, he first denied that there was such a code, but then said the booklet containing the code was not distributed to students.

Only, a few days later, he wrote a letter to the students and called on them to concentrate on the second leg of the university entrance exam, or YGS, in June but also admitted there was a code accidentally slipped into the exam. His confession nearly two weeks after insisting there was no code is what has spurned the students to take to the streets since last week. "How will I trust the fairness of this exam? And how will I be reassured that the second exam will be fair and there will be no cheating?" a high-school student taking the exam was asking reporters Friday.

"If people in charge of the exam had any dignity, they would quit as soon as possible," Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, leader of the Republican People's Party, or CHP, told reporters. For Kılıçdaroğlu, what Demir did went beyond causing suspicion in the minds of millions of youth, he also misled the country's president, prime minister and other Cabinet members.

"The scandal is knee-deep. The future of 1.7 million young people has been darkened," Oktay Vural, deputy leader of the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, told reporters.

And it wasn't only political parties seeking Demir's resignation. Trade unions for teachers and associations of education experts have also made such calls.

We are very much aware that Demir's resignation will not solve the problems. The problem is much deeper and requires a substantial outlook for solving. However, his resignation would perhaps work out in breaking the tension among the students. Demir should unburden his mistake in misleading the entire nation and should set the students' minds at ease. Apart from displaying dignity, this move would also set a precedent for everyone to be much more careful in doing their jobs, be it in government or its affiliations.






"How can I learn Kurdish?" I once asked out of the blue to a Kurdish friend of mine, a gentleman much older than me who comes from a well-known family in eastern Anatolia. We were having dinner and this was a question he hadn't expected.

Caught off guard, "What the hell are you going to do with Kurdish?" was his response.

In those days I was working on a book, still not completed, and each time he saw me with books on Kurds under my arm, in the cafe we all used to gather after work, he would tease me, saying, "Don't bother reading so much." He explained that instead of spending time on books, half of which he claimed were full of disinformation, I could ask him about anything I wanted to know as he had lived through the period in question.

So, I started asking him questions and he indeed knew a lot. In his family, there were names who had become mayors or ministers. He was one of those people who seemed to be "stuck in-between." His responses, however, were providing me with a different perspective, one more valuable than the existing paradigms. Over time, he wanted me to tell him things he didn't know. There appeared a kind of intellectual interaction between the two of us.

Even to him, nevertheless, this language question sounded very strange. I was completely sincere, though. I said it wanting to grasp the inner world of the Kurdish people, unfortunately a desire that can only be accomplished by knowing Kurdish. It is precisely for this reason that I enjoy reading books written by Kurds on individual stories of Kurds, members of the terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK in particular. One such book that served as inspiration to this piece is that of Bejan Matur's titled "Dağın Ardına Bakmak" (Looking Behind the Mountain).

To relate the personal stories and traumas, Matur interviewed former PKK members both in Turkey and Europe and went even to the Qandil Mountains. Among the stories she tells, what strikes me the most is that of Brusks, a senior PKK member who now lives together with his family in Britain. My emphasis, however, needs a correction: What I find interesting in his personal story is not the level of tragedy he faced. Rather, it is his line of thinking, as a person being apparently the most radical among those Matur interviewed.

These are the eight important points that I would like to highlight from what he said:

· "In the past, my mom had always objected to us. But now if you said 'stop!' she wouldn't. She is always in the front line of the marches."

· "Without the support of the Kurds in Europe, the PKK cannot survive."

· "There is no more [PKK] organization in Europe. This has been so for years. Each [European] country created a PKK according to its own [wishes and designs]."

· "The PKK has proven its strength. [The Turks] are acknowledging the defeat."

· "If the PKK were not in the mountains, Ahmet Türk could not have spoken in the Parliament."

· "I don't want to separate from Turkey. I never wanted to. We fought, because the conditions of that period demanded it."

· "I would again fight for Kurdistan, but want to live in Istanbul… [After the clashes end,] we will first go to Kurdistan but will settle in Istanbul."

· "My reaction was never against the Turkish people. I reacted to the state, the system…"

These eight statements should be the road map for the Turkish state if it really wants to solve the problem. But for the resolution to the conflict, there is one more prerequisite: Being sincere to each other, but to ourselves in particular. This first and foremost requires an introspection as well as self-criticism. Only thereafter can our demands be realistic to a degree that would help end the conflict.

I humbly am, for instance, ready to shout that banning Kurdish was the most stupid and irrational thing this country ever did. But is it realistic to claim that the Turks have "acknowledged" the defeat? Is it realistic to think, under the current political circumstances prevalent in Turkey, the idea of resorting to force still enables Ahmet Türk to speak in Parliament? Isn't the outcome of this line of thinking the farce at the Habur border gate which served as the fatal blow to further normalization?

"What need is there for Kurdish," said my friend, with a jeering smile on his lips: "Didn't you make us speak Turkish?!" But I really want to learn Kurdish. Tell me please, my Kurdish friends: What is the word for "empathy" in Kurdish? I am ready to start with it. Or, as in Turkish, is it also borrowed from a foreign language?

If that is the case, I think here lies our real problem!






With less than two months to go before the elections, it is appropriate to review the ruling Justice and Development Party's, or AKP's, economic policies, with a special emphasis on their second term in office.

When the AKP came to power in 2002, Turkey was in the process of implementing an economic recovery program, put in place after the 2001 crisis. There were valid concerns that the rookie government would be unable or unwilling to continue with these policies.

AKP proved the doubters wrong big time. Commendable execution of this well-planned program towards economic stability, with an expansionary fiscal contraction and banking reforms as its pillars, coupled with very favorable global conditions, did wonders for the economy in the AKP's first term in office.

While it is difficult to prove empirically, that macroeconomic performance was the driving force behind the party's stellar performance at the 2007 elections. In fact, Yapı Kredi Bank economists have shown that the middle classes have been increasing their share of consumption in the past few years. A short drive through the newly-booming districts of İstanbul such as Ümraniye and Güngören, which have developed into buzzing consumption centers, would confirm their findings.

The hope was that, with the macroeconomy more or less in order, the new AKP government would concentrate on the micro reform agenda after their resounding victory in the 2007 elections.

That was not the case. Not much has been done to improve the investment climate in the last four years. As the economy czar Ali Babacan candidly admitted during the IMF-World Bank meetings in Istanbul in 2009, the government could not use the global crisis to jumpstart the reform agenda, as some countries have done.

Instead of reform, we have been spoon-fed first-rate spin-doctoring. First, the government dragged its feet on the IMF Stand-by Arrangement, or SBA, for months, whereby hearsay that the SBA was about to be finalized would conveniently resurface every time Turkish assets tumbled. Then, the government's new opiate for the masses became the fiscal rule, which was announced to great fanfare, only to be postponed several times before finally being brushed under the carpet.

Part of the problem seems to be Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who has said several times that he has "the last say in economy matters." I have been told that the Treasury and the IMF were steps away from an SBA, and that Babacan was very enthusiastic towards the fiscal rule even a couple of weeks before Erdoğan shelved it for good.

It seems that the PM's authoritarian style spills over to economic policymaking as well. Besides, he has an interesting view of economics, underscored by his recent remarks that "low interest rates beget low inflation," rather than the other way around, as the economics profession mistakenly believes.

AKP's policymaking is showing cracks, but the opposition has failed to produce anything better so far despite promising early efforts such as the family insurance scheme by the main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP. We have yet to see their election manifesto.

The Nationalist Movement Party's economy agenda, on the other hand, is vague. Parts of it look like a carbon copy of the one from the 2007 elections. Their macroeconomic projections are baseless, and they offer no clue how they will reach their goals. I am also not particularly impressed by promises such as making the Turkish army the third strongest in the world and keeping the Central Bank in Ankara.

At the end of the day, unless the CHP pleasantly surprises us in the next few days, I won't blame you if you decide that a few cracks are better than a gorge.






The war in Ivory Coast is over, or so we are told. Former president Laurent Gbagbo, who clung to the presidency even though he only won 46 percent of the vote in last year's election, has been dragged from his bunker after two weeks of battle that devastated the capital, Abidjan. President Alassane Ouattara, who got 54 percent of the votes, is in charge, and Gbagbo is under arrest, and all's well that ends well.

Except that it didn't end very well, did it? Indeed, it probably hasn't ended at all. Ouattara owes a lot to the troops (the New Forces) that fought for him, and they will expect to be paid, mainly in military, police and government jobs. This will further alienate Gbagbo's supporters (mostly Christian southerners), who already feel they have been occupied by a northern, Muslim army.

It's not even clear that Ouattara ordered the offensive that was carried out in his name: the New Forces have about 10 semi-independent commanders. It's even odds that the victors will simply overthrow Ouattara and take power themselves in the next year or two.

The militias that fought for Ggagbo are not finished, either. It was French firepower that finally breached Gbagbo's defenses, even if New Forces soldiers made the actual arrest. And although the French were operating under the United Nations flag, everybody in Ivory Coast knows that Ouattara has been the preferred candidate of France's President Nicolas Sarkozy for many years.

The French forces have put Ouattara in power, but now they have to withdraw rapidly. It looks bad for the former colonial power to boost an African regime into power, and the longer they stay the worse it will look. But once they are gone, Ouattara may face resurgent southern militias that are still loyal to Gbagbo.

It is the West African Curse: rampant corruption plus chronic poverty plus ethnic rivalry produce civil wars and insurgencies that last for decades and kill hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians. It happened in Sierra Leone, it happened in Liberia, and it started to happen in Guinea last year (although that country may have stopped on the brink of the pit).

For a long time people thought Ivory Coast was immune because of its far greater wealth: It was the world's biggest cocoa producer and the economic center of French-speaking West Africa. But the wealth never trickled down very far, and the ethnic rivalries were the same. Indeed, they were actually worse, because the country is almost evenly split between Muslims in the north and Christians in the south.

East along the coast, the Curse hasn't struck yet. Ghana, on Ivory Coast's eastern border, has seen a few coups, but no massacres, and it is now a flourishing democracy with a respectable growth rate. Togo and Dahomey are not so lucky, but they have had no huge massacres either. And giant Nigeria has done surprisingly well, given that it has all the ingredients of a classic West African-style disaster.

Nigeria has oil, but most of the money has been stolen by a small elite class while the majority of Nigerians remain poor. It is even more deeply divided than Ivory Coast in ethnic and religious terms. Yet Nigeria never slid over the edge.

It has had many coups, and even when "democracy" was restored the elections were shamelessly rigged. The Muslim-Christian split dominates national politics and sometimes leads to local massacres. It is a chaotic, abrasive, almost lawless society – but also a highly successful one, with 7 percent growth and a functioning if deeply corrupt democracy. It is, in a weird way, a very stable country.

The one major threat to its stability is the fact that its elections are getting more honest. When the outcome was decided in advance, the basic north-south deal was safe: a two-term Muslim president from the north would be followed by a two-term Christian president from the south, and then back again. That way, everybody who mattered in Nigeria could count on getting their turn at the trough.

This time, however, the Muslim president died halfway through his first term, and his Christian vice-president, Goodluck Jonathan, took his place. Jonathan likes the job so much that he is running for re-election as president, which enrages the northern, Muslim elite who think it should still be their turn.

To make matters more dangerous, this time new election rules and an official who can't be bought mean that the votes will actually be counted. Last weekend's parliamentary elections saw the ruling People's Democratic Party, or PDP, the vehicle of both the northern and southern elites, lose ground dramatically to new opposition parties.

If Jonathan wins the presidential election this weekend (results are expected by Tuesday or Wednesday), he will face a parliament where the PDP majority is both narrow and fragile. If his leading rival Muhammadu Buhari, a former military ruler whose support is solely in the north, should win, Buhari would be in an even more vulnerable and isolated position. The potential for an ugly north-south, Muslim-Christian confrontation is very high.

Ivory Coast has been going down for some time, and it may not have touched bottom yet. Nigeria's 140 million people are on the way up, but they must still go through a tricky transition, and nobody knows if they are exempt from the Curse.






It goes without saying that the goal of political parties is to win elections and then to stay in power. With Turkey's June 2011 national elections approaching, it is timely to observe how, with respect to the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, all politics are not local. Rather, it is foreign policy issues that have played a pivotal role in the AKP's electoral calculations.

Since the AKP took office in 2002, it has shrewdly used an assertive foreign policy to enhance Turkey's status as an actor and power on the world stage in ways that have enabled the party to consolidate power at home. A strong affinity for "Muslim" causes, evocation of muscular nationalist pride, and active mercantilism are the dominant foreign policy themes that have benefited AKP's domestic power drive the most. These themes often overlap and at times displace significant foreign policy concerns that some believe also ought to be in Turkey's interest. They also reinforce a domestic agenda that has sought to normalize university matriculation of religious school students, allow women to wear headscarves in more public venues, and sidetracked the party's own democratization initiative for Kurdish rights. Despite Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu's boasting, his achievements in the international arena have been mixed, minimal or none, although they have greatly benefited his party's popularity at home.

AKP officials and some analysts maintain that changes in Turkey's foreign policy simply result from the country's increased democratization and are response to public demands. Yet, party leaders do not just echo the sentiments of their followers. They take a decidedly proactive role in shaping those impressions for domestic political reasons. Elements in the media that party supporters control assist this undertaking.

'Muslim' solidarity

Some foreign policy issues might loosely be described as "Muslim" causes because they resonate with the AKP's core constituency of devout Turks and the party has emphasized them in some instances to outflank Islamist parties on its right.

To outside observers, including some in the United States, it often appears that AKP leaders, notably Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, champion "professional" Muslims above all other groups. For example, they strongly defended Hamas as the democratic winner of the 2006 Palestinian legislative elections. Erdoğan and Davutoğlu have further maintained that there can be no credible peace process without Hamas. Meanwhile, these Turkish officials half-heartedly attend to relations with Palestinian Authority, or PA, President Mahmud Abbas as an afterthought. That the PA government is mainly secular and Abbas and his ministers lack Hamas's roots in the Muslim Brotherhood and religious bravado arguably may be responsible for this neglect.

AKP officials also use extremely harsh rhetoric to castigate Israeli actions against the Palestinians and softer comments to criticize Hamas when it indiscriminately fires rockets from the Gaza Strip into Israel. This stance has won Erdoğan a rock star's fan base among Arabs and Muslims and resonates with voters at home as Turks have great sympathy for the Palestinians.

As members of the international "Quartet" tasked with facilitating the peace process, U.S. and EU officials consider PA President Abbas to be Israel's partner in the process, however stalemated. The difference in the U.S. and AKP approaches has created significant difficulties in Turkey's relations with Congress and with pro-Israel U.S. groups.

On Iran, AKP government officials quickly accepted the disputed results of the controversial 2009 presidential election as an "internal" affair. Once more, this contrasted with U.S. and EU criticism of the vote and of the regime's forceful suppression of the Green Movement opposition. In an article in The Guardian in October 2009, Erdoğan described President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as a "friend."

AKP leaders also shield Iran against criticism of its nuclear program. In Al-Manar TV Online in September 2010, Erdoğan said Iran intention to produce nuclear weapons is "speculation," and had vigorously defended Iran's right to develop nuclear energy for civilian purposes. This is despite the International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA's published doubts about Iran's intentions. Perhaps the prime minister is taking the word of his Muslim "friend," Mahmoud. 

Sudan provides perhaps the most egregious example of AKP's Muslim chauvinism. The Turkish government welcomed a visit by President Omar al Bashir in August 2008, after the International Criminal Court indicted him for genocide and only dissuaded Bashir from attending a meeting in Turkey in November 2009 after international pressure.

Finally, while the AKP has served as a Muslim paladin, it has neglected the Cyprus issue since its proactive support for the Annan Plan in 2004 proved unsuccessful and allowed agreements to normalize relations with Armenia to languish. Is it coincidental that Cyprus and Armenia do not provide the AKP with Muslim "victims"?

Muscular nationalism

It is often remarked that Turks are a proud, strongly nationalist people. AKP officials play to this sense of pride with an attitude proclaiming that their government and country are superior to others. This may simply be a way of communicating a very muscular nationalism and a means to challenge opposition parties to the right of AKP domestically. However, critics note that AKP's policy of unconditional engagement with dictatorial, if not criminal, regimes and groups undermines its attempt to occupy the moral high ground and fails to portray Turkey as better than other countries.

As some have noted, Davutoğlu's efforts to achieve "zero problems" with neighboring countries have been selective. Since their laudatory and proactive support for the unsuccessful 2004 Annan Plan for a settlement on Cyprus, AKP officials have abandoned the issue, even though the EU considers the lack of a solution to the Cyprus issue to be a major obstacle to Turkey's accession and the AKP claims not to have abandoned Turkey's ambition to join the EU.

Similarly, efforts to improve relations with Armenia have proven transitory. On the heels of the October 2009 signing of protocols that would have normalized bilateral Turkish-Armenian relations, Erdoğan reaffirmed Azerbaijan's veto power over normalization and over the opening of Turkey's border with Armenia until the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is solved. The dispute has been lingered since the early 1990s and no end is in sight.

Reaching accommodations with Armenia and Cyprus are goals with limited domestic appeal and might prove counterproductive to the AKP's power drive. In other words, identification with nationalist preferences better serves to keep the party in power and crowds out leadership and hard decisions.

Muscular nationalism is especially evident in Erdoğan's tendency to identify himself with his country. When he feels personally insulted in an international setting, he then suggests that his country has been insulted and that it is his duty to defend it.


The economic motivation for the AKP's foreign policies is undeniable. Since the 1980's, exports have been the engine of Turkey's economic growth and, since the AKP came to power, Turkey has experienced remarkable economic growth.

While half of Turkey's trade still is with Europe, Germany, Britain and Italy being the top recipients of Turkey's exports, that share is diminishing as trade is growing with Arab countries and Iran. Turkish officials tend to announce ambitious trade targets with these neighboring countries. Turkey stands to benefit most from the arrangement because it is the largest economy and exporter among the four putative partners.

Under the AKP, Turkey has established visa-free regimes with many of its neighbors in order to remove barriers to trade and tourism. Tourism has grown, and many new visitors are from Arab countries, Iran, and Russia. Moreover, the government is increasingly reaching out to new markets.

The increase in trade has served the party well. It has particularly benefited the so-called "Anatolian tigers," mid-sized and smaller cities, where AKP's core constituents reside. As they prosper, they share their growing wealth with their favored party or groups that support it.

Turkey opposed U.N. sanctions on Iran because, Erdoğan insisted, they were unfair and based on speculations. Turkey is abiding by U.N. sanctions, but not the more sweeping ones that the U.S. and EU imposed. Trade and energy ties with Iran are a major reason for this stance.

Trade has become so important that the AKP overlooks otherwise sensitive issues with neighbors. Trade and energy ties to Iran trump concerns about its nuclear program. Energy and business ties with Azerbaijan are more important than denying it the ability to veto relations with Armenia and the benefits the latter might bring in Washington and in Europe.

* Carol Migdalovitz is a retired specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs at the Congressional Research Service who has followed developments in Turkey for decades. The full version of this article is originally published in the Winter 2010/11 issue of Turkish Policy Quarterly, or TPQ, at






Ayhan Yılmaz, Ordu deputy from the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, hosted a press conference, amid allegations made by main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, Konya deputy Atilla Kart that an organized bribe ring was "red-taped" in an Ordu town, and told the media he was not involved in any wrongdoing.

The office cameras of the mayor were unfortunately on when, in the Black Sea town of Aybastı in the Ordu province, Mayor İzzet Gündoğar – obviously not as bribe but out of his strong social assistance concerns and with the intention of distributing as alms to some needy village headmen – accepted tens of thousands of liras in a plastic bag from contractor Şemsettin Özcan, who apparently just won a social housing contract.

Did the mayor receive the "donation" and give the contractor any document that he received x-amount of donation from him for x-purpose? No… On the contrary, in the bribe tape released the mayor is seen accepting the bribe in a plastic bag, without counting the much money and placing it under his official desk. It is only later when Ordu deputy Yılmaz starts counting the contents of the bag that the viewer realizes it is full of money. Otherwise one might think there was some trash and the mayor grabbed it from the contractor and threw it into the dustbin under his desk.

The deputy and the mayor are now claiming that the content of the bribe tape were misleading and give the impression as if something wrong was done but "Were we fools to record a bribe on our own camera?"

This is of course a land of the fools. As long as our leaders say it so the people of this land are ready to accept as valid even the most irrational. Is it indeed viable, logical, or explainable for a deputy and a mayor accepting tens of thousands of lira in a plastic bag from a contractor without any official documentation to imply that it was an aid donation for some municipal activity or for a social project? Worse, why does a contractor make such a large donation behind closed doors without getting a receipt? How will he be able to document such an "expense" in the records of his company and if he cannot document such "expenses" is it possible that the bribe tape is at the same time evidence of a probable tax evasion scheme?

The bribe tape was sent by the CHP deputy to the prime minister as well. Most likely, the prime minister and the finance ministry, and the all-powerful prosecutors of the justice system of this advanced democracy will agree with the deputy, mayor and the contractor that not only was there no wrong in all that happened but the contractor should be presented with a medal of appreciation for his generous donation to social projects.

It is the rule of the game anyhow. The culture of some sections of society has been rather rigid: Even if you are caught in the bed of a woman other than your wife, never ever accept fault, say, for example, that you are there waiting for a bus. You should never be bothered with whether others believed or not believed in what you have said, that is their problem.

Of course, thank God, such a mentality is valid for only some sections of the society who are professionalized or attained great expertise in deception in ethical, political, cultural, and religious… shortly in all spheres of life.

Even if he might be heading a government of a country that has placed behind bars some 68 journalists, the master of deception may come up with a claim that only a handful of journalists, some 20 or less than 30, might be behind bars, but they were behind bars for committing some other crimes, not because they were doing their journalism profession, or because they were critical of the government. It is of course the problem of the audience to believe it or not whether the number of journalists in prison is 25, 30, 65 or more or whether or not they were in prison of trying to overthrow the government with their pens or of refusing to surrender to the government and become disciplined subjects of the prime minister insisting to consolidate his absolute rule.

This is the land of proud people, anyhow. If there is need for any democratic reform, this country will of course undertake such reforms not because some foreigners demand this country undertake such steps and harmonize itself with standards of a certain club but because the people of this land deserved such advancements. That is why, indeed, from democratic governance the country has moved on to the "advanced democratic governance" of total surrender to and full compliance with the wishes of the absolute ruler.







If you thought that a year was made up of 365 days, 52 weeks and 12 months you would be only partially right, because for electricity consumers in Pakistan a year now consists of 13 months – and an inflated bill for the power they consume to go with it. Time in Pakistan has an elastic quality about it anyway, and the 'Pakistani minute' is famed for its stretchability, but the power distribution companies (Discos) have raised the time-stretch bar to new heights. In order to hide the line losses of eight percent or more the Discos have been overbilling the consumer by between 40 and 50 billion rupees, equivalent to one month's revenue every year. Nor is this a new phenomenon – it has been going on for between three and five years but the scam has been discovered by the National Power Regulatory Authority (Nepra). They found that the customers of Lahore Electricity Supply Company (Lesco) had been charging its end users an extra 35 days of consumption in order to cover up their inability to limit line losses.

It would appear that the actual line losses are 28 percent by Lesco, but in order to make it seem that they were reducing the losses they 'adjusted' consumers' bills in such a way as to make it look like the losses were 'only' 20 percent – thus fooling the regulator Nepra. At least eight Discos are said to be involved and once again we are confronted with institutionalised corruption that has been sanctioned at the highest level within the Discos and seemingly only discovered by chance. They have now been warned not to tamper with the figures and that a thorough investigation is in process. It further appears that 15 percent the disappearing electricity is 'lost' with the connivance of the Discos themselves; and that there are 228 villages in Sindh that are getting a supply but have never paid a single rupee for it. Once again, it is the poor consumer who pays for the incompetence and greed of those further up the food chain. Only time will tell if time is to be returned to its normal shape and duration.








The data recorded by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan in its detailed report on the human rights situation in the country in 2010 does not make for pleasant reading. It is hard to locate a narration of change for the better in any sector. The deteriorating state of law and order, reflected in a growing rate of murder, robbery, vehicle theft and other crime is recorded. There were also 791 cases of the 'honour killing' of women, while one woman died every 30 minutes somewhere in the country due to complications linked to pregnancy. Thousands of children remained behind bars, despite the existence of a law that prevented their detention alongside adults. Additionally, 170 juveniles committed suicide and at least 22 teachers were killed in Balochistan. Atrocities against minorities have also been documented in a report that does little to suggest we are progressing as a nation towards discovering civilisation and greater harmony. Sadly, there appears too to have been little effort to alleviate the plight of people by working to improve literacy, which remained at around 57 percent, or healthcare. Indifference to people was reflected in failures such as those to table the Domestic Violence (prevention and protection) Bill before the senate within the allocated frame of time, resulting in it lapsing.

None of this offers a particularly promising picture for the future. Indeed, it indicates the extent to which the government is moving away from people, vanishing from their lives, and leaving them in a rapidly worsening condition. The increase in practices such as target shootings indicates the growing inability of the state to perform even its most basic function of offering security. How we are to recover from this situation is an open question. The HRCP Annual Report, as is the case each year, makes some suggestions. But the problem of course is that now, as in the past, there is only limited hope that they will be implemented and any genuine bid made to ensure people everywhere in the country can live safer, more secure and more dignified lives than those they are leading at the present time.







The rapid growth of Pakistan's population represents a threat that many experts argue exceeds that posed by terrorists or violence of other kinds. But Pakistan's failure to control its growth rate is an issue that is almost never discussed or debated in any detail. The lack of political commitment to addressing the issue has resulted in Pakistan lagging well behind other Muslim countries, including Bangladesh, in this crucial area. The simple mathematical equation before us tells us that we will over the coming years run out of resources to meet the needs of people. Even as things stand now, our cities struggle to accommodate the growing sea of people that lives in them, and we lack the hospitals, the schools and even the supplies of water needed to meet the basic needs of our rural population.

It is therefore somewhat disturbing to hear of the dispute over a book produced for school children by the World Population Fund after an agreement with the City District Government of Karachi. After objections in the media over some of the contents of the book, schools have been asked by the education department to stop teaching it. Whereas, it is perfectly possible some of the material requires review, given cultural sensitivities, the problem is that such issues have too often stood in the way of promoting family planning. We need to accept the fact that this has become a compelling need, which simply cannot be ignored or shied away from any longer. We need to make people aware of all the issues involved and adopt urgent measures to cope with a potential crisis that creeps upon us almost unnoticed.







  The writer is a former member of the Pakistan Foreign Service.

India's aspiration for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council got a major boost with the declaration of support announced by Obama last November. Delhi has since then been leading an effort of the Group of Four (G-4) countries – Brazil, Germany, India and Japan – to give fresh momentum to their so far stalled bid to join the exclusive club of permanent members. The foreign ministers of the quartet declared after a meeting in New York last February that they would take steps to get permanent seats at the earliest and for this purpose would work towards a 'concrete outcome' in the current session of the UN General Assembly, which ends in September.

An earlier initiative by the G-4 for permanent seats flopped in 2005 because of opposition from the United States and China. Washington felt that the addition of six new permanent members as proposed by G-4 would make the Security Council too unwieldy, while China was staunchly opposed to giving a permanent seat to Japan. In a July 2009 cable, Hillary Clinton described the G-4 countries as 'self-appointed front-runners' for permanent seats. But US is today more open to the admission of new permanent members, as manifested in its support for India and last month – though somewhat mutedly – for Brazil.

Intergovernmental negotiations on Security Council reform which began in 2009 have also made progress. The latest text is a five-page document, which lists the various options of expanding the Council; and Joseph Deiss, the UN General Assembly president, expects that the negotiations will get 'real' this year.
Besides, for the first time this year, the Security Council membership includes most of the 'hopefuls': India, Germany, Brazil, South Africa and Nigeria. G-4 is hoping that this constellation would give a new vigour to their campaign.

Because of all these developments, the momentum for the creation of more permanent members is building up again. It is something which Pakistan must try very seriously to counter. But there is no evidence that our dysfunctional government is aware of the magnitude of the challenge, despite the wakeup call given by the US endorsement of the Indian bid. India meanwhile has feverishly been pressing ahead with its campaign.

India already claims the support of more than 120 countries, including four of the five permanent members. Among India's most enthusiastic supporters are France and Britain. Both these countries realise that if a reform of the Security Council is delayed for much longer, their own positions on the P-5 would be seriously challenged in view of their shrinking international stature. French President Sarkozy has now pledged to use his dual presidency of G-8 and G-20 to push for new permanent members from the emerging powers including India.

France's claim to a permanent seat, as a 'victor' in World War II, was always founded on fiction. The recent actions of its mercurial president, such as the Nazi-style expulsion of more than a thousand Roma people ('gypsies') last July, and continued support for dictatorial regimes in Tunisia and Egypt in the face of popular revolutions, had raised fresh questions about France's suitability for the Security Council. To bolster its 'great power' pretensions, France has therefore been trying to flex its muscles in Libya and Ivory Coast.

In Libya, France has been joined by Britain, another declining 'great power' keen to burnish its tarnished image. The last time the two countries collaborated in a military adventure was in the 1956 Suez crisis which ended ignominiously for both of them and for ever closed the chapter of their imperial glory. We do not know yet how their Libyan escapade will end.


The important decisions on Security Council will in any case not be taken in Paris and London but in other capitals. For India, the most important holdout is China. The Indian prime minister pressed India's claim when Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao visited India last December. But Beijing has remained ambivalent, saying only that it understands and supports India's desire to play a bigger role in the UN, including the Security Council. Indian officials have given a positive spin to this stance, saying they are confident that China will not stand in the way of India getting a permanent seat when the matter came to a vote.

For the present, though, China is pressing for a broad-based consensus on reform and opposes a rush to obtain specific outcomes. Commenting on the G-4 statement calling for permanent seats for the four members of the group, the spokesman of the Chinese Foreign Ministry said that his country was in favour of a broad-based consensus taking into account the concerns of all parties. "Forcing premature plans," the spokesman said in an indirect reference to the G-4 proposal, would ultimately harm the UNSC reform process itself.

Besides China, India is focussing on two large voting blocs: the African Union (which has 53 votes) and the Least Developed Countries or LDCs (48 in number). India held its first summit meeting on "South-South cooperation" with Africa with great fanfare in 2008 and another India-Africa Summit is to be held next May in Ethiopia. In February, India also hosted a meeting of foreign ministers and UN envoys of the LDCs and promised more development aid and other benefits.

Pakistan's response in the face of the growing momentum for reform leaves a lot to be desired. The foreign ministry, the national assembly and the cabinet expressed their concern and disappointment at the support expressed by Obama for India's Security Council bid last November. But the State Department seems to have treated all this as a largely pro forma exercise, something akin to Pakistan's protests at drone attacks.

The State Department spokesman said on November 12 that Pakistan had not expressed any particular concern over the US decision to back India's bid for a permanent seat. "I think they understand what we told them," Crowley said. It was, he said disingenuously, a reflection of the growing importance of the region to the rest of the world, and Pakistan should not see it as something that comes at its expense.

We clearly need to rethink our entire strategy on the issue of the Security Council expansion. By now, most countries have already taken a position one way or the other and are unlikely to change their views. Our best hope for stymying the Indian ambition lies in forging a strong united front among the dozen or so mid-size or 'threshold' countries who would be left in the cold under the G-4 plan. This list includes Pakistan, Indonesia, Iran, South Korea, Iran, Turkey, Egypt, Algeria, Italy, Spain, Canada, Mexico and Argentina.

Not all of them are in the United for Consensus group which opposes the creation of new permanent members, because some of them still harbour the false hope that they might somehow get a permanent seat. If all or most of these threshold countries come together on a common platform in opposition to G-4, it would not be difficult to thwart the ambitions of the quartet. But this united front must be formed quickly and at the summit level or at least that of foreign ministers. The message must go out from them that the UN would forfeit their support if any new permanent members are created and that such a step, far from reforming the UN, would wreck the world organisation founded in 1945.

Meanwhile, in order to bring home its concern to the US, Pakistan should tell Washington that if India is given a permanent seat, Pakistan would seriously consider leaving the organisation; and that some others might follow. There is a precedent for such a step from the history of the League of Nations. Brazil left it in 1926 when it was not admitted as a permanent member of the council together with Germany.









The round had hit his forehead slightly left of centre and exited the back of his head taking with it every thought, dream, hope, fear or memory he ever had. His eyes were open and he looked surprised, as well he might as life had left him while he was having a cup of tea with friends at a teashop he had used for many years. He would not have been expecting to be a target. He was 'neutral' with no known political affiliations or enemies. But the teashop he was in the habit of drinking in was operated by an ethnic group I am constrained from naming and two men on a motorbike had come along and opened fire on it.

The owners of another shop close by opened fire on the attackers killing one and wounding the other. The innocent man who died was a director of the company my relative works for and I was shown his picture in death on the tiny screen of a mobile phone the next morning. We talked about him. He was a popular gentle man, who laughed a lot. He came from Gujrat.

I was quietly reading a book when this happened and only learned of it the next morning. When in Karachi I stay with a relative and his wife. For reasons of their own – and my – security I will not say exactly where but it is in an area which can be 'hot' in terms of the endless rounds of violence that convulse Karachi. I had been aware of late-night comings and goings in the apartment where I was staying, but had thought nothing much of it, turned over and gone back to sleep.

'You must be careful, Chris' said my relative as I set off for the office in the morning. After the shooting young men had quickly appeared with guns. There was aerial firing – which I had vaguely heard but again thought little of. Aerial firing? Happens all the time. The shops quickly closed and were still closed at ten-thirty and I was doubtful about getting transport. But lo-and-behold there was one of the taxi drivers who regularly carries me. He waved me over. 'Office?' he said and 'yes' says I and off we go.

We had not gone far when suddenly there were young men blocking the road – unarmed. One looked hard at me. I looked hard at him. I heard him say 'Gora' and the line parted and we were waved through. My taxi driver exhaled slowly and at some length. He got a decent tip and a guarantee of repeat business.

The next day, things having returned to normal, three of us in the office were discussing the semantics of murder. Should the newspaper say 'target killings' or 'targeted killings'? Which is more grammatically correct? It was one of those finely nuanced debates that we occasionally get into, with words and phrases on the post-mortem slab. Where we got to was that perhaps neither was right but that we could not use the words that properly described what was happening when murders such as the one described in the opening paragraph of this piece, occur. And why could we not use the right words? Because of the consequences for us individually and the newspaper if we did. Consequences which I am sure I do not need to spell out for you, Dear Reader.

Cold-blooded murder is thus reduced to a euphemism. We use a coded form of expression to tell the tale of mayhem and butchery, a cheap coinage that does no honour to the dead.

The writer is a British social worker settled in Pakistan. Email: manticore73@gmail .com







Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Milosevic Modi has again set a new low in Indian politics. His government has banned Great Soul, a new biography of Mahatma Gandhi by former New York Times India bureau chief and editor Joseph Lelyveld. The ground for the ban is hearsay – a review of the book by Andrew Roberts, a British practitioner of canned imperialist history and focussed on royalty, in the far-Right Wall Street Journal.

The review maliciously misinterpreted parts of the book to claim that Gandhi had a homoerotic relationship with German-Jewish architect and bodybuilder Hermann Kallenbach in South Africa. British tabloid Daily Mail ran the lurid headline: "Gandhi 'left his wife to live with a male lover' new book claims".

Those who have read the book say Kallenbach's name appears in less than one-tenth of its pages. Gandhi's relationship with Kallenbach was close and friendly, not erotic or sexual. Reputed psychoanalyst Sudhir Kakar, one of the first analysts to write on Gandhi's sexuality in Intimate Relations and later, in Mira and Mahatma, and who reviewed some of his correspondence with Kallenbach, does not believe the two were lovers.

Kakar says nothing in Gandhi's writings suggests that he had a sexual relationship with Kallenbach. Gandhi's letters often carried strong love language, including those to female associates and to leaders like Rabindranath Tagore and CF Andrews, a founder of the Indian National Congress. But his feelings were 'platonic', not sexual.

Gandhi and Kallenbach were both sworn to brahmacharya (celibacy). Kallenbach told his brother in 1908 that after he met Gandhi "I have given up my sex life". Ultimately, Kallenbach violated the vow by entering into a sexual relationship with a woman.

According to Kakar, Gandhi believed in the 'Hindu' idea that "sexuality has this elemental energy which gets dissipated. If it can be sublimated and contained, it can give you spiritual power. Gandhi felt his political power really came from his celibacy, from his spiritual power."

Gandhi's Story of My Experiments with Truth describes his struggles to overcome sexual temptation, to the point of asking his 17-year-old grand-niece Manu to sleep next to him. He wanted not to be roused and told Manu she should think of him as her mother.

Roberts is equally wrong to claim that Gandhi was an anti-Black racist. Gandhi worked with South African Zulus and during the Boer War espoused the Blacks' cause. The fiction about Gandhi's 'racism' probably arises from Roberts' uncritical admiration for Churchill, who passionately hated and reviled the 'naked fakir'.

Gandhi's was an extremely, and uniquely, complex personality. He tried to combine spirituality and personal morality with politics. This found expression in his concept of satyagraha and his use of numerous fasts as political instruments. One may agree or disagree with the objectives of the fasts, such as the one leading to the Poona Pact under which B R Ambedkar was forced to drop his demand for a separate Dalit electorate. But that's a different discourse altogether.

The fraudulent charge that Gandhi was a bisexual, who deserted his wife for Kallenbach, has provoked narrowly parochial reaction from many Indian politicians who want Lelyveld's book banned. These include Maharashtra's ruling leaders, and worse, Union Law Minister M Veerappa Moily. Moily said "history will not forgive us" if Lelyveld's book is published in India and blasphemous lies disseminated about the Father of the Nation.

The reaction is profoundly irrational because none of those clamouring for banning the book has read it. They are led by third- and fourth-hand accounts, magnifying misinterpretations and distortions. This pro-ban zealotry may be spurred by homophobia, a hatred of homosexuality which continues to attract stigma – despite the Delhi High Court's recent decriminalisation of same-sex relationships.

The social pathology here runs deeper than archaic notions of personal morality, and the state's role in policing and enforcing one (wrongly) privileged version of it. It lies in the fear of free debate and radical, even irreverent, questioning of received wisdom. This inevitably leads to calls for bans, prohibitions, book-burning, and worse. Yet, the correct, indeed the only rational, response to Lelyveld's book is not a ban, but another book and yet more debate.

India's central government, and even worse, the states, have cultivated a pro-ban instinct towards books, plays, paintings, exhibitions, films, even people. A community or segment of society has only to protest that a book or a person has hurt its 'sentiments' for the state to proscribe the book and deny the visitor a visa.

This kind of 'tolerance' is a low form of pandering to intolerance. As Amartya Sen put it, it's merely the sum-total of different intolerances, all of which undermine free expression and impoverish society and public culture.

India has banned hundreds of films, books and exhibitions, from Nine Hours to Rama to documentaries by Louis Malle, James Laine's book on Shivaji to Sahmat's exhibitions on different versions of the Ramayana, and to magazines that print maps which don't conform to the official versions of India's borders.

India's best-known modern painter M F Husain has been forced into exile by bigots for 'defiling' Hindu deities by painting them in unconventional ways. Hindutva zealots have attacked paintings at Baroda in an attempt to turn one of India's finest art schools into a desert. The Indian state has persistently failed to defend these artists and their fundamental right to free expression.

Ironically, intolerance of dissent and difference has grown just as India globalises and opens itself up to new cultural influences. One would have thought that 'Emerging Power' India which aspires to become a knowledge-based society would be more welcoming of eminent intellectuals, scholars and scientists than of predatory multinational corporations, shady foreign universities out to make a fast buck, and other mercenary agencies. But it is not.

Recently, the government raked up a 1950s rule that requires organisers of international conferences to seek prior permission from central ministries. All participants must be cleared before they get a visa. This has become a major nuisance for universities and learned institutions, which often have to cancel worthy conferences meant to promote fruitful interaction between Indian and international scholars-researchers.

Last December, the government refused to allow the prestigious International Panel on Fissile Materials, comprised of well-known physicists and researchers, to meet in India. The Panel's agenda is to promote a fissile materials ban, which the Indian government says it too favours. The refusal attracted sharp criticism from the world's best-known science journal Nature.

Earlier last year, the government banned a conference on space-based weapons and nuclear disarmament which a non-governmental organisation was planning to organise. After 10 months of petitioning various ministries, the NGO was told it couldn't hold it. So much for the government's professed commitment to a nuclear weapons-free world!

The knee-jerk instinct to prohibit, ban, punish and censor speaks to a huge flaw in India's democracy. For all its free and fair elections, India has failed to institutionalise a culture of free expression and scholarly exchange. Instead, it only lets crass commercial exchanges and corporate interactions thrive.

It's a collective shame for this nation of 1.2 billion that it has never been far from imposing an intellectual straitjacket on dissenters and becoming a book-burning cultural backwater.

The writer, a former newspaper editor, is a researcher and peace and human-rights activist based in Delhi. Email:








Zirgham Afridi, in his piece "Viewers, speak up" (March 31), lamented that our TV screens were dominated by advertisements. He wants audiences and Pemra to act against this trend.

A few weeks ago, Hillary Clinton reproached the US networks for devoting too much time to advertisements. She thought Al Jazeera was getting popular in the US because the Qatari network does not irritate its audiences by a commercial break every ten minutes.

The product that TV networks sell is attention of audience; their primary market is the advertisers. The role of the West in Iraq has been widely criticised because only glimpses of the truth appear on Western networks – because burned and blasted bodies affect the sale of cars and toothpaste!

Media executives "worry that the flood of grisly images flowing into living rooms from Iraq and elsewhere will discourage advertiser," as someone noted. A General Motors spokesperson explained that her company "would not advertise on a TV programme about atrocities in Iraq." And in the words of an advertising executive: "You don't want to run a humorous commercial next to horrific images and stories."

The logic of the commercial model is that, in the case of the print media, a newspaper has to attract advertising in order to cover the costs of production and prevent its price skyrocketing beyond buyers' reach. The Guardian, The Observer and The Independent – Britain's most progressive broadsheets – depend on advertising for 75 percent or more of their total takes.

The mere threat of withdrawal of advertising can affect editorial content. In April 2005, General Motors pulled its advertising from The Los Angeles Times, after it called for the sacking of GM chief executive Rick Wagoner.

When a 2000 Time magazine series on environmental campaigners, sponsored by Ford Motor Company, failed to mention anti-car campaigners, Time's international editor explained: "We don't run airline ads next to stories about airline crashes."

Commercialisation is credited in standard academic narratives with the economic emancipation of the press from state control, given that, coming largely from advertising, newspaper profits enable newspapers to be free of dependence on state and party subsidies. In a study on the British press of the early 19th century, Dr Ivon Asquith notes: "Since sales were inadequate to cover the costs of producing a paper, it was the growing income from advertising which provided the material base for the change of attitude from subservience to independence ...The growth of advertising revenue was the most important single factor in enabling the press to emerge as the Fourth Estate of the realm."

US media scholar Michael Schudson justifies commercialisation of mass media by saying commercial journalism sometimes best serves its democratic obligations in following the instinct of outdoing competitors, by being at the right place at the right time when a surprising revelation surfaces of an unanticipated event.

Schudson's argument is contradicted by French sociologist Pierre Bourdieue who thinks that, in fact, newspapers' competition for scoops, exclusives, big names, leads to "uniformity, censorship, and even conservatism."

"One very simple example: the battle between the three French weekly magazines, Le Nouvel Observateur, L'Express and Le Point, results in their being indistinguishable. To a large extent this is because the competitive struggle between them, which leads them to an obsessive pursuit of difference, of priority and so on, tends not to differentiate them but to bring them together. They steal each other's front page stories, editorials, and subjects... Another battle typical of what happens in the journalistic field is that the Le Nouvel Observateur and L'Express each in turn brought forward their publication by one day," he points out.

Similarly, in his study of British media's history, British scholar James Curran rejects the usual neo-liberal claims about competition and advertising. He says: "Market forces succeeded where legal repression had failed in establishing the press as an instrument of social control, with lasting consequences for the development of modern British society."

Curran notes that direct state censorship in Britain was never fully effective as the state lacked the sophisticated apparatus necessary to control the press. For instance, libel prosecutions, even when upheld, were often counter-productive. The circulation of The Republican, for example, increased by over 50 percent in 1819 when its editor was prosecuted. Also, it was not the commercial press that posed problems. The principal challenge came from the radical press, appealing by the 1830s to a large working-class audience, for which seditious libel prosecutions became a valuable source of promotion. The disillusioned Attorney General in 1832 concluded that "A libeller thirsted for nothing more than the valuable advertisement of a public trial in a court of justice." Understandably, the number of libel prosecutions fell sharply. Whereas there were 167 prosecutions for seditious and blasphemous libel in the period 1817-24, there were only 16 during 1825-34. Hence, libel law, being counter-productive, was substantially modified in 1843. The government relied increasingly, instead, upon the so-called "taxes on knowledge" – a stamp duty on each copy of a press publication sold to the public, a duty on each advertisement placed in the press, and a tax on paper.

Even press taxes, sharply increased between 1780 and 1815, were rendered ineffectual by systematic evasion of the stamp duty by a highly organised radical press with well developed distribution networks. Workers would organise purchase of newspapers by pooling their resources or through their unions. Pressure was exerted on taverns to purchase radical papers through the threat of withdrawing custom.

Paradoxically, in the second half of the 19th century, despite the repeal of the advertisement duty in 1853 and the stamp duty in 1855, the radical British press was nearly eliminated owing to "commercialisation" of the popular press. "Newspapers concentrated upon the easy arousal of sensationalism rather than taxing political analysis in order to maximise sales: reports of crime, scandal and sport displaced attacks on capitalism as more saleable commodities," notes Curran. Technology further silenced the radical press. Hoe printing presses, introduced in the 1860s and 1870s, were gradually replaced by rotary machines of increasing size and sophistication in the late Victorian and Edwardian England. "Craft" composing was revolutionised by Hattersley's composing machine in the 1860s and 1890s. Meantime, numerous innovations were also made in graphic reproduction. These developments meant a sharp hike in fixed capital.

However, even more important was the effect of growing demand, because of the repeal of press taxes, on the running costs and cash flow requirements of newspaper publishing.

Once market forces, patronised by the state, had established their dictatorship over the media business, it became increasingly difficult to sustain even widely-distributed progressive newspapers. For instance, in Britain The Daily Citizen, launched in 1912, with a capital of only £ 30,000 subscribed mainly by trade unions reached a circulation of 250,000 at its peak within two years and was only 50,000 short of overhauling The Daily Express established in 1900. A more leftwing Daily Herald had a circulation, in 1914, of 250,000. But none of them survived. By the time it stopped publication, The Daily Herald was read by 4.7 million people, a number nearly twice as many as the readership of The Guardian, The Times and the Financial Times put together.

he moral lesson of the story: corporate media cannot deceive its own logic. The audiences have to put up with it, or shut up. The only alternative is an alternative media.


The writer is a freelance contributor. Email:







The inequitable distribution of resources and disparity in development in the various regions of the country has left Pakistan in a messed up state in the last sixty years. The ideals of much trumpeted democracy have been elusive because we in Pakistan do not even come close its pre-requisites. The democratic institutions are weak and there are inherent flaws in the system that is the reasons of its non-deliverance.

Millions of people of Pakistan are uneducated and know little besides their local experiences. This is further true for the women who make more than fifty percent of the total population. Millions are without adequate food to meet minimum calorie count, potable water, education, health care, immunisation, security, commutable roads, and sanitation and waste water drainage systems. According to a UNDP report, 65.5 percent of Pakistan's population earns less than two dollars per day. 88 percent of Baluchistan's population, 51 percent of NWFP, 21 percent of Sindh and 25 percent of Punjab's population is prey to poverty and deprivation. Rural poverty is 49 percent while the urban poverty ratio is 23 percent, in Punjab, the poverty ratio of rural areas is 30 percent while the urban areas' poverty ratio is 26 percent.

With fifty percent of its population completely illiterate and fifty-seven percent living below the poverty line, the real question in this country is: what does democracy mean to these people in terms of their representation in the system. Most of the voters who are supposed to be architects of the parliamentary democratic system through the process of 'representative democracy' do not even know where Islamabad is; what a federal government means; what is the difference between a federal and provincial government; what is a federation; what does a successfully elected member do afterwards and how does the system work.

It is a fallacy that the people choose representatives in elections. Most voters, especially in the rural and remote areas of Pakistan have no choice in the matter of casting votes. They are living in abject poverty, land less and resource less. What possible say can they have in the matter of voting for the local feudal or industrialist who has the power to buy and bully the votes in his constituency?

Most existing political parties today are essentially autocratic and dictatorial in their structures. The parties have actually become demigods after the passing of eighteenth amendment and they virtually cannot be challenged or contradicted by any party member on any vital issue. The choice of the party ticket holder and candidate is made by party leaders and a few cronies in drawing rooms behind closed doors without consultation of the general party members. The only merit of the party candidate is his capability to win the seat. Consequently the system ensures the smug triumph of the rich and powerful everywhere.

Being a parliamentarian is as if they have membership of an ultimate elite club. Elections and the resulting governments are considered as trophies and hence to be enjoyed to the fullest within the shortest possible time before the next round.

In this situation it is illogical to assume that devolution of power would improve the governance structure. What it does is that it shifts the power form one centre to another. The provincial governments have become more autonomous but that does not make them more capacitated and efficient in their new roles and responsibilities.

Similarly with regards to federalism there is very little understanding about it as a system. There has been no effort made by any government to educate people about it and how it relates to them. There is also no stake of the ordinary people in the system especially after the present regime abolished the local governments at the district level.

There are engineered loopholes in the system that ensures that those who have lost in the elections or never even contested them become members of the parliament and ministers in the government which actually makes a mockery of the election. The honourable members of the committee who authored the eighteenth amendment and the parliament made sure that the system remained intact. There are clauses in the constitution which perpetuate discrimination and intolerance towards minorities and women which were not brought under question in the eighteenth amendment. There are laws which perpetuate violation of human rights which are never touched by the representative parliaments because of vested interest. Where does the ideology of democracy and equal rights stand in the face of these facts?

In order to move Pakistan towards becoming a strengthened federation and true democracy the basic minimum requirement is mass education, awareness and a literacy movement in the country. The people must be aware of how they form the basis for representative democracy. Areas and regions most vulnerable to poverty must be given top priority to develop them and bring them in par with more developed regions of the country.


The writer is a journalist and has experience of research and monitoring in disasters.







There are two aspects to ignorance: (1) the person is illiterate and (2) the person is educated but is incapable of using his knowledge, and takes decisions which in the long run are damaging to him. There are also those who are educated and knowledgeable, but who succumb to self-interest and greed and give wrong advice, which results in serious damage to the country. A notable example of this was the nationalisation policy of Mr Bhutto, which he adopted on the advice of such people.

Education can be defined as knowledge, learning, teaching and understanding. British philosopher Thomas Huxley says: "Perhaps the most valuable result of all education is the ability to make yourself do the things you have to do, when it ought to be done, whether you like it or not. It is the first lesson that ought to be learnt and, however early one's training begins, it is probably the best lesson that one learns thoroughly." In short, the difference between an educated and an uneducated person is like that between one who can see and one who is blind.

The purpose of this column is to discuss the devolution of the Higher Education Commission. In the developed countries the ministries of education and science and technology are entrusted to highly experienced and qualified experts. We should also have adopted such a system. However, we have a dearth of educated and experienced rulers and our public representatives thrive on fake and degrees or dubious ones from third-rate universities. Their main priority is corruption, nepotism, foreign trips and propaganda in favour of their political party.

After the establishment of Pakistan, we had such educationists as Dr Mahmood Hussain and Dr Ishtiaq Hussain Qureshi. Such towering figures are a scarce commodity nowadays. If you question anybody on the street, even students, they won't be able to tell you the names of the current ministers of education and of science and technology.

Mr Bhutto established the University Grants Commission (UGC) to streamline the functioning of the universities, provide them with adequate funds and raise the standard of education in the country. He was an intellectual, had vision, had studied in the US and the UK and knew the importance of education. He was poles apart from the present mediocre rulers. Realising that the rapid industrial development in many countries was due to their progress in education, the UGC was converted into the Higher Education Commission and my dear friend and scholar, Dr Atta-ur-Rahman, was appointed its chairman. In order to give it more weight, the government gave him the status of a federal minister.

For the first time ever, sufficient funds were provided to the HEC once during this period to a maximum of about $500 million. This sounds like a lot of money, but in the developed countries, a single university has three or four times this amount as their annual budget. During the years of its existence, the HEC sent thousands of talented students – many of them poor – for MS and PhD degrees abroad. It was a commendable initiative and it resulted in the increase of qualified teachers in the country.

I had discussed the programmes of the HEC with Dr Atta-ur-Rahman and expressed some reservations about the priorities set by the HEC, and suggested some modifications. I believed that, since we were still an underdeveloped country we ought to put more emphasis on technical education. Setting the goal of establishing six or seven universities with the help of foreign countries was not feasible, and this later turned out to be true. Rather than that, I advised we should concentrate on establishing a federal university with emphasis on engineering faculties.

Not only could we not afford to build and equip six or seven universities, we would not have been able to find enough experienced faculty for them. For one state-of-the-art university we could have requested foreign countries to donate one faculty, complete with equipment and faculty members. I was sure that some countries would have agreed, and with the participation of a number of countries in this project, it would have truly become a multi-cultural, international university. The basic sciences could have been taught on a need-to-know basis, as the existing Quaid-e-Azam University, Punjab University and Karachi University have excellent faculties and teaching staff for these subjects. They could have been strengthened to improve their performance.

We know that thousands of our students go abroad for higher education every year and each student costs about four to five million rupees per year. The HEC was a blessing for poor, talented students because it enabled them to go abroad. With the setup I had suggested, we could have locally provided a good standard of education up to MS level. Students could then go abroad for PhD studies and, within a few years we would have been in a position to initiate PhD programmes. I also had in mind close liaison with local industries, advise industrialists in setting up high-tech industries and supporting them with technical expertise and guidance.

Unfortunately, the HEC has become a chicken laying golden eggs in the eyes of the uneducated and ignorant. After having destroyed so many institutions, our rulers seem hell bent on destroying this well-established federal institution as well and handing over its pieces to the provinces where the ministers are not even capable of running and maintaining primary schools, to say nothing of higher education institutions. Many knowledgeable people have warned the rulers, writing comprehensive articles about this unwise action, but they been deaf to all this advice. People having no advanced education or degrees are telling us that they know more about education than we, the foreign qualified and highly experienced scientists, engineers and educationists.

It is now generally believed that the HEC has become a victim of the fraudsters and fake degree-holders, who want to prolong their rule with their fake degrees in hand. The rulers even went so far as to order the vice chancellors of the various universities not to verify the degrees sent to them by the HEC. Another reason for their interest is the funds allocated to the HEC. The provincial rulers will eat it up in the same way as they are doing with school funds.

My warning to the rulers is: you are not only destroying the HEC, you are murdering the future of Pakistan; you are trying ignorance and you and the country will face the consequences. History will never forgive you and will remember you for what you are – illiterates, ignorant, fraudsters, corrupt, selfish and incompetent. Unfortunately, ignorance is being disseminated from the top.











THE announcement by the Minister for Information Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan that Councils of complaints would be set up in all the Provinces for judicious implementation of code of conduct and other safeguards by the electronic media provided under the PEMRA law is a positive development. In an interview with this newspaper in Lahore the Minister dilated in detail upon the composition of the Councils and their responsibilities.

In fact soon after taking over the reign of the Information Ministry, Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan is paying special attention to create a healthy working relationship between the Ministry and the media and also keen to protect the interests of the people at large. The Councils formation was long overdue because there is no organisation for lodging and addressing complaints of the people. In our view these Councils should have been formed at the time of media proliferation. However it is good of the Minister that she is giving priority to the issue and we hope that the Councils would start functioning soon to look into complaints against the electronis channel. There have been repeated complaints of the general public that some of the local and several foreign channels are screening news and programmes which are either against our cultural values or against the interest of the country and PEMRA which is the controlling body needs the support of the members of the civil society and organisations to implement its regulations. So the establishment of the complaints councils would strengthen the hands of PEMRA to perform its functions more efficiently and effectively. At the same time we would also point out to the Minister that for print media, establishment of Press Council is also long overdue and negotiations in this connections have been going on since long but no practical steps have yet been taken. It would therefore be very timely that the Press Council is also formed on the lines of electronic media as there are complaints of public about the print media while the newspapers have also their own grievances which need to be given due consideration. Therefore the Press Council for the print media would act as a facilitator and ensure smooth working relationship with the Government and we hope that the Information Minister would pay due attention to it and form the Press Council as early as possible.







THE leaderships of the Gulf Cooperation Coucil (GCC) countries are giving serious consideration to the proposal for the formation of a Confederation of the member countries for a unified foreign, defence and security policy to cope with the emerging challenges. Visiting Correspondent of Pakistan Observer in Riyadh has reported that the new thinking has been necessitated by the present state of turmoil in some of the North African and the Middle East countries.

Such a move will help Gulf Arab states confront challenges and threats to their security, sovereignty and independence. The GCC secretariat is coordinating "wide and expansive" talks between senior officials in the member countries with the ideal outcome being the formation of a confederation. The Gulf countries, according to reports will turn the existing Peninsula Shield, their military arm, into a fast intervention force with higher military and fighting capabilities to deal with regional threats and confront plots to undermine stability in any of the six member countries. We think that when the GCC Confederation takes a practical shape, it will be in line with the demands of the day. Recent developments in the middle east have weakened these countries and foreign countries are out to further destabilize them. An American newspaper a few days back stated that some of the opposition figures were supported by several think tanks in the USA to rise against the regime in Egypt. British newspaper The Daily Telegraph also reported that American Embassy in Cairo helped a young dissident to attend a US-sponsored summit for activists in New York, while working to keep his identity secret from Egyptian state police. In Libya there is an open foreign intervention and military and other establishments are being bombed by NATO and American aircraft in the name of supporting the Libyan uprising against Gaddafi regime. The fact of the matter is that the US and Western countries are out to occupy the energy resources in Africa and middle east. The GCC countries also have world's largest oil and gas reserves and the eyes of the industrialised countries are on them. Therefore they need a united front to face the common threats and issues and the sooner the Confederation of the GCC is in place the better. Otherwise too the idea of regional blocs is not new as the European Union and the ASEAN have taken great strides and they need to be emulated. So if the GCC countries are able to give a final shape to the idea of Confederation, it would be better not only for them but for the countries of the region as well.






INDIA is raising its nuclear ambitions and trying to get technology and material from wherever it can to become world's one of the top nuclear powers. The latest proof of the Indian intention to enhance its nuclear potential is the pact with Kazakhistan under which India would get 2100 tons of uranium.

During his visit to the Central Asian Republic, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh signed an inter governmental agreement for cooperation in peaceful uses of Atomic energy. It envisages a framework for supply of fuel, construction and operation of atomic power plants, exploration and joint mining of uranium, reactor safety mechanism and use of radiation technologies. Though the agreement with Kazakhistan is for peaceful use of nuclear technology but it is a known fact that the technology and uranium can be diverted for military purposes. India was the first country to explode a nuclear devise in South Asia and is refusing to sign the CTBT that clearly indicates its intentions to build enough nuclear bombs to impose its hegemony in the region. It has already entered into an agreement with the United States for the supply of modern nuclear technology to build more plants and Nuclear Suppliers Group has also lifted restrictions on export of nuclear plants to New Delhi. These are very disturbing developments and the international community particularly the United States and the IAEA must take notice and New Delhi should be forced to restrict its nuclear programme because the possibility of nuclear disasters as witnessed in Chernobyl and Japan cannot be ruled out and the sufferers would not only be the people of India but also the neighbouring countries and the world at large.








Pakistan's national security is intricately linked to the stability in the Middle East. Immediate impact is visible in the form of repatriation of expatriates. As long as the struggle of the people of Middle East remained an internal matter of respective country, Pakistani public viewed it as a part of political process. However, foreign intervention in Libya has drawn a sharp negative reaction from Pakistani public. Recent uprising in the Middle East was long overdue. An artificial political order imposed on the Middle East region after World War I, has ever since been simmering and looking for an opportunity for its logical return to roots. Unnatural balkanization never went down well amongst the masses of Middle East. Formation of erstwhile United Arab Republic by three Arab countries and an aborted plan regarding merger of Libya and Egypt are examples of such attempts to return towards unified and strong Arab states in the Middle East.

Creation of Israel at the end of World War II by supplanting a legitimate state of Palestine resulted in a human tragedy that added to the volatility of the region. Three non conclusive Arab-Israel wars have further compounded the agony of the masses. The forces of change have asserted themselves over and over again. Initial wave of change occurred in the nineteen fifties and sixties when military revolts overthrew some of the monarchies. However, the advantage of change never tickled down to common man. New rulers soon became as authoritarian as their predecessors were. Collusion between the agents of external hegemony and perpetrators of internal tyranny sabotaged the purpose of these revolutions. Ensuing frustration amongst the masses became the driving force for subsequent waves of unrest.

Abdication of Arab cause by Egypt via Camp David accord was a major setback to the struggle of Palestinians. While ignoring the popular sentiment, most of the Arab rulers tacitly followed the line of Egypt in the context of Israel. Though rulers of the Middle East capitulated, the people never reconciled. Assassination of President Anwar Sadat was a violent expression of public sentiment. So far pro status quo elements have prevailed. So called revolutions of Tunisia and Egypt have been hijacked by pro-Western forces. Uprisings in Bahrain and Yemen are likely to go the same way; though Yemen may end up in a partition. Unrest in Syria may follow the Libyan route.

Middle East in particular and the Muslim world in general are living under the shadow of profound anti-Islamic prejudices. Even there is no tolerance for symbols associated with Islam and Muslims. Outcry against benign things like 'Hijab' and minarets indicate the undercurrents of intolerance for Islam as a way of life. On the political side, Turkey's inability to get the membership of European Union is a case in point. Obstacles created in the way of transfer of power to popularly elected governments of Algeria and Palestine Authority has exposed the myth of love for democracy by the western democracies. Inaction on deplorable violation of human rights of the people of Gaza shows an attitude of selectivity in this domain as well.

Popular perception has it that the United Nation is very prompt to take action when an uprising is in a Muslim country; an all out effort is made to settle the dispute quickly and in favour of non-Muslims, as it happened in East Timor, and lately in Sudan. Foot dragging is clearly visible when Muslims could be the beneficiary of any such settlement; disputes of Palatine and Kashmir are the examples. There is a marked difference in the approaches taken by the western countries towards uprisings in all other countries of Middle East as compared to the hostile line of action followed in case of Libya. Where, hangover of PAN AM 103 seems to be the main driving force.

Focus in all other countries was to either protect the regime or make a cosmetic transition by handpicking the successor regime which could ensure continuity. In Libya focus is on decimating the military capability, regime change and partition of the country. In the neighbourhood of Arab countries, Iranian revolution has survived over four decades. This model has radiated its effects in adjoining areas. This revolution happened due to simultaneous readiness of the public and the alternative leadership. Intricate relationship between these two vital ingredients of revolution severs both as a source of national strength and a system of checks and balances. Even detractors concede that expression of disagreement after the previous election was a voice for an in-house political change and not an expression of anti-revolution sentiment.

Iran has played a role of a facilitator of stability in post elections' Iraq; it is positively engaged with Afghan government and has enabled Lebanon in achieving a relatively better political steadiness. Iranian revolution presents a way forward sans submission to neo-colonial powers. Nevertheless, even after four decades, existential threats to Iranian revolution are of grave magnitude and resurgence of regressive forces cannot be ruled out. Iran's economic and social strangulation through sanctions, threats of invasion on the pretext of nuclear issues and subversion through discontented elements make a potent complex of external intervention and internal intrigue. A silent change has taken place in Turkey over the past one decade or so. It has receded from its march towards secular ideals and European identity. Democratic process has taken firm roots, economy has been turned around and pride of a common Turk stands boosted.

Lebanon went through a long spell of painful instability, and is far from sustainable calm. Deep seeded discord amongst the Shia and Sunni have plunged this unfortunate country into a precarious situation. A Muslim majority country is on its knees in front of manipulative Christian minority. Another cause of its troubles is its close proximity to Israel. Keeping in view the proxy wars, and sectarian biased alignment of its mainstream politicians, Lebanon is poised to remain instable for an indefinite period of time. This does not represent a tenable model for change. Middle East is poised to undergo the change but in multiple stages. Pro status quo forces are rather strong and have the capacity of bouncing back several times. Neo-colonial powers are at the back of the elements striving for continuity of existing policies of Middle East states, especially in the context of two core interests of neo-colonial powers; these are continuous supply of cheap oil and territorial integrity of Israel.

While living under the shadow of these insecure circumstances masses in the Middle East are looking for a paradigm shift in the domestic as well as international policies of their countries. Those striving for change may be in for a long haul. Prevalent anti-Islam prejudices and phobias are poised to intensify the urge and tempo of pro-change forces. In distant timeframe, Middle East seems poised to move towards emergence of larger and stronger states through intermediary stages of uprisings and disturbances. Emergent states are likely to be less pro-Western, more pro-Islamic and less friendly towards Israel. In this context, recently 'Institute of Policy Studies' took a lead to bring a select yet an all encompassing gathering of academics, diplomats, retired military men and representatives of civil society under a roof to thrash out this topic of national and international importance.

—The writer is international security, current affairs analyst and a former PAF assistant chief of air staff.








A national English daily carried single column news on its front page on 11th April titled. 'Are the drone attacks over?'. After Gen Kayani's condemnation, there is a lull meaning that the matter of Drone attacks on Pakistani territory and the fate of 300 US army trainers and CIA agents operating in Pakistan will be finally sorted out as has been realized the main cause of spreading discontent between Pak-US relations and the Chief of Pakistani ISI has flown to Washington to have parleys with his counter part the Director, CIA. Though there was a very short notice only on Monday saying that General Pasha is on his way to the US for talks on security issues without any further explanation. Later the same day there was again a short notice that General Pasha had met the CIA chief for a four hours discussion and left the country right away after those talks though he had been expected to stay on for a couple of more days and for meetings with other US government officials.

Today we are learning that instead of coming back to Pakistan Gen. Pasha went straight to Turkey to brief President Zardari who is on an official visit there about his talks. Pakistani nation is surprised to learn that a new drone attack has killed seven people in South Waziristan on 13th April 2011. This attack was made immediately after a top level ISI-CIA meeting in Washington where it is reported that Pakistan complained about the infringement of our sovereignty due to these drone attacks, which are becoming a cause of serious concern. People of Pakistan are not interested in any US assistance under Kerry-Lugar bill, which leads to our compromising the security dimension. Pakistan has already paid a very heavy price for such a Pakistan-US partnership, which must come to an end.

What has happened? Though we don't know for sure but there is a good chance that after the mysterious release of Raymond Davis which has cost the Pakistani army and the government of Pakistan dearly in public sympathies and creditability and after the deadly drone attack right after his release which killed dozens of Pakistani civilians and raised the question of US blood money for their families it is becoming quite clear that the all-time low in US-Pakistani relations which was supposed to be overcome with the Davis release is very much present and refuses to go away. The Pakistani public has't been graced with the knowledge about the details of the Raymond Davis deal but it appears that probably there was an agreement regarding a stop of US drone attacks which are highly resented and are extremely unpopular in Pakistan, which has become a nightmare for public relations of the military and the government. The fateful drone attack of 17th March with its disastrous outcome in our opinion sent the CIA into defensive for a while, as is evident from an address given at the Institute of Strategic studies in Islamabad on 11th April by US Ambassador Mr. Cameron Munter, in which he tried to re-assure Pakistani public that Pakistan was the real focus of US, which are becoming stronger and stronger day by day and socio-economic prosperity is the common goal of the two friendly governments. Disagreeing with those in America, who consider Pakistan-US relationship as a liability for US, whereas the ground reality is that this War on Terror has cost Pakistan more then $ 75 billion and US has perhaps compensated less then $ 10 billion in a period of 9 long years.

But after a certain gap while the US government and the CIA must have been fighting about the matter the CIA told visiting Gen. Pasha that they will resume the attacks and so it happened instantly. This seems to have angered ISI Chief Gen. Pasha who had come to sort out relations with the US so much that he did not even wait for the President Zardari to come back to Pakistan but went to Turkey to brief him of the out come of his talks in Washington immediately. That may have been in order to discuss a vital national security issue or more probably to inform the president about the only available options to secure national unity and solidarity by rethinking about our relations with US when the US is more inclined towards India to protect its intersts in Afghanistan, a fact which can be well understood from the recent speech of Cameron Munter delivered recently in Islamabad, where he said that the US wanted Pakistan and India to become very close friends and Washington was making persistent efforts for the realization of this goal irrespective of the demands of human right trampled in Kashmir by Indian army.

Letting the US do what they want while probably disregarding former agreements with Pakistan must be a slap into the face and a loss of dignity for our national prestige and honour, which they do not want to accept. They have been going out of their way to resolve the Raymond Davis matter because it has opened Pakistani investigators eyes about the covered operations under going in the garb of eliminating terrorism, while their main object was to undermine the national unity and solidarity by pitching brother against brother and creating ethnic, religious and provincial disharmony, and risking public upheaval and unrest and the least that they were expecting was accommodation of their demands with regard to a stop of drone attacks.

This has not happened. US arrogance has again shown to Pakistan that they do not regard us as equals and that they don't care for our country or its people. This is a fact which has been mentioned by us many times but until now nobody listened. That is why it is now high time to draw the lessons from our unequal relationship and leave the US in its own blind valley if they so desire. They will have to learn that they are losing the war in Afghanistan anyway but they will lose it more quickly without Pakistani support. That is why the US army supply lines driving thousands of heavy containers, which are destroying our roads and communication network should be closed again and this time for good. The tribal members of the parliament have already announced this step and staged a walk out from the parliament. On Thursday many other parliamentarians had expressed strong resentment on drones killing spree in FATA & Waziristan, so it won't be wrong to asses this situation as a wind for change blowing in the capital also. The reaction of the army command is not yet known but one can only hope that it does not limp behind that of the courageous tribesmen.








This is beyond doubt that Britain is responsible for most of the interstate or intrastate territorial and ethnic issues that arose in those parts of the world where it remained as a colonial power. Kashmir is one such issue, which was left unresolved at the end of over 300 years British colonial rule in the Subcontinent. The incumbent British Prime Minister Mr. David Cameron has been bold enough in accepting this historical remorse in a recent statement, during his visit to Pakistan. The visiting Premier once questioned to play a mediatory role towards the settlement of the issue, denied to do that. However, he accepted the mistakes committed by Britain during the colonialism. He said that, "'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."

Whereas the Prime Minister Cameron was appreciated in Pakistan and by oppressed Kashmiri people for making such a public recognition over Kashmir, he was criticized at home, demanding public apologies by him on acceptance of British past mistakes. Those criticizing him feel that, "UK should stop being embarrassed about its colonial past." They believe that this colonial rule over a vast majority of the world was a pride for Britain. After all during this prolonged rule Britain taught its former colonies the democratic norms of living and governing in this modern world. Even Prime Minister Cameron had once said, that, "we must never forget that Britain is a great country with a history we can be truly proud of. Our culture, language and inventiveness have shaped the modern world." Despite, there have been many occasions where British leaders have publically accepted and apologized for the Britain's discriminatory treatment with the local residents during the colonial rule. For instance, the former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, made a public apology from Irish people in 1997 for the "famine the country suffered in the mid-19th century." He also expressed his "deep sorrow" over the enslavement of the Africans by Britain. Indeed, recognition of the past mistakes and apologizing on them is a good tradition by the new British leadership. But, on some of deliberate blunders like Kashmir, this may not be enough. Britain remained and still maintains a dominant position in the international politics, where it could pursue a negotiated settlement of this long outstanding global issue.

The disputed nature of the Kashmir issue in general and human rights violations there in particular is gaining the attention of international community, but hardly there have been any focused attempt to undo the past mistake. Even Britain has supported all the UN resolutions on Kashmir, calling for the settlement of the issue and its successive leadership too have been emphasizing for its solution. More recently, in January 2009, David Miliband, the former British Foreign Secretary emphatically accentuated on resolution of the Kashmir issue during his visit of India. The issue indeed is the unfinished agenda of the partition of Subcontinent, implemented through Indian Independence Act, passed by British Parliament in July 1947. Indeed it was the Last Viceroy of India, Lord Mountbatten, a representative of British Crown, who hunched on to the desires of Indian leadership and manipulated through boundary commission to include the Muslim majority areas of Gurdaspur in India to give it a geographical contiguity with Jammu and Kashmir.

Earlier, in another article, entitled, 'war on terror was wrong', published in 'The Guardian' on January 15, 2009, David Miliband particularly stated that, "On my visit to South Asia this week, I am arguing that the best antidote to the terrorist threat in the long term is cooperation. Although I understand the current difficulties, resolution of the dispute over Kashmir would help deny extremists in the region one of their main call to arms, and allow Pakistani authorities to focus more effectively on tackling the threat on their western borders". Upon Indian protest over the statement, British Government clarified that this statement indeed is the official stance of the UK Government.

Earlier President Obama, had revealed his resilience to establish peace in South Asia by making earnest efforts to resolve unsettled dispute of Jammu and Kashmir. In an interview he said that, "We should try to resolve the Kashmir crisis so that Pakistan can stay focused not on India, But on the situation with those militants?" This statement was an indicative of the fact that unless Kashmir issue is resolved quickly and amicably, tension arising out of it would continue to prevail in the region. French Government also supported the US President's statement for the resolution of Kashmir issue. United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon has also offered his facilitative role for the solution of the Kashmir issue; provided India and Pakistan agree to this or else request him to do so. Chinese position is very clear on Kashmir. China declares Kashmir as the disputed state so much so that, it does not issue visas to Kashmiri nationals on Indian passport. Russia too desires a peaceful settlement of the issue, unlike the role of former Soviet Union. Under the prevailing situation, once there is a global realization also, mere acceptance and even being apologetic for the colonial blunders by British Prime Minister and may be many others, would not make much of the difference. Over the years, the unresolved issue of Kashmir has given birth to many other problems in South Asia having global implications. Nuclearization of the region is one such danger, really threatening the regional security and global peace. Today even after the passage of sixty-four years, there still remains the danger of wars without any economic integrity and long term prospects of peace.

Furthermore, the growing water problem arising between India and Pakistan having its origin in the Kashmir dispute is rapidly heading towards a conflict. This aspect was even highlighted by US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations in a recent report entitled, "Avoiding Water Wars" in South and Central Asia. Being an illegitimate occupant of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, India is in the process of building over a hundred large and small dams and water storages over the Western rivers, totally dedicated for Pakistani use, in complete violation of the Indus Water Treaty.

If international community really desires to bring peace and stability in South Asia, then there would be a requirement of a deliberate and dedicated effort to undo the historical wrongs by resolving the Kashmir dispute as per the wishes of the people of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. It is considered view that resolution of this issue would resolve all other issues directly or indirectly linked with it, including Afghanistan.

—The writer is an International Relations analyst.








After a brief lull, US has resumed Drone attacks in Pakistan. At least eight people were killed Wednesday in two US drone strikes at Angoor Adda in South Waziristan Agency. The attack came just one day after a Washington meeting between CIA Director Leon Panetta and Lieutenant General Ahmad Shuja Pasha, the chief of Inter-Services Intelligence agency, who called for an end to the strikes that have caused deep anger in Pakistan.According to media reports, two unmanned planes fired at least four missiles at a house and two vehicles. The first drone attack was on a house and in the second attack a car and a motorcycle were targeted at Baghar village in Angoor Adda, around six km from the border with Afghanistan. It was the first drone attack since March 17 in which 50 people attending a pro-government jirga meeting were killed in Datta Khel area of North Waziristan. Pakistan's civilian and military leaders strongly protested over the attack.

State Department spokesman Mark Toner acknowledged Tuesday that the 47-day detention of CIA contractor Raymond Allen Davis has made relations more difficult. "Certainly, the US and Pakistan remain strategic partners. We've got a shared commitment to strengthening our bilateral relationship. And we have been through a difficult period.

I think, other people, individuals and US officials have acknowledged that including ambassador Cameron Munter," Toner said at the daily briefing. "And we are working to get relationship back on track. We are looking to renew the relationship in a way and getting past difficulty that Raymond Davis case caused," he added in response to a question about the current state of relations between the two countries. To borrow Dave Lindorff, for all the US hyperventilating against Shariah law in Muslim countries, it was by applying Pakistan's Shariah Law on the use of death payments to victims' families that the US got Davis sprung. But he was not freed before virtually everyone in Pakistan had begun calling for his trial and execution, and not before it became clear that he, and the rest of the US spy army in Pakistan, was actually involved in subverting civil authority in that country, as Lindorff said.

The frayed relationship was the focus of a nearly four-hour meeting Monday at CIA headquarters between agency director Leon E Panetta and Lt Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha, the head of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Directorate. Although both sides cited progress, media reports said there were also indications that major points of disagreement remain unresolved.

According to Lieutenant Col Michael Shavers, Director of Public Affairs, Office of the Defense Representative in Pakistan, since 2001, the United States has reimbursed Pakistan approximately $8.87 billion in the CSF.

Media reports in Pakistan say that country has not received a single dollar under the Coalition Support Fund (CSF) so far this year. The most recently, more than $633 million was released to the government of Pakistan on December 24, 2010. This reimbursement covers the period of January to June 2010.

Probably, Lt. General Pasha's visit to Washington was also aimed at quick US reimbursements for army's brutal operation against its own people in Swat, Dir and FATA that continues behind a smoke screen.

—The writer is the Executive Editor of the online magazine American Muslim.








The assembly, a traditional Pathan jirga (tribal council), was being held in the open, on flat ground close to the Tochi river, on the Pakistani side of the Afghan border in tribal North Waziristan. There were more than 150 present, gathered to resolve a dispute over how much revenue each of several neighbouring clans was due from a chromite mine on the slopes of a nearby mountain.

Sharbat Khan, the contractor who had leased the mining rights, had just begun to speak when four or five Predators - American pilotless 'drone' aircraft - flew over the line of brown, craggy hills at the valley's rim and seemingly filled the sky. Their first target was a car, which was heading away from the Afghan border, being driven along the rough mountain road at high speed in an effort to outrun the drones and their deadly payload. According to witnesses, the aircraft fired four missiles at the car, but it was going so fast that they missed. Then, as the vehicle passed the village of Datta Khel, where the jirga had assembled, the drones fired two more missiles. This time, the car turned into a fireball, and all five men inside were killed.

It may well be that whoever was piloting the drones thousands of miles away, sitting at a computer screen somewhere in America, did have reliable intelligence that the men in the car were terrorists. It is probable, say Pakistani security sources, that a GPS chip had been secreted inside the vehicle by an agent working for the Americans in order to track it more accurately. But after the car's destruction, and before the tribesmen could take cover, the drones came back and started firing indiscriminately at them. 'Four missiles were fired on the jirga members, who included people from all ages.' In all, 41 died immediately, and a further seven over the following week.

Last week in Islamabad, Pakistani ministers and senior officials told me the cumulative effect has been to plunge US-Pakistan relations into profound crisis, so placing the coalition's war against the Taliban and Al Qaeda in both Pakistan and Afghanistan in jeopardy. It was also evident that the issue is about to trigger an international human rights furore, with lawyers and campaigners claiming many of the victims of earlier attacks were also innocent of any connection with the Taliban. They believe that while some were 'collateral damage' in strikes in which genuine terrorists died, others were only targeted because a top-secret private intelligence network which America has established inside Pakistan is deeply unreliable.

Foreign secretary Salman Bashir, interior minister Rehman Malik, army spokesman General Athar Abbas and a senior officer from Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) all said much the same thing: that while the drones have killed some important terrorists, they are now helping to rally more recruits to the extremists' cause, and at the same time undermining Pakistani sovereignty. 'Not only are drone strikes counter-productive, they are affecting the entire relationship with the US,' said Bashir, who is to visit Washington later this month. 'If we and America are partners, sharing the same goals, then it has to be recognised that Pakistan has a right to homeland security too.'

The ISI man added: 'Irrespective of the short-term tactical gains, there is a huge strategic loss. The killing of the maliks [tribal elders] at the Datta Khel jirga has had a catastrophic effect on public opinion. Our interests are being ignored.' Maliks were the government's critical allies against the Taliban, he said. The CIA began to go it alone. It was also expanding the scale of its operations inside Pakistan and increasing the number of its personnel, many of them nominally private 'contractors' rather than permanent CIA staff. More attacks such as this would drive them into the extremists' arms and render the entire frontier region ungovernable. It was, say Pakistani officials, effectively running its own, parallel intelligence network inside the territory of a supposed ally, recruiting and paying agents in the tribal areas on the Afghan border both to help it choose targets and to plant the GPS chips that guide the drones. At first, the strikes still commanded Pakistani support. As the casualties mounted, that support began to ebb.

When the Obama administration took office in January 2009, drone strikes increased again, with the total number of deaths reported as between 368 and 724. In 2010, this almost doubled again, with the estimated total rising to between 607 and 993. How many of them were really terrorists? The New America Foundation, basing its conclusions on contemporary media reports, suggests the total killed since 2004 is between 1,435 and 2,283. Around two-thirds were Taliban or Al Qaeda, it says, with a 'true civilian fatality rate' of 32 per cent. That is worrying enough.

Looming over all this is a much bigger issue: that while Britain and America are now publicly committed to withdrawal from Afghanistan, with the first troop reductions set for this summer, neither they nor the Afghan government have even started on the road to a political settlement. Without one, the prospect for Pakistan is to have on its border a failed state dominated by warlords, drug barons and extremists - a permanent source of crime and terrorism.

All the officials I spoke to said the time had come for a complete rethink of Western strategy, suggesting that the Afghan 'surge' which was supposed to make the Taliban keener on reconciliation had simply failed. 'The idea that this was ever going to force them to come to the table was always flawed,' the general said. 'It's against the whole nature of Afghanistan and its history.'

Meanwhile, local sources suggested that Pakistan is already coming to terms with the possibility that the worst-case scenarios for Afghanistan will come to pass, in which case Pakistan will need its own drone technology. They said they are already working on acquiring it - with the help of another emerging great power: China.—Daily Mail








If any doubt remained about the monstrous nature of Muammar Gaddafi's regime and why NATO must expedite his departure, reports of anti-personnel cluster bombs fired into residential areas in Misratah put an end to it. Correctly, Human Rights Watch, whose researchers have ascertained use of the bombs, has said few weapons are more lethal or indiscriminate in killing and maiming civilians. Munitions experts equate them to the evil of mustard gas and dum-dum bullets. The bombs scatter hundreds of smaller devices. Those that fail to explode immediately pose deadly hazards for years. Handicap International estimates 98 per cent of the bombs' victims are civilians, 28 per cent of them children.

Gaddafi's spokesman denied they were being used. But the regime's spin doctors have no credibility and as NATO considers its next moves the urgency of forcing Gaddafi out cannot be overstated. No solution will work as long as the dictator remains in place. Regime change may not have been part of the UN's Libya resolution, but it is a prerequisite for progress.

Last week's Doha meeting of Western, Arab and African allies called for Gaddafi to go and raised the prospect of providing seized Libyan funds to the rebels. There must be no delay in acting on this and in getting the US to participate more fully in the NATO offensive so concerted strikes can be launched to enforce the no-fly zone and also to target Gaddafi's ground installations. Only six of NATO's 28 members have joined the offensive. That is unfortunate, sending the wrong signals to the dictator. Twenty-five years ago Ronald Reagan bombed Gaddafi's Tripoli residence as swift retaliation for the attack by Libyan agents on US soldiers in a Berlin discotheque. Similar determination is needed now. Failure to dislodge Gaddafi would be disastrous, as would a protracted stalemate in which he was able to cling to power. Despots everywhere would take heart. The Arab Spring would be snuffed out.

The Obama administration is seeking possible asylum for Gaddafi in a country that has not signed the International Criminal Court protocols requiring them to hand over accused war criminals. That would be regrettable. After decades of atrocities, he is also likely to face indictment over the Lockerbie bombing. If ever a tyrant deserved his day in court before the ICC it is Gaddafi.






Major studies released recently by the Productivity Commission and the National Water Commission explain what consumers know when they open their water bills -- prices are rising. Lack of long-term planning and hasty decision-making by governments in the midst of panic about urban supplies drying up after prolonged drought are to blame for the rises, especially the heavy investment in desalination plants to service capital cities. The bad news is that urban consumers will be paying for past negligence and mistakes for decades, with desalination plants in Melbourne and Perth alone likely to cost the public between $3.1 billion and $4.2bn over 20 years.

The Productivity Commission has set out a strong case for policy and administrative reform, but any gains for consumers would be modest in the short term. However, they are worth pursuing because their value would increase over time as new water supplies became needed. Governments and local authorities, which have resorted to rigid water restrictions in dry times, at high cost in terms of lost production, will be tempted to relegate the issue to the "too-hard basket", as they did for decades as the best sites for new dams around capital cities were being built out and urban populations expanded. The commission favours a different approach, arguing that water restrictions should be reserved for genuine emergencies and that consumers should be free to exercise choice in their water consumption behaviour through an efficient price mechanism. If so, water supplies would need to be boosted to meet increased demand.

The best time to investigate which options offer the greatest cost benefits, and avoid "picking winners" in haste as water shortages loom, is now, when dams are full. No one-size-fits-all solution will work everywhere and more progress is needed in capturing stormwater and recycling wastewater for industrial use. The commission also makes a good argument why, in light of new technology, governments should consider greater use of recycled wastewater for drinking as part of the mix. Opposition water spokesman Barnaby Joyce also makes a sensible point, advocating a committee to examine potential new dam sites. Postponing action will only make securing future supplies harder and costlier.






Julia Gillard faces one of her most important tests so far as Prime Minister when she visits Japan, China and South Korea from this week. The three nations are among our top four trading partners and Ms Gillard needs to stamp her authority on international relations to prevent herself being overshadowed on the world stage by her hyperactive Foreign Minister. After a shaky start in Belgium last year, where she admitted "foreign policy is not my passion", and becoming enmeshed in her amateurish push for a processing centre for asylum-seekers in East Timor, Ms Gillard gained ground with her impressive speech to the US congress last month marking the 60th anniversary of the ANZUS alliance.

Her diplomatic challenges in north Asia, where Ms Gillard is not yet well known, will be more complex. Her vital free trade agenda offers her the opportunity to make her mark. Ms Gillard, commendably ignoring union opposition and the reservations of some in cabinet who should know better, has made multi-lateral trade pacts Australia's priority. But this visit should help in the pursuit of bilateral free trade agreements with all three nations, with negotiations with Seoul reportedly being the most advanced.

Carbon policy is also likely to be on the agenda, especially in China where emissions are tipped to double by 2030. If the world is to make progress in cutting carbon, China, which produces almost half the world's steel, must be a major player. Despite a heavy reliance on coal, China is investing in cleaner energy, including nuclear power, and is tipped to put a formal price on carbon, although no date has been set. Its trials of carbon trading in five provinces and three cities, including Shanghai and Beijing, should interest Ms Gillard.

It remains to be seen if she, like Kevin Rudd, raises concerns about human rights in China, where the Communist Party continues to suppress dissent. She should, because that difficult discussion should not be left solely to the US as China becomes increasingly powerful, economically and militarily. Although China was sometimes at odds with Australia during Mr Rudd's prime ministership, his realistic appreciation of China's ambitions serves Australia's national interest. So does deepening co-operation and encouraging China to become ever more integrated into the community of nations.

Unlike Mr Rudd, who was criticised for visiting China but not Japan on his first round-the-world trip as prime minister, Ms Gillard wisely put both on her itinerary. She will be especially welcome in Japan, Australia's closest ally in north Asia, given our support for recovery efforts following last month's earthquake and tsunami. Important discussions on security are scheduled for Japan, as well as for South Korea, where Ms Gillard will mark Anzac Day.

As Rowan Callick reports today, this trip will see Ms Gillard focusing on shifting power dynamics in the Asia-Pacific which will largely determine how Australia's relationships and national security play out over the next 30 to 50 years. After a strong performance when she visited Australia's greatest ally, the US, Ms Gillard must continue building an international profile in much the same way that John Howard, who was also initially new to international relations, gained confidence on the world stage.







DO NOT be misled by the Game Council of NSW's called for "voluntary conservation hunters". Recreational hunting is not environmentally motivated; it is a blood sport. While feral animals do pose a serious threat to native ecosystems in national parks and within state-owned reserves, it does not follow that any measure which kills them is therefore useful. The council's planned expeditions into state forests using packs of dogs to hunt down feral pigs are not only a ludicrously inefficient approach to feral animal culling, but one which raises serious questions about potential breaches of animal cruelty laws. The control of feral animals is not a job for amateurs hiding behind flimsy conservation claims. The culling of any animals for any reason must be professionally, humanely and systematically carried out using expertly designed programs and similarly professional personnel and supervisors.

There is no doubt the pressure for greater access for hunters to public land and waters is just going to intensify, given that the Shooters and Fishers Party now shares the balance of power with the Christian Democrats in the new NSW government. Although the party garnered just over 140,000 first preference votes from the 4.2 million or so cast for the Legislative Council, it has already presented the Premier, Barry O'Farrell, with a list of its priorities. This includes hunting in national parks, the relaxation of gun licensing laws and shooting as a school sport. Although much lobbying is also done in the name of the so-called Game Council, which has something of an official ring to it, the council was established to advance the shooters' agenda. O'Farrell's decision to abolish the NSW Environment Department and divide up its responsibilities also suggests a new attitude in Macquarie Street. The Coalition government has framed the environment as a resource to be exploited and enjoyed rather than as wilderness to be quarantined and protected.

It's somewhat ironic that the state election results handed such disproportionate leverage to the Shooters and Fishers in NSW, while the Greens and independents are enjoying a similarly influential position in Canberra. But that's how the democratic dice sometimes fall. This puts considerable responsibility onto the major parties not to be diverted into supporting single-interest platforms which are not in the majority's interest. Australia has a proud record on gun control, and has worked long and hard to establish world class national parks. We don't need amateurs trampling through our forests with dogs or guns; nor do we need more firearms in the hands of civilians, let alone school sports groups.





A GREAT tide of political unrest continues to sweep across the Middle East, yet it is becoming clear that the ultimate outcome will be messy, and very different from country to country. As the distinguished New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman points out, what is happening in this strategic region is unlike what occurred in eastern Europe after the collapse of the Soviet empire in 1989.

There, with the terrible exception of Yugoslavia, largely homogenous states, with shared ethnic, cultural and civil society traditions, were able to move smoothly from communist dictatorship to more democratic forms of government. By contrast, in the post-colonial Middle East, the Yugoslav model tends to be the norm - cobbled together nations, multi-ethnic, multi-religious, tribal, with cohesion being imposed by authoritarian regimes. Remove that glue, and anarchy or civil war looms.

Even in Egypt - which, like Tunisia, is a relatively homogenous society - it is not certain that a truly democratic new regime will emerge. True, the Mubarak era is over. Following another huge public demonstration in Cairo last week, the former president, his sons, and some aides were detained for interrogation over charges ranging from embezzlement to murder, and Hosni Mubarak's ill-named National Democratic Party was dissolved. But the military remains in control, and able to resist political reforms it regards as too radical.

Elsewhere in North Africa and the Arab world, there can be even less confidence about happy endings. In Libya, NATO is so constrained by a restrictive UN mandate and its own internal divisions that its warplanes are merely maintaining the present bloody stalemate between the troops of a defiant Muammar Gaddafi and the reformist rebels. The Americans, British and French say they are determined that the vengeful dictator must be removed, but how?

In Syria, the protest movement, spearheaded by the technologically savvy young, seems to be gathering strength. About 200 demonstrators have already died in clashes with the security forces. In true Middle Eastern style, President Bashar Assad has adopted a contradictory response, most recently by promising to end the long-standing, repressive emergency laws this week, while threatening to introduce new anti-terrorism laws.

Confusion reigns elsewhere. In Yemen, street violence persists, with some military elements now siding openly with protesters. In Jordan, too, there were more riotous protests last week, both by leftists and hardline Islamists. By contrast, the Sunni monarchist government in Bahrain, backed by Saudi Arabia, seems to have crushed Shiite unrest, for the time being. It is a muddled picture, not one to inspire optimism.





THE rise of managerialism has been relentless. Doctors, nurses and academics are among those who blame greater pressure partly on the avalanche of paperwork required to comply with current administrative standards. But problems associated with the phenomenon might be most evident in the case of disabled people in what used to be called ''sheltered workshops''. There, the paperwork is not only overly detailed but unfair.

Two people with disabilities are suing the federal government and former employers in a Federal Court test case on wages that will affect the earning capacity of 20,000 workers with Australian Disability Enterprises. One plaintiff, Gordon Prior, was paid $3 an hour for mowing lawns and raking leaves. When he appealed, his pay was cut to $2.47. The value of work done by people in Australian Disability Enterprises is assessed according to how long they take performing tasks and how they answer questions about ''core competencies''. Mainstream employers use a system under which disabled workers can earn more money more readily because they are judged according to performance alone. Mr Prior was assessed as not yet competent because he did not perform basic safety checks on a lawnmower before using it, his assessor told the court. But another witness said Mr Prior had never been required to do those tasks because he is visually impaired. The punchline: Mr Prior now works as a dry-cleaner in a mainstream workplace where he earns $11 an hour.

The case is not yet decided, and the legal appropriateness of the tests will be determined by Justice Peter Gray. But there is a larger question here, and that is about the assumption on which the system is apparently built: that work done by a disabled person is of lesser value, even when the work itself is done competently. Our society decided decades ago that people should not be paid according to who they are but according to how they perform. It is contemptuous to pay anyone doing a reasonable job $2.50 an hour. That includes those who are disabled in ways that do not affect their ability to rake leaves or assemble pens. It adds insult to their injury to create a bureaucracy of higher-paid people whose assessment tool effectively works to keep the pay of the disabled artificially low.

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That the instigator should be the federal government, whose actions are taken in our name, makes us complicit in a process that would not be tolerated if it were applied to any other part of the community.





TWO separate incidents last week involving dangerous driving prove that no one should be above the law, and that when these laws are insufficient they must be strengthened accordingly.

The first incident occurred in Mornington early last Thursday morning, when police caught an unsupervised learner driver, 17, with nine passengers in his car. The Balnarring youth faces charges including driving without an experienced driver, driving an unregistered vehicle, and having false number plates. But the law stops there: the boy's car is unable to be seized because he did not breach existing anti-hoon legislation.

The second, profoundly more serious, matter concerned a man, Joseph Brigante, who on Thursday was sentenced in the County Court to six years and two months in prison after pleading guilty to nine charges relating to driving under the influence of heroin last May. Brigante drove on to the wrong side of the road and crashed headlong into a car driven by Barbara Digby, 71, who was killed. In sentencing, Judge Lisa Hannan said that police should have the power to suspend a driver's licence immediately when it became clear the driver was a public danger. Brigante, the court was told, had been spoken to by police about his erratic driving several times in the days leading up to the crash.

The ''if only …'' factors that arise from both these incidents are compelling: if only that inexperienced Balnarring boy's car could have be confiscated, it might have tempered his apparent lack of remorse - he told reporters he would do it again; if only Joseph Brigante's licence had been swiftly revoked, Barbara Digby would have got to her granddaughter's birthday that night.

It is encouraging that Premier Ted Baillieu has reacted quickly to redress any concerns. He has endorsed Judge Hannan's comments, saying: ''If there is a gap there, then I would be pleased to address that gap.'' As well, Mr Baillieu says the government will seek to plug any gap in anti-hoon legislation, saying it was ''… unbelievable in this day and age that someone would behave like that''. The Premier has also flagged the use of social media websites to convey anti-hoon messages, although he did not elaborate. The amendments to legislation should happen without delay and, it is hoped, with bipartisan support. These incidents are but two of many that could have been dealt with more severely, or perhaps avoided entirely, if the laws had been strengthened before now. Driving under the influence of drugs is no different from driving with a positive alcohol reading and, if a driver is caught, the initial penalty should be the same. The driver must forfeit the right to be behind the wheel.

Crucial to amending anti-hoon legislation is the alarming news, revealed by The Age on Friday, that 11 out of the 30 deaths on Victorian roads since March 18 have been people aged 15-25. Clearly, the new P-plate laws that took effect in mid-2008, while exercising more rigorous control and a two-stage, four-year licence system for all new probationary drivers, are not saving as many young lives as was hoped.

As this newspaper has often said, education in all aspects of being on the road, of being part of a community of road users, should begin long before anyone turns the ignition key or places a foot on the accelerator. Certainly, tough measures were - and are - required if the roads are to be made safer for drivers of all ages. Part of the educative process must be to instil in young drivers the knowledge that ownership of a licence is a conditional responsibility, not a god-given right. A car in the wrong hands is, as we have said, as potentially dangerous and life-threatening as misuse of a firearm. Anyone who abuses gun laws must expect to suffer the consequences. The same should apply to reckless drivers.







Will the prospect of being a hands-on mayor soon confer more political clout than the uncertain chance of a cabinet seat?

Amid the many elections due on 5 May – to the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish devolved bodies, to local councils in much of England, plus the voting system referendum – do not overlook two other contests. In a month's time, voters in Leicester will elect a mayor, joining London and other cities with a directly elected chief. Since the Labour candidate in Leicester is the local MP Sir Peter Soulsby, the mayoral race has triggered a parliamentary byelection in Leicester South – also on 5 May.

These Leicester elections are of wider interest for two reasons. The first is that they mark the resumption, under the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition, of the previous Labour government's only intermittently successful enthusiasm for elected mayors. While some elected mayoralties – London pre-eminently – have been generally thought of as highly successful, others have not, or at least have failed to overcome the enduring opposition of their local government opponents. Stoke abolished its elected mayor three years ago, while Doncaster, after a bruising experience with two elected mayors, has begun a process which could end in abolition too. Over the past decade only about a third of more than 30 local referendums on whether to have elected mayors have resulted in a yes vote.

It is possible, nevertheless, that a tide may be turning in favour of elected mayors and that Leicester's decision, rather than Doncaster's, may be the shape of things to come. Under the localism bill, referendums on elected mayors are being targeted for May 2012 in a dozen of England's largest cities, including Leeds, Birmingham, Manchester and Newcastle. Yes votes in these cities could mark a decisive shift, which Labour, for all its efforts, failed to achieve. Ironically, local Labour opposition to the coalition could tip the scales. The attraction of fighting a city's corner with a high-profile leader in difficult times may outweigh even the most determined local enemies of change.

The Leicester race also says something about political careers. After the general election, Labour holds little power; its senior elected office-holder is currently the Welsh first minister, Carwyn Jones. If he wins in Leicester, Sir Peter's choice of local power over national opposition may tempt others. Already, the former cabinet minister Bob Ainsworth has said he might run if Coventry votes to elect a mayor. In other big cities other MPs, not just Labour ones, may also decide that the prospect of being a hands-on mayor of Birmingham, Leeds or Manchester confers more clout than the uncertain chance of a cabinet seat. An earlier generation would have thought this a perverse set of priorities; but a new one may start to see things differently.





The key to ending the conflict in Afghanistan may be for us to stop thinking of it as a unified state

Nearly two years ago David Miliband, then foreign secretary, addressed a meeting of Nato confident that the right strategy was being pursued in Afghanistan. They would not force the Taliban to surrender, nor would they convert them. But he went on: "By challenging the insurgency … by building legitimate governance … the Afghan government, with our support, can prevail." Today Mr Miliband, backbench MP, is less certain – on any of those three counts. Last week he said the Taliban's numbers were growing, quoting an Isaf estimate of 35,000 full-time fighters; he challenged the idea that law and order could be delivered by the forces of a central state; and as for legitimate governance, there were two views of Hamid Karzai – a man uniquely qualified to unite his people, or its weakest link, with electoral fraud, corruption, cronyism and caprice sapping the strength of the Afghan government. Mr Miliband did not commit himself, but said it was incontestable that the Taliban are outcompeting the government in too many areas, dispensing their own rough but incorrupt justice. So while the west has set a date for the end of the war in 2014, Mr Miliband concluded that no political strategy yet exists to end the conflict.

Nor is he the only voice to doubt the relentless focus on military operations. A taskforce headed by Lakhdar Brahimi, former UN special representative for Afghanistan, and Thomas Pickering, former US undersecretary of state, said the current policy of reintegration may peel away small units of the Taliban, but would never provide the political resolution that peace would require. That could only be done by a settlement which would allow representation of the Taliban in central and provincial governments; the determination of the proper role of Islamic law in regulating dress, behaviour and the administration of justice; the protection of women's rights; the incorporation of Taliban fighters into the security forces; the severance of their ties with al-Qaida; and a guaranteed withdrawal of foreign forces.

All this comes late in the day. The western intervention is now longer than the Soviet one. But three years from the date set for withdrawal, no political component to that deadline exists. Nor is there a unified view in Washington about how to achieve it. With the Taliban pushed as a major presence out of Helmand and Kandahar, self-congratulation and self-doubt fill the air in roughly equal portions. The surge of US troop numbers is at its peak, but everyone is bracing themselves for another year of ferocious bloodshed, as the Taliban merely switch tactics from roadside bombs to suicide bombings and softer targets. Instead of fighting its way to the negotiating table, the US troop surge may simply be sawing the legs off it.

There is no dearth of creative ideas for an end to this conflict. But Washington may not be as powerful as it thinks in the endgame. A former UN negotiator involved in the Geneva agreements on the Soviet troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, Giandomenico Picco, said in a paper that we may have to abandon the idea of Afghanistan as a centrally governed nation state – a fallacy shared by the Soviets, the Taliban and the west. Its porous borders could only be guaranteed by a regional summit of the countries that effect them – Pakistan, India, Iran and Saudi Arabia. Everyone seems to have forgotten Riyadh's influence on Islamabad. And including Iran as a regional power in a forum, unconnected to the nuclear issue, could also be a way of breaking that deadlock.

US generals believe salvation lies in an Afghan National Security Force, 305,000 strong. They cling to the hope that an Afghan state will endure their departure. After decades of war, both remain untested assumptions. Nato could still avoid an ignominious exit, but as things stand the one staged by the Soviets, on whom history has poured such scorn, may end up being veritably ordered in comparison.





The big mistake people make with Mike Leigh is to simplify him into caricature; he is much too various for that

The big mistake people make with Mike Leigh is to simplify him into caricature; he is much too various for that. He is the man who turned London into his own film set, so that to wander around the capital is to think of Naked, Happy-Go-Lucky, Secrets & Lies – yet he is a Salford boy. And of course his work is so distinctive in both focus and style that almost everybody knows what you mean by a "Mike Leigh film" – yet he famously creates his dramas through extensive improvisation and rehearsal. He is the angry socialist who sets conservative teeth on edge – yet his early and later work focus much more on the personal than the polemical. In short, Mike Leigh is a writer and director who zigs when you expect him to zag, who escapes easy pigeonholing by dint of squirming too much. Those who still think of Leigh as the poet laureate of anti-Thatcherism should catch the revival of his 1979 play Ecstasy, recently transferred to London's West End. Some of the classic Leigh elements are there: set in a bedsit in Kilburn, it features a fascinating argument about immigration and its impact on jobs (some things in Britain don't change). But the real theme of the play is loneliness: how people can be lonely even in others' company – and how they try to dress it up. It is not all bleak: the play studies a marriage seemingly sustained by booze – yet which somehow works. But most of all it is tender, with the central character, Jean, depicted as a gifted, interesting woman afloat on her own regret. It is not classic Leigh – but is another Leigh classic.







The government has set down a policy outline for overcoming the power shortage this summer, which will be inevitable due to the crisis at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. Under the outline, the government will invoke a relevant law, but there will be no planned rolling outages. Efforts to save power on the part of enterprises and households will be crucial.

It is estimated that the power supply will be a maximum 15 million kW short in areas serviced by Tepco and 3.3 million kW short in areas serviced by Tohoku Electric Power Co. Demand will be curbed by 10 million kW in the former and 2.8 million kW in the latter areas. Tepco will try to increase the supply by 5 million kW and Tohoku Electric Power Co. by 500,000 kW through restoration of defunct hydraulic and thermal power plants and by newly building gas turbine power plants.

The government calls on major industrial users, whose power contracts mention 500 kW or more electricity, to curb use of power by 25 percent from July through September. The reduction goals for smaller industrial users and households are 20 percent and between 15 to 20 percent, respectively. Saving power in households is as important as in enterprises because households use about one-third of the total electricity supply. People can save power in ways that aren't difficult. For example, if one raises the temperature of an air conditioner by 1 degree C, one can save about 10 percent of the electricity used by the machine.

Diversifying power sources will help overcome the shortage. The government should push a policy that will utilize renewable power sources on a large scale and enable small power supply entities to flourish.

The current market structure in which major power companies make profits by monopoly must change. Apart from changes in the supply side, the power shortage should be viewed as a chance to end mass electricity consumption.

People and enterprises should realize that the age of unlimited use of electricity is over.





For the first time in Japan's medical history, organs from a person under 15 were transplanted to other people on April 13-14. Such transplants became possible after the revised Organ Transplant Law went into force in July 2010.

Under the original law, which went into effect in 1997, only people aged 15 or older who have expressed their desire to donate organs in writing could become donors on the condition that their families consent. The revised law allows harvesting of organs from anyone at any age if the person has not explicitly expressed his or her refusal to be a donor and if his or her family consents.

If a donor is younger than 18, it must be confirmed that he or she has not been physically abused. The April 13-14 transplants could lead to more organ transplants from children to children.

The donor was a boy between 10 and 15 whose brain was damaged in a traffic accident in the Kanto-Koshinetsu region. His heart was given to a man in his late teens. His lungs, kidneys, pancreas and liver were given to four other older patients.

Until this case, under the revised law, transplants had been made from 38 brain dead people. But they were all adults. When children are declared brain dead, doctors and transplant coordinators should never induce their families to consent to having the children become donors.

Since children's brains have a strong chance of recovery, priority should be given to saving their lives. This is important since, in Japan, before organs may be harvested from a person, two strict tests are carried out, during each of which the respirator is temporarily removed — a process to legally declare the patient brain-dead (as distinguished from a declaration by a doctor treating the person that he or she is brain dead).

The boy's family made a difficult decision. The hospital which treated him should make public what kind of treatment it gave to him and why it judged that he had no chance of recovery. It also should be made public what kind of information was given to his family and how and why they made the decision.






The most powerful earthquake in the nation's history struck the northeastern part of Japan on March 11. Even more devastating than the quake itself was the tsunami that followed, as it took more than 20,000 lives and destroyed countless structures.

Radioactive leaks continue to threaten residents near the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Station, with the restoration of cooling capacity to the ailing reactors perhaps months away.

Nobody had even dreamed of what has turned out to be a chain reaction of the earthquake, the tsunami and the nuclear plant accident. That was something that "could not have happened." Before the disaster, most economists had confidently predicted that the nation's economy would start growing in the first quarter of this year, after a negative growth shown in the preliminary statistics for October-December last year.

How will the "Eastern Japan Great Earthquake Disaster" impact on the Japanese economy and its gross domestic product? Anticipations are that the distribution systems will remain paralyzed for some time to come, that those who have been evacuated from the radiation-contaminated areas near the nuclear power plant are not likely to be allowed to return home anytime soon, and that the mood of "self-restraint" will prevail throughout the country, drastically reducing personal consumption in the foreseeable future. Moreover, the number of visitors from abroad will plummet sharply and tourist spots within the country will become deserted.

Residences damaged or destroyed by the quake and tsunami will be counted as "negative" personal housing investment; office buildings, manufacturing facilities, hotels, shopping centers and the nuclear power stations as "negative" capital investments in the private sector; and roads, public facilities and infrastructure as "negative" government spending.

Within days of the disaster, the value of the yen currency sharply rose to surpass ¥80 to the U.S. dollar as speculators rushed to buy the yen on an unverified assumption that many domestic business entities will sell their dollar holding and buy the home currency needed for reconstruction.

A high value of the yen will undoubtedly deal a serious blow to manufacturers who are highly dependent on export and result in reducing the net export, which is an important component of GDP. Furthermore, production of automobiles, electric machinery and other industrial goods has been hampered as supply of components from plants located in the stricken areas has hit a snag.

There has been a steep decline in the number of people enjoying themselves in the central parts of Tokyo and other major cities, perhaps out of their sympathy for those who are in distress or perhaps because of reduced electric power supply.

"Fallacy of composition" is a proverbial economic terminology meaning that while there is nothing wrong in an individual acting in a reasonable manner, an undesirable consequence could result if a large number of people act in the same manner in unison. It is no doubt reasonable for men of prudence to reduce their personal consumption out of sympathy toward the victims of the disasters in the Tohoku and northern Kanto regions. But if a large majority of those in major metropolitan districts exercise the same restraint all at once, the entire nation will plunge into a negative economic spiral. Stagnation will prevail further, tax revenues will fall drastically, and the government will be forced to issue more bonds to finance reconstruction.

It does not constitute "fallacy of composition" for individuals and corporations in the areas being supplied with power from Tokyo Electric Power Co. to save electricity in hopes of avoiding "planned rolling outages." Power shortage has been triggered by the troubles at the Fukushima nuclear power station which accounts for 20 percent of the company's total generating capacity.

All of the 10 nuclear reactors at the Fukushima No. 1 and No. 2 stations will in all likelihood remain idle for some time to come even after the radioactive leaks are controlled. The entire nation must take this opportunity to establish and perpetuate a new lifestyle and social system less dependent on electric power consumption. At the same time, the question of who will bear the cost of reconstruction in what manner must be deliberated on and debated in earnest.

Huge sums of investments will inevitably be poured into reconstruction of houses, buildings and public facilities, while personal consumption will rise as individuals start buying electric appliances and automobiles. It appears certain that in three to five years, the calamities brought about by the earthquake and tsunami will contribute to the nation's economic growth, just as public works projects, even the wasteful ones, do.

The reconstruction projects have to be financed by tax revenues and deficit-covering government bonds. Falling GDP will lead to reduced revenues from the individual and corporate income taxes and the consumption tax.

Even if the consumption tax rate is raised under the name of "reconstruction tax," the intended level of revenue may not be achieved if the households in Tokyo and other areas not directly affected by the earthquake and tsunami continue to tighten their purse strings.

According to one theory, the cost of reconstruction, not counting the repair of the damaged nuclear reactors, is estimated at ¥20 trillion. If this is to be covered by the consumption tax, the rate would have to be raised to 13 percent from the present 5 percent, based on the assumption that a raise by each percentage point represents an increased revenue of ¥2.5 trillion.

The government will be forced to bear at least some of the cost of compensating for damage caused by the nuclear plant accident because of its responsibility for promoting nuclear power generation as the core of the national energy policy.

The government is more responsible for the nuclear crisis than Tokyo Electric Power. In fact, the government has been providing cities, towns and villages in close proximity to nuclear plants with subsidies based on three laws related to electric power generation. Fukushima Prefecture alone has received ¥13 billion in such subsidies. This shows how closely the government and the utilities have worked to build nuclear power stations. That makes it all the more incumbent upon the government to bear a big share of the responsibility for what has happened.

There will be enormous cost exceeding anybody's imagination in dealing with the nuclear plant disaster, dismantling damaged reactors, rebuilding power-generation capability, and compensating residents near the nuclear power plant for damages related to radiation exposure or the threat of it.

Takamitsu Sawa is president of Shiga University, Japan.






Portugal is far along the primrose path to economic bankruptcy, following in the steps of Greece and Ireland. While the Portuguese debt crisis is not nearly as acute as that of Greece and Ireland, it nonetheless serves as a warning to other European Union countries, as well as the United States, that profligate government spending has its price.

European Union states, especially Britain France and Germany are due to support an emergency bailout of Portugal to the tune of about $100 billion. While the Socialist government in Lisbon tried to stave off the bitter pill through a series of austerity plans, Prime Minister Jose Socrates' government finally collapsed.

Now new elections have been called for June. Yet Lisbon's looming cloud of debt has not disappeared, but become a foggy miasma on the River Tagus. No matter which party wins the elections, (hopefully it will be the market-oriented Social Democrats), the new parliament faces a deepening debt comprising 85 percent of GDP. (By comparison, U.S. debt is now slightly more than 100 percent of GDP!)

The new Lisbon government will confront the albatross of 11 percent unemployment and a falling GDP — an aftershock of the global economic downturn as well as a legacy of the current Socialist government.

Though a small country of 10.7 million people, the Portuguese state itself has historically played a powerful role in creating debt with its bloated bureaucracy and spending. While impressive free-market reforms and an export- oriented economy had been part of Portugal in the 1990s, the state sector remains stifling and burdensome.

To forestall a wider financial crisis in Portugal, the bankers and Eurocrats are looking at a bailout of between 60 and 85 billion euros. Just a year ago, the Greek "rescue package" was 110 billion euros, and Ireland received 85 billion euros.

But European bankers and some politicians are demanding more government cuts and needed austerity in debtor states. "Whoever needs assistance by other European member states and member states in the eurozone has to deliver sustainable measures for reducing deficits, because the deficits are the reason why they need help," advised German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble.

Bankers and politicians worry that debt-crisis "contagion" (a nicer word for falling dominos) stops Portugal. Should the contagion reach across to Spain's far larger and debt-ridden economy, there will be red faces throughout euroland.

One problem is that any EU and International Monetary Fund bailout will impose stiff rules and regulations that, while forcing higher taxes and budget cuts, will not necessarily encourage needed productivity.

Back in 1983, when Portugal's economy received an IMF package, the result was higher productivity and exports. But imposing penury on Portugal over needed labor reforms and productivity serves only as a stopgap.

The key element needed for reviving Portugal's moribund economy is not higher taxes or a straightjacket of IMF "policy reforms" but labor market reforms to make the country's quality products internationally competitive.

In the bigger picture, the looming iceberg remains the fate and future of the euro, which is used by most EU members but not Britain. Countries like Greece, Ireland and Portugal (as well as Spain) are among 17 eurozone members that are largely subsidized by Britain, France, Germany and the Netherlands.

Now that financial realities are setting in, the vaunted European Dream of the euro could turn into a nightmare. While it's easy to brush off Portugal's crisis as the symptom of small countries with big debts, what about the U.S. debt?

Profligate government spending and all kinds of bailouts have failed to significantly dent high unemployment or restart a sluggish economy. U.S. debt has soared from $9 trillion in 2008 to $15 trillion in the Obama administration's current budget. High-profile budget battles in Washington have yet to go past posturing rhetoric.

Whether it is the European Union or the U.S., the bottom line is that governments cannot continue to spend at their usual levels until there is a genuine recovery in productivity. Economic growth may be held hostage to high debt.

John J. Metzler, a U.N. correspondent for diplomatic and defense issues, is the author of "Transatlantic Divide; USA/ Euroland Rift?" (University Press, 2010).








It should be said to the credit of the intelligence and ingenuity of the Sri Lankan voter that he has adapted to all forms of electoral reforms, which has remained more complicated than the earlier one. It will be no different this time round, when a new election process is set in motion, based on the Dinesh Gunawardene Committee recommendations.

In a way, the average Sri Lankan voter has displayed his comfort levels with the existing scheme of 'proportional representation' (PR). It is the political class that is uncomfortable with the same. Maybe, both will get adjusted to the new scheme but then the trickle-down effect of Third World democracies would dictate new situations, for which the Sri Lankan scheme would have to – and, possibly would -- find new solutions.

To begin with, there was nothing wrong with the first-past-the-post scheme. Nor was the PR system any different when it came to the question of which party would win majorities and which party or leader would rule the nation. The inconsistencies and irregularities involved in the first were very much present in the second scheme too. It came to be felt with years of exposure and experience. It's doubtful if the new scheme would change all that, now or later.

Now, the nation is moving away from a wholesale PR scheme to a 'district proportionate representation' (DPR) system, which will form a part of the promised one. The voices of the otherwise unrepresented groups will be heard clearer, if not louder than in the past, we are being told. It was similarly said when the PR scheme came into being. It was even more so when Sri Lanka, then Ceylon, adopted universal adult franchise as far back as 1931, under the Donoughmore Constitution. It was the first country to do so in Asia as a whole. So, the expectations and hopes were higher still.

The question is if one should cut the cloth for the man, or the other way round. Still, there is the larger and more pertinent question of the sanctity of institutions in democracies. The election process, and thus the democracy process, as a whole are thus involved. To separate one from the other, and expect equal respect for both could be a fallacy.

It is much different from the dynamic constitutional processes that the needs and circumstances of developing Third World countries demand. The latter is about causing social re-engineering through the constitutional processes, particularly concerning societies where customs and traditions have addressed these issues, maybe even more effectively, in the historic past, near and distant.

The societal commitment to support the Sangha through the offering of alms to the Bhikkus and other religious initiatives from a hoary past is only an instance of the kind as far as Sri Lanka, particularly the Sinhala-Buddhists are concerned. Tamil literature and society have had similar traditions from time immemorial. So have the Muslims and Christians. This should not be confused, hence, with a theocratic State. That is where modern-day Sri Lanka is yet to get the balancing act together.

Whatever the electoral scheme the country has followed, the 'national problem' had remained in the past. It is so now. This owes to the realistic nature of the issues concerned and the half-hearted attempt of the Sri Lankan State to address the 'ethnic issue' effectively and meaningfully. The 'effect' of the State initiatives has had a negative impact, leading to war and violence. The 'meaningfulness' of the effort, and hence the effect' has remained meaningless.

Be it in 1949, 1956, 1977, or now in 2011, elections have not erased the ethnic divide. Instead, they only drew the ethnic dividing-line even deeper. It also owed to the geographical contiguity of the Tamil-speaking areas on the one hand, and even those of the Muslims and the Upcountry Tamils, otherwise. Even the denominational differences among the Tamils have only widened, with intricate internal divisions getting thrown up every now and again.

It is no different in the case of the Sinhala majority, either. Independent of the professed political and ideological distinctions, the inherent class and caste differences too get often reflected in the electoral process. Rather than rendering such deep-seated social antipathies redundant, democracy has only been used to widen the process. To the extent that the autocracy of the JVP insurgents and the LTTE in the past sought to bridge the gap, the latter has outlived the former.

If under the DPR scheme today, you will have parliamentary representatives for minor groups whose voices cannot otherwise be heard in the Legislature, questions will still remain as to the political positions that these worthies will be taking on policy issues affecting those groups and communities. Experience in the matter has not been encouraging, for the electoral scheme to be amended, for the purpose.

In post-war Sri Lanka, where migration(s) of Tamil-speaking people of all hues have altered the demography of the North and the East, where no head-count was taken over four long decades, Census-2011 could throw up challenges. Readjustment and delimitation of electorates in the Provinces under the new scheme should not introduce an element of further division.

Nor can perceived 'colonisation' of poor Sinhala-Buddhists, from which again the ranks of the armed forces have been drawn, a solution. It is a problem, instead, if one understood the rationale and philosophy of the two JVP insurgencies. The JVP militancy may be in the past, so is the LTTE terrorism, but the causes that they sought to address, albeit through wrong methods, remain.

Be it the first-past-the-post system or the PR scheme or the new one, the trickle-down effect of socio-economic deprivation, both real and imaginary, would find their own voices in a democracy. Sri Lanka is past the militant phase of self-assertion by various class and social groupings. While care and caution need to be applied continuously, yes, the cure should not end up being the ailment – or, worse than the ailment, still.





Nearly 70 million people will be eligible to vote on Wednesday in assembly elections in the southern states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Union Territory Puducherry where ruling parties are facing a stiff challenge from a determined opposition.

The elections, pundits say, could unseat at least two ruling coalitions — the DMK-led front in Tamil Nadu and the Left Democratic Front (LDF) in Kerala. Perhaps the most politically significant election will be in Tamil Nadu, where the main battle is between two Dravidian giants — the ruling DMK and the opposition AIADMK.

Around 45.95 million voters can pick 234 legislators from 2,748 candidates, including 141 women. There will be 54,016 polling booths spread all across the sprawling state.

The Tamil Nadu outcome is bound to cast a shadow on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's coalition in New Delhi in which the DMK is a key ally.

Chief Minister and DMK patriarch M. Karunanidhi is seeking election to the assembly for a record 12th time and as chief minster for the sixth time.

The DMK is seeking a mandate for another term saying it fulfilled its 2006 electoral promises — such as giving free colour televisions and providing welfare measures like free medical insurance, ambulance service, rice at Re 1 a kg and free houses to the needy.

The DMK is, however, on the defensive over the 2G spectrum scandal, which has led to the jailing of its leader and former communication minister A. Raja on corruption charges.

AIADMK leader and former chief minister Jayaram Jayalalithaa is exuding confidence after pre-election surveys predicted a win for her alliance. She has harped on rising prices, power cuts, the spectrum scandal and the law and order in Tamil Nadu.

DMK has shifted its top leaders — Karunanidhi and his son and Deputy Chief Minister M.K. Stalin — to the "safer" constituencies of Thiruvarur and Kolathur. Jayalalithaa, a former actress, will contest from Srirangam.


Two pre-election surveys have indicated a victory for the UDF in the battle for the 140-member legislature.

One man who is still posing the biggest hurdle to the Congress is Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan, who at 87 is one of the oldest candidates and a crowd puller.

There are 187 candidates and several parties in the fray. But the contest is mainly between the Congress-led front comprising the DMK and the AINRC-led front including the AIADMK.

Both in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry, rival parties have promised voters a litany of freebies — if they win. Just who wins will be known only on May 13 when votes polled in these three states as well as Assam and West Bengal are counted.


Khaleej Times





The country has recently reported the second highest growth figures following Independence. In this time of change and swift development however it is also important to ensure that all our people, particularly the less fortunate are protected.

The President, in the manifesto on which he was initially elected, spoke of the need for a Bill of Rights. This is the more important in that it will also make clear the range of Human Rights with which a country should be concerned.

The discourse now on Rights focuses on those who try to use it to attack the State. A clear and comprehensive Bill of Rights will make it clear that Sri Lanka has over the years done a much better job than most countries in ensuring access for its entire people to all the Rights laid out in the United Nations protocols on the subject. Way back in the forties, incisive input from different countries ensured that the UN Manifesto recognized the importance also of economic and social rights, and Sri Lanka has done extraordinarily well in these respects, in spite of limited economic development in the past.

President Rajapaksa's government commissioned a draft of a Bill of Rights almost as soon as it came into office in 2005. Given other priorities, work on this was slow, but with a new Secretary at the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights in 2008, when it seemed clear that terrorism would finally be overcome in Sri Lanka, the process was fast forwarded. This went hand in hand with preparation of the National Human Rights Action Plan, which was pledged at the Universal Periodic Review which Sri Lanka underwent in 2008. The consolidation of work taking place at the Ministry had already identified areas in which reforms were desirable, and this had already led to preliminary measures being suggested, notably with regard to police training and changes in sentencing policy.

All this and more should be fast forwarded, with the Action Plan now in the process of being finalized. Those of us from the citizenry who made submissions in drafting this need now to register other areas which are ignored. The Action Plan, and the Bill of Rights which should follow, should also concentrate on the majority of people amongst us who need assistance and strengthening to survive with their dignity intact, as free individuals in a caring society.

We have seen recently that women are prosecuted and left without identity papers, so that they are consigned to protracted incarceration; we have seen the mentally ill abandoned by their families and kept in permanent custody under vagrancy laws as well is in the National Institute of Mental Health; we have seen women separated from children while in custody, children denied maintenance through corrupt practices, children sent for protective care forgotten by the law in Courts, legal and administrative reforms that were recommended for the protection of children lying forgotten, judges use remand as an option where  the consequences need attention, actions of a handful of professionals, including law enforcement officers and particularly lawyers, that constitute grave crimes against citizens in Courts.

At the same time we need to record and build on our successes, for instance the staggering amount of resources committed by the State and successive governments to support Samurdhi beneficiaries, recognizing their right not just to life, but to a life of dignity; and the exemplary manner in which ex-LTTE cadre have been treated and prepared for reinsertion in society. Surely, while that must have priority, we must ensure similar positive measures for so many other youngsters now being remanded for trivial offences or simply on suspicion, and thereby condemned to a life of crime.

We need to move to a holistic view of Human Rights, and for this a wide-ranging Bill of Rights, as envisaged by the President, is desirable.

In this context, we need to think not only of Western models, but look rather at something like the South African Bill of Rights, which affirms 'the democratic values of human dignity, equality and freedom'.

This writer favours, apart from the conventional considerations,  the recognition of environmental rights which secure ecologically sustainable development and use of natural resources while promoting economic and social development; explicit rights for women; social equality and rights against the actions of private persons; the right to choose one's trade, occupation or profession; the progressive realization of the right to have access to adequate housing; Child Rights of protection from maltreatment, neglect, abuse or degradation and the provision of state aided legal representation; the right to administrative action that is lawful with respect for due process.

Sri Lanka is poised for take off now, to give its citizens the prosperity they deserve after so many years of suffering, when different groups emphasized what they felt strongly about, and did not accept that we could all benefit from mutual cooperation, provided there was both mutual respect and a commitment to improving opportunities for all without deprivation of others. This needs to be enunciated in a manner that indicates too the responsibilities we all have to each other, and to the nation. In such a context it would be useful if the President's vision were laid down clearly, through the Bill of Rights he proposed, to make clear what our society will provide for its members, what our citizens should render to society.







Many people are concerned about radioactivity leaking from the Fukushima nuclear reactors, especially how the disaster will affect the food chain.

Most of this concern stems from a fear of the unknown or a lack of confidence in authorities and institutions that offer assurances. While we tend to side with the irrational, there are reasons to be wary.

Radiation is frightening, all the more so because most of us don't think about it much. By now, most have heard that one microsievert is a trivial risk – much less than the dose one gets on a flight to from New York to Los Angeles. But that's the head talking. If the airlines made everyone wear dosimeters on flights, there would be a mass panic. Consider a person receives about 30 to 40 microsieverts during a four-hour flight across the US.

It doesn't help that that the data presented to the public come in a variety of unfamiliar and strange sounding terms. In general, there are three measurements: the radiation absorbed, or grays; the biological effect of radiation absorbed, sieverts; and the activity of the source, becquerels. Despite impressive advances in nuclear research, doctors still don't have a complete understanding of how radiation causes cancer, though there is strong evidence that ionizing radiation damages DNA, leading to harmful mutations. But cancer has many causes, and a cancer caused by radiation looks no different from the same cancer caused by something else. For example, exposure to radiation – such as iodine-131 – can cause thyroid cancer. For an individual, there is no way to determine what caused a specific cancer, although we can make inferences from epidemiological studies of the population as a whole.

Even today, morbid debate continues about just how many people will die from cancer related to the 1986 Chernobyl accident. A common statistic is that Chernobyl led to fewer than 50 deaths, most workers of acute radiation poisoning in the immediate weeks following the accident. Eventually, the World Health Organisation expects 4,000 deaths. Some of the Chernobyl effects may be difficult to discern amidst poverty, alcoholism and other risk factors that afflict the Ukraine and Belarus.

Belarus and Ukraine did experience a spike in thyroid cancer – about 4,000 cases or up to five times the amount one might expect. Modern medicine fortunately saved the vast numbers of children, but nine still died.

So, if we are still trying to understand the effects of Chernobyl more than two few decades later, only fools would try to make early predictions about the Fukushima crisis. To date, the radiation release from Fukushima appears substantially lower than that at Chernobyl.

The Japanese government faces a difficult task, being honest and transparent with the people of Japan, while reassuring them and avoiding unnecessary panic. And from a policy perspective, Japan's and other governments must analyse the implications for food safety from observed levels of radiation at Fukushima and take steps accordingly.

So far, the problem is local. Miniscule amounts of radioactivity have been detected in the United States. In Japan, local contamination is also small, but there are instances of concern. The most famous case to date is that officials found levels of radioactivity on spinach grown near Fukushima, above limits set by the Japanese government. The government tried to reassure individuals by noting that an individual would have to eat several hundred kilogrammes of spinach to endanger his health. "Can you imagine eating one kilogram of spinach every day for one year?" State Secretary of Health Minister Yoko Komiyama asked reporters.

No, but people do eat more than two kilogrammes of food each day. When policymakers set radioactivity limits for food, they don't make a special exception for spinach. Rather radiation levels are set across the board, in order to manage an individual's cumulative dose. If everything a person ate was as radioactive as Fukushima spinach, diners would accumulate risk.

At some level, the risk from Fukushima is much smaller than many dangerous tasks we chose to do every day.  A chest X-ray results in a dose of about 0.1 microsieverts. A six-hour transatlantic flight is about five times that, plus 0.002 microsieverts from the machine that X-rays your baggage. And a chest CT scan is 7 microsieverts. Although these are all low doses, they add up. Airline workers and frequent flyers, for example, are popular subjects for epidemiological studies of cancer-mortality, while the FDA recently launched an initiative to discourage unnecessary CT scans. From this perspective, fixating on risk from Fukushima is irrational. At the same time, some people avoid certain risks – as is their right.

For those of us not living in close proximity to Fukushima, any dose received will be trivial compared to choices we make everyday. But this is not to say that we should be sanguine about the public-health impact of Fukushima. Rather, the problem here is more a public-policy challenge than a personal one. The doses may be much less than one receives on an airline flight, but flying is a choice. Many people who live in Japan have been and will continue to be exposed to small amounts of radiation without having made an informed choice, other than indirectly by living in a democratic society that relies on nuclear power.

Although the risk to society as a whole still looks to be small, the public concern in this sense is not irrational or unreasonable. Authorities have a serious responsibility to prevent or mitigate even small radiation risks. The risks of Fukushima may be small, but this is still serious business.

Jeffrey Lewis is director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Programme at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies(© 2011 Yale Center for the Study of







The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear crisis in Japan has underscored the dangers of storing highly radioactive spent fuel in pools of water that are susceptible to breaches from natural disasters and hydrogen explosions from accidents. The crisis should serve as a wake-up call for governments and industry to take action to reduce the risks of spent-fuel storage.

Unfortunately, spent-fuel storage has been "an afterthought," as Ernest Moniz, Director of the Energy Initiative at MIT, puts it. In dozens of countries, tens of thousands of tons of highly radioactive material has been kept in buildings that provide little of the usually rigorous protection surrounding radioactive material in reactors' cores. Pools have become overcrowded in many countries, owing to the lack of permanent repositories for nuclear waste. No country has opened such a repository, although Sweden has made significant progress in doing so. The hazards of pools for spent nuclear fuel have been known for many years, but little action has been taken to alleviate the risks. One notable exception has been Germany. About 25 years ago, the German government began requiring spent fuel to be well protected. The older spent fuel that has cooled for about five years is placed in hardened, dry storage casks, and the younger, more radioactive, and hotter spent fuel is cooled in pools of water surrounded by strong containment structures. These measures cost more money, but they afford much greater protection against accidents, disasters, and terrorist attacks.  Is it worth it?

A 2003 study, led by Robert Alvarez, a former official at the United States Department of Energy, estimated that a worse-case terrorist attack could drain cooling pools, resulting in spent fuel rods heating up and possibly combusting. That, in turn, would cause substantial amounts of radioactive material to be released if containment structures are breached, potentially resulting in an area of contamination greater than that caused by the Chernobyl accident in 1986. Despite this alarming conclusion, the study did not prompt the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission to order utilities to remove spent fuel from overcrowded pools at more than 100 US commercial reactors. It did, however, spur the preparation of a US National Academy of Sciences' report, which concluded that "successful terrorist attacks on spent fuel pools, though difficult, are possible." While the report did not recommend placement of older spent fuel into dry storage casks, it did advise the less expensive method of rearranging spent fuel in the pools so that hotter, newly discharged fuel would be surrounded by cooler, older spent fuel. Doing so would likely prevent a fire. The report also called for water-spray systems to fill up draining pools, but made this conditional on a cost-benefit analysis conducted by each plant.

Is reprocessing spent fuel the answer? While China, France, India, Japan, and Russia have favored reprocessing in order to recycle plutonium for new fuel, this has not solved the waste problem, because the resulting spent fuel is usually not further recycled. Instead, it is stored in spent-fuel pools. Recycling proponents want ultimately to build a fleet of fast neutron reactors that could consume the plutonium and other fissionable material. But these reactors have experienced safety problems and are more expensive to operate than current reactors. Use of plutonium fuels also increases the risk of nuclear-weapons proliferation. Several decades from now, reprocessing might offer a safe means of spent-fuel disposal. In the interim, the most promising method is to use dry storage casks, which, according to technical studies, provide up to 100 years of safe and secure storage. But industry has expressed concern that each storage cask costs more than $1 million, and that a typical plant's total costs thus could be tens of millions of dollars. The Alvarez study estimated a cost of $3-5 billion for the entire US reactor fleet, which is the largest in the world. This would be the major one-time cost. After that, the costs would be a few hundred million dollars annually.

To minimise this risk, casks should be developed that can easily be transferred to a secure interim storage facility while permanent repositories receive approval. We should not wait for the next Fukushima Daiichi to act on reducing the risks of spent fuel.

Charles D. Ferguson, a physicist and nuclear engineer, is the president of the Federation of American Scientists and the author of the forthcoming book "Nuclear Energy: What Everyone Needs to Know".





The death of a one-year old baby in Wellawaya as a result of drinking a 'soft drink' comes as a shock. Two more had been admitted to hospital after the consumption of the drink. Similar deaths have occurred just a month ago; soft drink poisoning.

As usual in this country no one had been pulled up. The authorities have placed the blame on hapless wayside vendors for keeping the soft drinks in the "hot sun."

Here we come to the pertinent question. Who is responsible? Obviously the soft drink manufacturers would say the obvious thing. Maybe they do use the approved ingredients, but how safe is the approved ingredient? Is it the manufacturer? The trader? Or the consumer (The parent)? The laissez-faire doctrine has a safe way out. Buyer beware. So did the authorities having also been quoted as saying, "trader kept the bottles in hot sun".

But we are ignoring some important issues here.

Sure enough, the traders should be regulated but has anybody questioned the ingredients that go into these heavily advertised gas and water mix? There are many things that go into the ingredients. But many are in codes--to be precise in a thing called E-Code. We wonder how many of our readers know what an E-Code is. Definitely it cannot be 'electronic code' to appear on food labels. It is a number system to identify artificial food additives. E apparently stands for Europe. In the first place we don't know if the manufacturer is honest to his label. Even then we do not know how many of the Sri Lankan consumers--particularly soft drink consumers--read through the label before drinking!

Nor do the situations of soft drink consumption be conducive for a read thru. So much for Consumer Safety.

Moving over most importantly, what is the regulation governing the inclusion of ingredients? In a tropical country, where sunlight and heat are abundant, how prudent is it to permit ingredients that break down into dangerous poisons when exposed to sunlight? Considering the massive market and turnover of soft drink bottles, is it possible to practically observe the storing instructions?

Look at this excerpt: This is regarding a VERY common preservative found in soft drinks. We would call it X. "X was never proven to be safe…Because X changes brain chemistry and breaks down into a witches' brew of toxins and tumour agents …"According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), X may cause health concerns if consumed in excess. (Do we have a meter somewhere in our body?) X poisoning may cause neurological symptoms such as headaches, migraines, dizziness, confusion and impaired memory function. It may also cause seizures and tremors, extreme sleepiness, limb numbness, facial pain and restless legs.

This is worse: "Because, under heat and through metabolism, X breaks down into some very dangerous CHEMICALS, including FORMALDEHYDE. Think about cases of diet soda… sitting in a hot warehouse or a single can sitting in your hot car. It's already broken down into dangerous chemicals by the time you drink it.

 "Ask yourself, are you really going to take a drop of FORMALDEHYDE with every can. Formaldehyde will DENATURE your organs as you live. It doesn't leave your system." 

This is another: "Concerns centre on the safety of E211, known as sodium benzoate, a preservative used for decades by the £74bn global carbonated drinks industry. Sodium benzoate derives from benzoic acid.

Sodium benzoate has already been the subject of concern about cancer because when mixed with the additive vitamin C in soft drinks, it causes benzene, a carcinogenic substance". A Food Standards Agency (UK) survey of benzene in drinks last year found high levels in four brands which were removed from sale. A review of sodium benzoate by the World Health Organisation in 2000 concluded that it was safe, but it noted that the available science supporting its safety was "limited". A British researcher, whose work has been funded by a government research council, said (2007) tests conducted by the US Food and Drug Administration were out of date.

The problem is that we are so behind, that most of our agencies just follow the FDA or FSA (UK). We can't blame them either because of the technology gap. But the irony is that there are so many drugs that have been initially approved by the FDA sorts but which had been banned later. 

The government has to make a firm stand on this from the point of manufacturing to make the nation a healthier one.

Why not promote the good old thambili?








One of my pet hates these days - and I have many - is rating agencies.

In the world of finance, which has largely been exposed over the last couple of years as an industry run by crooks, comic singers and charlatans, these guys really take the biscuit.

These guys charge financial institutions money to give them credit ratings and, for reasons beyond comprehension, financial institutions still give them money to suggest to lenders that they are a good bet for a loan.

These are the guys who told lenders that Northern Rock was safe as houses, Lehman Brothers was solid as a rock and you could be well assured by insurance giant AIG.

They seemed to fail to notice that all these institutions were technically bankrupt and that the subprime structured investment vehicles they had invested in were not worth the paper their promissory notes were printed on.

Now what they do for banks and other financial institutions is one thing but they also produce credit ratings on countries.

Most of them have been downgrading Bahrain of late because of the unrest and as a consequence they have then been downgrading most of the financial institutions based here.

The idea is that because of the political situation, Bahrain and its financial institutions are now a poorer credit risk than they were a couple of months ago.

This strikes me as complete nonsense.

Consider this. The latest Euro Money credit rating has Norway as the best bet if you want to get your money back from bonds while Mozambique is a bit of a doggy bet at the hundredth safest investment.

Bahrain comes a very credible 36th in global markets.

But here is what puzzles me. The US is in 15th place in credit worthiness while China is a bigger credit risk than Bahrain, down in 40th spot.

Now the last time I checked out economic statistics the US was massively in debt to the tune of trillions of dollars, most of which it owes to China. And China has probably the largest trade surplus on the planet.

So why is it that what is probably the fastest growing major economy is a bigger credit risk than a failing economy that is practically bankrupt?

Some risk analyst at a rating agency could probably explain this with a flurry of calculus. But quite clearly China is a far better investment than the US under any economic criteria.

Presumably the rating agencies take the view that US people are good upstanding citizens who will pay their debts while there remains something slightly shifty about Orientals.

The bottom line is, I suppose, that the US is a good bet because nobody expects the US to ever default given that if it ever did that the entire global economy would collapse and all bets would be off on any kind of debt.

Sovereign debt ratings strike me as an excuse by financiers to make weaker economies pay more money for loans because they can and have pretty well nothing to do with the possibilities of countries defaulting on debt.

Countries by and large do not default. Which, in my opinion, is a shame.

They get out of their problems by letting their currencies go into freefall, thus reducing the real wealth of everyone in their economy.

Just the other day Ireland's credit rating was reduced from Baa1 to Baa3 by Moody's Investor Services. That is pretty close to junk bond ratings and means that the country will have to pay even higher rates to borrow on global markets.

Moody's said that Ireland may now need to take further austerity measures.

The problem for Ireland is that it can't get round the problem by seeing its currency fall because it is a member of the euro.

So the money men argue that it should tighten its belt and pay high interest rates to borrow money so that it can bail out banks and pay off debts.

I was talking to a very senior banker the other day who described what is happening in the global financial system at the moment as the biggest transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich at any time in history.

What we are seeing are the people who brought down the financial system benefiting while the rest of us have to pay for it.

Small businesses are going bust, people are losing their homes and jobs, and the rich just seem to be getting richer and richer.

Banks that borrowed more money than you could shake a stick at and then invested it in high-return questionable financial instruments are being bailed out while businesses that make a real contribution to the real economy are being allowed to go to the wall and it is time someone put a stop to it.

It has got so bad that in Ireland even the politicians have taken a pay cut to help finance the financiers.

I have some advice for the new Taoiseach Enda Kenny and the politicians in Portugal, Greece and elsewhere.

When people turn up demanding the repayment of government bonds offer them some of the worthless structured investment vehicles that brought down much of the Western financial system. But offer them at the price they were trading at in 2007 when the same people thought they were marvellous.

Dumb investment

About the time I left the UK to move to the Middle East, investment in property was all the rage with the Labour government encouraging people to invest in buy to let properties.

Exactly why Labour should have been offering tax breaks to people to become landlords is beyond me and was certainly not in the 1997 manifesto which I actually took the time to read.

The rent to buy market turned out to be a pretty dumb investment because the cost and hassle of letting and collecting rent gave a lower return on capital than a building society account.

The only real positive aspect was the fact that the investor should have benefited from rising property prices and achieve capital appreciation.

I am at a loss to why Labour was fiddling the tax rules to encouraging property price inflation, but they were.

But as we all know property prices came down with a bit of a jolt a few years ago and there are now a lot of unhappy second home owners.

Just the other day I received an e-mail encouraging me to be a rent to buy investor in London.

It offered me the opportunity to achieve a five-star lifestyle by buying a one-bedroom flat in Ealing, London.

It's in a development called Dickens Yard and is apparently a snip at £314,950 (BD193,834) because you can rent it out for £1,410 (BD868) a month.

Now even in these times of low interest rates that does not strike me as much of a return on capital.

But what I find breathtaking about this is the idea that why anyone with £314,950 would want to live in a one-bedroom flat in Ealing.

Actually I am surprised that anyone would want to live in Ealing in the first place.

A house, at the end of the day is just bricks and mortar and I would want an awful lot of bricks and mortar for that kind of cash.

But it appears that when people decide to buy property any idea of value goes out the window.

Why bother living in Ealing when you can pick up a nice pad in Knightsbridge.

A couple of flats that are being gobbled together at One Hyde Park have just been sold for £136 million.

We are only talking 25,000 square feet here so its no one-bedroom affair but it still seems a bit pricey to me.

For that kind of money you could buy Rangers and Celtic and still have enough petty cash left over to purchase Park Thistle and buy enough players to make them into Champions League contenders.

- Arthur Macdonald








WHILE much of what has come to be known as "the Arab Spring" remains a work in progress, there can be no doubt that a new dynamic has been unleashed across the region - one that will have a profound impact as it continues to play out in the years to come.

The developments that have unfolded since Tunisia have all been generated internally, putting to rest the patronising mythology of the neo-conservatives and their ilk, who had long maintained that change could only come to the Arab world if induced by external (that is, Western) pressure. This was the view, for example, promulgated by Bernard Lewis, who once wrote that in the past change had only occurred in the "stagnant Middle East" when it had been "initiated by past European rulers". This theme was echoed more recently by Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute when she argued that if change were to come to the contemporary Arab world, "the West must hold open the door" and apply needed "outside pressure".

For some in the Bush administration, that was to be the role of the Iraq war. As it was envisioned, the US-led invasion would not only topple the dictator ushering in a new democracy, it would also shock and shake up the region. They projected that a "new order" would be born - a view supported by The New York Times' Tom Friedman who had long described the Arab world as an "ossified region" and who, therefore, congratulated the Bush administration for using the war to blast "a hole in the wall of Arab autocracy". And it was this same mind-set that caused then Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice to wax poetic about the "passing of old orders" in the aftermath of the war.

Neo-conservatives similarly projected that Israel's punishing blows against Gaza and Lebanon would play a transformative role, leading Rice to cavalierly dismiss the horrible devastation left in the wake of Israel's 2006 onslaught in Lebanon as "the birth pangs of a new Middle East".

These views, of course, were not only profoundly insensitive, they were dead wrong. Contrary to the Bush administration's ideologically inspired projections, the invasion and occupation of Iraq and Israel's war on its neighbours did not lead to democracy or even to progressive change. Instead, what was left in the wake of each of these conflicts was death and destruction, bitterness and suffering, and a deepened sectarian divide, coupled with a spreading of extremist fervour and intensified regional tension. Arab populations became roiled, Arab governments that had been making even modest moves towards change, pulled back and, overall, the region became more repressive and less free.

The movements that started in Tunisia and spread to Egypt and beyond, on the other hand, are far more deserving of the "birth pangs" designation. They have been inspirational - creating a new pride amongst publics who had long felt deflated and powerless to make change. They have been contagious - with tactics and slogans being copied or adapted to local settings, despite each country's unique characteristics. And they have been purely Arab and, it bears repeating, self-generated.

The story is far from over. Egypt and Tunisia remain unfinished, while the movements for change in Yemen and Syria have been frustrated by obstinacy and miscalculation. And Libya, for its part, has taken a detour - with the role of Nato now fundamentally altering the course of this revolt, turning it into something quite different than "the Arab Spring". But even in this unsettled and uncertain state, there is a new spirit in evidence across the region. Even in governments where there is no demand for change, the dynamic of this region-wide revolt can be felt. Arabs have been inspired and imbued with a new sense of pride, governments will listen more carefully to citizen needs, and change will occur.

The path forward will have its obstacles and there will be setbacks, but the journey will continue. And when the history of this seminal period is written what will be noted is that the movements that launched it all and carried it through were started by Arabs, who took steps by themselves to create their own futures.









Pan-Arab broadcasters who played a key role reporting Arab uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt are helping dynastic rulers police the gates of the Persian Gulf to stop the revolts from spreading on their patch, analysts say. 


Qatar-based Al Jazeera, the leading Arabic language network, was pivotal in keeping up momentum during protests that toppled Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak, both entrenched rulers who were no friends of Qatar's ruling Al Thani dynasty. 

When Al Jazeera's cameras turned to Yemen, it was as though its guns were trained on the next target in an uprising longtime Arab leaders were convinced was of the channel's making. 

Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, whose impoverished country of 23 million is not a member of the affluent Persian Gulf Arab club, accused Al Jazeera of running an "operations room to burn the Arab nation." His government has revoked the Al Jazeera correspondents' licenses over its coverage in Yemen. 

For viewers watching protests spread across the region, the excitement stopped abruptly in Bahrain. Scant coverage was given to protests in the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council member and to the ensuing crackdown by its Sunni rulers, who called in Saudi and Emirati troops in March under a regional defense pact. 

Protests in Oman and Saudi Arabia have also received scant attention in recent months. 

"Bahrain does not exist as far as Al Jazeera is concerned, and they have avoided inviting Bahraini or Omani or Saudi critics of those regimes," said As'ad AbuKhalil, politics professor at California State University. 

"Most glaringly, Al Jazeera does not allow one view that is critical of Bahraini repression to appear on the air. The PGCC has closed ranks and Qatar may be rewarded with the coveted post of secretary-general of the Arab League." 

Despite a wealth of material, there were no stirring montages featuring comments by protesters or scenes of violence against activists in Bahrain. Al Jazeera has produced such segments to accompany Egyptian and Tunisian coverage. 

The threat posed by Bahrain's protests was closer to home. Their success would have set a precedent for broader public participation in a region ruled by Sunni dynasties. More alarming for those dynasties, it would have given more power to Bahrain's majority Shias, distrusted by Sunni rulers who fear the influence of Shias in the region. 

From an early stage, Al Jazeera framed the movements in Tunisia, Egypt and then Yemen as "revolutions" and subverted government bans on its coverage by inviting viewers to send in images captured on mobile phones to a special address. 

"Despite being banned in Egypt, Al Jazeera went to great lengths to provide non-stop live coverage of events. It did not do that in Bahrain," said political analyst Ghanem Nuseibeh. 

"Unless it can address concerns about its coverage of Bahrain, Al Jazeera will suffer reputation damage." 

Al Jazeera acknowledged "challenging terrain" in Bahrain. 

"There has been a particularly heavy news agenda in recent months, with uprisings taking place simultaneously in multiple countries across the Arab region," a spokesman said. 

"Editorial priorities are weighed on a number of factors at any given moment. All news organizations have faced these pressures, but despite this and the challenging terrain in Bahrain, we have covered events in the country extensively." 

Diplomatic tool 

Al Jazeera has won plaudits for revolutionizing Arab media since 1996, but observers have seen coverage fluctuate on some issues depending on the whims of Qatar's rulers. 

A major oil and gas power, Qatar employs vast resources to back Al Jazeera, whose English-language sister channel has not shown the same reserve when it comes to the Persian Gulf states. 

A U.S. diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks in December said U.S. diplomats saw Al Jazeera, owned by the state Qatar Media Corporation, as a bargaining tool in its foreign policy. 

Qatar has launched a foreign policy drive over Libya. It has recognized the rebels as Libya's legitimate authority and joined the West's airstrikes on the forces of Muammar Gaddafi -- a veteran Arab ruler long on bad terms with his Persian Gulf peers. 

Al Jazeera has followed with heavy coverage of Libya. 

Through months of unrest, Saudi-owned Al Arabiya has been conservative, reflecting the shock in Riyadh at the fate of longtime allies whom it felt Washington should have defended.

Saudi Arabia gave sanctuary to Ben Ali after he fled on January 14. On Egypt, whose ruler quit on February 11, Al Arabiya long avoided the word "revolution" in favor of "the change." 

Presenter Hafez al-Mirazi's talk show "Studio Cairo" was nixed in February after he said on air he would host a discussion of Persian Gulf political reform in his next show. 

"I said there was no excuse for anyone at Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya to discuss Egypt while not being able to talk about the Emir of Qatar or Qatari politics or King Abdullah and Saudi politics," Mirazi said after the nightly show was dropped. 

But in Libya, Al Arabiya appeared to finally find an Arab revolution it liked, throwing itself into the coverage with gusto. It has also been gung-ho in covering Syria, which, like Libya, has been on bad terms with Riyadh. 

Persian Gulf Arabs "different" 

Analysts say Saudi Arabia persuaded its neighbors that any concessions by Bahrain's rulers would have repercussions for all Persian Gulf states, including Qatar, though it has a tiny population of only 260,000 nationals among a 1.7 million total.

"There has been fantastic pressure from Saudi Arabia on Qatar to join in (the Persian Gulf military operation) in Bahrain, and at least to rein in Al Jazeera," said a London-based analyst who did not want to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue. 

Qatar and Saudi Arabia -- rivals for leadership roles in the Persian Gulf -- ended years of frosty ties in 2007. The result was the end of any serious discussion of Saudi politics on Al Jazeera. 

The channel and its leading competitor, the Saudi-owned Al Arabiya, operate in a crowded news market that includes Hezbollah's Al Manar, BBC Arabic, France 24, Iran's Al Alam and Egyptian channels, catering to some 300 million Arabic speakers. 

"Al Jazeera is not much different to Al Arabiya when it comes to Bahrain -- both are tongue-tied by the Saudi military intervention," said Ayman Ali, a commentator in the Persian Gulf press. 

(Source: Reuters 









The "dawn chorus" came in on time, salvos of missiles crashing down with shattering noise, burning buildings, killing and maiming people. It was the start of another day in Misrata, the city whose fate may decide the military outcome of this brutal civil war. 


The besieged and battered bastion has become Libya's Stalingrad. The fall of Misrata would not only be a huge symbolic and psychological triumph for Muammar Gaddafi, but also end significant opposition to his rule in the west of the country. 

It is this defiance and determination only 150 miles from where he sits in Tripoli that seem to enrage the dictator of Libya. The daily rocket and artillery attacks are vengeful and often indiscriminate, destroying homes and killing and maiming civilians. More than 200 attacks have been launched in the past 48 hours, killing 40 people and injuring 105 others. 

Even by the standards of Misrata, the bombardment at the end of the week was particularly brutal. Missiles landed in residential areas, on a school, and in a street on which a queue outside a bakery had formed. Some people waiting for bread escaped the initial onslaught and fled to a garage that promised protection. But the next round hit the entrance, starting a fire from which they could not escape. Among those to die was a mother aged 33 and her two daughters, both under 10. 

The funerals took place at a children's playground that had become the makeshift cemetery of the Ghasr Ahmed district where most of the fatalities had taken place. (The official graveyard had become too dangerous because of sniper fire.) Ahmed Wahid Nesri was going there to bury his son, Amar. The 14-year-old had been running home when he was cut down by flying shrapnel. "His body had been cut so badly. I hope it ended quickly, otherwise there would have been too much pain," he said. "I could not let his mother see that. I do not know how many others will end up like this. How much longer will this go on?" 

There is no respite in Col Gaddafi's attempts to bring Misrata to heel. Time after time, his troops' try to cut the city's only lifeline, its access to the sea, are repulsed in fierce street fighting. There is always the fear that, with their superior numbers, the regime's forces could eventually break through and seize the port complex. But the revolutionaries undoubtedly benefit from being in an urban terrain they know well. And, unlike the east of the country, where the inept rebel forces have fled from loyalist fire, the Misrata fighters are tough, resilient and organized. 

Members of the resistance here recount a recent example of attempted help from Benghazi in the east. A group of 30 Shabaab volunteer fighters from the capital of "Free Libya" had arrived to show the locals how to carry out their campaign. They were back home within 48 hours of their first experience of insurrection, Misrata-style. 

The departure took place after a visit to Tripoli Street, which has become a focal point of clashes. Part of the long thoroughfare is a snipers' alley for the regime where civilians had been shot before the area became deserted. Other stretches are a free-fire zone for both sides, with damaged buildings changing hands by the hour. Stocks still remain behind the broken frontage of some shops, including a sports store with Manchester United and Chelsea banners. 

One fighter, Ashraf Ibrahimi, was at pains to stress the revolutionaries' gratitude for NATO air strikes. "But we really need more. This is not an equal contest. It is in the interest of the West that Misrata stay alive. Gaddafi says the revolution is Al-Qaeda, which is nonsense. In Misrata, we have the highest literacy rate in the country. Our arguments here are whether we have an American- or European-style system once we are a democracy." 

Three separate blasts a little to the south were followed by a convoy: one of Misrata's three ambulances and two cars being used for emergency rescues was going to a home hit in a missile strike. The injured were taken to a hospital already full from previous attacks. Dr. Abdul-Baset Hussein's home, where I had stayed on arriving in the city, had been badly damaged in another missile attack, forcing him to move his family. Looking at the new arrivals on stretchers, he shook his head. "We really need more of everything. We don't have anything like enough ventilators. There are patients who would recover in any hospital with decent facilities. Here we cannot save them. For a doctor and a human being, that is a terrible thing to see. You know there is a wider aspect to this. These daily attacks are deliberate; it is a test of just how much pressure a society can sustain, how many losses we can take. Gaddafi means to break us, so this squeeze will continue." 

The importance the regime attaches to capturing Misrata is reflected in the extent of the damage it is prepared to inflict. Western warplanes repeatedly hit heavy guns, but replacements keep coming. Losses in manpower appear to be more difficult to replenish for Col Gaddafi's army. Those killed and captured by rebel fighters are getting younger. Seventeen-year-old Abdurahaman Abu Salem was a prisoner at a local hospital after surgery for stomach wounds. He had been shot, he claimed, by one of his own officers after refusing to take part in an advance. 

The account may or may not be true, delivered as it was by a frightened young man under guard. But the terror he felt at the front line was real enough. "I thought I was in hell. There was so much firing. There were people falling, blood everywhere. I did not think I would live." His next words were whispered: "I haven't seen my family for a long time. I don't know if I will see them again. I wish all this fighting would end." 

(Source: The Independent) 

Photo: A Libyan rebel fighter in Misrata market on Friday. The roof has been peppered by bullets and the shops are all closed. 








After the U.S. came in from the West and the Russians from the East, Germany was split. Hitler's top scientists were covertly brought back to the States under an operation known as Paperclip. The U.S. government wanted abstract knowledge from Hitler's scientists for the benefit of the U.S. military and the security of the nation. Another major concern was to capture the Germans from the Soviets who would definitely make use of the German scientists. Many of these scientists studied brainwashing and torture and several were prosecuted as war criminals during the Nuremberg Trials. 


The U.S. government started a program called MK-ULTRA which originated with the Nazis in Germany during Hitler's reign. MK-ULTRA would be the continuation of the Nazi's work along with the Americans. This program was used for experiments on hundreds of American and Canadian citizens without approval. 

The program began as early as the 1950s and continued through the late 1960s. Some of the goals of project MK-ULTRA were to utilize methodologies to manipulate individual mental states and alter brain functions, including the surreptitious administration of drugs and other chemicals, sensory deprivation, isolation, and verbal and sexual abuse. This was an illegal and inhumane CIA human research program in its essence. 

Now with the torture cases turning up in Guantanamo Bay and other stories from the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, people may ask how the U.S. could do such inhumane experiments of physical and psychological torture to human beings. Many would not know that more extreme types of torture were already being practiced back home in the States on U.S. citizens in the 1950s and on. Many U.S. government projects began from Operation Paperclip. As Paperclip was to recruit Nazi scientists and have them work for the U.S. government. 

In those days it was the time of the Cold War, and the U.S. wanted to be able to respond to the Soviet, Chinese and North Korean use of mind control as a weapon. The CIA was particularly interested in being able to manipulate foreign leaders with such techniques. Furthermore, the CIA later invented several schemes to drug Cuban leader Fidel Castro. Many historians claim one of the main goals was to create a Manchurian Candidate who is one that is brainwashed into unknowingly becoming an assassin. At the time, much of the experiments were at a more primitive level without the modern implantable chips, which can now be used inside bodies. 

Drugs played a large role in tinkering with the patients. Chemical, biological and radiological means were also investigated for mind control. LSD experiments began with a host of others in April, 1953. LSD was given without consent to CIA workers, military personnel, government agents, doctors, mentally ill patients and prostitutes. One experiment was to connect a barbiturate IV into one arm and an amphetamine IV into the other. 

The barbiturates were injected first, and as soon as the person appeared sedated or almost asleep, the amphetamines were injected. The person would babble incoherently and it was at times possible to ask questions and get useful answers. 

Other drugs used during experiments included heroin, morphine, MDMA, mescaline, psilocybin, scopolamine, marijuana, alcohol, sodium pentothal, and ergine. Some of the Canadian MK-ULTRA experiments left people with permanent damage. Psychiatrist Donald E. Cameron worked every week at the Allan Memorial Institute of McGill University. 

Many of the patients suffered from mild depression excluding some schizophrenic patients he had been interested in correcting by erasing existing memories and reprogramming the psyche. His techniques included using LSD, experimenting with paralytic drugs and electroconvulsive therapy at thirty to forty times the normal power. 

Cameron was the inventor of the "psychic driving" psychiatric procedure, which was believed by Cameron to be able to break down the subject's personality and create a new one. He would put patients into drug-induced comas for weeks at a time (up to three months in one case) while playing sampled loops of noise or simple statements in repetition. 

The result of Cameron experiments for MK-ULTRA left patients who suffered from mild treatable depression with amnesia, incontinence, forgetting how to talk, forgetting their parents and also believing that their interrogators were their parents. 

MK-ULTRA also used many American children, children from Mexico and South America over a period of about forty years starting in 1948. Doctors and agents who administered it wanted to obtain control over the minds of these children to create super-agents; thereafter, not even remembering the missions they were programmed to carry out because of hypnotically induced amnesia. This was somehow removed by their controllers and installed back at will. 

The children were trained as sex agents with the purpose of blackmailing prominent politicians, businessmen and educators. A lot of films were made and some of the centers where children were used as sex agents got out of control and turned into CIA-operated sex rings. Some children were considered expendable and simply murdered. 

A number of people who were abused by these experiments and made it out went to therapy and other professionals to share their stories. It was reported that the CIA controllers sometimes dressed up in satanic costumes to further traumatize the children, also providing a cover so the children would not be believed if they talked. 

It appeared that some of the main objective of all the different projects that bloomed out of Paperclip was to completely annihilate a child or adult's memory and self-identity in order to reprogram the patient to do the bidding of the CIA whether this meant creating a sex slave, an assassin or whatever. Many were exposed to physical and psychological torture, others went insane, and several even died. 

Now moving into the 21st century, the CIA is still involved in mind control but they have technology to help them. Drugs, psychological and physical torture is not as necessary as it was in the past to mentally destroy an innocent person. 

The Washington Post on 24 November 2010 reported, "If military veterans have their way in a California lawsuit, the spy agency's quest to turn humans into robot-like assassins via electrodes planted in their brains will get far more exposure than the drugs the CIA tested on the subjects ranging from soldiers to unwitting bar patrons and the clients of prostitutes." 

It's not just science fiction or the imaginings of the mentally ill. In 1961, a top CIA scientist reported in an internal memo that the feasibility of remote control of activities in several species of animals has been demonstrated, the article said. 

The Signals Intelligence mission of the NSA (National Security Agency) has evolved into a program of decoding EMF waves in the environment for wirelessly tapping into computers and tracking persons with the electrical currents in their bodies. Signals Intelligence is based on the fact that everything in the environment with an electric current in it has a magnetic field around it which gives off EMF waves. 

Digital Angel and VeriChip (verification) are two companies that sell implantable RFID (radio frequency identification) microchips which can be implanted in the body with a syringe. 

This technology is primarily used for tracking children who are kidnapped or locating a person that is mentally ill. Many U.S. soldiers in Iraq had RFID chips implanted in case they were taken hostage. Technology is a double-edged sword and can be used for good or bad. 

With the increase of gunmen taking out civilians in malls and schools, we have to consider the possibility of mind control. The government is also toying with ELF (Extremely Low Frequency) transmissions. ELF development for military purposes has shown to cause at close range aberrations in the thought processes of human beings, such as hallucinations, disordered thought, confusion, aggression, depression, anger, and hopelessness. 

As technology accelerates at exponential speeds, the mass public is being left in the dark regarding what type of capabilities the military and government have. Some of this technology is referred to as exotic technologies. It is technologies that we do not know exist. The most modern technologies being used for mind control by the CIA are of course classified. Years later, after people take out lawsuits for family members or friends' deaths and psychological illnesses, we may have more information. In addition, if they were doing those experiments back in the 50's, we can only imagine what monstrosities the CIA and their mad scientists are inflicting on humans now. 

(Source: Press TV) 





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