Google Analytics

Amazon Contextual Product Ads

Thursday, April 21, 2011

EDITORIAL 21.04.11

Please contact the list owner of subscription and unsubscription at: editorial@samarth.co.in 

media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya

 

Editorial

month april 21, edition 000812, csollected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul

 

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

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

 

THE PIONEER

  1. MOCKERY OF COURTS
  2. WEALTH OUT OF WATER
  3. STRATEGISING ON INDIAN OCEAN - CHANDAN MITRA
  4. LARGER REFORM PROCESS IS REQUIRED - SAM PITRODA
  5. A SERIOUS EDUCATION CRISIS IN PAKISTAN, OCCUPIED TERRITORY - REBECCA WINTHROP
  6. BROTHERHOOD TO THE FORE - HAMZA HENDAWI

THE TIMES OF INDIA

  1. WASTE OF ENERGY
  2. DELIVER THE GOODS
  3. WHAT AFTER THE JASMINE FADES? - RANJAN ROY
  4. PLAY HARD, LOOK GOOD
  5. AN ARBITRARY DECISION - AJAY VAISHNAV

HINDUSTAN TIMES

  1. COOKING UP A MONSTER
  2. GOT IT, FLAUNT IT!
  3. SET THE RECORD STRAIGHT - KARAN SINGH
  4. THERE'S SPACE FOR ALL - KARAN SINGH
  5. FROM THE OTHER SIDE - SUMIT MITRA

THE INDIAN EXPRESS

  1. LOVE AND HONOUR
  2. APPLE SPY
  3. RATING OUR RESERVES
  4. WHOSE BILL IS IT ANYWAY? - SANDEEP DIKSHIT
  5. HOW THE TRIP HAS CHANGED - ALIA ALLANA
  6. IN SEARCH OF CIVIL SOCIETY - DILIP BOBB
  7. WHOSE HAZARE? - MANOJ C G  
  8. THE MADE-FOR-TV REVOLUTION - SHAILAJA BAJPAI
  9. AI WEIWEI, DANGEROUS ARTIST - SALMAN RUSHDIE

THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

  1. INDIA INC'S WAKE-UP CALL
  2. DRILLING TROUBLE
  3. STILL IN THE DANGER ZONE - MOHAMED A EL-ERIAN
  4. IT'S RAINING FALSE PROPHETS - HREEKANT SAMBRANI

THE HINDU

  1. HALT WORK AT JAITAPUR
  2. PSLV NOTCHES UP ANOTHER SUCCESS
  3. BRIBES: A SMALL BUT RADICAL IDEA  - P. SAINATH
  4. HYDERABAD A U.S. VISA FRAUD HUB  - A. SRIVATHSAN
  5. 'GENUINE BUT FRAUDULENT'  - A. SRIVATHSAN  
  6. NOT SO 'CULTURAL'  - A. SRIVATHSAN
  7. CONSTITUTIONAL CONTROLS CHECK RADICAL HINDUTVA, SAYS U.S DIPLOMAT   - KATYAYANI MURTI
  8. 'THE KREMLIN ON THE JUMNA'  - HASAN SUROOR
  9. VATICAN WORRIES ABOUT CATHOLICS IN PAKISTAN  - KATYAYANI MURTI

THE ASIAN AGE

  1. SC 'KHAP' DIRECTIVE TO OFFICIALS WELCOME
  2. SECRETS AND SPIES - SRINATH RAGHAVAN
  3. HAZAAR QUESTIONS FOR HAZARE - SIDHARTH BHATIA

DAILY EXCELSIOR

  1. PARALLEL KASHMIR PEACE INACTIVE
  2. TEA CUP DIPLOMACY
  3. CENSUS 2011METROS NO GOOD FOR HABITATION - DR. ASHWANI MAHAJAN
  4. HEALTHCARE: FROM GOOD TO EXCEPTIONAL GOVERNANCE  - BY DR. SYED AMIN TABISH
  5. SAVE HERITAGE SAVE MUBARAK MANDI  - BY ANIL PABA

THE TRIBUNE

  1. ONUS ON SARKAR
  2. RELIEF OVER RAIN
  3. PULITZER FOR MUKHERJEE
  4. BANNING OF BOOKS - BY JUSTICE RAJINDAR SACHAR (RETD)
  5. ON WRITING A BESTSELLER - BY HARISH DHILLON
  6. PLUGGING SEX-TEST POLICY LOOPHOLES - SAKET KUMAR

MUMBAI MIRROR

  1. REBEL, ROMANTIC, RUNAWAY

BUSINESS STANDARD

  1. NEW TRADE WINDS
  2. AMERICA'S POLITICAL DEFICIT
  3. THE CRISIS OF GOVERNANCE - NITIN DESAI
  4. SHOPPING ANY TIME, ANYWHERE - ARVIND SINGHAL
  5. EXIT, PURSUED BY BUREAUCRACY - BARUN ROY
  6. CHRONICLE OF DEATHS FORETOLD - INDICUS ANALYTICS

THE ECONOMIC TIMES

  1. IT POURS
  2. ROOM TO GROW
  3. EVIL TWINS?
  4. JUST A MID-CYCLE SLOWDOWN
  5. RISE AND FALL OF THE SOVIET UNION REVISITED  - RAJIV JAYARAM
  6. ANGELS TO CAST THE FIRST STONE?  - T K ARUN

BUSINESS LINE

  1. MONSOON HOPES
  2. NORMS FOR JOBS FOR RELATIVES - MOHAN R. LAVI
  3. BREATHER FOR INDEPENDENT, NON-EXECUTIVE DIRECTORS  - SATYAVATI BERERA PANKAJ TEWARI
  4. QUESTION MARK OVER BOP POSITION - R. K. PATTNAIK

DECCAN CHRONICAL

  1. SC 'KHAP' DIRECTIVE TO OFFICIALS WELCOME
  2. SECRETS AND SPIES
  3. STRIPPED OF DIGNITY IN ORDER TO TRAVEL
  4. CAUGHT IN THE CD WARP
  5. YOU HAPPY, ALL HAPPY
  6. HAZAAR QUESTIONS FOR HAZARE

THE STATESMAN

  1. 'UNCIVILIZED SAVAGES'
  2. MANIPUR AMBUSH
  3. SKIRTS OR SHORTS
  4. A BILL ON THE ANVIL - NK SINGH
  5. PAK, BANGLA STILL STAND APART  
  6. CROWNING GLORY - AC TULI
  7. 100 YEARS AGO TODAY

THE TELEGRAPH

  1. GLASS HOUSE
  2. JUST A COVER
  3. TRAVAILS OF WEST BENGAL
  4. GLOBAL WINDOWS  - SHIBASHIS CHATTERJEE
  5. SOLDIER, SAILOR, RICH MAN, THIEF  - JAYAL
  6. DON'T WAIT TOO LONG  - DEBAMITRA MITRA

DECCAN HERALD

  1. HOPEFUL SIGNS
  2. GROWING GAP
  3. FOR WHOSE BENEFIT? -  BY BHAMY V SHENOY
  4. LESS SUPPORT FOR DEATH PENALTY IN NORTH AFRICA  - BY AMOR BOUBAKRI
  5. GIVE ME THOSE SEA GULLS  - BY SAVITHA KARTHIK

HAARTEZ

  1. REACH A DEAL ON SHALIT
  2. LAST CHANCE - BY ARI SHAVIT
  3. THE RIGHT MUST BEGIN TO GOVERN  - BY GIDEON LEVY
  4. POST-MODERN RACISM  - BY DMITRY SHUMSKY
  5. A NONEDUCATIONAL HAGGADAH  - BY NERI LIVNEH

THE NEWYORK TIMES

  1. HOW NOT TO PLAN FOR THE FUTURE
  2. 77 CENTS ON THE DOLLAR ISN'T FAIR
  3. A GOOD LAW THAT'S WORKING
  4. STUMBLING INTO BAD BEHAVIOR - BY MAX H. BAZERMAN AND ANN E. TENBRUNSEL
  5. THE REVOLUTION'S MISSING PEACE - BY ABDULLAH GUL
  6. TIME FOR PLAN B

HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

  1. FROM THE BOSPHORUS: STRAIGHT - UPHOLDING DEMOCRATIC LEGITIMACY
  2. A RE-POSITIONED TURKEY - RICHARD REID
  3. DID NOBODY SEE THE ACCIDENT COMING? - SEDAT ERGİN
  4. DARK DAYS FOR FREEDOM IN TURKEY AND AZERBAIJAN - ELDAR MAMEDOV
  5. CELEBRATING THE HOLY BIRTH WEEK IN THE SCHOOLS OF A SECULAR COUNTRY - AHMET İNSEL
  6. ERDOĞAN SHOULD STEP IN FOR THIS MATTER - MEHMET ALİ BİRAND
  7. AN OUTDATED INSTITUTION - ERSU ABLAK
  8. AN ANSWER - YUSUF KANLI

THE NEWS

  1. 'A NATIONAL
  2. TIES THAT BIND
  3. AT HOME ABROAD
  4. THE ARMY AND THE CONSTITUTION  - IKRAM SEHGAL
  5. THIS LIBERALISM WON'T WORK - AMIR HUSSAIN NIHAL
  6. FINDING A REVOLUTIONARY SOLUTION  - KAMILA HYAT
  7. THE WAR COMPLEX  - TOM TURNIPSEED
  8. A CULTURE LACKING BEAUTY AND REASON   - AMIN JAN NAIM
  9. THE ARAB STREET VERSUS THE ARAB ELITE  - ASHRAF JEHANGIR QAZI

PAKISTAN OBSERVER

  1. EXPANDING COALITION AND CHALLENGES AHEAD
  2. PUBLIC OFFICES FOR DUAL NATIONALITY HOLDERS
  3. OF SACRED AND OTHER BOVINES! - KHALID SALEEM
  4. IQBAL'S HOPES AND DREAMS - JAVED ZIA
  5. JAPAN: ROAD TO RECOVERY & REBIRTH - NAOTO KAN
  6. SAY FAREWELL TO THE US - ALI SUKHANVER
  7. PANACEA FOR INDONESIA'S TROUBLES - T M LUTHFI YAZID

THE AUSTRALIYAN

  1. CONGRESS FLAWED FROM THE START
  2. SCIENCE, POLITICS AND CERTAINTY
  3. A PRAYER FOR TREASURER TO LIFT BUDGET FROM ITS KNEES

THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

  1. A JOYLESS BOOM
  2. BOOM NOT QUITE WHAT IT USED TO BE
  3. ONE BATTLE HAS BEEN WON. THE WAR CONTINUES

THE GUARDIAN

  1. SYRIA: STATES OF EMERGENCY
  2. NHS PLANS: IN THE WAITING ROOM
  3. IN PRAISE OF: A LORDS MORATORIUM

THE JAPAN TIMES

  1. THE LIBYAN 'WEDGE' IN NATO
  2. GAS: THE RISING STAR OF ENGERY
  3. FUKUSHIMA NO. 1 AND DERIVATIVE MELTDOWNS - BY MARK ROE

THE JAKARTA POST

  1. WHEN PROSECUTION BECOMES PERSECUTION
  2. JULIA SURYAKUSUMA
  3. JAPAN'S COMMITMENT TO ASEAN - TAKIO YAMADA
  4. GREENING JAKARTA IS POSSIBLE - NIRWONO JOGA

DAILY MIRROR

  1. ELUSIVE DEVELOPMENT GOALS
  2. THE UN EXPERTS REPORT – SOME FOOD FOR THOUGHT  - PROF. RAJIVA WIJESINHA REPLIES
  3. WHAT IS THE NEED OF THE HOUR?
  4. THE RADICAL MUST BE WARY OF 'LOGIC'
  5. GET READY FOR FASTING

TEHRAN TIMES

  1. IRAQ'S POSSIBLE EXIT FROM ARAB LEAGUE - BY HASSAN HANIZADEH

 

**************************************

******************************************************************************************

THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

MOCKERY OF COURTS

TEESTA SETALVAD IS ACCUSED OF PERJURY


An affidavit filed by a prime witness in the Best Bakery case stating that she was "manipulated" and "coerced" by self-appointed and sanctimonious human rights advocate Teesta Setalvad, that has recently come to the fore, only adds to the mounting evidence that the activist used the violence that followed the carnage at Godhra in 2002 as a platform to push her dual agenda of defaming Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and his Government while vilifying Hindus at large. Furthermore, it also makes clear the extent to which Ms Setalvad has subverted the country's justice system, making a mockery of our courts and implicating innocent persons for her own vested interests. All this and more has been revealed by the affidavit filed by Sheikh Yasmeen Banu whose eyewitness account was an important element that led to the conviction of nine suspects, out of a total of 21, for the death of 14 people in the fire at her father-in-law's Best Bakery in Vadodara. In her affidavit dated June 17, 2010, which she sent to the Chief Justice of Bombay High Court, Sheikh Yasmeen Banu presents the lurid details of how the high profile human rights activist spun a complex web of lies, half truths and false promises that fed on the vulnerable victims of the post-Godhra violence and eventually got trapped in it as well. According to the complainant, she was approached by a then aide of Ms Setalvad's, Mr Rais Khan, along with some local Muslim leaders who goaded her to go to Mumbai where the Best Bakery case was being heard. Ms Setalvad's team adopted a stick-and-carrot approach while dealing with her. Eventually she moved to Mumbai where Ms Setalvad put her and other witnesses of what came to be known as the Best Bakery case under virtual house arrest. Every day she was escorted to the office of Ms Setalvad's NGO and tutored on what to say in the court trying the case.


During the trial, Sheikh Yasmeen Banu says, she followed Ms Setalvad's instructions and provided a false deposition. Once her job was done, she was promptly bundled off to Ahmedabad — much like the other witnesses who never returned to their Mumbai flat after deposing — where four months later she was thrown out of the accommodation provided by Ms Setalvad. Homeless and penniless, she returned to Vadodara where she now survives on the charity of her neighbours as Ms Setalvad and her ilk busy themselves with more 'worthy' causes. What makes this situation particularly tragic is that even though Sheikh Yasmeen Banu had filed her affidavit almost a year ago and sent it to several authorities, including the Chief Justice of India and the chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, no action was taken against Ms Setalvad. This is despite the fact that there is a body of evidence against her; there are corroborating statements from other sources that support Sheikh Yasmeen Banu's claims, including statements from another prime witness, Zahira Sheikh, as well as Mr Khan who has since lost his job at Citizens for Justice and Peace and gladly spilled the beans on Ms Setalvad. At this point, there is absolutely no reason why Ms Setalvad should not be tried for criminal perjury. Clearly, she made a concerted attempt to misguide the courts and manipulate the judicial process. That's a punishable offence.

***************************************


THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

WEALTH OUT OF WATER

REVIVING PONDS CAN GENERATE JOBS


While water crisis is fast becoming a global reality, resolving the challenges in this area has become a key priority for most countries, including India. The irony lies in the fact that the crisis has not resulted from the lack of natural water supply but is one of our own making as we have failed miserably in sustainable management of water. Finally the world is witnessing a paradigm shift in focus. Moving away from stereotyped approach of greater role of the Government, the stress is now on improving water governance by involving local communities in conserving sources of water and constructing new water structures. In India also, the revival of water bodies for better storage of excess flood water and rainwater management for irrigation and drinking water purposes has gained prominence. Not only does the revival of lakes and tanks address the problem of water shortage, it also generates employment for local communities. The Assam Agricultural Competitiveness Project is a case in point. Though the State has an abundance of oxbow lakes, called beels in the local language, it was not successful in utilising the vast potential of these lakes for fish production as over the years they had got filled with silt and choked with water hyacinth. Under the project's fishing intensification programme, local communities were encouraged to desilt the lakes and develop beel fisheries while villagers were given subsidies for desilting ponds, liming acidic water and buying fingerlings. Today, the revival of ponds, tanks and beels has resulted in a quantum jump of 500 per cent in fish production, bringing back smiles on the faces of poor men and women. Seeing profit improving, many are now setting up fish hatcheries to make quality fish seeds and fingerlings available to reduce the genetic deterioration of fish stocks. Others are looking at synergising fishing with poultry farming.


What is important to note is that investing in the revival of water bodies and reforming water governance is hugely cost effective as training costs are low. Further, decentralisation of the system yields better results as communities develop a sense of ownership and an interest hoping to generate more income. The decision of the Ministry of Environment and Forests to revive the 1,800 water bodies in phases under its National Lake Conservation Plan is a welcome step. However, there should be more programmes like AACP at State levels — most States are witnessing depletion of the water table — so that local people can benefit financially. Interestingly, medieval inscriptions and texts found in the country have mentioned about implementation, restoration, conservations, preservation and management of water. All we need to do is take leaves out of these books for better planning of conservation and management of water.

 

***************************************

 

 


THE PIONEER

COLUMN

STRATEGISING ON INDIAN OCEAN

CHANDAN MITRA


Chinese economic aid to countries in the Indian Ocean region is aimed at securing political influence. India cannot afford to be a mute spectator.


India and the Indian Ocean are two inseparable entities. India owes its geophysical existence to the Indian Ocean. Throughout history India has been interacting with the lands and the peoples of its littoral states through religion, culture and other means. There existed a certain unity in the Indian Ocean for centuries till it was broken by the advent and impact of the advancing European colonial powers after 16th century. The exit of colonial powers — British, Dutch, French, etc — after World War II made the countries of the Indian Ocean region refashion their foreign policies keeping in view their national interests, the emerging geopolitical realities and the dawning of the Cold War.

 

India, uniquely positioned at the centre of the Indian Ocean rim, opted for non-alignment as its foreign policy. It stood for making Indian Ocean a 'Zone of Peace'. On the other hand India, started forging new relations with the littoral states of the Indian Ocean. Over the last 60 years, India is more engaged than ever in the region through trade, aid and financial assistance. In spite of the efforts made in this regard, a lot needs to be done and that can happen only if India encashes the needs of development-starved countries of the region. As an emerging economic and technological power, India is beginning to regard the Indian Ocean region as the core area of its foreign policy, and reinvent and reinvigorate that policy.


Today, the main security threats to India's interests in the Indian Ocean region arise from three factors — first, the gradual erosion of its political influence in the area; second, the increase in Chinese presence in the region; and, third, the uncontrolled activities of Somali pirates.


Nowhere is the erosion of the Indian political influence more evident than in Sri Lanka where despite assistance to Colombo in its successful counter-insurgency operations against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, New Delhi has been unable to adequately secure either the interests of the Sri Lankan Tamils or the lives and livelihood of Indian Tamil fishermen, who have been at the mercy of the Sri Lankan Navy. The negative state of affairs that India is confronted with in Sri Lanka today could be repeated in the Maldives, Mauritius and Seychelles in the years to come if the Indian political leadership is not more assertive in protecting its interests in these island nations.


Fortunately, Indian interests still prevail in the Maldives despite an increase in political and economic contacts between that country and China. Maldives continues to look up to India for strengthening its capacity for meeting threats to its security, which presently arise from non-state actors such as Pakistan-based jihadi elements and Somali pirates. It is still attentive to Indian interests. So is the case in Seychelles. Despite China's offer of help to Seychelles to strengthen its anti-piracy capabilities, which it has accepted, Victoria continues to be as receptive to New Delhi's offers of assistance and co-operation as it was before.


However, India has reasons to be concerned over recent developments in Mauritius since the visit of Chinese President Hu Jintao to Port Louis in February 2009. During the visit, he announced low interest credit worth $260 million to Mauritius to modernise and expand its airport. He also announced an interest-free loan of $5.9 million and a grant of 30 million yuan. Mauritian Prime Minister Navinchandra Ramgoolam said the two countries had discussed possible further assistance to improve transport in and out of the island's congested capital.

Mr Hu Jintao pledged to speed up the construction of the China-funded $730 million Economic and Trade Zone north of the capital. The Tianli project, as it is called, will be the largest single foreign-funded project in Mauritius, creating 40,000 jobs. Between the recognition of China by Mauritius in 1972 and Mr Hu Jintao's visit in February 2009, total Chinese assistance to Mauritius amounted to $117 million. The fresh assistance extended since then has crossed $1 billion, a nearly 10-fold increase. Thirteen Chinese companies operate in Mauritius in the textiles, construction and IT sectors.


The 521-acre economic and trade zone is an important part of what China calls the "going out policy" and its Africa strategy. The objective is to use Mauritius as a platform for servicing its construction and business projects in Southern Africa. The corporate headquarters of Chinese companies operating in Southern Africa are expected to be located in the new commercial city which China will construct outside Port Louis under this project.

Having seen the gradual erosion of India's political influence in Sri Lanka, we are now seeing a similar erosion in Mauritius. It used to be under Indian cultural and economic influence. It continues to be under India's cultural influence, but the economic influence is more and more that of China. And, as China's economic influence grows, so will its political sway over Mauritius.


The gradual decline in India's political and economic influence in the Indian Ocean region has been accompanied by a steady increase in China's onshore presence in the countries of this region, mainly for helping them to develop their infrastructure — an airport and an economic and trade city in Mauritius; a commercial port and an international airport at Hambantota in Sri Lanka; the expansion and modernisation of the Colombo port; road and rail repairs and construction in others parts of Sri Lanka; the construction of a new port at Kyaukpyu in Burma; gas and oil pipelines connecting Kyaukpyu and Yunnan so that gas and oil produced locally and coming by tankers from West Asia and Africa can be moved to Yunnan without having to pass through the Malacca Strait; and, the construction of a rapid rail system connecting Rangoon with Yunnan. Talks are on between China and Bangladesh for modernisation of the Chittagong port and for connecting the rail systems of Bangladesh and Burma.


For expanding and strengthening its political and economic influence in the Indian Ocean region, China has two precious assets which India is not in a position to match either now or in the foreseeable future — huge cash reserves and vastly superior infrastructure construction skills. There is a hunger for infrastructure in these countries.

Even the best of navies will be only of limited use in the absence of commensurate political and economic influence in the countries of the Indian Ocean region. In building up its onshore presence and influence, China has achieved a head start over India. The Chinese Navy still cannot match and will not be in a position to match the off-shore presence of our Navy in the Indian Ocean region, but China's onshore presence and influence will pose increasing challenges to Indian diplomacy.


Periodic reports of a speculative nature regarding Chinese interest in the acquisition of a military base — particularly naval base — in the Indian Ocean region have not been corroborated. At present, China's interest is in strengthening its economic presence. When the economic presence goes up, political influence will automatically increase. Yes, the Chinese have been developing a robust military supply relationship of a strategic nature with Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Burma. One can see the beginnings of such a relationship with Bangladesh too.


Do these relationships form part of a well planned strategy to acquire a permanent military presence in the Indian Ocean region? There is no evidence at present to validate this view. The Chinese focus, at the moment, is on establishing economic presence and political influence. Beijing's willingness to enter into military supply and capacity-building relationships is a tactical move to achieve these two objectives.


Compared to their Pacific naval strategy, there is very little debate in China on the contours of an Indian Ocean strategy. The Chinese do not have the required material resources to be able to challenge the prominence presently enjoyed by the American and Indian navies in the Indian Ocean region. Their interests are presently focussed on protecting the security of their energy supplies and propping up Pakistan as a credible threat to India.

The entry of Chinese naval ships on anti-piracy patrols in the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden has not created any adverse reactions in the region or the West. China's concern over the threat from Somali pirates is accepted by countries of the region as well as the West as justified. The regular anti-piracy patrols undertaken by ships of the Chinese Navy have enabled it to familiarise itself with operating conditions, initiate Navy-to-Navy relationships and offer Chinese assistance in capacity-building.


Will China use its anti-piracy forays as the initial building block for a long-term Indian Ocean strategy? The Chinese are avoiding any open discussion on this question lest they give rise to unnecessary concerns in the region about China's naval assertiveness in the Indian Ocean as a follow-up to its assertiveness in the Pacific Ocean. Occasional voices are heard from the community of retired Chinese naval officers on the need for a naval base in this region to meet the logistics and rest and recreation requirements of their anti-piracy patrols, but such voices have been discouraged by both Beijing and the CPC. A long-term Chinese naval strategy for the Indian Ocean region is not yet in the making.


Given the atmospherics, India — with its large maritime capacity — has attempted to play the role of an 'unobtrusive fulcrum' and a 'balancer of power' in the Indian Ocean region. It created the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium in 2008 with enthusiasm from all participating littorals. Unfortunately, the focus of the movement seems to have got diffused as it meanders along meetings — the most recent one held in the United Arab Emirates.

Excerpted from Chandan Mitra's lecture on 'The Power Struggle in the Indian Ocean Region' which he delivered during a symposium at the University of Sydney recently.

 

***************************************


THE PIONEER

OPED

LARGER REFORM PROCESS IS REQUIRED

SAM PITRODA


While the Lok Pal Bill movement is a symbol of galvanised 'civil society' action, we must not be under any illusion about the efficacy of such pieces of legislation to transform India without democratising information systems

The proposed Lok Pal Bill, notwithstanding all the drama and protest surrounding it in recent days, is just a piece of a much larger agenda of reform of our existing institutions, infrastructure and processes to democratise information, enhance accountability and deliver development to all parts of the country.


Today the country needs adequate information systems as much as it needs civil society's participation. Without modern information infrastructure to enhance openness, transparency and accountability, civil society protests could merely remain theatre for the 24/7 news channels instead of institutionalised reform measures.


India has a unique and historic opportunity to break away from 19th century mindsets premised on information control and centralised decision-making processes that the British Raj left behind to fulfil long awaited aspirations. It is time to start thinking like a leading 21st century information and knowledge society that is both open and responsive to the needs of the people.


To understand the implications of the Lok Pal Bill on shaping the short-term and long-term destiny of India, it is important to understand the Right to Information Act. RTI has played an important role in exposing some of the recent corruption trends and cases. The United Progressive Alliance Government must be complimented for taking bold initiatives such as the Right to Information, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, as well as focussing on education and sustainable high growth for the last seven years. However, the introduction of the RTI without modern digital infrastructure and technology cannot deliver accurate and timely information and cannot showcase the true strength of this landmark act.


Today key decisions in the Government are locked up in the 'nadawali file' which is a vestige of the British Raj and perfection of bureaucratic bottlenecks. Until the nadawali file gets digitised and delivered with proper security on to the net and until requests and responses for the RTI are converted into digital domain it is difficult to effectively answer information queries and redress grievances of 1.2 billion people regarding decisions that affect their lives. It is time to recognise and accept that information, to the extent that it does not compromise national security, ought to be within the public domain to truly empower the public. Based on this, it is important to recognise that for the Lok Pal Bill to have a meaningful impact the following five initiatives will have to be addressed simultaneously:


Institutional reform

Most of our institutions are archaic and have degenerated over a period of time into highly complex, monolithic, bureaucratic, ineffective and expensive exercises. For the Lok Pal Bill to succeed it is important to have commitment to electoral reform, political reform, administrative reform and judicial reform to bring about a change in our institutional structures. For instance, we cannot go on funding elections the way we have been doing, nor can we guarantee promotions to Government officers based on mere seniority and protect them despite mediocre performance and lack of appropriate domain knowledge. The present human resource policies of the Government cannot effectively work in a modern business environment, nor can these policies deliver the right candidate for the right job. Similarly, centre-state roles and relationships defined in our constitution and processes may benefit from a serious review in the light of increasing growth and disparities as well as by assimilating increasing trends towards decentralised decision-making. Institutional reform will be key to reducing corruption and delivering equitable development.


Process re-engineering

All our processes related to public services such as getting land records, birth certificates, school admissions, ration cards, pension, starting a business, and filing grievances have not changed since independence. We need to systematically re-engineer all our major processes that affect the lives of ordinary citizens to simplify and deliver services in a time-bound and transparent manner. In fact, the effort today to a large extent is geared towards computerising age old processes without paying attention to the process changes required to meet the needs of the 21st century.


Community participation

There is very little local community participation, except by panchayat members, in our public institutions. The perception among citizens is that once you pay your taxes, the money becomes the property of Government officers and politicians. The community has very little voice and visibility in how the money is spent on local developmental activities. There is no reason why a decision related to a local teacher at a school cannot be made by the local community as opposed to a Government officer sitting in a remote office in a state capital. To expedite development and improve productivity and efficiency at the local level, local community engagement is essential and should be systematically encouraged.


Democratisation of information

Information is power and is often used in hierarchical systems to perpetuate power structures. Given the role that information can play in empowering people, it is critical to use modern technologies and tools to assure transparency, accountability and access to timely information to every citizen. This requires on the one hand digitisation of the nadawali file and on the other hand connectivity to local Governments at the panchayat level, with appropriate applications related to financial management, administration, Government programmes and priorities. This will also require multiple open platforms and a variety of portals with open source software for people to freely access information of interest and with assured privacy.


Innovation

For all of these things to happen simultaneously we will have to focus on changing our mindset and innovating to find new ways to govern, manage, collaborate and empower. Without engaging innovative thinking in addressing systemic challenges, trying to solve a single piece of the puzzle such as just the Lok Pal Bill will not deliver the desired results. However, such an innovation strategy will have to focus on Indian solutions, inclusive growth and proper eco-system to encourage innovations by the people and for the people.

While the Lok Pal Bill movement is laudable as an expression of democratic dissent as well as a symbol of galvanised civil society action, we must not be under any illusion about the efficacy of such pieces of legislation to transform India without democratising information systems and fundamentally reforming our age old processes and institutions. It would be a mistake to remain content with merely enacting powerful laws without spending any additional effort on creating supporting information infrastructures and ecosystems to execute and deliver development to meet the aspirations of people at large.


-- The writer is a globally respected information and communications technology guru. Courtesy IANS.

 

***************************************


THE PIONEER

OPED

A SERIOUS EDUCATION CRISIS IN PAKISTAN, OCCUPIED TERRITORY

REBECCA WINTHROP


A lot has been achieved through innovative non-discriminatory programmes but a lot more is yet to be done. To deny this would be utterly foolish


For the millions of people who read and were inspired by Greg Mortenson's books, Three Cups of Tea and Stones into Schools, revelations by CBS News' 60 Minutes that much of his story was at best vastly exaggerated and at worst fabricated, came as deep disappointment. For the thousands of Americans, including school children, who donated to his foundation, the Central Asia Institute, to build schools in some of the most remote parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan, their disappointment is coupled with disillusionment that their money was probably not well spent.


As I travel around Pakistan this week and look at education issues across the country, including in the Federally Administered Northern Areas where Mortenson's book Three Cups of Tea was set, I am struck by the bitter-sweet effect of these revelations. On the one hand, Mortenson's book hid one of the country's biggest educational success stories and promulgated a model of education assistance that has been proven time and again to be ineffective. On the other hand, his story captured the hearts of millions, bringing needed attention to the very real educational needs of Pakistan's children and articulating the very important role good quality education can play in reducing conflict risk.


What is the real story of education in Pakistan's Northern Areas, or Gilgit-Baltistan, as it is now called? How do we make sense of the damaging revelations about the Central Asia Institute that is dedicated to what many believe is still important work?


The Real Education Story in Gilgit-Baltistan

Contrary to the Three Cups of Tea portrayal of Gilgit-Baltistan as a place with little educational opportunity, it is one of the regions in Pakistan that has demonstrated true educational transformation over the last 50 years. In 1946, just prior to partition from India, there were an estimated six primary schools and one middle school for the entire region. Today there are over 1,800 primary, 500 middle, 420 high schools, and almost 40 higher education institutions. Girls are often noted to be outperforming boys and staying in school longer. It is true that community leadership and civil society organisations have played a major role in this transformation; it just was not Mortenson's Central Asia Institute. When I asked the governor of Gilgit-Baltistan, Pir Syed Karam Ali Shah, how this education transformation came about, he was quick to point to the Aga Khan Development Network, a network of private, international, nondenominational development organisations, an assertion with which other education experts concur. Led by His Highness the Aga Khan, the spiritual leader of the Shia Ismaili Muslims, the concerted focus on improving education, and especially girls' education, started in 1946 and has continued, led by community members, for decades. Initially starting in the Ismaili communities in Gilgit-Baltistan, the work spread quickly to other non-Ismaili communities in the region, when the clear economic and health benefits of educating girls were seen by neighbouring communities. Many civil society organisations, Government interventions and public-private partnerships have developed over time, helping to increase levels of human capital and capacity through heavy investment in education, particularly of girls. According to Mehnaz Aziz, member of the national Pakistan Education Task Force, if the rest of Pakistan could only follow in the footsteps of the people of Gilgit-Baltistan, the status of education in Pakistan would be greatly improved.

Yes, There Is an Education Crisis in Pakistan

Despite the education success story of Gilgit-Baltistan, there is a serious education crisis for large numbers of Pakistani children across the country. The underlying message of Mortenson's book and his related advocacy — that investment in education is greatly needed in Pakistan and it is an important part in promoting peace — still holds true, despite whatever factual inaccuracies in his book. One in 10 of the world's primary school-age children who are not in school live in Pakistan, making Pakistan one of the top two countries in the world with the largest numbers of out of school children. Only 23 per cent of Pakistan's youth are enrolled in secondary school. At the current rate, the province of Balochistan will only be able to enrol all its children in school by the year 2100. With half the country under the age of 17, this poor state of education is a significant economic and security liability. Increasing access to quality education is likely to reduce Pakistan's risk of conflict as cross-country estimates show that increasing educational attainment is strongly correlated with conflict risk reduction. Last month, a national campaign — Education Emergency Pakistan 2011 — was launched to spur country-wide dialogue on the need to prioritise educational investment and progress.


Good Intentions Are Not Enough

Despite the importance of Mortenson's message on the education crisis in Pakistan, the effectiveness of his Central Asia Institute remains questionable. Good intentions do not necessarily translate into effective international development practices and NGO management. In the ongoing search for successful aid models, it is important to highlight that there are many professional non-profit organisations that do excellent education work in Pakistan. Many of them are Pakistani organisations, such as the Citizens Foundation and the Children's Global Network. Community involvement and leadership are central to many of the work of these organisations, which is further supported by the education expertise of local staff and implementation of basic organisational management principles to track funds and monitor activities.


Stop Just Building Schools

One of the weaknesses of Mortenson's work on the ground in Pakistan is the education approach he used. "Several of the schools I have seen that he has built in Gilgit-Baltistan are very good structures," says one senior Pakistani NGO leader, "but his strategy of just building a school and then not providing any other follow up support is one that I think will be unlikely to succeed." Indeed, Mortenson is neither the first nor the last person to try and solve education problems by building schools. The developing world is littered with school buildings waiting for teachers to be deployed and students to attend. Far greater education minds than Mortenson have fallen into this same trap. In one West African nation I visited, a major World Bank and Ministry of Education project to improve education infrastructure led to new school buildings standing vacant for months and months while teacher deployment and student enrollment systems tried to catch up. Given his almost singular focus on building schools, it is not surprising that some of them appear to have fallen into this same fate. A recent report by McKinsey & Company finds that in the effort to improve education, far too much focus has been placed on inputs such as school buildings and far too little on the improvement of the teaching and learning process.

 

It is unfortunate that the 60 Minutes expose has called into question the accuracy of Greg Mortenson's books. Without defending Mortenson or whether the facts in his memoirs are accurate, I can say truthfully that there is indeed a very serious education crisis in Pakistan. The international community should not lose sight of this and the real needs of the Pakistani children and youth seeking to improve their lives.


-- Director, Center for Universal Education.

 

***************************************


THE PIONEER

OPED

BROTHERHOOD TO THE FORE

AS THE GENERALS OF EGYPT ARE BUSY DEALING WITH THE PAST, ISLAMISTS ARE SEIZING THE MOMENT, SAYS HAMZA HENDAWI


Egypt's ruling Generals and leaders of the protesters who toppled Mr Hosni Mubarak have been busy dismantling the former regime. But not enough is being done to deal with issues that, if left unresolved, could pose a serious threat to the country's future.

In the two months since Mr Mubarak's ouster, Muslim militants have been on the rise, a persistent security vacuum is unleashing a wave of crime and a badly hit economy is affecting people's lives.

Since the ouster of Mr Mubarak on February 11, the Generals have dissolved the infamous State Security Agency and ordered criminal investigations against Cabinet Ministers and regime-linked businessmen. A high court dissolved Mr Mubarak's one-time party, the National Democratic Party, last week, and Mr Mubarak and his two sons face accusations of corruption and murder linked to the shooting of hundreds of protesters.

But a host of problems stand in the way of a transition to democracy.

Several senior members of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's largest political group, caused a stir when they recently spoke about installing an Islamic state and the implementation of Islamic punishments, like hand amputations for repeated theft or flogging for drinking alcohol.

Shadi al-Ghazaly Harb, one of the youth leaders who organised the uprising, said the hardline comments would hurt the group. "It is the Brotherhood's loss, not anyone else's," he said.

The Brotherhood said the comments did not reflect the group's thinking, but the country's secularists and minority Christians are alarmed that the Brotherhood, with the help of other Islamist groups, might one day win a majority in legislative elections.

Another attempt at power by Muslim militants has been unfolding in southern Egypt.

Thousands of Muslim militants in the city of Qena have been taking to the streets daily since Friday to protest the appointment of a Christian governor. The protesters blocked rail traffic on vital lines, occupied local Government offices, stopped employees from reporting for work and forced most schools to close. On Wednesday, they lifted their siege of the Government building, but continued to block the rail lines.

The protesters, mostly from the radical Salafi movement, said they would appoint their own governor if the Government did not back down and threatened to disrupt work in a water pumping station. Two Cabinet Ministers visited Qena to try to defuse the crisis, but the protesters remained adamant.

The new governor's predecessor was a Christian and a former police General. He was reviled for his incompetence, security background, and close ties to the Mr Mubarak regime, enabling the Salafis to draw on local dissatisfaction in their ongoing campaign. The Salafis, who seek to emulate the lifestyle of Islam's early days in the seventh century, have for the past year played a key role in fueling sectarian tensions, spearheading protests against the Orthodox Christian church. Security officials say they have played a role in the deadly clashes between Christians and Muslims in Cairo last month following the burning of a church in a village south of the city. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to share the information with the media.

The Salafis, just like the relatively moderate Brotherhood, are setting up political parties to contest September's legislative elections, and the Brotherhood wants to launch a satellite TV channel and a daily newspaper.

"There are reasons for us to be worried," columnist Gamal Fahmy said about the heavy presence of Islamic groups in post-Mubarak Egypt. "But they will be cut down to their actual size when we have a well-organised and stable democratic system."

Fahmy and other analysts believe it would be counterproductive for the ruling Generals to crack down on the Islamists, although they have already stated that they will not allow radical groups to dominate the mainly Muslim nation of more than 80 million people.

Already, they note, the Generals are accused of torturing detainees and ignoring due process in military tribunals for Egyptians charged with crimes that range from violating the late-night curfew to thuggery and theft. The tribunals, rights activists say, have sentenced around 10,000 people by the end of last month. Defendants have no recourse to appeal.

Abdullah Sinawy of the Nasserite party believes that new regulations governing the creation of new parties are too tough, and that all lawmakers who served during Mr Mubarak's 29 years in power should be barred from running for public office for five years. He argues that parliamentary elections scheduled for September would produce a legislature dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood and remnants of the former regime, since new groups would not have had time to prepare.

The country's new Constitution will be drafted by a panel appointed by lawmakers.

"The real problem is that we don't have faith that the next Constitution will protect the civil state we hope for and the revolution?" said Sinawy of the Nasserite party.

In the meantime, violent crime has risen steeply in Cairo and other cities across the nation, according to the Interior Ministry.

-- The writer is the AP' chief of bureau in Egypt.

 

***************************************


******************************************************************************************

THE TIMES OF INDIA

 COMMENT

WASTE OF ENERGY

 

Several important concerns pertaining to use of nuclear energy need to be debated. However, the protests spearheaded by the Shiv Sena against the proposed nuclear power plant in Jaitapur appear to ignore all of these for petty political ends. Such tactics merely divert attention from the real stakes: both India's energy future and our collective safety.

If the protesters were serious about fostering debate about the risks of nuclear energy, they would have adopted peaceful means to signal discontent. Instead they chose violence, targeting a police station and a hospital, which suggests that their 'cause' has been hijacked by something other than the nuclear issue. Politics explains it, since it appears that former Shiv Sainik Narayan Rane's defection to the Congress has been neither forgotten nor forgiven by his erstwhile colleagues. Rane is the Congress's pointsman for the power plant that is to house six reactors. It is more than likely his involvement is the trigger for the Sena-led protests.

If the protesters are misguided in their tactics, their call to cancel the Jaitapur project is an impractical knee-jerk reaction to Japan's
Fukushima catastrophe. This suggests the need to educate the public about nuclear power, which will need to be part of India's energy mix. As the principal scientific advisor to the government notes, for India to become a developed country, power consumption has to increase by six to eight times. All of this can't come from polluting fossil fuels or renewables alone. Nonetheless, our nuclear establishment is in need of a dramatic overhaul. The nuclear watchdog, the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board, cannot continue as part of the organisation tasked with building plants, the Department of Atomic Energy. As for Jaitapur, its environmental clearances were granted within 80 days of the Nuclear Power Corporation of India submitting its impact assessment report. Now, the environment minister's call for 'deeper thinking' about Jaitapur begs the question what dynamics guide policy making vis-a-vis the complete life cycle of nuclear power plants. All of this remains cloaked by a web of secrecy. Greater transparency on the part of the authorities is a must to keep the public informed about decision-making processes.


It would be disingenuous to disregard the public's questions about nuclear power or the BJP's call for discussion. Post-Fukushima, there's been unease the world over, voiced by several environmental groups. In India, managing these concerns requires clear and frank debate about our nuclear architecture and an insistence on its openness. With India planning to expand its nuclear power programme, clarity is called for on what is being done to strengthen the safety and disaster-preparedness of nuclear power installations.

 

***************************************


THE TIMES OF INDIA

COMMENT

DELIVER THE GOODS

 

Given that global recession hit Indian exports hard in 2009-10, this is an impressive rebound. Our exports soared 37.5% in 2010-11, outstripping the $200 billion target riding on a near-85% surge in engineering exports. This indicates reviving demand in the US and Europe, but also that Asia, Latin America and Africa are new, diversified destinations for the Made-in-India label. However, let's not forget we're far from realising our competitive potential. In 2008, China's exports were worth about $1.4 trillion. Even factoring in China's traditionally export-led growth, that'll put things in perspective. Its mammoth edge over India lies in manufacturing. Why this sector needs impetus here isn't just related to desired export of greater volumes of high-quality products to trim our trade deficit. As government representatives say, manufacturing must grow at over 11% for an even bigger reason: notching a near-10% GDP growth target.


In the offing is a national manufacturing policy, whose proposals include setting up national manufacturing and investment zones. Like China's giant industrial enclaves, these investment magnets would interlink businesses in a manufacturing ecosystem building scale, supply chains and common infrastructure, thus reducing costs. But the labour ministry reportedly opposes exempting them from outmoded labour laws. It forgets that agriculture makes for about 17% of India's GDP but mostly informally hires the majority of its people, while leading service sector firms, IT in particular, represent nearly 40% of output but accounts for 2% of jobs. Factories alone can absorb and train masses of underpaid, insecure workers. If manufacturing's share in the economy is to rise to over 25% over the next decade, labour reform is a must across the board besides investment-friendly policy making, land acquisition revamp and rapid infrastructure building. India can become a major manufacturing hub, integrating in the global production and supply chain. Let's not put hurdles in the way.

 

***************************************


THE TIMES OF INDIA

TOP ARTICLE

WHAT AFTER THE JASMINE FADES?

 

Images of democracy in motion make for intoxicating television. The kid next to the soldier with his tank at Tahrir Square, the exhausted rebel in a Libyan desert and women and children out in Bahrain's Pearl Square. Next stop, democracy, the footage suggests as anchors hurtle to keep pace with the compelling images and churn out the two-minute revolution theory.


The painful truth is that the path to Egypt, Libya, Syria and Yemen emerging as western-style democracies could be torturous and long. And even worse for places like Bahrain and other rich Emirates where civil society has suddenly discovered it has a political mind.


A look at the map of West Asia shows many straight lines drawn across the barren deserts by European powers and civil servants in London to create nations that suited the post-colonial foreign policy needs of colonisers. Little heed was paid to the demographic heterogeneity of the region where an artificial nationality negotiated with the local satrap was imposed on the people. Since then, most countries have lived under autocratic rulers at best and tyrannical at worst. Nasser in Egypt was anti-imperial but not a democrat.


By far the most peaceful and educated civil society in the region is that of Egypt's. But even there, few institutions exist. The heads of state have donned military colours and have exterminated critics and opposition with the help of an all-powerful secret police and perpetrated a regime of fear. Corruption is endemic, made evident by the baksheesh culture that permeates all layers of officialdom; courts are arranged to favour the powerful and the upper middle class lives in negotiated comfort with the military. Will all this disappear in one fell swoop? Unlikely. Too many vested interests are entrenched, the biggest among them, the politico-military. Egypt is the best place to make the transition, though. It does have a parliament, a body of legislative rules and a set of laws that the courts can use.

 

Take the case of Libya, where US intervention looks menacingly like George Bush's regime change war in Iraq. Barack Obama has taken care to broaden Nato involvement but the first few rounds of US attacks muddied the waters and gave Muammar Gaddafi international oxygen to breathe fire against 'American Imperialists'. It's hard to sympathise with Gaddafi, but lifting all forms of control, undemocratic as they may be, will push Libya into violent chaos and reopen tribal faultlines. That the anarchy could be taken advantage of by Islamic extremists isn't unlikely, and dismantling the military overnight will remove a bulwark against mushrooming of terror outfits. The removal of the dictator will create a political vacuum in a country where no political elite barring Gaddafi loyalists has been allowed to flourish. Unlike Syria, where thanks to the Ba'ath Party, the political base is a tad wider, Libya has no second-rung of leadership to fall back on barring tribal leaders and military commanders.

In Syria, where tens of thousands are sitting in for Bashir Assad's ouster, the topography is even more complicated. Despite being overwhelmingly Sunni, Syria is a mosaic of competing faiths and cultures that have been papered over by a socialistic-sounding political system represented by the Ba'ath Party. If the order crumbles, it would expose chasms between the Christians, the Alawis, the Druze, the Ismailiyas and even the Greek Orthodox group. Flux in Syria could also lead to regional complications. The
Damascus regime is viewed by many as a cat's paw for Iranian interests. Help to the Hezbollah in Lebanon, locked in a protracted war with Israel, also comes from Damascus and the Assads have a fair amount of clout in how the political structure in the fractured neighbour is arranged. It's insane to predict how things would shape up if Assad falls but violence is a fair certainty.

It's a shame that Bashir Assad didn't loosen up the political system fast enough to prevent this. The breakneck pace at which protests seem to be spreading won't leave him room for gradual change. That apart, the worst fear is that these regimes will fall in the hands of Islamic hardliners. That may or may not happen but the ground is fertile for such an outcome. In countries where regimes have been traditionally repressive, the mosques tend to transform into political arenas where dissidents and critics meet. That apart, the separation of the church and state isn't obligatory even in Islamic democracies.


Lastly, where the legitimacy of the existing ruler is destroyed by a public upsurge and there isn't any clear political succession in the works, clerics could assume leadership roles where none existed for them previously. Human societies crave order, and in situations of strife, clerics promising stability, whatever the terms of such an order are, could gain a mass following.


In Indonesia, when the 1997 Asian economic turmoil eroded dictator Suharto's credibility and finally caused his downfall, the leader of the tolerant Muslim country's largest religious movement, the Nahdnatul Ulama, Abdurrahman Wahid, was nominated as the successor. That Gus Dur, as he was popularly known, was a moderate leader with great respect for the minorities, helped Indonesia complete a transition to a modern parliamentary democracy that subsequently elected liberal leaders like Megawati Sukarnoputri as president. But that's not an outcome that's going to follow if in a vacuum, political space is usurped by religious hardliners with a conservative Islamic vision of civil society.


Blurb: Human societies crave order, and in situations of strife, clerics promising stability, whatever the terms of such an order are, could gain a mass following .

 

***************************************


THE TIMES OF INDIA

TIMES VIEW

PLAY HARD, LOOK GOOD

 

Given the spread of television media, sport today isn't just about athletes sweating it out in the heat of competition. With millions of dollars in advertisement revenue at stake, sports federations can hardly ignore this reality. This is one area where badminton has lagged behind. That in turn has meant declining interest, as few badminton tournaments are broadcast on TV. The game is in dire need of a dose of glamour. The Badminton World Federation's decision to have women players wear skirts as part of a new dress code must be seen in this context. There's in fact a case for a suitable dress code for male players as well so that the effort to add colour to the sport is gender-neutral.


The concept of a dress code is hardly new to sport. It can be born of tradition, as in Test cricket, or due to considerations like curbing political and religious symbolism, as in football. Thanks to the growth of professional sport, players' uniforms have become integral to the branding exercise of individual athletes and sport itself. Women's lawn tennis has led the way in sporting designer outfits. In recent years, players like Anna Kournikova have been known for their on-court glamour quotient. This has not only helped pull in the crowds but also popularised the game. A parallel can be drawn with cricket's latest avatar - T20. With cheerleaders and glitzy presentation, the game's popularity has been ramped up, roping in new demographics.


The argument that the focus on glamour will deflect attention from the game is false. Professional sportspersons will still have to perform to earn recognition. There's no harm in looking good while they're at it. Since badminton needs to shed its dull image, a pleasing dress code for both men and women shuttlers would help.

 

***************************************


THE TIMES OF INDIA

COUNTERVIEW

AN ARBITRARY DECISION

AJAY VAISHNAV

 

The Badminton World Federation has made it mandatory for all women players to wear skirts in Grand Prix tournaments and above. The reason cited is "to ensure attractive presentation of badminton". However, in its ham-handed bid to boost the sport's glamour quotient among fans and sponsors, the federation has gone too far. Not only is its decision arbitrary, it also exposes the administrators' skewed approach to the task of popularising the sport.


Imposition of a dress code on women badminton players must be opposed. It goes against their freedom to choose what they want to wear in accordance with their comfort levels and suitability for on-court performance. Not surprisingly, the new order has met with stiff opposition from shuttlers in Indonesia, including world champion Lilyana Natsir who has been quoted as saying: "Skirts hamper my movement when i play". Our own Saina Nehwal - though she has not opposed the move but prefers to wear shorts - will be among those affected by the decision. In this regard, the federation has displayed utter disregard for individual choice. Such top-down diktats can negatively impact the performance of many players to the ultimate detriment of the sport. Why not instead let big sponsors incentivise players to wear designer outfits, as in the case of lawn tennis?


Asking women shuttlers to wear skirts will inevitably be seen as an attempt to commodify them. People are bound to ask why the sartorial choices of male players haven't been similarly targeted. Besides, the BWF has failed to factor in the sensitivities of players coming from different cultural backgrounds. Rather than display insensitivity merely in order to attract more fans and rope in greater numbers of sponsors, the federation should promote badminton in newer territories and at the grassroots levels.

 

***************************************

 

 

 


******************************************************************************************

HINDUSTAN TIMES

OUR TAKE

COOKING UP A MONSTER

It's like the old setting from Mary Shelley's Frankenstein: a wondrous product of science is unveiled in the village; things go awry with the invention resulting in the village mob armed with pitchforks and torches going on a rampage to stop the 'monster'. Throw in some politics and cacophony dressed up as a 'national debate' and we have the Jaitapur nuclear reactor protests down to a pat. The violence unleashed in Ratnagiri on Monday that resulted in a death by police firing is a sad offshoot of India's 'nuclear debate' that we thought was over in 2008. But getting a second life with global fears of nuclear energy triggered after the post-earthquake accident in the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan, the Indian nuclear debate has boiled down to short-term localised politics. During the tenure of the first UPA government, it was the Left that politicised the issue, to the point in which the India-US civil nuclear deal came perilously close to being hijacked by an anachronistic anti-imperialist drumbeat. Now, instead of addressing genuine issues about nuclear safety, the Shiv Sena has mobilised an anti-nuclear agenda in the name of popular discontent against nuclear power.

The Sena's mobilisation of villagers against the planned six-reactor 9,900 MW nuclear power project in Maharashtra's Ratnagiri district has a single objective: to make the Shiv Sena a force in the Konkan region again. With the departure of Narayan Rane from the party and his entry into the Congress, the Sena's hold in the area had slipped considerably. The anti-Jaitapur issue, till now kept burning by environmental groups, has been coopted by the Sena. To egg villagers on about Jaitapur turning into the next Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant is not only irresponsible but also dangerous. Instilling a fear psychosis serves no purpose without an engaged debate among experts — something that has been visibly absent in the public space.

Which is why it is doubly necessary that the government be articulate. Environment minister Jairam Ramesh had stated that after the Fukushima accident, there would be a "reassessment of the systems" to be put in place. Going by Mr Ramesh's decision to go ahead with Jaitapur last week, such a reassessment has indeed taken place. But to scotch the notion that the minister has made a facetious 'U-turn', the government must make its reassessment more transparent and available to the protesting laity.  That India needs nuclear power is a fact. It is, therefore, imperative that this message is explained to the people so as to quell the fears of the villagers of Jaitapur with their proverbial pitchforks led by a one-trick pony egging them on to 'kill the monster' that isn't.

***************************************


HINDUSTAN TIMES

THE PUNDIT

GOT IT, FLAUNT IT!

We understand that a member of the National Advisory Council, a Congress MP and a former governor have our best interests at heart. But would you like them to decide on how to get your child sent off in holy matrimony? Now it is possible that for the child and heir, you might be willing to splash out on Beluga caviar harvested by vestal virgins to be washed down with sparkling wine concocted by pixies in the Bavarian forest. Or in the case of some of our elected representatives, there could be several days of fun and games fuelled by Scotch that Scotland has never heard of and cuisines so outré that no gourmet worth his Maldon sea salt would be seen near it. But then again, if vulgarity is your calling card for your child's wedding, we don't have the same problems that the worthies from public life have with all this.

A crunching of several functions is one suggestion from the likes of the abstemious souls who quite rightly feel that the Guest Control Order of the 1960s under which there was a restriction on the number of guests called for such functions unless special permission were sought from designated officials should be on the menu. How is this frugality to be enforced? Will the government designate a swoop squad to pop down and berate the proud parents for throwing in a paneer piece too many? We can only wonder whether people in public life do not have more serious things to worry about.

Yes, we do agree that drinking limited edition champagne or munching on salmon raised by hand may not sit well in a country plagued by farmers' suicides. But in a democracy you have every right to be a vulgarian, provided your vulgarity or excess does not impinge upon public spaces. So by all means do hire the bhangra band and drink Château Pétrus till it comes out of your ears, but do ensure that your band-baraat does not clog up the public space of the less fortunate. After, all it is all about till wealth do us apart.

***************************************

 


HINDUSTAN TIMES

SET THE RECORD STRAIGHT

KARAN SINGH

This refers to the article, The charge of the fright brigade (Comment, April 20)  by Satish Chandra, Bipan Chandra and Arjun Dev. At the outset, let me say that the title is totally incomprehensible. I can assure you that there is no question of the executive council of the Nehru Memorial Museum & Library (NMML) being frightened. On the contrary, it is the outgoing director and her mentors who seem to have panicked, as her term draws to an end.

After Jawaharlal Nehru passed away in 1964, the Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Fund, of which Indira Gandhi was the chairperson and I was the secretary, was set up. I was involved in every phase of its planning and execution and have been associated with it ever since its inception. My interest in its welfare and progress is such that I would never do anything to dilute or devalue its status. On the contrary, my constant effort is to support and strengthen NMML in every way possible, including acquiring from the government a special grant of R20 crore that is now being used for long overdue modernisation and digitisation.

The first significant issue relates to the rules for appointment of NMML's director. The institution deals with the freedom movement, which had many facets. Apart from its history, Indian nationalism had significant political and sociological dimensions. In view of its broad mandate, we found no reason to confine the directorship to professional historians. Why should outstanding political scientists or sociologists not be eligible for appointment as director?

Unlike the Indian Council for Historical  Research, the NMML is an institution named after Nehru who, apart from his remarkable role in the freedom movement, was for 17 years the first prime minister of India during which a large number of political, social and developmental issues were addressed. To confine the directorship to only a historian would limit the field of selection, although historians will by no means be excluded. Let me add that BR Nanda, who was director for 17 years, and OP Kejriwal, director for five years, were not professional historians.

The second point revolves around the search committee, where the complaint is that no historian has been included. Let me recall that in 2009, when the question of extending the term of the current director for two years was being considered, there was a fierce controversy within the historian-academic community. I was deluged with angry emails from eminent historians protesting strongly against extending the term of the present director by two years, and making allegations of factionalism, nepotism and authoritarian style of functioning. Nevertheless, we stood by our decision to extend her term. The sort of letters that flew from both sides clearly showed that the community was passionately divided on this issue. We, therefore, deliberately did not include any historian lest he or she fall into one or other of the camps.

Finally, I have never been dismissive to any communication in this connection, and the quote assigned to me at the end of the article ("Many people are writing letters. They mean nothing. The decision has been taken.") is unfounded and unfair. Quite clearly the term of the present director ceases when she completes five years on August 9, 2011, and the question of her continuing as director until retirement does not arise. She has been on deputation from the Jawaharlal Nehru University and, once she returns to her parent institution, she can continue until the retirement age in that university.

Karan Singh is chairman, Executive Council, NMML The views expressed by the author are personal

***************************************


HINDUSTAN TIMES

THERE'S SPACE FOR ALL

KARAN SINGH

Fifty years ago, my school in Hyderabad was fortunate enough to be chosen to receive Yuri Gagarin at the airport. As he walked past us, I moved to touch him - to find out if human flesh becomes any different after experiencing weightlessness in space. Gagarin had gone "where no man had gone before". During the days of Cold War hostilities, it was unacceptable for the US to acknowledge the superiority of the socialist system in expanding the frontiers of human endeavour into space. Though US President John F Kennedy congratulated the Soviet Union after the success of Gagarin's flight, he nevertheless had to appear on national TV to assuage hurt American pride by assuring them that they would land a man on the moon by the end of the decade. In 1969, the US did it.

However, it is truly refreshing to see the universal commemoration of Gagarin's flight. The centerpiece was when a US astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts were sent off on April 12 on a Soyuz craft emblazoned with a portrait of Gagarin from that very launch pad that put the latter's flight into orbit on this very day 50 years ago. The director of the European Space Agency said: "We are all sons of Yuri Gagarin". The commander of the Apollo 10 mission went on to say, "Without Gagarin going first, I probably wouldn't have gone to the moon". A film entitled First Orbit was shot from the International Space Station (ISS), combining the original flight audio with footage of the route taken by Gagarin. The Russian, American, and Italian Expedition 27 crew aboard the ISS sent a special video message: "Happy Yuri's Night".

Under the stewardship of Sergei Korolyov, the Soviet space programme went on to put the first dog (Laika) and the first woman Valentina Tereshkova in space, oversaw the first space walk and established the Mir space station. Meanwhile, the US generously funded the Nasa Apollo programme that finally put a man on the moon. However, the Soviets had earlier soft-landed a remote craft. The current commemorations must spur a serious collaboration among countries in space exploration. The US and Europe have put together the revolutionary space observatory - the Hubble Space Telescope. The cooperation between the US and Russia has led to the replacement of the American Skylab station and the Soviet Mir station with the ISS, the single-most complex, collective space-engineering project ever attempted.

Such space exploration is important not merely to satisfy human curiosity. From the fascinating photographs and information that the Hubble keeps sending, it is clear that there is much more in the universe that we do not know about. James Watson Cronin, the 1980 physics Nobel Prize winner, says, "We think we understand the universe, but we understand only 4% of everything". He goes on to say that 96% is made of dark matter and energy, whose composition we cannot fathom. Around 73% of cosmic energy seems to consist of 'dark energy' and 23% of 'dark matter' is the pervasive but unidentified stuff that holds the universe together and accelerates its expansion. Thus, leaving aside the curiosity around the existence of life elsewhere in this universe, we seem to understand very little even about the matter that created the basis for life and civilisation.

International cooperation becomes all the more essential since the US has decided to close its space shuttle programme that began with Columbia's flight in 1981. The world is now left with only the Soyuz spacecraft to keep a link with the ISS, which is designed to function by rotating its crew members comprising US, Russian, European and Japanese astronauts.

Some maintain that meaningful space exploration has taken place through robotic spacecraft that have been in use since 1972. Robotic missions have landed on Venus, Mars, Saturn, Jupiter's moon Titan, and the asteroid Eros. They have deployed balloons, rovers and atmospheric probes to discover the conditions, like the stunning evidence from one of Jupiter's moons, Europa. It is a giant pearlescent drop of seawater (three times more than on Earth). Many scientists consider Europa as the most likely home of terrestrial life inside our solar system.

The NASA's science mission directorate, which runs all US unmanned missions, must strengthen international cooperation with the Russians, Indians, Chinese, French and others, to carry forward such explorations in the interest of both understanding ourselves better and to comprehend our environment so that we can better protect ourselves.

The monies spent by the US on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, estimated at $1.29 trillion and on the current Libyan operation, so far put at $550 million, could be put to better use for research and exploration of space benefiting humanity immensely.

Finally, consider the benefits of cooperation as against conflict: the US's Apollo programme discovered that in simulated weightlessness, astronauts could not keep records as ink did not flow in zero gravity. Apart from funding research to create now-familiar free-flow pens the US sent a CIA team to investigate what the Soviets did. Answer: Soviets used pencils! The pencil that ironically let Gagarin down in orbit by drifting away out of his reach forcing him to pack up his logbook!

Sitaram Yechury is CPI(M) Politburo member and Rajya Sabha MP.

The views expressed by the author are personal.

***************************************


HINDUSTAN TIMES

FROM THE OTHER SIDE

SUMIT MITRA

With barely three weeks to go for the West Bengal assembly poll results to be announced, there is little doubt now that the commies will sit in the opposition, and that too with not too many seats to share among them. For Bengalis, it is time to celebrate, for restoration of normal democracy, if not anything else. For them it has indeed been a harrowing experience living for 34 years under the rule of a crazy lot who fancied themselves as little Stalins clad in dhoti, with all the dictator's crookedness and criminality but without an iota of his power and talent.

The question now is: when the current lot of CPI(M) leaders are directed to the opposition benches, how will they define their new role? It may not be correct to assume that, put in the opposition, it will act much like its siblings in Kerala and Tripura where the party, unlike in Bengal, has at no stage enjoyed a perpetual lease to govern. But Bengal is a different story, where, though the party's authority is limited to the state's boundary, its long tenure, comparable to an extent to the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) of Japan (1955 to 2009, with a 11-month break in 1995), has turned the CPI(M) into what is often called the party of governance. The term is not always a compliment. In Japan, the LDP rule was marked, among other things, by kaban, or a briefcase loaded with cash. In Bengal, the CPI(M) could not have had too many kaban because its misgovernance left the people too poor to pay hefty bribes. Nevertheless, being in power too long must be painful to lose.

It is likely, therefore, that the CPI(M) will be out to prove what its leaders are already telling the electorate, that it will 'regret' if it votes Mamata Banerjee and her Trinamool-Congress alliance to power. In this exercise, it will be futile for it to imitate its own strategy in 1972, when, after calling the election held in that year "rigged," it directed its 14 MLAs to boycott the assembly for all its five years. The times were different, parliamentary and assembly proceedings were not shown on television as they now are, so such obduracy will only recoil on them. Besides, one reasonably expects the Left Front to win a lot more MLAs now than in 1972, so it will be stupid to gag a voice so loud.

The CPI(M) can, of course, cast itself in a role as obstreperous as possible both within and outside the assembly. It can bitch about every new bill in the assembly and go berserk on the streets, in conformity with its trademark public behaviour. That will be an action replay of the 1960s and 70s when the party and its trade unions not only had the dubious distinction of putting the word 'gherao' into the Oxford English Dictionary but were also primarily responsible for forcing a flight of capital from the state, which has not flown back ever since.

The CPI(M) is already projecting its 60-ish and foul-mouthed housing minister Gautam Deb as its wartime general, subject, to a great extent, to his winning the election from Kolkata's north suburb of Dum Dum where Bratya Basu, a theatre producer and political greenhorn, is giving him a run for his money.

In his abrasiveness, and tendency to paint every democratic contest as a do-or-die combat, Deb is a true Stalinist who owes his persona to the late Promode Dasgupta, former state chief whose fanatical intolerance of other people's points of view is legendary.

It will be sad if an unreformed Deb leads the CPI(M) in Bengal for the next five years as that has a strong possibility to spoil the state's chances to attract investment capital after a decades long drought. The state's investment figures should shock everybody, including sympathetic souls at Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University. Of the $193 billion that India has received between 1991 and now in foreign direct investment (FDI), of which the share of Delhi alone is 19%, that of West Bengal has been a 'revolutionary' 1%. Besides, of the 450 ongoing Public-Private Partnership (PPP) projects in India, valued at Rs224,175.8 crore, West Bengal accounts for only five projects, valued at Rs2,055.4 crore, or less than 1%. It's obvious that if the opposition leaders force their cadre into kicking off a fresh round of civic unrest, it will leave the task of regenerating Bengal as elusive as it was.

But the question that needs to be addressed is: what will the CPI(M) gain by blocking the state's road to progress, and at what cost to itself? Most probably it will gain nothing but its name will be mud forever. The early round of the 2011 census has brought up the interesting fact that education is at last spreading among the state's younger age groups with impressive speed, the number of those who are just matriculates in the 20-39 age group having gone up 50% since the previous census even though overall population has increased by only 13.93%. Bandhs, show of lathi, throwing bombs and showering vulgar abuses on those who think differently are Neanderthal tactics for which the number of admirers may taper off with the spread of education and influence of the digital media.

Bengal's 'new Left', if it comes into being, must take democracy a lot more seriously than it did in the past. The impasse that has now been created between Banerjee and the Left, resulting mainly from the latter's morbid fear that she'd wrest power from them, should be removed, with the Left going more than half way to do it, being its architect in the first place. That may help Banerjee give up her obsessive desire to 'outleft' the Left in every manner, be it in the matter of land acquisition, or in allowing unionisation to spread everywhere, including the civil uniformed forces. Tomorrow's Left must help her turn Right a bit so that it can adapt its legacy of philosophy to the new millennium and a changed constituency.

Sumit Mitra is a Kolkata-based political commentator. The views expressed by the author are personal.

 

***************************************

 


 

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

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

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

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

******************************************************************************************

THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

LOVE AND HONOUR

 

The Supreme Court couldn't be clearer in its condemnation of khap panchayats and caste-related injustice, as it held the police and administration directly responsible for letting these acts of vigilante violence continue unpunished. Khap panchayats are Jat social structures in Haryana, UP and Rajasthan that once served as forums for dispute resolution, and hold on to a vestigial authority, mainly used to wreak terrible punishment on those who fall in love with people of the same gotra. They patrol the borders of caste and clan, and they persuade or intimidate families into excommunicating their own, and directly or indirectly provoke honour killings. Despite not having a shred of legal authority, their sway in Haryana is undisputed, and the problem is compounded by a foot-dragging police and administration and a sympathetic political class. Because these structures undergird their electoral calculations, political leaders across Haryana, from Naveen Jindal to Om Prakash Chautala, have urged that khap panchayats be handled with care, that custom and ceremony be respected. The Haryana government suggested, with a straight face, that going after khap panchayats would be a rash step with dangerous consequences for law and order.

However, there has finally been some progress towards dismantling these structures. Last year, for the first time, after the widespread public revulsion over the murders of Manoj and Babli in Haryana, these "honour killings" were answered with a strong conviction for the entire khap panchayat, and it was decided that the Indian Penal Code, Indian Evidence Act and Special Marriages Act would be amended to prise loose their grip. The honour killings bill is likely to be introduced in the next session of Parliament. And now, the SC has thrown its weight behind the move, saying that, apart from criminally prosecuting those responsible for violence, district collectors and superintendents of police who display a reluctance to act should be suspended and chargesheeted as well.

As the SC pointed out, everyone has the right to love and marry whom they want, and families don't have to approve of these relationships, but they have to let them be. They can glower and sever connection, but they have no larger right on their lives. Khap panchayats, as voluntary civic associations, present no problem — but when they lay down oppressive writs and promise social intimidation and bodily harm to those who smear the caste lines, they have no place in a modern nation.

***************************************


THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

APPLE SPY

 

Bill Gates once declared that there would a computer on every desktop in America, and was laughed at. He was right, and gained thereby a reputation for prescience. Thus, when he said in 2001 that tablet PCs were the wave of the future, and would in five years be the most popular type of computer, people took him seriously. This time, however, he was wrong — until Apple produced the iPad. That has really taken off; half a million iPad 2 were sold on the first day they were available. Like the iPhone, they have shaken up the way people think of how they could interact with the Web, and with each other.

Apple appears to think that it has been a little too successful. It has just filed a suit against Samsung, saying that the Korean company's phones and tablets "slavishly" copy Apple's. Apple has already taken Nokia, Motorola and HTC to court; Samsung and those last two companies design touch-screen phones that run Google's Android operating system, which is rapidly increasing its market share and threatening Apple's dominance.

While the technicalities of what qualifies as patent infringement — can Apple really control the idea of a screen that can be touched in two places at once? — will be worked out by the courts, the larger idea here is that Apple is, for once, behind the curve. So dominant is it in this sector that it does not realise what it means to be a trendsetter. It has converted people to thinking in terms of tablets and touchscreens now; and there is no looking back. Like pretty much all software programmes owe something to Windows 3.1 in their user interface, pretty much all tablets and touchscreens — and we'll be seeing a lot of them — will owe a lot to the iPhone and iPad. No court will be able to fix that.

***************************************


THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

RATING OUR RESERVES

 

Standard and Poor's have warned that they will downgrade US treasury bills from their AAA rating if the US does not cut its fiscal deficit. US treasury bills have continued to enjoy AAA ratings despite the large size of US government debt, since the likelihood of a US default is practically zero. Cutting debt will not be easy for them, and it has to be seen whether the rating agency will actually downgrade the US if it is unable to cut its debt. Further, while the warning to downgrade was a surprise, what that said about the US economy came as no surprise to investors. The negotiations between the Obama administration and Republicans may or may not succeed in cutting the deficit significantly. Perhaps as a consequence, treasury bill yields did not move much in response to the warning. After the sub-prime crisis the credibility of rating agencies has come under a cloud. The purpose of the warning is consequently being questioned by many market participants.

The RBI has said that it will continue to hold US treasury bills as there is no option. Europe is even worse. This brings back to the forefront an old question. Why does a country with a floating exchange rate need to hold such a large volume of reserves? The bulk of India's reserves was built up when the RBI was intervening to prevent rupee appreciation. The amount was much larger than what India needed for liquidity. The RBI sold less than $30 billion worth of reserves to help the economy tide over a dollar shortage in the period after Lehman collapsed. In such a situation, holding large reserves serves little purpose.

Now, for nearly two years, the RBI has allowed the rupee to float freely without intervening in the foreign exchange market. It is thus time for it to question its large-reserve policy. Reserves should be brought down to $100 billion, by selling off US treasury bills and European government bonds that are not the best assets to invest in today. Further,

not purchasing US treasury bills as reserves should become long-term policy.

 ***************************************

 


THE INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

WHOSE BILL IS IT ANYWAY?

SANDEEP DIKSHIT

 

The Lokpal bill episode has been one of the more exciting events in recent years. While there is an opinion that this is akin to an episodic change in India's polity, with parallels with the JP movement, there are many who argue that too much is being read into this affair. Within these points of view, the two central questions are whether this is really a movement that shall significantly change the way we look at, indulge in and sustain corrupt practices in our polity, economy and even society, or whether it is just a collective manifestation of people's disaffection with general corruption that seems to come together every now and then. And, a more serious question, whether the proposed Lokpal/ Jan Lokpal Bill is actually what it is made out to be — a way to establish an incorruptible, independent organisation that will reduce corruption by 90 per cent, by eliminating all known systems and agencies which have been created both by our Constitution and by years of administrative experience.

A serious look at the provisions of this Lokpal bill — as well as an appraisal of the institutions, system and existing laws, which may have weakened today but still have the mandate and constitutional validity to be able to do just what this bill also proposes — raises many genuine questions on its intent and content. There are genuine concerns being voiced by people who have perhaps fought against dishonesty and wrongdoings for more years and with more commitment than many of the protagonists of this version of the bill. They oppose in large measure or in part many of the provisions of this bill: lack of well-thought-out systems for accountability within the Lokpal system, the clearly evident creation of an absolute power structure, and the many, many parts in which this bill contravenes the Constitution, subverting many existing laws and further weakening our existing institutions which perform anti-corruption functions.

The premise appears to be that since everyone is corrupt, every institution is compromised, every law is defunct, every politician is evil, every bureaucrat (except those who have retired) is out to sell the nation, every judge (again except those who have no stake left in the system) is selling justice, we build a new "Animal Farm", find such people that the government could never find from amongst its ranks, empower them in ways that our Constitution forbade for any other person in any capacity in public life, and then we shall usher in a new dawn.

This raises many questions, doubts and concerns since the bill attempts to significantly alter our way of governance, replacing the process of democracy with meritocracy. It challenges our principles of checks and balances, commitment to the balance of power and responsibilities as enshrined in our Constitution, adherence to the principles of natural justice, and open and equal accountability of every person. And it does not really provide a workable, impeccable alternative, as is being stated.

For anyone interested and concerned about India, expressing his or her opinion on this bill is important. In fact, the committee constituted to draft the bill will be able to come out with a better, more effective, more just and actually workable piece of legislation if all these concerns are taken on board and resolved. The very reason why this committee was formed was because it was argued that we need more opinions and contributions to this bill than those existing within government to really draft an effective bill.

Having accepted this once, can the protagonists then state that every opinion, every doubt, every contribution, every suggestion, every warning, every fear expressed by those outside this group is an

attempt to sabotage this bill? That an attempt is being made with a hidden agenda to promote corruption and protect the corrupt?

Over the past few weeks, especially in the last four-five days, we have seen an increasing intolerance for alternative opinions, for alternative voices. And from whom? Those who themselves claim to have been part of the alternative voice!

This week, Anna Hazare wrote to Sonia Gandhi to rein in Digvijaya Singh and Kapil Sibal for what he claimed to be their anti-Lokpal bill activities. Why is there such intolerance for those who speak otherwise? For a man of his stature and moral bearings, for a man known to stand for his beliefs, why is there such opposition to anyone else who voices his thoughts? Why is there a need to appeal to Sonia Gandhi? I find it intriguing that a movement that prima facie eliminates the politician from any role appeals to a politician to play a role.

Part of the greatness of our democracy (and I believe in it) is the opportunity it gives to each one of us to say what we want, to try and be heard, to give us a chance to pose alternative voices and opinions. Whoever we might be, however right and morally upright we may be, however powerful we may be, the day any of us can believe that only one voice has legitimate space in our world, we enter dangerous territory.

The bill is too important with too many consequences — not least of all the possibility of landing us in a quagmire — for it to be insulated from opposing voices and opinions. To try and suppress those who have different opinions or who question things is a sign of weak defence.

We need to encourage all voices, of dissent, of alternative opinions and suggestions, wherever they may come from. The issues that have been raised concern each one of us, and thus each one of us has the right to speak and be heard. The fight against corruption is not a proprietary concern, it's a partnership that must involve each citizen. Let the rules of this fight also be configured as a true partnership.

The writer is a Congress MP in Lok Sabha

 ***************************************


THE INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

HOW THE TRIP HAS CHANGED

ALIA ALLANA

 

Dum maaro dum. How the trip has changed. Back then Zeenat Aman swayed in a Kathmandu café. It was the peak of hippie mania when flower people in psychedelic clothes and Kafkaesque glasses flocked to the East to devour mysticism. Today, it is Deepika Padukone with an item number under the strobe lights in a Goan discotheque.

No two trips are the same. Long gone are the magic bus days. Back then, middle-class Americans, fed up with the war and the Commie scare and with a conviction against consumerism, shed their material shackles and took to the road. To the complete unknown.

The hippies would journey from Europe. They would catch the bus, stick notes on hostel notice boards, and strangers would become friends. The magic bus floated through Istanbul, Tehran, Kabul and finally those who V.S. Naipaul dismissed as "sentimental wallowers" would find their way to Goa and Kathmandu.

That is no more. Politics happened, lines were drawn and visas required. The Shah has been replaced by the Ayatollah, Kabul's cafes fear the possibility of another terrorist attack, and India has become the road most travelled.

In the days of Lonely Planet, the hippie trail has changed. Sure, you see drifters with dreadlocks and the peace pipe does get passed around, but the touts are there yelling, shouting. For much of the last decade, the northern Goan fishing village of Arambol was still the place where the Beat manifestos were read, Bob Dylan wannabes strummed and people of all colours and stripes could bum. That trip too changed. In

Anjuna, the mecca of the Sixties, parties now end at 11 pm.

With the arrival of of Israeli tourists, the onslaught of gap-year kids and burgeoning restaurants in Goa, the hippies picked up their belongings and moved on. Goa got too commercial, its beach now more akin to a sidewalk.

Alternative routes had to be chartered. Thus came the East Asian trail — through Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City and Phnom Penh. But one destination was kept private and shared only with "like-minded people": Laos. The sleepy town of Luang Prabang had thinkers floating along the Mekong Delta. Mushroom bars opened. That was the summer of 2002. Then, again, the camera-kids came and the location changed.

A disgruntled traveller once said, "It seems everyone wants to be a hippie these days." So clubs have formed and rules apply. The Sixties flower children paved the way for the Noughties global nomads. Right attire is required. Along with the dress code (sexy army fatigue), membership has become a norm.

The new hippie trail survives through word of mouth and social networking sites. For those in the know, it is back to Arcadian ideals, harping on oneness with nature. Inchoate colonies form, such as the Gathering of the Eternal Light of the Rainbow Family. The Rainbow Family moves from one destination to another, trotting the globe, living pastoral lives in rural communes. They pride themselves on being a multicultural family open to all. Together, they shun a world that they say is orientated towards wealth, power and success. For them, not much matters other than the love for Gaia, Mother Earth. They continue to chant Hare Krishna, Hare Rama, but they kick the "wannabes" out.

Then there are the Bourgeoisie Bohemians of today's modern societies. Those who, writer David Brooks says, are "an elite that has been raised to oppose an elite. They are affluent yet opposed to materialism... They are by instinct anti-establishmentarian, yet somehow they sense they have become a new establishment." They come with iPads and BlackBerrys and their annual pilgrimage is the Burning Man Festival. It is a bohemian week of literature and poetry, fire-twirling and theory-building. On the seventh day, the Bo-Bos burn it all. Who cares about materialism anyway? In London, the new secret is the aptly named Secret Garden Party.

Yet, some continue to wander unconvinced, staunch in their anti-establishment sentiments, believing in the power of self, traversing new trails. A traveller I met in Dali, a bohemian enclave in China, laughed at the prospect of a bankruptcy in the original hippie movement. He'd been on the trail for four decades. He offered me a secret to his travels. A way to survive on five pounds per day, the real hippie way: "Travel with an original volume from the 1960s."

I did through China and, of course, he was right. The sixties can still be a way of life.

 ***************************************


THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

IN SEARCH OF CIVIL SOCIETY

DILIP BOBB

 

The drafting of the Lokpal bill has started to take on the contours of a reality show involving two sides challenging each other's moves and motives. It is, in reality, a contest with ancient origins: the people versus their rulers. As the entire country keeps score with greater intensity than for the IPL, each day's winners are adjudged. One day its the government, the next, the newly formed revolutionary brigade called "civil society" represented by Anna Hazare and his team.

Civil society is a term that's being used with greater frequency ever since the Battle of Jantar Mantar began. With the widespread support for the crusade against corruption, its nature and composition have become of crucial interest and significance. Indeed, the issue is not just the rise of so-called civil society against corruption; it has started to enthuse all those concerned with the changing shape of modern society. There's a problem, though, and it's to do with the amorphous and fragmented nature of civil society in India.

Historians and political analysts have described civil society as "the ultimate third way" of governing a society. What that implies is that there is the state and its organs, there is industry or the market, and there is the civilian society.

Here's the thing: civil society is not inherently virtuous; it is fractured from within and embraces a wide range of people and organisations, which makes it difficult to define. In India, it can embrace spiritual gurus with vast followings and agendas of their own, NGOs, environmentalists, voluntary agencies with political affiliations, corporates on a social responsibility trip, celebrities looking for free publicity and those who are loosely termed social activists. And then of course, there are the largely anonymous claimants comprising students, teachers, executives, retirees, housewives, et al. What they all have in common is that they are all members of civil society. That actually is the paradox. Civil society is a one-size-fits-all description but it is hard to define because it is so diffuse.

The last time a nationwide movement of such power and potential was witnessed was when Jayaprakash Narayan launched his agitation against Mrs Gandhi's Emergency. Since then, membership in civil society seems to have lapsed. The key question is whether Anna Hazare's iniative has awakened a sleeping giant. Mass participation in itself is not evidence of mass empowerment, largely because of India's caste, religious and economic divides which rarely allow for common national cause. That makes it even more difficult to define civil society.

According to one description, civil society "is a public space between the state, the market and citizens in which people can debate and take action" for a larger cause. In the narrower sense, civil society is an all-encompassing term used to refer to social structures and interests beyond the household and outside state institutions. By that definition, it could include any voluntary collective activity in which people combine to achieve change on a particular issue. In recent years, voluntary organisations, human-rights crusaders, NGOs and social activists like Aruna Roy, Medha Patkar and Arvind Kejriwal, to name a few, have taken over the role of catalysts for social change. Sadly, Roy and her supporters are now ranged against Hazare, an indication of how difficult it is to maintain unity in civil society and give it the power of oneness.

By themselves, voluntary associations rarely obtain the level of political consensus required to enforce broad-based social reforms — there's too much diversity of opinion. That's why civil society, to quote political scientist John Keane, "is riddled with danger, since it gives freedom to despots and democrats alike." In its role as the "public sphere", civil society becomes the arena for argument and deliberation as well as for association and institutional collaboration, and the extent to which such spaces thrive is crucial to democracy.

Inequality, as in the Indian context, is the poison of civil society because it endows citizens with different levels of resources and opportunities to participate. Additionally, the government plays such a dominant role in almost every activity involving the public, from distribution of favours, clearances and licences, high-level appointments across a wide spectrum of activities, and the endless red tape that entangles us all every time we need to validate our existence. The result is that citizens, or civil society, have remained largely estranged from the state.

The definitive work on the subject is Civil Society: Themes for the 21st Century by Michael Edwards. His treatise rests on the theory that a strong civil society is no guarantee that society will be strong and civil. He shows how collective action in search of an ideal society is an essential part of the human experience but rarely has it led to a better world. Civil society is a concept as old as history but only recently has it moved centrestage thanks to the collapse of Communism and the democratic openings in East Europe and now, the Middle East. It has acquired greater urgency because of universal disenchantment with economic models that no longer seeem to be working and an increasingly insecure world that creates a subliminal need for people to herd together.

Civil society is today's Big Idea, the single most viable alternative to an authoritarian state and a discredited market. What civil society ideally constitutes is the missing link in the success of social democracy. Writer Adam Seligman calls civil society the "new analytic key that will unlock the mysteries of the social order," and "our last, best hope", while the UN and the World Bank see it as the key to "good governance".

After the eruptions in the Middle East, we are faced with more uncomfortable questions about civil society. Is it the preserve of groups predefined as democratic, modern, and "civil", or is it home to all sorts of associations, including "uncivil" society — like militant Islam or right-wing extremists? Is civil society a bulwark against the state, or dependent on government intervention for its very existence? While any consensus is impossible given the range of views on offer, what the Anna factor has done is provided greater clarity on the promise and potential of civil society as a basis of hope and action for the future. The fate of the Lokpal bill will decide the fate of India's civil society.

 ***************************************


THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

WHOSE HAZARE?

MANOJ C G

 

Whose Hazare?

After a section of the Congress branded Anna Hazare an RSS agent, the Sangh broke its silence to say that Hazare's campaign was "largely media-driven", and slammed attempts to paint the entire political class as corrupt. While noting that the 72-year-old activist did get support from all quarters, the RSS said that a thousand motivated men and women assembling at Jantar Mantar could not bring a revolution in a vast country like India. "Nor has the country got so fed up with democracy. The real rebuff to the in-house idiot box revolutionaries came when the people from all the poll-bound states, from Assam to Tamil Nadu, Pondicherry and Kerala, enthusiastically voted to elect their new governments," says the editorial in RSS journal, Organiser.

Referring to Hazare's fast, it says he got support from all quarters "though a particular group of pro-Maoist anarchists tried to hijack it." "Their cohorts in the media quickly jumped into the fray offering saturation coverage, declaring 'revolution is here', 'what we are witnessing at Jantar Mantar is a replay of Tahrir Square' and painting all politicians black. If the politicians are so bad whom have the people in large numbers voted for?" it asks. The editorial claims that Hazare appealed to many Indians because of two reasons — by putting up the image of Bharat Mata on the venue of his fast and invoking the ideals of Chhatrapati Shivaji, Swami Vivekananda and Mahatma Gandhi, and his own record of unblemished public life and patriotic credentials.

Check that bill

While claiming that the outpouring of public support for Hazare's movement reflected outrage against all-pervasive corruption, an article in Organiser says his movement caught the people's imagination with the help of an obliging and aggressive electronic media that whipped up mass frenzy in favour of the Jan Lokpal bill without going into the merits of the bill.

"The ruling dispensation, reeling under tremendous public pressure to come clean, found the easy way out by accepting all the demands put forth by Hazare, including the ones that are unreasonable. A small coterie of social activists masquerading as 'civil society' declared it the 'second freedom movement' (What then was JP's movement against dictatorship in the mid-'70s?)," it says.

Asserting that the Lokpal bill drafted by the government is weak and full of loopholes, it says that the Jan Lokpal draft also suffers from glaring problems. "The proposal of an all powerful anti-graft institution is scary in the absence of checks and balances. The justification given by the self-appointed representatives of civil society that the persons appointed to the high office would be selected by a panel of 'irreproachable integrity' from amongst winners of Nobel and Magsaysay awards doesn't carry conviction."

"Some of the worthies claiming to represent 'civil society' have shady backgrounds. NGOs run by them are undemocratic and are accountable to none. Some of these NGOs are funded by mysterious sources and their functioning lacks transparency. The country can do without such members of the 'civil society'," it adds.

The article says that the "torch-bearers of 'civil society' can't be allowed to usurp space meant for elected representatives of the people. It says the opposition should also have a say in the formulation of the law. It also criticises Hazare for his comments that the ordinary voter is swayed by money and liquor. "This is nothing but contempt for the ordinary citizen and democratic institutions," it says.

Sign language

An article in Panchjanya cites the absence of Hindi signage at the Jamia Millia Islamia to argue that the university is blatantly violating government rules. The article points out that the university, which recently acquired the status of a minority institution from the government, has all its signs and boards in Urdu and English. In the very few places where Hindi was also used, the size of the letters was small compared to English. "This is a clear violation of the Official Language Rules, 1976," says the article, claiming that according to the rules, all government establishments, even in non-Hindi speaking areas, have to use Hindi signs along with English or regional languages as necessary.

The article also faults the university for ignoring the government's reservation policy for other backward castes. It claims that after getting minority status, the university has done away with the mandatory 22.5 per cent reservation for scheduled castes and tribes and 27 per cent reservation for OBCs. "This is an unconstitutional move. Institutions that are funded by the government are obliged to provide reservations to SC/STs, OBCs, the physically challenged, etc," it says.

 ***************************************


THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

THE MADE-FOR-TV REVOLUTION

SHAILAJA BAJPAI

 

It was hailed by television news as a revolution, or as India's Tahrir Square moment (should that be movement?), as citizens came out in droves to support the Anna Hazare fast for the Jan Lokpal Bill and against corruption. It has now become the Anna-Amar kahani; in other words, just another verbal squabble on prime time TV. 'Govt killing Anna drive?' was one debate (CNN-IBN), on Tuesday night, while Times Now had an "exclusive" as Prashant Bhushan hit back at Amar Singh and those who allegedly tampered with a CD that attempted to implicate his father Shanti Bhushan in "corrupt" behaviour and destroy his credibility. Meanwhile, Amar Singh would not "tolerate the doublespeak of the Bhushans" on Headlines Today. One week is obviously a long time in politics and revolutionary movements. Just when we were cutting back on our calorie intake to prepare for another fast revolution, we're back to square one.

Away from scams and shams, it's a real shame that Gaurav Kapoor looks like a baby Lion King but is actually just a human TV anchor for IPL's Extraaa Innings (Sony Max), which became extraaaa long because of rain interrupting play on Monday and Tuesday. Honestly, he should audition for the role if it ever comes up. So far, we're watching the IPL in a kind of mindless, careless way, often with the volume muted. This is a great way to shut out voices — there's really very little that needs description in a Twenty20 match. We can see and cheer those sixes as they disappear into the cheering crowds (haven't people got anything else to do with their evenings besides going to watch a cricket carnival?).

It's still hard, however, for Delhi supporters to see Gautam Gambhir moving his feet to "Ekla Chalo" and not egg him on (instead, hope it ends up splat on his face), or Punjab's fans to discover Yuvraj Singh as a Pune Warrior (what is it with these names)? Then there's Ravindra Jadeja, erstwhile

Rajasthan Royal, now a Kochi Tusker (Tsk! Tsk!— sorry could not resist the impish impulse). Just doesn't sound right. We are getting our loyalties mixed up and it's difficult to know whether to celebrate or mourn a victory as a defeat.

Still, anything is better than our TV serials. Spare a kind thought for them, poor tearie-dearie-drearies. They simply don't know what happiness is or where to look for it. Between them, there's not a smile to be seen unless you catch it in a commercial break. Something seriously wrong — and no pun intended. Seriously. To find something akin to a grin on Uttaran (Colors) or Pavitra Rishta (Zee) is more difficult than a happy face on a primetime news discussion. Everyone is so intent on being unhappy that you have to wonder what they do when they're off camera.

One of the reasons TV serials are becoming increasingly difficult to watch is this unrelenting grimness. We know life is sad, bad and many of our social indices will make you cry, but surely, the young girl in Phulwa (Colors) should be allowed to smile a little more before she turns into a Phoolan Devi-like dacoit?

These are the silliest examples, but you know what we mean. There is a great deal of misfortune and tragedy in the country, but such issues deserve to be treated with sensitivity so that they spread awareness, not be turned into prime-time melodrama. Na Aana Iss Des Laado (Colors) is perhaps the best effort yet to tackle a subject like female infanticide. Last seen, the villainous Ammaji was dancing with the girls — no, not the stars.

If popular culture is not entirely divorced from reality, we are now waiting to see some serials about corruption soon, maybe even Anna Hazare. But, TV producers do need to find new ways to portray social realism. One way may be to break free of the weekday soap format. Any takers?

 ***************************************


THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

AI WEIWEI, DANGEROUS ARTIST

SALMAN RUSHDIE

 

The great Turbine Hall at London's Tate Modern, a former power station, is a notoriously difficult space for an artist to fill with authority. Its immensity can dwarf the imaginations of all but a select tribe of modern artists who understand the mysteries of scale, of how to say something interesting when you also have to say something really big. Louise Bourgeois's giant spider once stood menacingly in this hall; Anish Kapoor's "Marsyas," a huge, hollow trumpet-like shape made of a stretched substance that hinted at flayed skin, triumphed over it majestically.

Last October the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei covered the floor with his "Sunflower Seeds": 100 million tiny porcelain objects, each handmade by a master craftsman, no two identical. The installation was a carpet of life, multitudinous, inexplicable and, in the best Surrealist sense, strange. The seeds were intended to be walked on, but further strangeness followed. It was discovered that when trampled they gave off a fine dust that could damage the lungs. These symbolic representations of life could, it appeared, be dangerous to the living. The exhibition was cordoned off and visitors had to walk carefully around the perimeter.

Art can be dangerous. Very often artistic fame has proved dangerous to artists themselves. Ai's work is not polemical — it tends towards the mysterious. But his immense prominence as an artist (he was a design consultant on the "bird's nest" stadium for the Beijing Olympics and was recently ranked No. 13 in Art Review magazine's list of the 100 most powerful figures in art) has allowed him to take up human rights cases and to draw attention to China's often inadequate responses to disasters (like the plight of the child victims of the 2008 earthquake in Sichuan or those afflicted by deadly apartment fires in Shanghai last November). The authorities have embarrassed and harassed him before, but now they have gone on a dangerous new offensive.

On April 4, Ai was arrested by the Chinese authorities as he tried to board a plane to Hong Kong. His studio was raided and computers and other items were removed. Since then the regime has allowed hints of his "crimes" — tax evasion, pornography — to be published. These accusations are not credible to those who know him. It seems the regime, irritated by the outspokenness of its most celebrated art export, whose renown has protected him up to now, has decided to silence him in the most brutal fashion.

The disappearance is made worse by reports that Mr. Ai has started to "confess." His release is a matter of extreme urgency and the governments of the free world have a clear duty in this matter.

Ai is not the only Chinese artist in dire straits. The great writer Liao Yiwu has been denied permission to travel to the United States to attend the PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature, which begins in New York on Monday, and there are fears that he could be the regime's next target. Among the others are Ye Du, Teng Biao and Liu Xianbin — who was sentenced last month to prison for incitement to subversion, the same charge leveled against the Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, now serving an 11-year term.

The lives of artists are more fragile than their creations. The poet Ovid was exiled by Augustus to a little hell-hole on the Black Sea called Tomis, but his poetry has outlasted the Roman Empire. Osip Mandelstam died in a Stalinist work camp, but his poetry has outlived the Soviet Union. Federico García Lorca was killed by the thugs of Spain's Franco, but his poetry has survived that tyrannical regime.

We can perhaps bet on art to win over tyrants. It is the world's artists, particularly those courageous enough to stand up against authoritarianism, for whom we need to be concerned, and for whose safety we must fight.

Not all writers or artists seek or ably perform a public role, and those who do risk obloquy and derision, even in free societies. Susan Sontag, an outspoken commentator on the Bosnian conflict, was giggled at because she sometimes sounded as if she "owned" the subject of Sarajevo. Harold Pinter's tirades against American foreign policy and his "Champagne socialism" were much derided. Günter Grass's visibility as a public intellectual and scourge of Germany's rulers led to a degree of schadenfreude when it came to light that he had concealed his brief service in the Waffen-SS as a conscript at the tail end of World War II. Gabriel García Márquez's friendship with Fidel Castro, and Graham Greene's chumminess with Panama's Omar Torrijos, made them political targets.

When artists venture into politics the risks to reputation and integrity are ever-present. But outside the free world, where criticism of power is at best difficult and at worst all but impossible, creative figures like Ai and his colleagues are often the only ones with the courage to speak truth against the lies of tyrants. We needed the samizdat truth-tellers to reveal the ugliness of the Soviet Union. Today the government of China has become the world's greatest threat to freedom of speech, and so we need Ai Weiwei, Liao Yiwu and Liu Xiaobo.

The writer is the chairman of the PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature

 ***************************************

 


******************************************************************************************

THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

INDIA INC'S WAKE-UP CALL

 

With one promoter of a leading realty firm arrested earlier on, and three senior executives of top firms (plus two more promoters) arrested on Wednesday, India Inc's in for a rough ride. You can't think of too many instances when so many top executives of top firms were put in jail. Indeed, more can be expected to join them after April 25, when the CBI produces its second chargesheet. Apart from trying to tie up the money trail, the chargesheet will have to deal with the role of other corporates that find a mention in the CAG report as beneficiaries of jailed ex-telecom minister A Raja. The Ruias' Loop Telecom never met the eligibility criterion, nor did the Dhoots' Datacom (in terms of the paid up capital, the articles of association, etc)—yet, they managed to get the telecom ministry to accept their applications and to move them up the queue for the cheap licences. In Loop's case, there is also the issue of whether the Ruia shareholding is more than 10%, masked through front companies—this is what the Enforcement Directorate is examining. Since the Ruias own 33% of Vodafone-Essar, if true, this means Loop violated the 10% cross-holding cap as well. The important thing to keep in mind is that none of those arrested had to give a bribe in the routine course of business—a bribe to get your import consignment cleared quickly, for instance, is also unacceptable but you can argue mitigating circumstances. In this case, most were in different businesses altogether. So if they gave a bribe, and this needs to be proved in the court, it was as part of a conspiracy to gain a lot more from the exchequer.

For the CBI, the tough part comes now, to prove the charges made. As has been pointed out by this newspaper, the chargesheet is a weak one. Many of the actions Raja took—changing of the definition of First Come First Served, advancing the cutoff date—were cleared by the then Solicitor General, and even defended by him in various courts, including the Supreme Court. Once the lawyers for the accused point out that the government's top lawyer—one of the CBI's witnesses—thought that what had been done was legal, a large part of the case falls apart. The big hope then lies in proving the money trail, a quid pro quo for putting them ahead in the line, but the money trail hasn't been sewn up as yet.

***************************************


THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

DRILLING TROUBLE

After the Director General of Hydrocarbons (DGH) went public last month with his disappointment over Reliance Industries Limited's (RIL) failure to increase gas production from the KG Basin, DGH's decision not to approve RIL's capex for 2010-11 and 2011-12 shouldn't come as a surprise—output has fallen from 61 mmscmd reached last year to around 42-43 mmscmd now and is expected to fall to 38 mmscmd in 2012-13, a far cry from the 80 mmscmd talked of at one point. DGH had said, last month, that RIL's output could rise to 67 mmscmd by April if it drilled four more wells. DGH has also rejected two of RIL's gas finds, but not too much should be made of that since all it means is that RIL will have to drill some more and submit more data to convince DGH to certify the reserves in its new discoveries. The refusal to clear capex, however, will have obvious financial implications for RIL and could further slow work on the KG Basin—the CAG report on the allegations that earlier capex was goldplated will be out in the monsoon session of Parliament. But the important question is what happens when there is a disagreement between the operator (in this case, RIL) and DGH.

Under the law, DGH is the custodian of the health of the reservoirs and that is why the management committee of every operator has a DGH representative. The operating committee that comprises the representatives of the companies submit a field development plan to DGH, which studies it keeping in mind whether this will adversely affect the reservoir, whether the right number of wells are being drilled (drilling too many will increase capex and hence reduce the government's share of profits from the field but too few will lower oil/gas production), and so on. So, DGH is within its rights to tell RIL it has to drill more wells in keeping with what it promised in the field development plan. RIL is understandably not too keen since it has a pretty good idea of what lies in each reservoir and feels drilling more wells will unnecessarily add to capex, and at a time when the price it is getting doesn't look so lucrative. The option, in such a case, is arbitration, but it's unlikely any company would take a decision on taking a regulator to court in a hurry. In which case, the tug-of-war between the two will probably continue for a while.

***************************************

 


THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

STILL IN THE DANGER ZONE
MOHAMED A EL-ERIAN

Three years after the global financial crisis, the global economy remains a confusing place—and for good reasons.

Should we draw comfort from gradual healing in advanced countries and solid growth in emerging economies? Or should we seek refuge against high oil prices, geopolitical shocks in the Middle East, and continued nuclear uncertainties in Japan, the world's third largest economy?

Many are opting for the first, more reassuring view of the world. Having overcome the worst of the global financial crisis, including a high risk of a worldwide depression, they are heartened by a widely shared sense that composure, if not confidence, has been restored.

This global view is based on multispeed growth dynamics, with the healing and healthy segments of the global economy gradually pulling up the laggards. It is composed of highly profitable multinational companies, now investing and hiring workers; advanced economies' rescued banks paying off their emergency bailout loans; the growing middle and upper classes in emerging economies buying more goods and services; a healthier private sector paying more taxes, thereby alleviating pressure on government budgets; and Germany, Europe's economic power, reaping the fruit of years of economic restructuring.

Much, though not all, of the recent data support this global view. Indeed, the world has embarked on a path of gradual economic recovery, albeit uneven and far less vibrant than history would have suggested. If this path is maintained, the recovery will build momentum and broaden in both scope and impact.

But "if" is where the second, less rosy view of the world comes in—a view that worries about both lower growth and higher inflation. While the obstacles are not yet sufficiently serious to derail the ongoing recovery, only a fool would gloss over them. I can think of four major issues—ranked by immediacy and relevance to the well being of the global economy—that are looming larger in importance and becoming more threatening in character.

First, and foremost, the world as a whole has yet to deal fully with the economic consequences of unrest in the Middle East and the tragedies in Japan. While ongoing for weeks or months, these events have not yet produced their full disruptive impact on the global economy. It is not often that the world finds itself facing the stagflationary risk of lower demand and lower supply at the same time. And it is even more unusual to have two distinct developments leading to such an outcome. Yet such is the case today.

The Middle Eastern uprisings have pushed oil prices higher, eating up consumer purchasing power while raising input prices for many producers. At the same time, Japan's trifecta of calamities—the massive earthquake, devastating tsunami, and paralysing nuclear disaster—have gutted consumer confidence and disrupted cross-border production chains (especially in technology and car factories).

The second big global risk comes from Europe, where Germany's strong performance is coinciding with a debt crisis on the European Union's periphery. Last week, Portugal joined Greece and Ireland in seeking an official bailout to avoid a default that would undermine Europe's banking system. In exchange for emergency loans, all three countries have embarked on massive austerity. Yet, despite the tremendous social pain, this approach will make no dent in their large and rising debt overhang.

Meanwhile, housing in the US is weakening again—the third large global risk. Even though home prices have already fallen sharply, there has been no meaningful rebound. Indeed, in some areas, prices are again under downward pressure, which could worsen if mortgage finance becomes less readily available and more expensive, as is possible.

With housing being such a critical driver of consumer behaviour, any further substantial fall in home prices will sap confidence and lower spending. It will also make relocating even more difficult for Americans in certain parts of the country, aggravating the long-term-unemployment problem.

Finally, there is the increasingly visible fiscal predicament in the US, the world's largest economy—and the one that provides the "global public goods" that are so critical to the healthy functioning of the world economy. Having used fiscal spending aggressively to avoid a depression, the US must now commit to a credible medium-term path of fiscal consolidation. This will involve difficult choices, delicate execution, and uncertain outcomes for both the federal government and the US Federal Reserve.

The longer the US postpones the day of reckoning, the greater the risk to the dollar's global standing as the world's main reserve currency, and to the attractiveness of US government bonds as the true "risk-free" financial benchmark.

The world has changed its supplier of global public goods in the past.

The last time it happened, after World War II, an energised US replaced a devastated Britain. By contrast, there is no country today that is able and willing to step in should the US fail to get its act together.

These four risks are material and consequential, and each is growing in importance. Fortunately, none of them is yet transformational for the global economy, and together they do not yet constitute a disruptive critical mass. But this is not to say that the global economy is in a safe zone. On the contrary, it is caught in a duel between healing and disruptive influences, in which it can ill afford any further intensification of the latter.

The author is chief executive of PIMCO, one of the world's largest investment companies, with approximately $1.2 trillion of assets under management. He is also the author of 'When Markets Collide'. This article is based on a lecture he gave at Princeton University's Center for Economic Policy Studies Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2011 www.project-syndicate.org

 ***************************************


THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

IT'S RAINING FALSE PROPHETS
SHREEKANT SAMBRANI

If the good folks at Mausam Bhawan who just gave us yet another rosy-goosy forecast of a normal monsoon in 2011 were to predict the winner of 2011 Cricket World Cup, they would surely have picked Sri Lanka. Most of their five parameters would have favoured the islanders: batting first, not playing at home, century in the first innings, record in the World Cup against India, average score of teams chasing at the Wankhede. Yet we would rightly not have attached much credence to such a prophecy because these historical parameters bear no cause-and-effect relationship to the outcome of the current match and have little predictive value.

That pretty much sums up the case of the monsoon forecasts, shorn of the jargon, as well. Five parameters (sea and air temperatures, pressure and warm water volumes) are used. But scientists such as the pioneer Dr PR Pisharoty have said that the current weather is the result of factors no more than three weeks old. We cannot, therefore, predict the weather, say, beyond the middle of May with any certainty of causation. What we have then is based on a plethora of associated conditions, not unlike reading tea leaves, only slightly more sophisticated.

This annual rite of (delayed) spring of little logical rigour and less utility has been with us for two decades. Thanks to the India Meteorological Department (IMD) spin (its current press release exhorts the media to give it wide coverage), it is even taken with a measure of entirely undeserved seriousness.

I have grown long in tooth pointing out the futility of season-long forecasts of rainfall over a continental mass such as India. Gresham's law applies: bad logic drives out good sense! Not only does IMD persist in its quest of this fool's gold, but also manages to get ever higher allocations from a gullible government.

Logical inconsistencies, inaccurate prognoses and a complete absence of utility are the three main reasons for consigning this elaborate attempt to the dustbin. Averaging the precipitation over a large land mass and a three-month period is conceptually flawed. The trade-off and compensation that averaging implies does not apply to the monsoon. Rain-deficit areas cannot receive excess water from surplus areas for the most part, nor can excess rain in August make up for the shortfall, say, in the sowing period of July. Remember July 26, 2005? Mumbai received 945 mm, or half of its annual precipitation, in 24 hours. The monsoon would have been above average even if most of August and September had been dry! High rainfall in coastal Konkan and Orissa makes central Indian precipitation look normal, even when large tracts in the interior receive scanty rains.

IMD's forecasts usually range around 96-104% of the long-term average. Given the size of the country and a margin of error of +/-5%, the actual figure would be within the predicted range in most years and IMD would pat itself on the back. Yet IMD's most abject failure is in chronicling crises, as in 2009. Starting with the onset of the monsoon and continuing through the season, every single forecast went awry and by a large margin at that. I wrote a series of columns pointing this out from July to September. I even found and wrote about an unexplained phenomenon called Madden-Julian Oscillation, which had, in effect, taken our monsoon to China. IMD imperviously put out one feel-good forecast after another. Only at the end did it admit that there was a 23% shortfall!

It failed again to predict a dry June 2010, but was prompt to say that copious rains later in the season made its forecast come good. The most grievous shortcoming was its complete inability to anticipate rain continuing well past September, especially in the peninsula. We are still feeling its aftershocks to vegetable and fruit prices.

Finally, the utility. Even city people know now that it is not just the quantum of rain but its geographic and time distribution that critically affects agricultural production and availability of water for other purposes. Farmers need to know whether and how much it will rain, say, in the next week or so, and planners need to know how much water will be stored in dams and aquifers. IMD now provides district-wise five-day forecasts, presumably to meet this requirement. I have tracked these for the regions I know. They are all right when things are normal, but they predict off-track conditions with a lag, such as heavy rain warnings issued after the deluge. So, even in this endeavour, IMD peddles pastcasts as forecasts! No wonder, farmers, ranging from the urbane Khushwant Singh around Delhi to the rustic dryland growers in Solapur, look at the satellite cloud picture—even IMD can't mess it up!—and consult weather sites on the Internet.

IMD has provided a background note this year. It mentions a number of other institutions engaged in similar exercises. It does not, however, state what earthly sense a single (or slightly disaggregated) season long forecast makes in a country as large as India, nor the logic behind historical statistical analysis when there are no causal relations.

Bob Dylan didn't need the weatherman to know which way the wind blows, but we need real weathermen, not IMD, to tell us how the monsoon will behave!

The author has taught at IIMA and helped set up IRMA

***************************************

 


******************************************************************************************

THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

HALT WORK AT JAITAPUR

With the death of one person and injuries to several in police firing against the background of violent protests against the proposed nuclear power complex at Jaitapur in Maharashtra's Ratnagiri district, the controversy surrounding this project is all set to escalate. Some responsibility for this lies with the leading political opposition in the State, the Shiv Sena, which has spotted a political opportunity in the widespread unease among local communities in and around the proposed project area. However, the main reason for the rising tensions in Ratnagiri district is the peculiar intransigence of the State and central governments in this matter. Despite the Japanese nuclear emergency, they have dogmatically refused to put further execution of the project on hold; this is reflected in Minister for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh's statement last week that the project was a fait accompli. Risk theory as well as elementary norms of democratic governance suggest that nuclear power projects cannot be thrust on unwilling communities, in business-as-usual fashion. Predictably, the continuation of construction work on the boundary of the project area set off the latest round of protests.

The Japanese nuclear emergency has hardly abated. That the promised review of Indian nuclear installations has already been partially completed without any role for independent scientific expertise or public interventions suggests little willingness on the part of the central government and the atomic energy establishment to reassure the public through a transparent and thorough exercise. Even the scale of the Fukushima calamity appears to have done little to modify the insensitivity the Manmohan Singh government has shown on nuclear matters. The passage of the Nuclear Liability Act to reassure potential foreign investors in India's post-deal nuclear industry appeared to take precedence over safeguarding the interests of the Indian people; it actually happened during a countrywide stocktaking of industrial and environmental safety on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the Bhopal gas calamity. The current attitude to the Jaitapur protests only heightens the perception that assuaging genuine safety concerns in an open, democratic fashion matters little to a government that privileges the realisation of the nuclear deal above all else. There is no question of ruling out nuclear power tout court — but there is certainly a need for a larger debate, post-Fukushima, on its role vis-à-vis other sources of energy, including both fossil fuels and renewable sources. Forcing questionable projects on apprehensive communities after a traumatic international disaster is not the intelligent way to go.

***************************************


THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

PSLV NOTCHES UP ANOTHER SUCCESS

Buffeted by two consecutive failures of the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) and the scandal that erupted over a deal to provide S-band spectrum to a private company, the Indian Space Research Organisation has been yearning for some good news to lift the morale of its scientists and engineers. It got that on Wednesday when the workhorse of India's launch vehicle programme, the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV), turned in another flawless performance. Well aware that it could ill-afford another launch failure, and that too of the PSLV with its impeccable record, the space agency had gone to great lengths to ensure a successful flight. The launch, originally scheduled for earlier this year, was postponed for checks on the Vikas liquid propellant engine. Lifting off from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre at Sriharikota on its 18th flight, the rocket precisely followed the planned trajectory and delivered three satellites into orbit 18 minutes later. The main payload, the earth-viewing Resourcesat-2, will provide data for a multitude of practical applications ranging from agricultural monitoring to studying snow cover and coastal zone mapping. India launched its first remote sensing satellite, the IRS-1A, aboard a Russian rocket in 1988. Many more followed, especially after the PSLV became available. India now has one of the largest constellations of remote sensing satellites in operation, supplying data to users at home and across the globe.

The PSLV was conceived as a rocket that would put 1,000-kg remote sensing satellites into orbit. After the failure of its first flight in 1993, the rocket was successfully flown a year later and has not looked back since. In the course of 17 successful launches, it has put 47 satellites into orbit, 21 of them Indian. Through a variety of weight-reducing measures and increased propellant loading, the rocket's performance has been steadily enhanced. In Wednesday's flight, the PSLV effortlessly carried three satellites that together weighed over 1,400 kg. The rocket has also proved capable of carrying out a range of missions. Apart from launching remote sensing satellites into polar orbit, it put the Kalpana meteorological satellite into a near-equatorial orbit and took the Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft on the first leg of its journey to the Moon. Three more launches of the PSLV are scheduled this year. ISRO chairman K. Radhakrishnan has promised that a launch of the GSLV will follow. Indeed, a key challenge for the space agency will be to transform trouble-prone GSLV, equipped with an indigenous cryogenic stage, into as reliable a rocket as its predecessor.

***************************************


THE HINDU

LEADER PAGE ARTICLES

BRIBES: A SMALL BUT RADICAL IDEA

TO ASK A PEOPLE BURDENED WITH SYSTEMIC BRIBERY TO ACCEPT BRIBE-GIVING AS LEGAL IS TO DEMAND THEY ACCEPT CORRUPTION AND THE EXISTING STRUCTURES OF POWER AND INEQUITY IT FLOWS FROM.

P. SAINATH

Let's get this right. The Chief Economic Adviser to the Ministry of Finance, Government of India, wants a certain class of bribes legalised? And says so in a paper titled "Why, for a Class of Bribes, the Act of Giving a Bribe Should be Treated as Legal." The paper is up on the Finance Ministry's website: http://finmin.nic.in/WorkingPaper/Act_Giving_Bribe_Legal.pdf

And the author, Kaushik Basu, modestly describes his contribution as "a small but novel idea." And again, as "a small but fairly radical idea."

The timing is radical. Something like a plan to make sailing less risky issued by the Chief Officer of the Titanic between the first and the second icebergs. (The Skipper being too busy trying to stay afloat in all that gushing floodwater from CWG, CVC, CAG, 2G, DB, Radia, cash-for-votes, WikiLeaks, illicit funds overseas, Supreme Court censures and more.) And with the country sick of corruption — a giant issue in the polls in States like Tamil Nadu.

There are "harassment bribes" and there are "non-harassment bribes," says Dr. Basu. He is mainly concerned with the former. Consider an exporter who has fulfilled all formalities but "is asked to make an illegal payment before getting a customs clearance." Or the bribe someone gives an income tax officer to get one's tax refund cleared. All these are "harassment bribes."

Dr. Basu's solution? "The central message of this paper is that we should declare the act of giving a bribe in all such cases as legitimate activity. In other words, the giver of a harassment bribe should have full immunity from any punitive action by the state." He does clarify that the "act of bribery is still being considered illegal." But he is suggesting a change in law. He argues that the "entire punishment should be heaped on the bribe taker and the bribe giver should not be penalised at all, at least not for the act of offering or giving the bribe."

The Chief Economic Adviser even says where bribery is proved in court, the bribe should be returned to the giver. At present, the bribe giver and taker share a "collusive bond" since both have violated the law. Giving the former immunity, he says, will break that nexus. In his view, the changed law would incentivise the bribe giver to rat on the bribe taker, since he himself faces no punishment. Presto! A 'dramatic drop in the incidence of bribery.' As Dr. Basu proudly says: "The reasoning is simple." It is, actually, simple-minded.

The Chief Economic Adviser dresses up these arguments for middle classes forced to make payoffs. For instance when a person allotted subsidised government land "goes to get her paperwork done ... she is asked to pay a hefty bribe." Yet, his law will in no way curb bribery where scarcity exists. For instance putting a child into school where seats are hard to get. Or even getting that flat or the land he speaks of, allotted. Raising the stakes Dr. Basu's way could mean the victims face heavier demands. After all, the bribe taker needs to be compensated for the higher risk he now runs. And there is no focus at all on government failures that lead to scarcity. Nor on priorities that gift the corporate sector over $103 billion in write-offs in just this budget. Nor on spending policies that cut food subsidies and punish the poor.

The idea of legitimising this culture is an obscene one. Bribery is systemic. To ask a people burdened with it to accept bribe-giving as legal is to demand they accept both corruption and the existing structures of power and inequity it flows from. This is a perverse idea. And it is nowhere as "novel" as he makes it out to be. As early as the 1960s, Gunnar Myrdal trashed such claptrap for seeking to create "resignation and fatalism" amongst the poor and less privileged. And for projecting such "asocial behaviour" as normal. Decades ago, debates on this idea ended up acknowledging how morally corroding such practices were. But I guess with a government as embroiled in corruption as the one he advises, there's a need to exhume the corpse of that argument and dress it up as "novel." Dr. Basu dolls up corruption — for that is what bribery is — at precisely the time the Indian people are showing their revulsion to it.

Dr. Basu's "small but fairly radical idea" suits those who can pay. And devastates those who cannot. Those who can and do make payoffs are unlikely to upset a system that works for them. Where bribery is systemic, the "collusive bond" of giver and taker will strengthen if this dishonest idea becomes a law.

Take this assumption: "Under the new law, when a person gives a bribe, she will try to keep evidence of the act of bribery — a secret photo or jotting of the numbers on the currency notes handed over and so on — so that immediately after the bribery she can turn informer and get the bribe taker caught." Poor people taking secret photos with hidden cameras (available at the nearest malls) and subtle pens which mark notes so the bribe taker won't know? How dumb an idea is that? The assumption that bribe givers will ring the bell after the bribe ignores the realities of power equations in our society and assumes access to legal recourse. Where the giver is poor, Dr. Basu's law will favour the taker. Where the giver is rich, it will favour the system of bribery.

Consider these situations:

The perpetrators of the cash-for-votes scam that corruptly kept this government in power would walk scot free in Dr. Basu's law. (Maybe that's the intention?) Can you see them saying, 'hey, these are the MPs who took our cash?'

What if a 2G scamster says he felt legitimately entitled to spectrum and paid "harassment bribes?"

It would be fine for candidates to buy off voters during elections. After all, it is the takers who are to be punished, even if they turn out to be a few million.

Will a person offering a bribe to a judge be punished if the latter reports it? If the judge accepts the payoff, will the giver report it?

A bribe giver exploits the drug-abuse habit of an official. The drug peddler has full immunity from any punitive action by the state?

An Indian agent of a foreign intelligence outfit successfully bribes Defence Ministry officials. Would that agency then say 'Aha! They accepted kickbacks?' Great! We lynch the officials and congratulate the espionage ring — which is also entitled to its money back.

These situations would be brushed off by Dr. Basu as "non-harassment bribes." He asks: "Should the bribe giver be given full immunity in such cases? The simple answer to this is a — no." Dr. Basu says, "A full answer to how the law should treat such cases will have to await further analysis." However, he is "inclined to believe that even in such [non-harassment] bribery cases ... the punishment meted out to the bribe taker should be substantially greater than on the giver."

Is he wanting a certain "class of bribes" to be legalised or is he really asking for the bribes of a certain class to be okayed? It seems the latter. The companies behind the 2G kickbacks will do fine in Dr. Basu's law. Their conduct will have to "await further analysis." Dr. Basu half admits his scheme could leave public servants "vulnerable to blackmail and false charges of bribe-taking."

Interestingly, about half the references listed at the end of the paper hark back either to other papers by the author himself; to papers co-authored by Dr. Basu with others, to those by still others in books he has edited: or to papers by yet others citing him in the title. Modesty would surely be a small but novel idea here.

Other, clever ideas from Dr. Basu:

This year's Economic Survey of India (referred to by cloying TV commentators as 'Kaushik's Survey') links inflationary pressures to financial inclusion of the poor. "This must not deter us from pursuing financial inclusion ..." but we "need to be aware of all its fallouts."

In the middle of 2010, he favoured decontrolling of fuel prices — which would, he argued, help tackle the price rise, even if it "might raise inflation in the short-term." ( The Hindu, June 14, 2010). Again, this came at a time when food price inflation was pushing past the 15 per cent mark. And even as the FAO was warning against rising food prices worldwide and the immense hardship they would bring. (In December 2010, the FAO's food price index touched a record high.) And India since 2005-06 has seen possibly its worst five-year period in terms of food price increases.

Much earlier, Dr. Basu wrote a piece in The New York Times (November 29, 1994) titled "The Poor Need Child Labour." In it he explained, among other things, why he had once continued to employ a 13-year-old at his home. (Another small but novel idea?) Dr. Basu is also an expert on 'development' who has long argued against banning child labour.

A 'small but fairly radical idea' for this government: can we get somebody who talks sense?

***************************************

 


THE HINDU

OPED

HYDERABAD A U.S. VISA FRAUD HUB

CONSULAR OFFICES ACROSS INDIA OUTLINE A GROWING TREND OF SHARP PRACTICES RESORTED TO BY APPLICANTS

A. SRIVATHSAN


CHENNAI: After sifting through visa applications received by consular offices in India during 2008 and 2009, the United States Consulate in Chennai, where the country-level coordination office for Fraud Prevention Programme is located, found that the volume of fraudulent applications was on the rise. In a cable sent from Chennai ( 229319: unclassified, dated October 13, 2009), the States of Gujarat, Punjab and Andhra Pradesh were identified as hubs of such fraudulent practices. Hyderabad in particular was seen as a centre of large-scale documentation fraud. This affected visa processing not only at the Hyderabad centre but also in other offices in India, the cable said.

This cable, along with two cables ( 195313: unclassified, dated March 5, 2009 and 216420: unclassified, dated July 14, 2009) sent from New Delhi and Mumbai respectively, listed different types of fraud, described some key incidents, and named some agencies and people involved. They briefly discussed improved methods of detection and a tightened process of verification adopted by consulates. After dealing with Indian visa applications, U.S. officials in India gained enough expertise to host training sessions in "adjudication techniques and fraud prevention strategies" for officers stationed in other countries.

These cables were accessed by The Hindu through WikiLeaks.

Consular operations in India are "amongst the busiest in the world" for the U.S. In 2008, about 7,56,000 non-immigrant and 27,000 immigrant visa applications were processed. About 3,083 cases of non-immigrant visa fraud cases were identified. Though this is small compared to the overall number of applications received, the cable noted that the number of fraudulent applications was on the rise. For instance, the number of reported cases of B1 (for business) and B2 (for pleasure) visa frauds "nearly doubled from 1,089 to 2,121" over the first six months of 2009.

Sharp practices were detected across different types of applications. In the case of the business visa, some applicants submitted "fraudulent experience letters and fake document packages, which include passport copies of false relatives, bogus financial documents, and affidavits of support." "Many student applicants, even legitimate ones," presented "fraudulent packages of bank statements and land documents in their interviews."

Other instances

The Kolkata Consulate encountered some blatant cases of fraud in R1 — religious worker — visa applications. A cable ( 142989: unclassified, dated February 26, 2008) sent from this office, described how two 'monks' — one of them was trying to use a stolen passport and the other had a forged one — were caught. Also, some Buddhist monks from the 'Northern District' of West Bengal who applied for the R1 visa "did not belong to the monasteries as they claimed." The cable noted that at times, sources outside India were also complicit in the fraud.

It was observed that in some instances, cooks and maintenance men tried to pass themselves off as Hindu priests. The Fraud Prevention Unit (FPU) of the Mumbai Consulate identified a trend of "mix-and-match" couples where "multiple spouses pretended to be married to the same spouse" who was a legitimate H1-B (speciality occupation) visa holder in the United States, in order to obtain dependant visas. The cable noted that "these applicants were to pay upon issuance approximately $70,000 to the smuggler that arranged their documentation." Misrepresentations of marital status such as "falsely claiming to be single by denying the applicant has a spouse and children and misrepresentations of the age of children in order to qualify as part of the family eligible to immigrate" were prevalent among applicants, particularly those from Kerala.

The cable documented that the majority of fake documents fabricating educational and employment qualifications came from Hyderabad. When 150 companies in Hyderabad were investigated, 77 per cent of them "turned out to be fraudulent or highly suspect." They encountered several fictitious companies in places such as Bangalore and Pune "staffed by Hyderabadis." The cable said "the Hyderabadis claimed that they had opened shell companies in Bangalore because 'everyone knows Hyderabad has fraud and Bangalore is reputable'." Fake certificates issued by shell companies in Pune helped Hyderabadi applicants "to apply in Mumbai's consular district and avoid Chennai."

Even special initiatives such as the Business Executive Programme (BEP) that was meant to enable "large firms with a high volume of travel to the United States to access a priority visa appointment calendar and allows for expedited processing of applicants on the day of the appointment" were not free of fraudulent practices.

Cable 195313, sent from the New Delhi Embassy, pointed out that a purported vice president of Maxwell Industries admitted during an interview at the Consulate General in Chennai that he had purchased a complete package of fraudulent supporting documents from a vendor in Hyderabad in order to benefit from the BEP programme. What surprised the consular officials was not the presence of fictitious company, but "a genuine letter of support from the regional director of Indo-American Chamber of Commerce (IACC) based in New Delhi." This letter sought to confirm that "the applicant and his fictitious company were official members of IACC's delegation to attend the Pack Expo in Chicago." The IACC is a non-governmental, industry-led organisation that looks at ways to promote commercial relations between India and the U.S. Further investigation showed that more companies that were part of the IACC had submitted fraudulent documents.

The U.S. officials noted that "the IACC showed no accountability for its applicants" and that "several IACC applicants, including the CEO for Saravana Bhavan [a south Indian restaurant chain caught in a fraudulent visa application case] confirmed that IACC charged them to obtain an IACC BEP appointment." The IACC was removed from the BEP programme in January 2009. However, the U.S. Mission in India acknowledged "the otherwise positive work that the IACC does on behalf of U.S.-India commercial relations and will continue to work with IACC on non-visa issues." FPUs in consular offices use a combination of methods and tools to detect fraud. For instance, the New Delhi office verified applications from Punjab using applicants' voter identity papers. By looking up the website www.ceopunjab.nic.in, it found "who lives in the voter's house, their age and marital status and/or father's name."

Based on this information, it detected three cases for investigation. Using online phone lists, FPUs located "phone numbers in the area in which the applicant lives and call those neighbors for information about the beneficiaries and sometimes petitioner."

Professional verification services such as Lexis-Nexis ('a global company that helps professionals verify identity and prevent fraud') checks were used. In addition, the Consular Consolidated Data Base (CCD) and Arrival and Departure Information System (ADIS) were deployed to check the status of applicants.

The cables noted that all fraud prevention units in India "are [now] better equipped, and most will soon have appropriate offices from which to operate." They appreciated the cooperation of local authorities. In particular, they favourably mentioned emerging systems such as OLIVE, an online verification system for high priority educational degrees in Andhra Pradesh.

(This article is a part of the series "The India Cables" based on the US diplomatic cables accessed by The Hindu via Wikileaks.')

***************************************


THE HINDU

OPED

'GENUINE BUT FRAUDULENT'

A. SRIVATHSAN

CHENNAI: "Indian Passport fraud is a significant and continuously worrisome fraud challenge." This was the assessment of certain U.S. consular officers. A cable ( 229319: unclassified, dated October 13, 2009) stated that though security features and quality control of current Indian passports had improved, "the issuance controls are lax and penalties are so inadequate that virtually anyone can obtain a genuinely issued, but fraudulent passport with near impunity."

The problem, according to the U.S. officials, "lies in the production inconsistency and vulnerable source documents."

Quality control is so lax that the security feature sometimes goes missing and "genuine passports issued on the same day at the same place can look entirely different." Though police verification is a positive feature of the passport issuance process, such checks are often cursory at best, concluded the cable. It felt that documentation required for obtaining a passport could be easily obtained and fraudulent civil documentation is common in India. "Virtually all birth certificates, death certificates, and marriage registration documents can be purchased from corrupt local government officials or brokers," it said.

The only silver lining, the cable ironically concluded, was the cumbersome Indian bureaucracy. "The application process for a passport can be extremely time consuming and laborious. Anyone with an urgent desire for a fraudulent Indian passport may thus pursue an alternative to acquiring a legitimate passport with fake source documents."

(This article is a part of the series "The India Cables" based on the US diplomatic cables accessed by The Hindu via Wikileaks.')

***************************************


THE HINDU

NOT SO 'CULTURAL'

A. SRIVATHSAN

CHENNAI: A cable ( 216420: unclassified) sent on July 14, 2009, from the U.S. Consulate in Mumbai observed that many cultural groups that regularly visited the U.S. from Mumbai, were involved in "potentially criminal activities in the United States including human trafficking." Some women 'performers' in the cultural groups complained of harassment and exploitation.

Based on a careful study, the cable characterised fraudulent 'cultural groups' as follows: they usually have 10 to 30 members, about five musicians, two or three singers, and many dancers; many have frequently travelled to many countries and perform a mix of Bollywood and Gujarati styles of dances. "Applicants generally have no formal training or are self-taught." Neither can they convincingly answer questions regarding their itineraries or their performances.

The cable said that in January 2009, four members of a 'cultural group' were arrested in the U.S. on four counts of human trafficking. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) reported that some members of the group were forced to work 14-hour days at a bar. "Women were held against their will and their passports, money, and airline tickets were kept by some of the men."

In another instance, two women approached the Consulate to complain that "they were forced into prostitution instead of performing cultural events."

An investigation revealed that "although they may not have been forced into prostitution, they were not paid for services including dancing." In another case, one of the woman performers gave a statement detailing "how the girls were forced into prostitution."

The cable noted that though most women members of cultural groups were willing to provide information on illegal activities involving the groups that occur in the U.S., hardly anyone was willing to implicate themselves.

(This article is a part of the series "The India Cables" based on the US diplomatic cables accessed by The Hindu via Wikileaks.')

***************************************


THE HINDU

CONSTITUTIONAL CONTROLS CHECK RADICAL HINDUTVA, SAYS U.S DIPLOMAT

KATYAYANI MURTI

CHENNAI: Hindu nationalism in India is kept in check by the workings of the constitutional democracy, according to a U.S. diplomatic cable accessed by The Hindu through WikiLeaks.

Commenting on a controversy surrounding the 2006 Rajasthan Dharma Swatantrya Act, an anti-conversion legislation, Geoff Pyatt, Political Counselor in the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, said that "the checks and balances built into the Indian Constitution have so far successfully blunted this piece of anti-conversion legislation" ( 64917: confidential, dated May 22, 2006).

The bill prohibited conversion from one's ancestral religion to another, allegedly only when conversion was by the use of force or allurement or by fraudulent means — though the opponents of the bill contested this. But it did not have a similar bar when it came to re-conversion to one's original religion. This led critics to argue that the provisions of the bill sought to target non-Hindu religions.

At the time the cable was written, All India Catholic Council secretary general John Dayal called the bill's "eventual passage still 'up in the air'," according to the cable. And subsequent developments proved him right.

Passed by the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party in an Assembly session devoid of members of the Opposition who boycotted the proceedings, the bill was returned un-signed by Rajasthan Governor Pratibha Patil, "based on the judgment that parts of the bill may be unconstitutional," the cable says.

The Governor returned the bill to the State Cabinet "with a recommendation that it be sent to President [A.P.J. Abdul] Kalam."

The Cabinet returned the bill without any amendments to the Governor, explaining what it saw as the constitutionality of the bill, and arguing that her refusal to sign the bill was unconstitutional. The Governor held on to the proposed legislation for a year before forwarding it to President Kalam, who declined to approve it. This was as expected by the Rajasthani media, which had "predicted that the bill will be referred to President Kalam, who will choose to send it back to the State Assembly," according to the cable.

"This episode demonstrates that an active civil society, even when representing a tiny percentage of the population (Christians make up just over one tenth of one percent of Rajasthan's population), can influence policy," Mr. Pyatt writes in the cable.

The bill's failure was "a triumph of the democratic and secular values enshrined in our Constitution," the cable quotes Mr. Dayal as saying in a statement to the press addressed to the President.

Nonetheless, in 2008, after Pratibha Patil become the President, a revised version of the bill was passed in Rajasthan.

(This article is a part of the series "The India Cables" based on the US diplomatic cables accessed by The Hindu via Wikileaks.')

***************************************


THE HINDU

'THE KREMLIN ON THE JUMNA'

JAWAHARLAL NEHRU UNIVERSITY SEEN AS CENTRE OF INDIAN LEFT SOFT POWER

HASAN SUROOR


LONDON: Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi is seen by the Americans as a place to watch for a "new generation" of Left leaders who "will use relations with the US, Indian foreign policy, and growing conflict over globalization to solidify Left party gains."

Cheekily dubbed "The Kremlin on the Jumna,'' JNU gets prominent billing in leaked internal American diplomatic communications as a centre of the Indian Left's soft power with a "politically and intellectually charged" student body.

Gets thumbs up

Giving it the thumbs up as "one of the country's pre-eminent graduate institutions'' where "the Left remains firmly in control" despite occasional challenges from the right and the centre-right, one cable dated October 14, 2005 ( 42679: unclassified), accessed by The Hindu through WikiLeaks, says: "The University's intellectually dynamic students have produced influential leaders of national politics, journalism, and the civil service by virtue of their talent, rather than their close proximity to national politicians. A disproportionate number of Indian diplomats are JNU graduates, giving the University a lasting impact on the country's foreign policy."

Charting its history since its inception in 1969, the cable makes the contentious claim that "Indira Gandhi hoped JNU would become the haven of intellectuals bent on countering right and left extremism and encouraging democratic expression."

"JNU failed to fulfil its stated purpose, however, as the University came quickly to be dominated by the Indian Left, which has remained in control ever since."

What old students say

The cable goes on to say how old students "nostalgically described their alma mater as a utopia, where politically and intellectually charged students rarely wished to leave for the real world, a haven from traditional India, where women mingled with men until the wee hours of the morning, and students from depressed rural backgrounds were provided opportunities to come into their own."

One former student, K.P. Vijayalakshmi, who is now a Professor of American studies, recalls the heady days when "politics was our socialization, and that socialization bridged acute socio-economic divisions."

Another old student, Swaran Singh, now a Professor at the university's School for International Studies, highlights the fact that JNU is "the only Indian university in which the university 'establishment' has no involvement with (student union) elections."

"Singh explained that rather than focusing on the quality of university facilities and campus store offerings, JNU student union leaders campaign on international issues, such as the war in Iraq or Indian support of Palestine. JNU influences the national agenda, he contended, in that other universities seek to mirror JNU's democratic structure," the cable says.

And where does it go from where?

"While growing acceptance of centrist and right wing student unions at JNU mirrors a countrywide shift towards more pragmatism and less idealism, the Left will continue to dominate student politics," the cable predicts.

(This article is a part of the series "The India Cables" based on the US diplomatic cables accessed by The Hindu via Wikileaks.')

***************************************


THE HINDU

VATICAN WORRIES ABOUT CATHOLICS IN PAKISTAN

KATYAYANI MURTI

CHENNAI: The Catholic Church leadership expressed concerns about the safety of Pakistani Catholics to U.S. diplomats, describing the sizable minority as "oppressed," according to a cable sent out by a United States Embassy in 2001 ( 2205: confidential, dated November 19, 2001).

In late-2001, as the U.S. was preparing to go to war in West Asia following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Vatican's Deputy Foreign Minister-Equivalent, Archbishop Celestino Migliore, and East Asia and Afghanistan Desk Officer Monsignor Luis Marrano De Montemayor, met U.S. Ambassador Jim Nicholson and South Asia Bureau Afghanistan Coordinator Jeffrey J. Lunstead, in part to discuss the effect U.S. military actions would have on Catholics in Pakistan.

On Pakistan's stability

A cable describing the conversation states that Archbishop Migliore "worried" about "the risk to Pakistan's stability," expressing "concern that the Kashmir situation and Afghan military campaign could destabilize the GOP [Government of Pakistan], with repercussions for Pakistan's sizeable Catholic minority" ( 2134: confidential, dated November 2, 2001).

In response, Mr. Lunstead suggested that Pakistan's decision to join the U.S.-led coalition created the opportunity to "face down radical Islam within Pakistan, thereby also bettering conditions for Pakistan's religious minorities," Catholics among them, the cable says.

Vatican officials were not convinced, however. As of a November 14, 2001 meeting, close to two weeks after the original exchange, Monsignor Montemayor continued to express "grave concern" for both Pakistan's "one million Catholics, which the Vatican considers oppressed," and for the nation's "overall stability" ( 2205: confidential, dated November 19, 2001).

The Vatican representative had reason not to trust Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf's government when it came to protecting Catholics, the cable says.

According to the cable, Monsignor Montemayor told Mr. Nicholson that "initially Pakistan's bishops had cautiously welcomed Musharraf's coup," hoping that he "would ease anti-blasphemy laws," which were "frequently employed to keep religious minorities," including Catholics, "in check."

However, Monsignor Montemayor alleged that, following the coup "the conditions of Pakistan's Catholics worsened," the cable says.

As of early 2009, however, "the Pakistani Ambassador," who is "based" outside of the country, "in Paris, maintains regular contact with the Holy See" ( 186500: confidential, dated January 9, 2009).

The cables were accessed by The Hindu through WikiLeaks.

(This article is a part of the series "The India Cables" based on the US diplomatic cables accessed by The Hindu via Wikileaks.')

***************************************

 

 

 


******************************************************************************************

THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

SC 'KHAP' DIRECTIVE TO OFFICIALS WELCOME

In sharply placing the onus of preventing brutal community "justice" on the district-level civil bureaucracy and the police, the Supreme Court has taken the first firm step in a long time to deal with a matter that politicians and civil servants have done their best to ignore to avoid taking on local bullies or vested interests who cite custom for their criminal behaviour. There is little that distinguishes the rough so-called "justice" — which generally ends in the brutal, often broad daylight killing of innocent people — imposed by certain community-level mechanisms such as "khap panchayats" in North India and "katta panchayats" in parts of the South, from similar "justice" that the Taliban mete out at their pleasure. In both cases, dispensers of the medieval notion of fair treatment for a presumed offence invoke their understanding of tradition or religion.
It cannot be emphasised firmly enough that this barbarism is completely at odds with civilised norms, leave alone democratic values. More, they represent the sharpest deviation from the principles of our Constitution, in which laws of the land are framed by Parliament and interpreted by the judiciary, leaving no room whatsoever for individuals, communities or other institutions to take the law into their own hands. There is "nothing honourable" about the phenomenon of "honour killings", as a Supreme Court bench of Justices Markandey Katju and Gyan Sudha Mishra observed Tuesday, while ruling on a four-year-old case from Tamil Nadu. The country's political executive and the bureaucracy should take note that the judges held that the "institutionalised atrocities" in question were "wholly illegal" and must be "ruthlessly stamped out".
In recent times, certain politicians have made excuses for the practice of sati (burning a wife on her husband's funeral pyre), and others such as Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda have offered glib explanations when under khap "rules" eloping couples have been murdered. The implied sanction of politicians to barbarous acts stems from their fear of alienating votebanks. The homegrown custodians of morality thus get away even when they are participants in the proceedings of kangaroo courts. This leaves ordinary people stricken with fear. They then prolong the cult of silence in the face of blatant crime. At a village in Haryana's Bhiwani district the other day, two widows in their thirties were reportedly beaten to death by a young male relative of one of them — who happens to be a convicted rapist, out of jail on parole — on the suspicion that they were involved in so-called immorality. Over 100 people watched the horror mutely. One of the murderers calmly smoked a bidi sitting on a corpse, striking a posture of triumphal patriarchy. Typically, the police arrived on the scene two hours after the event.
District magistrates and police chiefs of districts, under the
Supreme Court's order, will face suspension, departmental proceedings and criminal action if they fail to check these atrocities when their occurrence is likely. They are to be dealt with in the same way if they do not immediately act to apprehend the culprits in the event such an atrocity occurs without the officials getting to know of it in time to prevent it. The court's ruling will be widely welcomed. Now politicians at different levels can't hope to maintain a wretched status quo with a view to protecting their electoral base, as the onus has been placed on the district administration. Upholding the law is in any case the primary function of the latter. If the basic integrity of the notion of human rights and justice, and the legitimate autonomy of the individual, cannot be upheld at the ground level, all talk of democratic governance ends up being a sham.

 

***************************************


THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

SECRETS AND SPIES

SRINATH RAGHAVAN

Our intelligence agencies periodically find themselves in the midst of a public uproar over alleged acts of omission as well as commission. On one hand, they have been pilloried for apparently failing to prevent major breaches of national security, ranging from the Pakistani incursion in Kargil to the terrorist attacks in Mumbai. On the other hand, they have been embroiled in controversies over illegal eavesdropping, corruption, political machinations, and arbitrary detention and violence. Ascertaining the veracity of these allegations is nigh impossible. For the intelligence agencies are responsible only to the Executive. Then too, there is no legal framework that governs their existence and functioning. Our agencies are, in a very real sense, shadowy outfits.
The drafting of a private members' bill on intelligence is a long overdue and welcome move. The draft has been spearheaded by Congress MP Manish Tiwari, who has been vocal about his concerns regarding the absence of a legal framework for the agencies. The Intelligence Services (Powers and Regulation) Bill 2011 will hopefully generate serious discussion on this important but neglected issue. Though it is unlikely that the private members' bill will be passed by Parliament — not least because of the resistance that the agencies will put up.
Two provisions of the bill are worth underlining. First, it provides for a Standing Committee of Parliament on Intelligence. The bill states that this will function very much like the Standing Committee on Defence. But the analogy with defence breaks down when we look at the provisions for the functioning of this committee. The bill states that if the Standing Committee on Intelligence seeks information from the directors of the Intelligence Bureau (IB), Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) or National Technical Research Organisation, the latter can refuse to disclose it because "it is sensitive information, which, in his opinion, may not be made available".
Here lies the nub of the problem of civilian control of intelligence. Striking an optimum balance between efficiency and control is very difficult owing to the undeniable requirement of secrecy. There is an obvious need to keep the activities, methods and sources of intelligence away from the public glare and restricted to the smallest possible circle within the government. The problem is further complicated by the fact that even within an intelligence agency, information is shared on a strict need-to-know basis. The requirement of secrecy naturally provides wide latitude to the agencies and limits the extent of executive control. As it stands, the bill is not strong enough and leaves too much to the discretion of the heads of the agencies.
Historically, the agencies have seldom shied away from exploiting these limits. Take the case of the IB. After Independence, the IB continued to maintain close links with its erstwhile parental organisation: the British Security Services (also known as MI5). The MI5 retained a Security Liaison Officer (SLO) in New Delhi from early 1947 onwards. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru was dimly aware of this arrangement, but did not know about the extent of the cooperation between the IB and MI5. Recently released MI5 documents show that the first director of
the IB, T.G. Sanjevi Pillai, cooperated with British officials in keeping a tab on the Indian high commissioner to London, V.K. Krishna Menon — a man they deeply distrusted for his alleged Communist leanings.
The next director of IB, B.N. Mullik, went further in his dealings with the MI5. The latter even sent officials to Delhi to review the IB's espionage on the Communist Party of India. Throughout this period, Mullik threw a veil on the MI5's liaison in Delhi and misled Mr Nehru. A British SLO noted that Mr Mullik did not have "sufficient confidence in the Prime Minister's continuing approval of the liaison willingly to draw his attention to it". Mullik, of course, was thoroughly delighted with the relationship. He wrote to the director general of the MI5 after a trip to London: "I never felt that I was dealing with any organisation which was not my own. Besides this, the hospitality and kindness which all of you showed to me was also quite overwhelming".
A second important feature of the bill is that it explicitly prohibits the agencies from furthering the interests of any political party or coalition. Given the activities of the agencies, especially the IB, in the past, it is not clear that a mere injunction would suffice. Besides, the line between interests of the state and more narrow political interests is often blurred. Consider two examples. In late October 1962, following the onset of the war with China, the IB began tapping the telephone of the senior political leader, T.T. Krishnamachari. Mullik believed that Krishnamachari was critical of the government's handling of the crisis, hence his activities needed to be monitored. Mullik's presumption was matched by his agency's incompetence. Krishnamachari soon became aware of the eavesdropping and took up the matter with Nehru. It took the Prime Minister's personal intervention to bring the issue to a close.
A few months later, the irrepressible Mullik sent another "intelligence report" that claimed that the Swatantra Party, led by C. Rajagopalachari, had decided to launch a political offensive against Mr Nehru for the botched conduct of the war. Mr Nehru ensured that a copy of the report reached his old colleague and friend. Rajaji responded forcefully: "The whole story is a diabolical fabrication… We are living in the midst of dangerous liars and fabricators". In the post-Nehru period, the IB's shenanigans received explicit political blessing. The newly created RAW also plunged into electoral politics in 1971-72, though its mandate was external intelligence.
The agencies have not only been used by their political masters, but have willingly insinuated themselves into political affairs. This is largely because of the quest for continued patronage. The bill rightly holds that the heads of the agencies should not be eligible for reappointment to any post. They would do well to emulate the example of the British director of the IB, who, after quelling the Quit India protests of 1942, quietly retired from the service and spent the rest of his days as the vicar of his Cambridgeshire village.

Srinath Raghavan is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi

***************************************


THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

HAZAAR QUESTIONS FOR HAZARE

SIDHARTH BHATIA

Cynicism, Wikipedia tells us, "refers to the beliefs of an ancient school of Greek philosophers known as the Cynics. Their philosophy was that the purpose of life was to live a life of virtue in agreement with nature. This meant rejecting all conventional desires for wealth, power, health and fame, and by living a simple life free from all possessions".
It is a term that has been freely bandied about in recent days. In modern usage, cynics are people who scoff at things and express doubt that anything worthwhile will happen. So those who asked questions of the anti-corruption crusade of Anna Hazare and his brigade were immediately dismissed as being cynical. The implication was that they were unconvinced about the genuineness of not only the campaign but also of Mr Hazare himself. Barely hidden beneath that dismissal of their views was the notion that they somehow were on the side of the corrupt, or at least were not as angry with corruption as the rest of the country. Basically it amounted to "if you are not with the campaign you are happy with the status quo". On a personal note I can say that many people called me that (and several other unprintable things) for comments I made on social networking sites and during television discussions on the subject.
If anyone does fit the classical description of a follower of the cynicism school it is Mr Hazare himself. We must presume that he is free of all desires for wealth, power and fame and his zeal for cleaning up the system is totally selfless. His many followers will undoubtedly agree with this definition.
Yet, perhaps, one could also make a case that he has displayed a cynical attitude in other, more conventional ways too. Consider his views on the masses of India. In one casual sweep of the hand, he dismisses the multitudes as ignorant and even corrupt. When asked if he would stand for elections, he said he wouldn't because he would just end up losing his deposit. The voters can be bought off with liquor and gifts and he did not have the wherewithal to do so. Thus, in his worldview, voters (the aam janata) were a greedy bunch of people who would vote for a candidate on the basis of the cash they got.
To my mind this is an exceptionally offensive statement. It not only shows crass ignorance of complex political processes but also flies in the face of the facts. Time and again, voters have shown immense maturity and sagacity, voting in or out entire governments on the basis of their performance. When Indira Gandhi lifted the Emergency and went to the people, they threw her out because they were angry with her subversion of democracy. Less than two years later, they voted her back in because they saw the alternative was even worse.
There are no dearth of examples of strong candidates losing and hopeless candidates winning because of the collective decision taken by voters. To think that the countless millions who queue up in the hot sun to cast their vote are there because of the kitchen gadgets they got from political parties is ridiculous. In all the election rounds in Kerala, Assam, Tamil Nadu and now West Bengal, we have seen over 70 per cent turnouts; could all of them have been under the influence of party-sponsored liquor?
And yet, those who pointed this out as well as raised doubts about other aspects of the anti-corruption crusade or the Jan Lokpal Bill or indeed the inclusion of a father and son team on the panel as representatives of "civil society" were dubbed as cynics. It was as if they were the naysayers who stood for a corrupt system while Don Quixotes were out there trying to bring down the evil giants who were pretending to be windmills. A very romantic image, no doubt, but completely off the mark.
Dismissing those who ask important question as "pro-establishment" or "vested interests" is an old trick deployed by the causerati who see themselves as the conscience keepers of the world. NGOs, activists and now those who show their support by posting Tweets see everything as a "them and us" mode. Their dedication to their favourite cause blinds them to everything else. They chafe at any questions being asked. I once recall interviewing a young film-maker who had made a documentary about Bombay's slums; in the middle, she just stood up and walked off, claiming that the issue (and her belief in it) was not open to questions. Self-righteousness is a handy attribute to have when one is so committed to a cause. The easiest way to go after anyone who shows another side to the story is to label him/her "cynical". This is negativist thinking.
In this age of hyper media, especially 24/7 television channels, which see issues in a simplistic black and white way, critical thinking takes a back seat. Which is why the so-called cynics cannot be heard above the din. Now that the dust has settled down, the celebrities have gone home and the media has moved on to other things, let the questions begin.

Sidharth Bhatia is a senior journalist and commentator on current affairs based in Mumbai

***************************************


******************************************************************************************

DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

PARALLEL KASHMIR PEACE INACTIVE

 

Another civil society initiative following the more recent one of the BJP parliamentary group led by former President Rajnath Singh, has been reactivated to take up the thread of interacting with Kashmiri separatists from where it had been left ten years ago. This is the umpteenth initiative in the long and recurring trial initiatives aimed at finding a path out of the woods in Kashmir. Previously called Kashmir Committee, it had aided the 2004 dialogue between the then NDA government and Kashmiri civil society. Its premiers like Ram Jethmalani, Madhu Kishwar, V.K. Grover and others reported that their group had already received confirmation from some of the Kashmiri leaders like Abdul Ghani Bhat of Hurriyat (M) and Naeem Khan of PDP and Shabir Shah. It is true that Kashmir separatists had developed soft response to former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the first Indian Prime Minister who stated on Pakistani soil that India had accepted the partition and the birth of a new and independent state of Pakistan out of the original territory of India. The Kashmir Committee intends to revive their tradition of holding meetings with the people of the state, including members of civil society, media persons, and people with political affiliations including separatists. Though the panel convener Madhu Kishwar and the President, Ram Jethmalani both emphasized that their Committee had o conflict with the tem of interlocutors appointed by the Home Ministry and which has been shuttling between New Delhi and Srinagar for last several months, yet the fact is that the separatists and the Hurriyat refused to interact with the interlocutors arguing that the committee was moving along the lines dotted for it by the home ministry. In all probability, sensing that dissidents in Kashmir had given no credence to the interlocutor's team, policy planner in New Delhi would not want to let the dialogue process come off the rails, and as such, its independent Track II diplomacy comes to play a part in the shape of reviving the decade old Kashmir Committee. According to a joint press note issued by the President of this Committee, Ram Jethmalani, the committee had, in the course of its previous exercise "made significant progress and a solution appeared near at hand. Unfortunately, it was put on the back-burner." In a significant conference on Kashmir organized under the aegis of this committee in New Delhi early last year, people from all political streams --- both mainstream and separatists ---- had managed to agree on the PDP Self-Rule framework which laid out a formula for demilitarization, political restructuring and economic integration of the two parts of Kashmir". Nobody knows whether the team of intrlocutors is also converging in one way or the other on these parameters of settlement of the issue or not. Nevertheless as the panel convener of the Committee said they couldn't cash on the gains made in that extraordinary meeting, although some of them have been in touch with people on the ground in Kashmir and yet want to open alternate channels of communication which can prevent many a misleading information. The group, or call it initiative, has covered good ground in creating parallel understanding and rethinking among the intellectuals and legal luminaries of Pakistan. Jethmalani is also traveling to Pakistan next month, along with a group of five people, on the invitation of Chief Justice Iftikhar Choudhary. The visit comes after a peace mission from Pakistan comprising 130 eminent lawyers visited India and decided with the Supreme Court Bar Association of India to work towards peace and strengthening of democracy, and openly discuss contentious issues, Kashmir being one of these. The committee emphasizes that it does not align with or represent any political party and call themselves a deeply concerned group of citizens supplementing the work of all others who have the same commitment and are engaged in pursuing the goal of Indo-Pak peace and an honourable and viable settlement of the Kashmir problem. This notwithstanding, the truth is that neither of the two governments has expressed any doubt or hesitation in the mission set forth by the Committee for itself.
To concretize the political scenario in Kashmir at the moment, we find that two options are being simultaneously examined and a good discourse has been initiated by the media to ascertain which of the two would be the lesser evil. One is the greater autonomy option floated by the patron of the frontline mainstream party, National Conference, and the other is the Self-Rule concept floated by the patron of the party in opposition, namely PDP. New Delhi would like to keep both the options open on the table and go on watching the course of history. This may also lead to subtle polarization of the team workers. Invitation from Pakistan Chief Justice to Jaithmalani team and its associates is also in a way reflective of the support of Pakistani civil society to the democratically installed ruling paraphernalia in that country for the peaceful resolution of all outstanding issues between them. It is to strengthen the hands of the civilian government that comes under the pressure of Army hawks more often than not. The statement of Indian Prime Minster that if he is able to bring about peaceful relationship with Pakistan, his job is done is very significant in the backdrop of what has been detailed above.

***************************************


DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

TEA CUP DIPLOMACY

 

PoK Prime Minister Sardar Atiq Khan has invited Dr. Farooq Abdullah to join him over a cup of tea at Chakothi on the Line of Control. This is a scintillating idea, something Farooq Abdullah usually feels happy with. Let the two meet not as political heavyweights from each side of the Line of Control but as ambassadors of peace and reconciliation between the two parts of the State. Let them talk freely and heart to heart on ground situation and how it can be improved. The crucial question on which the two ambassadors of peace need to concentrate is ways and means of putting an end to terrorism and terrorist camps on the PoK soil. Dr. Farooq Abdullah has a strong case that must elicit a promise from the PoK leader. The case is that innocent and ordinary Kashmiris are being lured on false propaganda to the training camps set up by an agency beyond the control of Atiq Khan but on the soil of his homeland. This spells death and destruction to hundreds and thousands of peace loving Kashmiri families in the valley. It distances the people in the two parts of the State and that is the main reason of disruption of peace in the region. Farooq has every reason to sympathize with his counterpart while sipping nice tea in a Dak Bungalow in Chakothi for latter's helplessness in keeping his backyard safe from predators.

***************************************


DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

CENSUS 2011METROS NO GOOD FOR HABITATION

DR. ASHWANI MAHAJAN

 

Though results of fifteenth Census of India 2011 are only preliminary, they indicate important changes in life of India. Census 2011 indicates that rate of growth of population has nosedived in two most populated cities of India, namely Delhi and Mumbai. Delhi's population grew by 44.3 lakhs during 1991-2001 and that of Mumbai (island city and sub -urban) by 20 lakhs. In terms of decadal growth rate, population of Delhi grew by 47 percent, while population of Mumbai grew by 20 percent in that decade. It is worth noting that during that decade 1991-2001, overall population of India grew by 21.5 percent. Now when in the next decade 2001-11, decadal growth of overall population has been recorded at 17.6 percent, there has been out of proportionate fall in population growth in Delhi and Mumbai. Delhi has recorded a growth rate of less than 21 percent during 2001-11, as compared to 47 years a decade earlier. Another metro Mumbai has recorded a much lower growth in population, that is, 4.2 percent. If we subdivide Mumbai into island city and sub-urban Mumbai, we find 5.75 percent negative growth in island Mumbai city, whereas sub-urban Mumbai population has recorded a positive but low growth by 8 percent. As such whereas Mumbai recorded an addition to population of 20 lakhs during 1991-01, during 2001-11 it could add hardly 5 lakh to its population and its population could hardly increase from 1.19 crores in 2001 to 1.24 crores in 2011. But it is also true that in terms of density Mumbai still has highest density of population in the country.


Amidst rising trend in the world towards urbanisation in the country and the world, this statistics of slowing down of population growth in metros, forces us to think. Yet it is generally believed that people from other parts of the Country migrate to metropolitan cities and thus increasing congestion in the metros makes life difficult for the people and there is pressure on existing infrastructure so also on the government to create additional infrastructure.
But the 2011 census figures indicate some different picture. Size of Delhi's population grew by 20.96 percent between 2001 and 2011, against the national average of 17.6 percent. It is generally believed that migration of population from other parts of India is the major cause of growth of population in Delhi. There was nothing wrong in this perception, as even during the decade 1991-2001, population of Delhi grew by 47 percent against national decadal rate of growth of population of 21.5 percent. Now that population of Delhi has grown just at just 21 percent against the national average of 17.5, very small number seems to actually migrating to Delhi. Further if we try to indicate at the sex of migrating population we find mostly women have migrated to Delhi. This is proven by the fact that Delhi's sex ratio has improved from only 821 females in 2001 to 866 in 2011 per 1000 of males. National sex ratio is 940 females per thousand of males. This means that now those who migrated from rest of India to Delhi have started bringing their families which is causing increase in sex ratio, as well as increase in overall population of Delhi. Thus fresh migration to Delhi has been minimal.
However, due to the growth rate of 21 percent, primarily due to natural growth, density of population in Delhi, which was 9340 persons per km in 2001, increased to 11 297 in 2011. But we must note the fact that population growth rate has come down from 47 percent during 1991-2001, to only 21 percent in the last decade, has in fact given a big relief. Had this growth rate not decelerated this density could have gone to about 13700.
Department of Census tries to explain the cause of this trend. It says that removal of slums from various parts of city, including Yamuna Pushta, as a general drive and displacement of slum clusters due to preparation for Common Wealth Games have been mainly responsible for this trend. Some of these people previously living in slums could not be rehabilitated. Population of NDMC area itself has gone down due to removal of slums. Census report for NCT of Delhi says that it has no information about the status of population affected by the removal of slums. So it seems that a large number of people have migrated out of Delhi. It may be interesting to note that there has been differential rate of growth of population in different districts leading to differential increase in density of population. For instance North - East Delhi registered a huge increase (37 percent) in density during last decade, East Delhi registered 27 percent increase, Central, West and North Delhi registered 23 percent, 20 percent and 15 percent respectively. South Delhi, South West Delhi and New Delhi's density increased by only 11 percent, 5 percent and 4 percent respectively. Previously, due to availability of land it was easy to establish slums, but situation is not the same now. Due to fast development of Delhi in terms of building activity and other infrastructural projects, migration into Delhi and establishing slum dwellings is no longer an easy option. For migrated population, once displaced it is not easy to establish again due to prohibitive property prices in Delhi.


All this is happening when transport, electricity and water facilities etc. are much better than before. Delhi Metro has also revolutionised the living in Delhi. But despite all this Delhi's expensive cost of living is now preventing people from settling in Delhi. A new trend is emerging now and a number of people have moved out of city limits of Delhi and started settling in NCR and now taking advantage of transportation facilities in Delhi they daily come to Delhi for work from surrounding cities of Ghaziabad, Faridabad, Gurgaon, Bahadurgarh, Sonepat etc.


Demographic changes in Mumbai point to similar trends. Census 2011 show a very little increase in population in sub- urban Mumbai and decrease in population in Mumbai island city. Reasons for this trend are perhaps the same. Cost of living in Mumbai has also increased tremendously. Limited availability of land in Mumbai pushes the population out of Mumbai island city as well as sub-urban Mumbai.


One can conclude that due to rising rentals, property prices and cost of living in metros condition of the common man is now becoming miserable and therefore population there is either declining or rising at a lower rate than before. Thus despite rising trend of urbanisation in the country and world over, metros are no longer preferred destination for migrating population.

 

***************************************


DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

HEALTHCARE: FROM GOOD TO EXCEPTIONAL GOVERNANCE

BY DR. SYED AMIN TABISH

 

According to the Millennium Development Goals-access to basic health care is central to the poverty reduction worldwide. Hospitals constitute a very significant part of the overall health care sector and they provide essential services to the public. Hospitals and health systems across the country struggle with issues of governance, particularly when it comes to care standardization and quality improvement. Establishing clear channels of communication and clear lines of accountability for the numerous committees, departments, facilities and business functions of a healthcare enterprise has proven to be an ongoing challenge.
Efficient governance of hospitals requires the responsible and effective use of funds, professional management and competent governing structures. By establishing and maintaining the public's trust, being good stewards of the community's resources, and ensuring high quality care Hospital Administrators can be an important asset on the governing board in fulfilling those duties. Administrators add the perspective of the patient care process as well as a unique understanding of family issues; they grapple with overall health care concerns such as staff shortages, patient safety and quality of care; and they are the most knowledgeable about diseases and new treatment modalities, as well as being aware of the ethical dilemmas posed by new technologies.

 

Healthcare Governance

Governance is important work. How well it is done has significant consequences for health care organizations, the communities they serve, and their patients, medical staffs, and employees.


Hospital Efficiency Task Force

The principles of good corporate governance of hospitals include Effective and Efficient Board Structures and Processes, Long-range planning, financial oversight and Quality oversight. The importance of establishing a Strategic Plan comprising a mission and/or vision statement, a set of core values; a list of communities and health needs to be served; a description of programs and services to be offered; and plans for achieving program and service goals. The Strategic Plan and its components once adopted, management has a responsibility to develop an Operational Plan that translates into specific tactics and activities to be initiated in the next fiscal year.


Brick By Brick: Delivering Good Governance

Governance is essentially a reform package to strengthen the institutions of government and civil society with the objective of making government more accountable, more open, transparent, more democratic and participatory. Good governance is also about effective and equitable government that promotes rule of law. Standards of Good Governance include participatory approach, sustainable, legitimate and acceptable to the people, transparent, promotes equity and equality, able to develop the resources and methods of governance, tolerates and accepts diverse perspectives, able to mobilize the resources for social purposes, strengthens indigenous mechanisms, operates by rule of law, efficient and effective in the use of resources, engenders and commands respect and trust, accountable, able to define and take ownership of national solutions, enabling and facilitative, regulatory rather than controlling, able to deal with temporal issues and service oriented.


Governance in Health Care

With respect to the health care dimensions of the public service, the capacity of a government to provide a good standard of health care is deemed one of the most important elements contributing to a country's standard of living. Universal access to health care, irrespective of one's ability to pay, is regarded as a basic human right in the developed world.

 

Governance in a hospital setting concerns not only economic and financial dimensions, as there is a huge societal aspect associated with the provision of health care. In turn it could be argued that hospital governance takes a more institutional approach. As the concept of hospital governance has been broadened to include both financial and non-financial elements, its purpose is to enable a more integrated approach of supporting and supervising all hospital activities including clinical performance.

 

Indeed, the concept of hospital governance is relatively new. It is a shared process of top level organizational leadership, policy making and decision making of the Governing Body, CEO, senior management and clinical leaders…it's an interdependent partnership of leaders'. It is the process of steering the overall functioning and effective performance of a hospital by defining its mission, setting objectives and… having them realized at the operational level'. One of the key elements needed in order to achieve excellence in hospital governance is having a clear mission and an achievement-orientated culture in which to realise it.


The key principles of governance in the development and implementation of governance models in hospitals include: knowledge of what governance is, achievement of goals, Executive Management Team relationships, unity in direction, unity of command, accountability, ownership needs, self-improvement and understanding governance costs.


Clinical governance is regarded as a framework used to improve the quality of the health care service provided. Its introduction on a formalized basis means that hospitals now have to report on issues of quality whereas previously there had only been financial accountability. The concept of clinical governance tries to improve the quality of healthcare provided through integrating the financial, performance and clinical quality aspects of a hospital. The main aim of clinical governance is to accomplish continuous quality improvement in a health care setting and is designed to consolidate fragmented approaches to quality improvement. It promotes an integrated approach towards management of inputs, structures and processes to improve…clinical quality'. Four main dimensions include professional performance, resource allocation, risk management and patient satisfaction. Other elements include: Patient involvement in service delivery, Staffing and staff management, Continuous professional development, Clinical effectiveness, Education and training, Using available information and Clear lines of accountability and responsibility for clinical care. Clinical governance can be viewed as a mechanism to facilitate multi disciplinary teams all working toward the same goal - the continuous improvement of the quality of care. It is hoped that these cooperative working practices will have a positive influence on both the behaviour of medical professionals and in turn the delivery of care.


Hospital governance is based on the two pillars of accountability and transparency. As the provision of health care is a 'social good' each group of stakeholders merit recognition of its interests. Resources are one of the most pressing issues in hospitals. Issues such as value for money, the reorganization of the health service and patient satisfaction has served to drive the governance process forward. These, in association with the accreditation process would appear to have put governance on the agenda of the health service and hospitals in particular.


From Good to Exceptional Governance

Providing better service; improving health care quality and patient safety; releasing information about the outcomes, costs and charges for care; securing public and stakeholder trust--these are just some of the demands on health care governing boards. There is increasing evidence that good governance at health care organizations is linked to better organizational performance. Accountability includes understanding traditional and emerging stakeholders and constituents and promoting transparency about the organization's performance. An important step while going the corporate way is changing the mindset of people. Leadership is very important here as it is necessary that the managers realise the significance of their mission and are focused towards the goal.
Though implementation of IT is still considered to be nascent in healthcare, as compared to other industries, hospitals are exploring IT to their maximum advantage. While adopting the corporate way of functioning, HR is in the forefront. This is where employees are scanned and are segregated as efficient and non-efficient. Here, hospitals are also required to find out multi-tasking employees, who can be trained further to shoulder more responsibilities and become leaders. Training the workforce is most important, so as not to waste the available manpower.


The Next Generation of Solutions in Managing Healthcare

As we enter the `next generation' of needs in managing healthcare, our unified, focused efforts have never been more needed. The face of healthcare is constantly changing, with technological innovations, new treatments, new laws, and new types of organizations arising almost daily. In addition to negotiating the day-to-day demands of a busy and complex organization, healthcare delivery leaders must also be able to evaluate and understand the impact of alternative care delivery models. The traditional way of delivering care is no longer enough.
Medical education needs to take full advantage of the power of ICT. A well-structured health informatics curriculum needs to be made an integral part of medical education at all levels. Basic ICT facilities, such as good quality access to Internet and e-Journals, need to be made compulsory for all medical colleges in the country. For capacity building, ICT tools should be effectively deployed to train the large number of health workers.


Making the health care delivery system accountable

Accountability has become the fact of life for the health care delivery system. Appropriate measurement tools are needed to evaluate services, delivery, performance, customer satisfaction, and outcomes assessment. All employees bear responsibilities which necessitate assessment and analysis. Accountability will be accomplished when the health care industry implements quality and measurement concepts that yield the highest levels of validity and appropriateness for health care delivery. Performance measurement is fast becoming a way of life for health care providers in this age of increased accountability and outcomes reporting. A strategic plan and implementation of an effective performance measurement system will help to guide an organization to evaluate key processes and implement changes to improve patient care.


(The author is Head, Hospital Administration, Medical Superintendent & Chairman Accident & Emergency Department at Sher-i-Kaashmir Institute of Medical Sciences, Srinagar]

 

***************************************


DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

SAVE HERITAGE SAVE MUBARAK MANDI

BY ANIL PABA

 

Need to preserve the monuments is there because the monuments provide information about the past. And, this use of the monuments is very important for the human progress. Because mankind has succeeded in developing its society only due to its ability to develop a system through which it became capable to inherit the knowledge acquired by its preceding generations at the very outset of the beginning of the civilization progress. The monuments reveal the knowledge of material, engineering skills and aesthetic values of our fore father. When we look at the majestic structures that have with stood in the passage of time, we truly marvel at the skill and scientific knowledge possessed by people who gave shape to these buildings. Thus it is clear that the development of civilizations could become possible only because of mankind's quality to take lessons from the past. Recently, a controversy arose over the issue of Government decision to allocating the Mubarak Mandi complex, the official seat of Dogra rulers of the state since its inception in 1846 to private entrepreneurs for building a five-star Hotel.


With the result various organizations and individuals came forward and took strong exception to the order of the state government to hand over control of the complex to an NGO. One should really appreciate the feelings of 'Mubarak Mandi Bachao Andolan' a people's movement who have also come into the streets to save the important Dogra heritage,besides other political parties who raise the issue. The primary threat to the Dogra heritage is mainly due to commercialization of the Mubarak Mandi , which is not meant for the commercial activities. "Monuments should be a monuments, it should not be commercialized." There is an urgent need to expose the elements behind the conspiracy to destroy Dogra culture and the issue should be resolved without hurting the sentiments/feelings of the people of Jammu.


Government of India should immediately intervene into the matter and hand over the historical 'Mubarak Mandi' complex to Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). It is pertinent to mention here that for preserving old and ancient monuments in the country, the central government created a specific authority namely Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) nearly 150 years back. The job entrusted to this authority was formulation of programs at large scale, problem oriented exploration and excavation of prehistoric, proto historic and other ancient sites. Apart from these ASI was given the task of conducting architectural survey, landscaping around monuments, chemical preservation of sculptures monuments etc. located in the different parts of the country.
To set the records straight and crystal clear for all the generation to come ASI should make concerted efforts to preserve and maintain all the monuments including Mubarak Mandi complex, which are of valuable historical importance. Since yesterday is considered to be the base for today ( as past is for the present), our efforts should be confined to the preservation and strengthening of all the monuments of historical importance which will act as a guiding spirit and force for the coming generation.


Our ancient art objects, ancient complex etc. of historical values where ever they are, and in whatever conditions, are our heritage, it is the moral duty of one and all to preserve our cultural heritage and retain the pristine glory of the past for the future generation.

 

***************************************

 


******************************************************************************************

THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

ONUS ON SARKAR

COURT STEPS IN TO STOP KHAP SAVAGERY

 

The self-styled keepers of public morality going by the name of khap panchayats have underlined it time and again that they are hell-bent on enforcing their 18th century ideas in the 21st century, in complete disregard of law of the land. They have been encouraged in this endeavour because of the half-hearted attempts of the governments to rein them in. With leading lights of various parties coming forward to justify their kangaroo court decisions, they felt emboldened to make husbands and wives belonging to the same gotra to live as brothers or sisters, or to even kill them. Ideally, the government should have firmly put them in their place. But it has not, and finally the Supreme Court has had to step in. In a landmark judgement on Tuesday, it issued two significant directions. One, it declared "illegal" the khap panchayats' support to such atrocities on couples going in for inter-caste or inter-religion marriages. In fact, a Bench of Justice Markandeya Katju and Justice Gyan Sudha Misra said in no uncertain terms that "there is nothing honourable in such killings, and in fact they are nothing but barbaric and shameful acts of murder committed by brutal, feudal-minded persons, who deserve harsh punishment".

 

Two, it directed all the state governments to immediately suspend the District Magistrates/Collectors and SSPs/SPs if they failed to apprehend those responsible for "honour" killings or prevent such incidents despite having advance knowledge. The order will, hopefully, dry up the official sympathy that these caste groupings unofficially enjoyed.

 

The apex court will have to be extra vigilant to ensure that its orders are implemented in letter and in spirit. While a tough posture is mandatory, the results will depend on the sincerity of implementation. Many well-meaning court orders have come a-cropper in the past due to the lackadaisical attitude of the administration. For instance, court directions to bring some order on Indian roads have failed to have the desired impact. By now it is well known where the sympathies of some of the top leaders lie on the issue of khap panchayats. They must not be allowed to put stumbling blocks in the way of women's empowerment.

 

***************************************

 

THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

RELIEF OVER RAIN

PROBLEMS OF PLENTY MAY EMERGE

 

The excitement over the official forecast of a normal monsoon this year is understandable even if a clearer picture will emerge only after a June review. The celebrations may be premature also for the reason that the Indian Meteorological Department's predictions are not foolproof. Yet the news that rain will be 98 per cent of the long-term average brings relief – for the farmer, the consumer and the government. India is a large market and any shortfall in rain and the consequent impact on farm production raises the possibility of food imports, which sends global farm commodity prices soaring. Despite a good wheat crop and sizeable buffer stocks, the government is wary of wheat exports. Excess grain production calms global markets but brings under the spotlight the issues of inadequate storage, processing and wastage.

 

The advance forecast of the south-western monsoon can help the farmer plan his kharif crops. This is the season when water-consuming paddy is cultivated. Since crop diversification has not become popular due to lower returns from alternative crops, paddy remains the mainstay of Punjab and Haryana farmers, the deteriorating groundwater level notwithstanding. Even if the good monsoon predictions turn unfavourable, farmers do not let the rice crop fail. Almost 98 per cent of the cultivated land in Punjab is under assured irrigation. The heavy dependence on tubewells, however, raises the costs of farming leading to demands for compensation. Deficient rains hike the government's food subsidy bill.

 

While a bumper crop will spread joy all round, it will ease government worries on high food inflation. Lower inflation will, in turn, stop or reverse interest rate hikes -- much to the benefit of industry. A good harvest raises rural incomes and stokes consumer demand for manufactured goods. Industry cannot thrive if agriculture languishes. Even though agriculture's contribution to the country's gross domestic product (GDP) is just 17 per cent, it helps the government achieve an 8-9 per cent growth rate, which attracts foreign investment and boosts stock markets. A good monsoon, thus, contributes to Indians' over-all well-being.

 

***************************************

 

 

 


THE TRIBUNE

COLUMN

PULITZER FOR MUKHERJEE

SENSITIVE FOCUS ON CANCER

 

By winning the prestigious Pulitzer prize Siddhartha Mukherjee adds one more name to the literary elite of the world with origin in this country. "The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer" selected for the general non-fiction category by the Pulitzer had already featured among the 10 Best Books of 2010 in The New York Times Book Reviews Sunday, which is a rare feat for a work of non-fiction. This, in fact, speaks volumes about the literary merits of the book which treats a technical subject like the history and prognosis of cancerous cells with great sensitivity and understanding.

 

The book chronicles narratives of lethality of the dreaded disease braved by individuals of great resilience. Balancing compassion and pragmatism, so required while dealing with the technicality of medicine and human experience of suffering, the oncologist turned writer also puts preventive measures for cancer back into focus. In several interviews he has emphasised upon the need for campaigns against smoking and chewing tobacco, a major cause of cancer among young men and women. For a country like India, where the treatment for cancer is beyond the reach of a common man, this is a good strategy. Another preventive measure he has been advocating is screening for breast cancer in the appropriate age group and at proper time, and its treatment with hormonal therapy. At any given time, nearly 15 lakh cancer patients are in need of facilities of treatment and follow-up in India. Therefore, for the poorer countries like ours, prevention is a better way of dealing with the menace.

 

Cancer has become one of the 10 leading causes of death in India, largely due to ignorance about its timely detection. By an estimate, provided by National Cancer Control Programme, there are nearly 1.5 million cancer cases at any given time. Over 7 lakh new cases of cancer and 3 lakh deaths occur annually due to cancer. Oral and lung cancer in males, and cervix and breast in females account for over 50 per cent of all cancer deaths in India, which can be prevented by taking small preventive steps. Author Siddhartha Mukherjee has indeed done well to focus on this deadly scourge.

 

 

 ***************************************

THE TRIBUNE

ARTICLE

BANNING OF BOOKS

DENIAL OF FUNDAMENTAL RIGHT OF FREE SPEECH

BY JUSTICE RAJINDAR SACHAR (RETD)

 

People belonging to my generation grew up in the aura of Gandhiji's moral leadership and in the heady spirit of freedom struggle. His satyagrah weapon has been accepted as one of the biggest tools in the armour of mass struggles, to be followed by unarmed masses against the deprivation of their rights and denial of social justice. Martin Luther King, the leader of the civil rights movement in the US, openly acknowledged his inspiration from Gandhiji which was reiterated when President Obama during his visit to India without embarrassment acknowledged that he would not have been the President but for the inspiration derived by the Afro-American people from Gandhiji's teachings of satyagrah.

 

Einstein himself, one of the greatest persons of the past century, paid a tribute to Gandhiji when he said, "Generations to come shall scarcely believe that a man like this ever existed on earth."

 

India rightly declared him as the Father of the Nation. Thus, Gandhiji needs no praise from any writer, Indian or foreign, to establish his place as one of the most outstanding moral leaders of the world in centuries.

 

It was, therefore, very disquieting when one read the original announcements by the Law Minister of India that it was intending to ban the book on Gandhiji written by American author Joseph Lelyveld which purports to suggest that Gandhiji was bisexual and racist, notwithstanding the categorical denial by the author himself that "he has not alleged that Gandhiji is a racist or bisexual in his book".

 

Had less panic been shown by those in authority they would have found immediately that this slur was coined by the reviewer in newsmagazine Daily Mail, London, which has a 
history of Churchillian antipathy to the freedom struggle under the leadership of Gandhiji.

 

This was doubly disquieting especially when democratic minded grandsons of Gandhiji themselves rightly took a position against the banning. Gandhiji's life was an open book and he put everything in his own writings. Many in India have commented adversely on his experiment on Brahamcharya, mentioned by Gandhiji himself, but his moral leadership has not suffered.

 

Nevertheless, the government continued insisting either on banning the book even without having read it, not even seen it because it had not been released in India yet.

 

It was only after eminent public men spoke against the ban that the government reacted and had been

constrained to say that no action was required against the book.

 

But, surprisingly, a Congress spokesperson, though refusing to comment when asked by the Press whether the partly wanted a ban on the book by taking cover under a strange explanation, said that "if the government has to take any action legally, the Congress does not comment." This effort to create dichotomy between the party and its government is not acceptable in political life.

 

Would one be right in hazarding a guess that this panicky dichotomy is fuelled by the slimy action of Modi, the Chief Minister of Gujarat, who with his tongue in the cheek has banned the book purporting to show his loyalty to Gandhiji but dubiously keeping quite at his genocidal actions of 2002 when he shamefacedly justified the murder of hundreds of Muslims at the hands of the government-provoked police action in assisting communal mobs. Modi, purporting to respect Gandhi memory by banning the book, cannot wash off the blood stains of 2002.

 

But, apparently, the Congress spokesperson, fearing that Modi may not use the ban to challenge Congress loyalty to Gandhiji, has purported to keep open the question of banning the book in future - this is immature thinking. The government should know that people of India are mature and self-confident enough not to be affected by such derogative, cheap polemics of foreign media. The iconic position of Gandhiji is not so week that it needs to be defended by resorting to the undemocratic method of banning the book. In this atmosphere I fear a more serious danger that if the government were to be allowed to ban the book it might use this precedent in future against all other critical writings against the government to ban them. Such an eventuality would be a serious blow to one of the cardinal principles of our Constitution — the freedom of speech and expression guaranteed to every person.

 

The Supreme Court in a number of cases has emphasised that our commitment to the freedom of expression demands that it cannot be suppressed unless the situations created by allowing the freedom are pressing and the community interest is endangered. The anticipated danger should not be remote, conjectural or far-fetched. It should have proximate and direct nexus with the expression.

 

The court has highlighted in various cases that the freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by Article 19 (1) (a) is one of the most precious liberties in our secular, socialist republic. The freedom to speak one's mind openly, although not always in perfect good taste, is protected under our Constitution.

 

The US Supreme Court has also put it trenchantly by observing that it is the purpose of the First Amendment guaranteeing free speech to preserve an uninhibited market-place of ideas in which truth will ultimately prevail, rather than to countenance monopolisation of that market, whether it be by the government itself or a private licencee.

 

The strong support for free speech, in the words of French philosopher Voltaire, needs to be constantly remembered by the governments, namely, "I disagree with every word you say but I shall fight to death for your right to say so."

 

The governments of the US and Britain have refused to ban the books which have doubted the crucifiction of Jesus Christ, the very foundation of Christian religion. No one has still suggested that the books be banned nor have these books led to a decline in the number of followers of Christianity.

 

We in this country have had embarrassing instances of book banning both by Central and state governments. There has been a lot of criticism and the image of the country as a free, open society has suffered. It is time society leaders showed courage and raised their voice against the banning of books.

 

The writer is a former Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court.

 

***************************************

 


THE TRIBUNE

OPED

ON WRITING A BESTSELLER

BY HARISH DHILLON

 

I write with a fair amount of regularity. But what I write has always been modestly successful and never been worthy of making it to the bestseller list. But my deep and abiding awareness of my severe limitations as a writer has not prevented me from having an occasional and fierce desire of wanting to write a bestseller. During one of these delusions of grandeur, I hit upon what I felt was a surefire formula for a bestseller. I roped in two of my colleagues and they too were enthused by the project.

 

We first found a Barbara Cartland novel which had had about three dozen reprints. It was one of the standard Barbara Cartland romances about a tall dark and handsome hero from an aristocratic family and the beautiful, naïve daughter of a tenant farmer. The romance went through the usual ups and downs but true love finally triumphed. We took the basic plot and, in what we considered a highly creative set of meetings, transposed it to an Indian setting, with the dark hero becoming fair and other such suitable transformations. We added episodes of violence and sex which we thought are mandatory for a bestseller. Then we parcelled out the chapters between us and got down to the serious matter of writing. We would meet after each chapter had been written and try to bring some uniformity to the style. Looking back I think we succeeded admirably.

 

Once we had a complete manuscript we persuaded another colleague, from the Hindi Department, to translate the manuscript into Hindi. Of course, everything was official and an agreement had been drawn up and signed in which each of us would have a 25 per cent share in the millions that would accrue to us by way of royalty.

 

We found a publisher. Our translator colleague made a trip to Lucknow to negotiate the terms and sign the agreement. Of course, the fact that the book had been published under a pseudonym took some of the gloss off our achievement.

 

We waited with bated breath: we did not have long to wait. By the end of the year the book had had five reprints, had been translated into Urdu and the film rights had been sold. Our millions came in the shape of a cheque for the princely sum of Rs 7,857: the publisher claimed that each print order had been of a hundred copies and that according to the contract the translation and film rights had been made over to the publisher in return for his agreeing to publish the novel!

 

We knew that our translator colleague had stolen from us, but then in a sense, the entire venture had originated in a theft. I have never again made a deliberate attempt at writing a bestseller but that doesn't keep me from hoping, once in a while, for the miracle that will transform one of my modest attempts at writing into one.

 

***************************************

 


THE TRIBUNE

OPED

PLUGGING SEX-TEST POLICY LOOPHOLES

THERE IS A LONG LIST OF INDICATIONS FOR ULTRASOUND DURING PREGNANCY, INCLUDING FOETAL WELL-BEING, WHICH IS SUCH A GENERALISED TERM THAT IT VIRTUALLY ALLOWS ULTRASONOGRAPHY ON DEMAND WITH LITTLE REQUIREMENT OF APPLICATION OF MIND AT THE HANDS OF THE ULTRASONOLOGIST

SAKET KUMAR

 

An alarmingly adverse sex ratio at birth is one of the major challenges that the administration is facing in several districts of Haryana. While a multi-pronged strategy is required to tackle this menace, strict enforcement of the Pre-conception and Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex-Selection) Act, 1994, is an important aspect of it. This article aims to highlight the loopholes in the Act and suggest improvements that are essential for its effective enforcement in letter and spirit.

Section 4(2) of the Act specifies that no pre-natal diagnostic techniques shall be conducted except for the purposes of detection of any of the following abnormalities, namely:

Poor rate of convictions

The provisional figures of Census 2011 underline the fact that female child is still considered a curse and unwanted. That is why their number has fallen to an all-time low since Independence. The sex ratio for 2011 stands at 914 girls - down from 927 girls for 1,000 boys in 2001.

On paper, there is a ban on sex-determination tests. But the practice is still flourishing because of low conviction rate. The procedure to register complaints is itself very cumbersome.

According to Union Health Ministry's latest data, only around 6 per cent of cases filed against doctors involved in sex-selection practices in the 17 states, which have the most skewed sex ratio, have ended up in convictions till date.

A total of 805 cases have been filed in court against doctors till March 31, ever since the revised PC and PNDT Act came into force. Only 55 convictions have been recorded since then.

The rest of the cases are either in progress or dropped for "poor investigation and insufficient evidence against the accused". Convictions were the highest in Haryana (23), followed by Punjab (22), Gujarat (4), Maharashtra (3), Delhi (2) and Chandigarh (1). Interestingly, the highest number of cases against doctors was filed in Rajasthan (161), but none has resulted in conviction.

Maharashtra filed 139 cases, Punjab (112), Gujarat (82), Madhya Pradesh (70), Delhi (61), Uttar Pradesh and Haryana (54), Andhra Pradesh (19), Bihar (10), Uttaranchal (9), Chhattisgarh (5), Jharkhand (3) and Chandigarh (2).

Gujarat leads the pack in sealing of ultrasound machines (168), followed by Haryana (133). While Maharashtra sealed 82 machines, Rajasthan (76), Orissa (68), Delhi (48), Punjab (26), UP (37), Jharkhand (13) and Andhra Pradesh (12).

What needs to be done

Making the indications for ultrasonography during pregnancy more specific by removing the "important notes" part of Form F.

The records which have to be maintained by the ultrasound clinics like Form-F and statuary register should be issued from the office of district appropriate authority with proper serial number.

Misoprostol and Mifepristone should be available only against a valid prescription and record maintained at the level of the chemist.

Technological intervention at the level of manufacturer of the ultrasound machine making the number of ultrasounds done and their records permanent and non-deletable at the hands of the operator up to a certain period of time.

 Chromosomal abnormalities;
 Genetic metabolic diseases;
 Haemoglobinopathies;
 Sex-linked genetic diseases;
 Congenital anomalies;
 Any other abnormalities or diseases as may be specified by the Central Supervisory Board.

Section 4(3) says that no pre-natal diagnostic techniques shall be used or conducted unless the person qualified to do so is satisfied that any of the following conditions are fulfilled, namely:

 Age of the pregnant woman is above 35 years;
 The pregnant woman has undergone two or more spontaneous abortions or foetal loss;
 The pregnant woman had been exposed to potentially teratogenic agents such as drugs, radiation, infection or chemicals;
 The pregnant woman has a family history of mental retardation or physical deformities such as spasticity or any other genetic disease;
 Any other condition as may be specified by the Central Supervisory Board.

Thus, very specific provisions have been enumerated as indications for a pre-natal diagnostic technique such as ultrasonography. However, these provisions get thoroughly diluted in Form F of the Pre-conception & Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Rules, 1996 read with Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Amendment Rules, 2003. In the last part of Form F there is a column of Important Notes. The (ii)nd note reads as under: During pregnancy Ultrasonography should only be performed when indicated. The following is the representative list of indications for ultrasound during pregnancy:

 To diagnose intra-uterine and/or ectopic pregnancy and confirm viability.
 Estimation of gestational age (dating).
 Detection of number of foetuses and their chorionicity.
 Suspected pregnancy with IUCD in-situ or suspected pregnancy following contraceptive failure/MTP failure.
 Vaginal bleeding / leaking.
 Follow-up of cases of abortion.
 Assessment of cervical canal and diameter of internal os.
 Discrepancy between uterine size and period of amenorrhoea.
 Any suspected adenexal or uterine pathology / abnormality.
 Detection of chromosomal abnormalities, foetal structural defects and other abnormalities and their follow-up.
 To evaluate foetal presentation and position.
 Assessment of liquor amnii.
 Preterm labour / preterm premature rupture of membranes.
 Evaluation of placental position, thickness, grading and abnormalities (placenta praevia, retroplacental haemorrhage, abnormal adherence etc.).
 Evaluation of umbilical cord - presentation, insertion, nuchal encirclement, number of vessels and presence of true knot.
 Evaluation of previous Caesarean Section scars.
 Evaluation of foetal growth parameters, foetal weight and foetal well being.
 Colour flow mapping and duplex Doppler studies.
 Ultrasound guided procedures such as medical termination of pregnancy, external cephalic version etc. and their follow-up.
 Adjunct to diagnostic and therapeutic invasive interventions such as chorionic villus sampling (CVS), amniocenteses, foetal blood sampling, foetal skin biopsy, amnio-infusion, intrauterine infusion, placement of shunts etc.
 Observation of intra-partum events.
 Medical/surgical conditions complicating pregnancy.
 Research/scientific studies in recognised institutions.

Thus it enlists 23 indications as a representative list of indications for ultrasound during pregnancy. Here evaluation of foetal well-being is also an indication. Foetal well being is such a generalised term that it virtually allows ultrasonography on demand with little requirement of application of mind at the hands of the ultrasonologist. 2171 ultrasounds were reported on pregnant women in district Mahendragarh during the month of January 2011 as per information sought from the office of Civil Surgeon cum District Appropriate Authority for the PNDT Act. Foetal wellbeing was the indication in 1847 (>85%) cases. Thus, it is clearly evident that this loophole is being utilised to defeat the very purpose of the act.

According to Rule 9 of the PNDT rules, every ultrasound clinic has to maintain a register showing (in serial order) the names and addresses of the pregnant women who underwent ultrasonography as a pre-natal diagnostic technique. Further, a record has to be maintained in Form F. The register is not issued by the district appropriate authority. Similarly Form F bears no serial number. For an unscrupulous imaging centre, it is very convenient to under-report the ultrasonographies conducted by it. Since the F form has no serial number, it can be torn off if the imaging centre wishes to under-report the ultrasounds conducted. Similarly, two sets of registers can be maintained: one actual, one for reporting purposes.

The drugs Mifepristone and Misoprostol are widely used as medical termination of pregnancy pills. Mifepristone blocks the hormone progesterone needed to maintain the pregnancy. Because this hormone is blocked, the uterine lining begins to shed, the cervix begins to soften and bleeding may occur. With the later addition of the second medication, Misoprostol, the uterus contracts and the pregnancy is usually expelled within 6 to 8 hours.

These drugs are available with chemists over the counter. Drugs, which are so potent and which can be so easily utilized for killing the female foetus, must only be available through a written prescription of a registered medical practitioner competent to conduct a medical termination of pregnancy under the MTP Act, 1971.

Then there is technological aspect. The record of ultrasounds conducted can be easily deleted from the ultrasound machine or they may not be saved at all by the person conducting the ultrasound.

The inter-district or inter-state migration of the couples willing to get the sex determination test done poses an important challenge. If the enforcement gets strict in one district, such families can avail the facility in neighbouring district or state.

Accompanying social movement is a must in tackling this as it is primarily a social evil. District administration, Mahendragarh, is geared up to fight this stigma and solicits the support of medical fraternity, civil society organisations, religious groups, panchayati raj institutions and individuals.

Dr Saket Kumar MBBS, MD (Paediatrics) is an IAS Officer of Haryana Cadre posted as Deputy Commissioner, Mahendergarh.

 

***************************************


******************************************************************************************

MUMBAI MIRROR

VIEW

REBEL, ROMANTIC, RUNAWAY

A LEBANESE NOVELIST SHARES THE STORY OF HER LATE MOM, WHO LIVED LIFE ON HER OWN TERMS, REGARDLESS OF DISAPPROVAL

 

Two years after her mother's death, celebrated Lebanese novelist Hanan Al-Shaykh decided to write about her mother's life. In the epilogue to the novel The Locust and the Bird (Bloomsbury edition 2010, trans from the Arabic by Roger Allen), she says, "I opened the first chapter with the words, 'I can see my mother and her brother, Uncle Kamil, running after my grandfather,' and then I stopped. Or was it my mother who stopped me? I heard her voice insisting that she wanted to tell her own story.

 

"She did not want my voice; she wanted the beat of her own heart, her anxieties and laughter, her dreams and nightmares. She wanted her own voice. She wanted to go back to the beginning. She was ecstatic that at long last she could tell her story. My mother wrote this book. She is the one who spread her wings. I just blew the wind that took her on her long journey back in time."

 

It's a captivating voice, candid, courageous, but full of a sense of fun. A Beirut newspaper review says that the novel "puts to rest, with much gentleness and ease, every stereotype about the Arab world and its women to which we have long grown attached". Certainly, Kamila, the novelist's mother, emerges as an extraordinary woman.

 

Brought up in dire poverty, Kamila never lost her irrepressible spirit, or her determination to live life on her own terms, regardless of disapproval, scandal, fear and depression. She was never taught to read, write or count.

Her school, when she, her brother and mother eventually went to live in Beirut, was the cinema: her ideas about the outside world, about beauty, clothes, manners came from the numerous love stories she watched. She took the stories literally. When the handsome hero complained about not having a suitable jacket, Kamila became determined to find him one! But why did so many stories have to end in death?

 

Tricked and coerced into marrying her late sister's husband when she was only fourteen, Kamila says, "I used to think of him as Mr-Watch-out-or else... All his efforts to teach me how to clean and be a responsible housewife came to nothing… If one of my dresses fell off its hanger, I left it lying at the bottom of the wardrobe…" She pours a pail of yogurt over herself because he has forbidden her to taste it. And she continues to meet the young man she was in love with.

 

Eight years and two daughters later, she divorces her husband to marry Muhammad, who adores her, writes poetry, is handsome, and from a distinguished family.

 

But he had another side: he wanted her to be serious, to remember his position. He "ensured that I was constantly pregnant, having miscarriages, or giving birth to one baby after another. I was exhausted all the time." Endless cigarettes helped.

 

Perhaps the most remarkable fact about this novel is that it was written at all. Hanan was, after all, one of the two children Kamila left behind after her divorce and re-marriage.

They met occasionally, but when a relative came to take them home, Kamila was upset. "My heart sank. Both girls turned back to look at me, as if seeking confirmation that I was really prepared to let them go. I stood rooted to the spot… For the first time I realised exactly what I'd done," she says.

 

The older girl, Fatima remained close, but Hanan felt abandoned and estranged. "She had never," Kamila complains about Hanan in the novel, "put herself in my shoes…. Did she ever wonder, I thought, how I managed to pay the fare when I came to visit? Did it occur to her that I struggled to work out which button to press in the lift that took me to her floor?"

 

***************************************


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

EDITORIAL

NEW TRADE WINDS

INDIA'S EXPORTS GO NORTH WITH SOUTH-SOUTH TRADE

India's exports have done exceptionally well in 2010-11, up 37.8 per cent in US dollar terms over the previous year (2009-10). Even if we discount the base effect, given low growth last year, and compare the latest figures with those of 2008-09, which was a more normal one, growth works out to a very respectable 33 per cent. What is more, the trade deficit was down in 2010-11 to 6 per cent of GDP, which is the lowest in the last five years. Additionally, the average nominal value of the rupee has marginally appreciated in the first nine months of the current year. All these facts together may be pointing to a structural shift that is taking place in the global competitiveness of the Indian economy along with a rebalancing of economic forces between the developed and emerging economies.

Indian exports rebounded last year after declining by 3.5 per cent in the previous year in keeping with changes in global trade patterns. Global exports grew by 12.4 per cent (by volume) in 2010 after falling by 10.9 per cent in the previous year (2009). Exports of emerging economies grew even faster by 14.5 per cent after falling at a slower rate of 7.5 per cent in the previous year. The ability of emerging economies to sustain their growth and, more importantly, increase south-south trade, has helped India maintain high exports growth. This is despite the fact that, unlike China, India has not pursued a mercantilist exchange rate policy. What gives? The answer may lie in the changing pattern of Indian exports with lower domestic value-addition. Two key classifications of India's foreign trade – crude and petroleum products and gems and jewellery – figure prominently on both sides of the trade account, that is, both make for a high proportion of India's imports and exports. If, for example, one imports and re-exports a lot as Singapore does and ensures two things – keep the currency strong enabling cheap imports (gems and jewellery) and have efficient conversion rates (Reliance, India's major refiner, has about the best conversion rates in the world) – then not only will exports do well but import growth will remain a step behind, holding the trade deficit in check.

 

Figures for the direction and composition of exports for the whole year are not yet available but in the first six months (April-September) exports to Latin America show a phenomenal 107 per cent growth, to Africa 40.6 per cent and to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations 29.2 per cent. Exports to North America are marginally behind followed by Europe. Thus, not only are emerging economies doing well, they are holding hands and helping each other. Other than crude and petroleum products, exports of transport equipment, iron, steel and cotton, yarn, fabrics and made-ups have all forged ahead at over 60 per cent. Exports of manufactured goods as a whole have gone up by 26 per cent. Clearly, something interesting is happening in India's foreign trade. Not only is there greater diversification of products and markets, with south-south trade providing the ballast, but growth is coming without mercantilist policies or an artificially under-valued exchange rate.

 

***************************************


BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

AMERICA'S POLITICAL DEFICIT

S&P FINALLY WAKES UP TO FISCAL MISMANAGEMENT IN THE US

Credit rating agency Standard and Poor's (S&P's) decision to shift the long-term credit outlook for the United States from stable to negative is yet another reminder that the aftershocks of the global financial crisis of 2008 are yet to dissipate. This should serve as a warning that unless the US administration and Congress can handle the fiscal consequences of the myriad stimulus measures put in place to fight the global recession, another financial crisis could be in the making. S&P's specific concern is that "US policymakers might not reach an agreement on how to address medium- and long-term fiscal challenges." The challenge in this case is to reduce the US debt burden from close to 100 per cent of GDP, which is likely in 2011, to more manageable levels in the medium term. S&P's scepticism appears to stem more from its assessment of the US' current political situation in which partisan point-scoring seems to stand in the way of sensible policy making. In short, the rift between the Republican-dominated House of Representatives, which wants to put the burden of consolidation on spending cuts alone (particularly state-funded medical insurance, Medicare), and the Democrat-controlled Senate, which wants to use a mix of higher taxes and spending reduction, could compromise any workable plan of fiscal consolidation.

This, however, is not yet an outright downgrade of US sovereign debt and it is unlikely that the US government will default on its credit obligations in the near future. However, if  concerns about fisc health intensify (US treasury credit default swap spreads have been rising steadily), the status of US treasury bonds as the "default" safe haven (and by extension the US dollar) in times of rising risk aversion will come into question. Europe's travails rule out any European alternative. The only viable safe haven appears to be gold and German bonds, since Germany's robust growth (and, consequently, its fiscal health) seems to be miles ahead of its moribund neighbours. One could argue that emerging markets like India and China, despite their immediate inflation problem, should get the safe haven status. Their underlying growth momentum (cyclical corrections notwithstanding) remains strong and their fiscal health, at least in comparison with the Western world, certainly looks to be in the pink. On the other hand, emerging markets could face other problems. Were US treasury yields to rise on the back of fiscal anxieties, it could turn off the spigot of cheap dollars that have been flooding these markets. Asset prices in these markets could see a sharp correction. Commodity prices that have ridden the wave of easy liquidity could also be hit. The worst-case scenario would be one in which rising interest rates and a heavy fiscal burden could drive the US economy down and that, in turn, would pull the global economy back into the throes of a recession. Though this seems a tad unlikely at this stage, one cannot simply wish the likelihood away. The world expects better leadership from US politicians, but S&P is clearly doubtful if this would be forthcoming.

***************************************


 BUSINESS STANDARD

THE CRISIS OF GOVERNANCE

POLITICAL ACCOUNTABILITY, ELECTORAL REFORMS AND TRANSPARENT MANAGEMENT OF PUBLIC ASSETS MUST BE PURSUED TOGETHER

NITIN DESAI

 

The crisis of governance in India, which has hit with the force of a tsunami, has been brewing for a long time. Its origins lie in the accelerated deterioration in the ethical standards in the political and administrative system. The corruption that we saw in the licence permit raj was cottage industry stuff compared to the organised industrial-scale money making that seems to be common now. Amateurs of the old days have been replaced by professional lobbyists who are adept at bringing together politicians, bureaucrats, media persons and business persons in devious conspiracies.

 

The liberalisation of the economy should have helped by reducing the discretionary powers of the government. But that has not happened for three reasons. First, the government's discretionary powers over resources have not been changed and mining leases, spectrum allocations, land allotments and similar powers of patronage have been exercised in an opaque, and often corrupt, manner. Second, liberalisation has encouraged fraternisation between the business class and the political and administrative class and that has facilitated crony capitalism. Third, our business class has not overcome the habit of seeking regulatory leverage through the use of political connections, increasingly for individual rather than industry's benefit.

Coalition politics and the shift of power from the Centre to states have helped these three trends to erode the already frail integrity of public administration — the senior partner in the coalition turns a blind eye to the shenanigans of some of the junior partners to remain in power at all costs.

Read the Comptroller and Auditor General's (CAG's) report on the 2G scam to get some idea of the brazen arrogance of the money makers and the supine acquiescence of those who should have stood fast and resisted. The government's criticism of the report is not very sound. The beauty of discounting the 2010 3G returns to 2008 levels can be applied in reverse to argue that the 2001 price charged in 2008 for 2G spectrum was, in effect, half as much in value. In fact, it was worth much more as the CAG report demonstrates on the basis of the actual offers made and de facto sale of spectrum rights effected by the private players who got allocations. It's being argued that the revenue loss is irrelevant since revenue maximisation was not a criterion. This, however, does not explain why the windfall gains from a fixed-price spectrum allocation should accrue to some private players without any clear performance parameters on whatever the other objective that the allocation was meant to serve. None of this nit-picking on the CAG's assessment of financial impact answers the charges about procedural irregularities that favoured some applicants.

Sooner or later, the government had to come to grief. Activist Anna Hazare's fast, and the vast support it attracted, was a knockout blow to a system that was already reeling from the revelations about the telecom scam, the Commonwealth Games extravagance, the various land scams, the Radia tapes, the WikiLeaks and much more. But it was also a blow to the idea of a constitutional democracy in which change comes through the electoral process. Perhaps every nation has to relive the trauma of its birth, hence the continued attraction of civil disobedience as the prime mover of radical change.

It is, of course, quite possible that nothing much will come out of all this since the Indian ruling class is very, very clever and quite skilled at emollient gestures and piecemeal incorporation of dissent which can neutralise most adversaries. But if something is to come out of this, there are three priority areas for radical reform.

First, the mechanisms for ensuring accountability in the political and administrative class must be made independent of the executive — the agenda that the reformers who have rallied to Mr Hazare's flag are pursuing. But a real change in behaviour will come only when some big names are caught, prosecuted and imprisoned. For this the integrity of the judiciary and police is crucial and ensuring this is as much a challenge as the disciplining of politics.

Second, we need electoral reforms that ensure greater transparency in the operations of political parties. The reports on income and expenditure that the political parties file are laughable — in the 2004 elections, Lalu Prasad's Rashtriya Janata Dal reported an expenditure of Rs 1.5 lakh per candidate, a declaration that is an insult to intelligence. One reason for these ridiculous declarations is the absurdly low limits of expenditure allowed by the law – around Rs 2 per voter – while the expenditure on logistics incurred by the Election Commission amounts to about ten times as much. The law on election spending must be revised and, at the same time, the Election Commission must be provided the capacity to monitor actual expenditures more effectively.

One proposal aimed at reducing corruption linked to electoral funding envisages that public support be provided for candidates and political parties based on their actual performance at the polls. A weaker variant of this involves the provision of services like poster printing rather than actual cash. But for public funding to work, we need major reforms in the internal operation of our political parties, most of which are blissfully unaware of inner party democracy and are run with little or no accountability even to their own members. Do we really want to give public money to these family enterprises? Public funding for political parties must be tied to their meeting some standards of internal governance and transparency, which is perhaps enforced through a law analogous to the Companies Act.

The third area of reform is transparent management of the vast assets and valuable resources that are still under government control. When these assets or resources are made available to the private sector, it should be through a competitive auction and not by a minister judging a beauty parade of claimants. Auctions can be designed to minimise the risk of collusion among the bidders or between some of them and the public officials conducting the auction.

These three areas of reform are linked — reform electoral funding and political party management and honest people may survive in politics; make it difficult to transfer rights and resources to favoured businessmen surreptitiously and the scope for money making by politicians is reduced. Thus, a real transformation requires that all three be pursued together.

nitin-desai@hotmail.com

***************************************


BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

SHOPPING ANY TIME, ANYWHERE

ARVIND SINGHAL

Even as modern retail gathers momentum, notwithstanding the near lack of support from the government (central and state), a new trend is in the making. This could bring about a fundamental change in retailing as the world thinks of it today and in the way consumers make purchases today. The concept of "any time, anywhere" retailing is different from the existing retail formats other than those solely based on e-commerce. Physical store retail models may offer extended shopping hours, or even a 24x7 operating environment, but customers still have to go to the store. On the other hand, non-store retailing formats such as TV, catalogue, door-to-door or direct multi-level marketing and tele-marketing offer customers varying degrees of flexibility and freedom in terms of location (where to shop), time (when to shop) and the modalities of making payment and receiving goods.

Also, an increasing number of people will value the convenience of "any time, anywhere" shopping for multiple reasons. The most important of these is the increasing time poverty across almost all socio-economic strata other than the ultra-rich and the poor. This time poverty is being exacerbated since an increasing number of women are joining the workforce, a lot of time is being spent at work and hours lost in commuting, more time needs to be spent with children, and socialising and a myriad of other time-consuming activities have become the norm rather than the exception. Thus, it will increasingly become a challenge for most households to find time to go out for shopping, especially the trips made for routine purchases (such as groceries), or purchases that require more time to study and compare product features and understand the price-value equation (such as high-ticket consumer durables), or purchases for which the customer already knows what to buy (a book, DVD or a particular phone handset). For such shopping across several product categories, the customer will increasingly prefer an option that allows her to decide what to buy, place an order and complete the transaction any time and anywhere (at home, in the car, at the airport, at the railway station, even in the train, during lunch at work, during vacation and so on).

 

Fortunately for consumers, technology is advancing rapidly and in an excitingly converging manner. The penetration of personal computing devices (smart phones, personal computers, notebooks and tablets) is growing exponentially. The penetration (and the quality) of broadband and high-speed internet is likely to undergo a dramatic change as the new licensees rapidly roll out their new broadband networks in the next 12 to 18 months. Electronic payment gateways already exist, and it is relatively simple to integrate them with consumers' computing devices. And finally, rapid advances in digital imaging and transmission through the internet can make the next generation of product catalogue much more lifelike, and so much more interactive that they can offer customers more (and more precise) information and decision-making support systems than what a typical retail store sales staff can provide.

It is true that in India new business-to-consumer logistics networks – which are capable of reaching out to thousands of towns and hundreds of thousands of villages – have yet to be built. And that will require major financial, technological and managerial resource investments. However, once such networks are put in place, the cost of delivery (and also the cost of taking goods back from the customers in case of any deficiency in the product) is expected to be quite competitive.

At the same time, the "any time, anywhere" shopping model has the potential to have an extremely disruptive impact on retailers with physical stores (and even on other non-store format retailers including TV). This is because the cost of such engagement between the producer and the customer is quite likely to be significantly lower than current costs (and, therefore, the retail markups). Indeed, it may not be too long before questions are raised on the raison d'être for so-called brick-and-mortar retailers!

arvind.singhal@technopak.com

***************************************


BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

EXIT, PURSUED BY BUREAUCRACY

YUNUS' UNCEREMONIOUS REMOVAL FROM GRAMEEN BANK DOES BANGLADESH NO FAVOURS

BARUN ROY

A M A Muhith, finance minister of Bangladesh, should be a particularly happy person right now. He has won the battle of the rule book and the Supreme Court's sanction to oust Muhammad Yunus as managing director of Grameen Bank. Will Yunus' plea for reconsideration succeed? We've to wait and see. But for now, Muhith has won his pound of flesh. Yunus has bid adieu to his Grameen colleagues and discussed his exit plan. All hail Muhith! All hail bureaucracy!

Is it the end of Yunus' relationship with Grameen, the pioneering microfinancing institution that he founded and built up over three decades? Is this how the whole thing should have unravelled? In an unceremonious exit for someone who has spent a lifetime building his dream and living it? Should no value be attached to the Grameen board's unanimous decision that its rule of mandatory retirement at 60 won't apply in Yunus' case? Is it the result of a political vendetta, as many suspect?

 

It's strange that Yunus-baiters won't give up even though the matter of his "dubious" handling of donor money has been adequately cleared. Suddenly, people have started hating him, accusing him of dishonesty, and portraying Grameen as a vicious moneylender charging exorbitant interest rates. One fails to understand how a person who has fought for his dream against great odds, given the world a novel economic idea, and won the world's acclaim for it in the form of a Nobel Prize, a person whose ideas have been copied by other nations, would suddenly become a scheming, exploiting villain. We thought Muhith wouldn't join the fray, having once stood by Grameen to overcome its early teething troubles.

Because of its very nature, Grameen can't be treated like other commercial banks. Because of it, too, and the style and risks of its operation, it has got to charge higher interest rates than normal commercial banks to stay in business. And Grameen isn't an exception. High rates are as true of Grameen as of all microfinance institutions all over the world, and how to deal with the issue is now the subject of a major debate in the entire micro-financing community. Why should Yunus be in the dock for a "crime" of which he isn't the sole mastermind?

The other charge against Yunus is that Grameen hasn't really helped reduce poverty. Such an accusation can come only from quarters that are bent on finding faults even where there are none. Yunus never meant to make millionaires of poor villagers or replace their mud-and-thatch huts with brick-and-concrete homes. His purpose has been to free the poor from the clutches of loan sharks, help them set up self-help enterprises, empower women, reverse the age-old vicious circle of low income, low savings and low investment, and give its clients a kick-start, so that they can go forward from there, each according to her will and ability.

In this effort he has been immensely successful. Grameen's phenomenal growth since it was formally established in October 1983 – a client base of eight million, $10.3 billion in total lending and a 97 per cent loan-recovery rate – proves that in no uncertain terms. Yunus, thus, has helped prepare the ground. If the government has failed to exploit the opportunity and build on it, why is he to blame?

It's ridiculous that an icon like Yunus could be slighted on such a small issue as retirement age. Whether Yunus should have stood down on his own is a separate question, but that certainly doesn't justify giving him a shabby, vindictive treatment.

However, this won't do Yunus any harm. He will still remain a pioneer and nobody can rob him of the glory of his idea. The real one to come out in poor light is Bangladesh. Muhith and company may not like it, but Yunus is the biggest reason, after Sheikh Mujib and the 1971 war of independence, why the world pays Bangladesh any attention and still keeps for that country a special place in its heart. It's he who has helped transform Bangladesh from an object of global pity into one of global respect. One would have thought Bangladeshis would be proud of Yunus. Instead, in a typically Bengali way, they've chosen to drag him down into a bureaucratic quagmire. It's sad.

What'll happen to Grameen now? Of course, it's not going to die, but, with the inspiration gone from its leadership and the government clawing into its running, Grameen is bound to lose its sheen. What's worse, it might lose the trust of its clients. To the world, Yunus will still be a visionary and a pioneer, but Grameen without Yunus will be just another micro-lending institution, confined within a bureaucratic straitjacket. I could be wrong, but it'll take another Yunus to prove it. Muhith certainly isn't one.

rbarun@gmail.com

***************************************


BUSINESS STANDARD

CHRONICLE OF DEATHS FORETOLD

INDIA HAS THE WORLD?S HIGHEST NUMBER OF STILLBIRTHS, WITH MOTHERS-TO-BE LACKING TIMELY AND RELIABLE MEDICAL ATTENTION

INDICUS ANALYTICS

The sorry state of maternal care in India has come to the media attention once again. A recent Lancet study noted that India has the highest number of stillbirths in the world, accounting for a little under a quarter of the global total. Significantly, the study pointed out that around 45 per cent of these can be prevented by timely medical attention. The District Level Household Survey (DLHS) conducted in 2002-04 estimated that stillbirths occurred in 1.7 per cent of all pregnancies for currently married women in the age group of 15 to 44 years in the three years preceding the survey. In the next round, DLHS-3 for 2007-08 estimated stillbirths at 1.3 per cent of all pregnancies.

However, as the survey respondents were in the age group of 15 to 49 years, the estimates of the two rounds are not strictly comparable. In six states – Bihar, Haryana, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and West Bengal – the share of stillbirths to total pregnancies exceeded 1.7 per cent. And in Delhi, Mizoram, Himachal Pradesh, Lakshadweep and Goa the share was 0.5 per cent or less.

 

Age, education and wealth showed correlation with the incidence of stillbirths — girls less than 20 years of age had the highest share of pregnancies resulting in stillbirths. However, there was a sharp drop in the share of stillbirths when the woman had 10 or more years of schooling, also the highest wealth segment had the lowest incidence of stillbirths. Clearly, access to timely health intervention improves with education and wealth. (Click here for graph)

MOTHERHOOD STATEMENT
Stillbirths are low in the highest wealth segment

Wealth 
index

Still-
births

Induced
abortions

Spontaneous
abortions

Lowest

1.5

0.8

3.4

Second

1.6

1.1

4.2

Middle

1.4

1.6

4.6

Fourth

1.2

2.3

5.3

Highest

0.9

3.0

6.2

Source: DLHS-3 2007-08

With an increase in wealth and educational levels, the incidence of abortions increases, not just induced but also spontaneous abortions. The latter technically refers to miscarriages that naturally occur. At an aggregate level, spontaneous abortions account for 4.7 per cent of all pregnancies while induced abortions account for 1.8 per cent. Though the DLHS report said, "The observed relatively higher level of spontaneous abortion could be due to reporting of induced abortions as spontaneous abortions."

This ambiguity makes interpreting of the results of the survey difficult. In Goa, Manipur, Delhi and Assam the share of induced abortions exceeds 3.5 per cent while Haryana, Delhi and Tamil Nadu stand out with the share of spontaneous abortions exceeding seven per cent of all pregnancies. If induced and spontaneous abortions are taken into account, Haryana, Delhi, Manipur and Tamil Nadu rank at the top. Haryana, therefore, has the dubious distinction of being the state with the least share of live births to all pregnancies.

It goes without saying that pregnancies that do not culminate in live births take a toll on the physical and psychological health of women. Also the limited access to safe health care from qualified health professionals creates more risks. According to the Family Welfare Statistics 2009 of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, abortions were responsible for eight per cent of maternal deaths between 2001 and 2003, the latest period for which data are available. Timely and reliable health intervention – whether it is for safe contraceptive methods or during pregnancy – is vital for reducing the burden on women's health in India.

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

***************************************


******************************************************************************************

THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

IT POURS

A GOOD MONSOON HAS BEEN FORECAST, USE IT AS AN OPPORTUNITY FOR REFORM

 

This year, the Met office assures us, India will have a normal monsoon. This is good news, but it shouldn't lull policymakers into slumber. Over the last six years, while the economy has grown above 8.6% each year, agricultural growth has lagged at less than 3.5%. Yields of major crops like rice, wheat and sugarcane, which shot up in the decade of the 1980s, have slumped in the 2000s and may have peaked out. Remember, these are the crops which receive the maximum amount of irrigation water and get the most favourable treatment in terms of state-determined pricing. The government has to sort out three major issues. One, it has to keep food price inflation in check without eating into the returns of farmers. To check inflation, governments at the Centre and states will need to break the power of middlemen of farm produce. Every state should scrap the agriculture produce marketing committees (APMC) that give a virtual monopoly to buy crops to certain traders. Farmers should be free to sell to whoever they want, not just to designated mandis and agents. Productivity in the eastern states, especially for fruits, vegetables and pulses can go up sharply, and local governments should be encouraged to push that.


Two, to manage the huge stocks of food piling up with the government, an active overseas trade policy needs to be followed. Today, grain stocks are at a record high, valued at more than . 40,000 crore. A lot of this will be eaten by rodents, or rot, unless it's exported. We need to export when global prices are high and balance that with imports during global gluts. Finally, India needs to optimise how it uses water, given that nearly 80% of annual rainfall comes with the south-west monsoon. We need to develop alternatives to canal irrigation, which wastes a lot of water due to evaporation; many more wells and water bodies need to be dug and maintained to retain water for longer periods. A good monsoon is the best time to recharge the levels of underground water. Before the rains hit India, it's best to be prepared so that we can keep and hold most of the water. Outlays for agriculture should become investments, instead of today's leaky subsidies.

 

***************************************

 


THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

ROOM TO GROW

TAX COLLECTIONS BEAT THE TARGET BUT INDIA'S TAX-GDP RATIO IS STILL LESS THAN HALF OECD'S


The Centre's tax collection for 2010-11 has reportedly exceeded the revised estimates by about . 12,000 crore to hit . 7.92 lakh crore. This is good news for fiscal management and on the economy's performance. Corporate tax revenues, for instance, consistently grew at 20% through the year. Excise duty grew at well over 35%, marking an outstanding growth after years of single-digit rise. Although in part, the robust increase in excise was due to the withdrawal of the fiscal stimulus — the duty was increased by two percentage points effective April 2010— positive consumer sentiment has also helped drive up demand for manufactured items. However, it was the customs collection that recorded the most stunning rise, climbing over 60% thanks to a flare-up in crude oil prices. Such vigorous growth in revenues is unlikely to be sustained in the current fiscal, particularly when the economy is beginning to slow. Growth is bound to be negatively affected by the continued tightening by the Reserve Bank of India in its bid to calm inflationary pressures, high cost of capital would force companies to postpone investment and also dampen consumer sentiment. Customs collection too may experience a decline if the government were to lower duty on crude in a bid to prevent price shocks for the domestic consumers.


Despite the robust increase in tax collection in 2010-11, the Centre's collection accounts for just about 10% of GDP. Together with states' collection, tax revenues of the government account for just about 16% of GDP. That compares very poorly with the tax-GDP ratios of developed nations. For instance, the tax-GDP ratio for the UK is 34.3%, for Germany 37% and about 24%for the US. The nation needs to urgently continue reforms of its taxation regime to not only widen the net, so as to bring more people and businesses into it, but also to reduce evasions. Implementation of the goods and services tax is one reform that the Centre and states must achieve a consensus on at the earliest. Information technology-enabled intelligence is the key to collate economic information and convert it into dogged tax collection.

 

***************************************


THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EVIL TWINS?

THE BHUSHAN STORY IS TAKING STRANGE TWISTS. IS THE TRUTH REALLY OUT THERE?


Shanti and Prashant Bhushan, father and son, crusading lawyers and members of a panel to draft the mother of all anti-graft legislation suddenly find themselves under public scrutiny. Suddenly, stuff like tapped phone calls, offers to fix court cases and discounted land deals are being thrown their way. All day till 4 PM television is a storm of charge and countercharge, argument and Amar Singh. (Of course from 4 PM to midnight the only thing the nation wants to know is IPL). For hardened conspiracy theorists, all water cooler conversations are about whether phone call tapes are forged or spliced, and whether the proposed Lokpal should forget judges, b a b u s and n e t a sand just investigate itself. In this din, one crucial — though utterly jocoserious — question has not been asked: are these the real Bhushans? This assumes relevance when you remember that for 31 long years, beginning 1978 when he arrived in the US on a tourist visa, German-born Christian Gerhartsreiter successfully passed himself off as Clark Rockefeller, a member of the clan of millionaire-philanthropists.
Till 2009, when he was finally exposed, Gerhartsreiter was fast friends with the rich and powerful, made money and got admitted into the most exclusive social clubs. In 1985, he allegedly murdered someone, a case now under trial. Could this sort of thing be happening to the Bhushans? Have the real ones been taken over by evil doppelgangers? Are the real Bhushans in peril somewhere, waiting for assistance? Are such things even possible? Ask the people who were close to Clark Rockefeller for 31 years and they'll tell you not to write off anything, even stuff that ventures close to X-Files territory. Fox Mulder and Dana Sculley taught us that the "Truth is Out There." What truth?

***************************************


THE ECONOMIC TIMES

JUST A MID-CYCLE SLOWDOWN

NEAR-TERM GDP GROWTH IS SET TO MODERATE IN A MID-CYCLE SLOWDOWN, BUT TAILWINDS SUPPORT A REBOUND

 

After a V-shaped recovery that bolstered real GDP growth from a low of 5.6% year-on-year (y-o-y) in Q4 2008 to a peak of 8.9% in Q3 2010, there is now growing uncertainty about India's economic outlook. GDP growth estimates range from the finance ministry's 9% y-o-y in FY12 to private sector forecasts close to 7.5%.
A number of recent indicators suggest that economic momentum has slowed. Industrial output growth fell from an average of 14% y-o-y in H1 2010 to 7.6% in H2 2010. The OECD's composite leading index for India has moved to below its long-term trend, also suggesting that the economy is in a slowdown phase.


There are many reasons behind the slowdown. The acceleration caused by inventory restocking and pent-up demand is fading; financial conditions have tightened substantially, owing to tight domestic liquidity; high inflation is squeezing firms' profit margins; government decision-making has slowed due to numerous scams and scandals, while projects — both public and private sector — have been delayed due to slow, often environmental protection-related, approvals.


This does not mean that activity has completely collapsed. The economy appears to be going through a mid-cycle slowdown, rather than an outright downturn. Mid-cycle slowdowns are common and akin to the economy taking a breather. The economy has experienced four such slowdowns between 1992 and 2005 (see chart), caused by slowing industrial momentum. The length of the slowdown from peak to trough has varied from as short as three months (September to November 1999) to as long as 15 months (October 2004 to December 2005).
The current mid-cycle slowdown phase started in February 2010, suggesting that the slowdown has been underway for nearly a year. If the 2004-05 episode is any indicator, then the current downturn should begin to bottom out by the next quarter.


There are six other reasons why this is a mid-cycle slowdown rather than a downturn. First, a revival in external demand is reflected in rising exports as well as the rise in the new export orders index of the manufacturing PMI. While only 15% of manufacturing output is exported, strengthening external demand should boost overall output and add to the already elevated capacity utilisation rates. Moreover, the pick-up in exports is being led by labour-intensive sectors such as gems & jewellery and textiles, which, after agriculture, are important generators of employment.


Second, even as the manufacturing sector (16% of GDP) has been swamped by high input and interest costs, the services sector (57% of GDP) remains strong. Buoyancy in services such as wholesale & retail trading, hotels, transportation, communication and financing & business services should be well supported by strong external and domestic consumption demand. In Q4 2010, while services GDP growth fell, this was entirely due to lower growth in government services. Ex-government, private services rose a solid 10% y-o-y in Q4 2010 and this trend should continue, as lead indicators of the services sector have recovered, even as industrial output growth remains on a downtrend.

 

Third, commercial credit growth is strong and becoming broad-based. Those sectors severely hit during the financial crisis — services and personal loans — have recovered, their share in incremental credit rising to 25% in January (from 18% in March 2010) and 14% (from 5%), respectively. Although the sharp rise in the provision of credit to large industries may largely reflect a strong increase in credit for working capital and not fixed investments, it still reflects solid demand in real economy.

Fourth, domestic consumption drivers remain intact. The recent announcement of 17-30% wage hikes under the rural employment guarantee scheme, higher farm support prices and an elevated level of spending on rural employment and infrastructure should support rural purchasing power. In addition, job market prospects are improving. According to the employment website naukri.com, the total number of new jobs posted reached its highest reading in February, led by the IT, banking and auto sectors. Meanwhile, global HR consultant Aon Hewitt projects a 12.9% rise in Indian salaries in 2011, over an 11.7% rise in 2010, the highest in the Asia-Pacific region.


Fifth, fiscal policy is unlikely to be as contradictory as stated in the Budget. It will be hard for the government to stick to its projected 3.4% y-o-y rise in nominal spending in FY12 (-4.9% in real terms), down from a five-year average growth rate of 19.2%. Such belt-tightening is not feasible when subsidies are likely to overshoot on high commodity prices and costs of projects are usually inflation-linked.


Sixth, policy traction has scope to improve: There is a chance that government decision-making accelerates once state elections in May and a cabinet reshuffle in May/June are completed.


Of course, there are downside risks to growth. These include a sharp reversal in capital inflows, the lack of an investment revival and a sharper-than-expected rise in commodity prices. However, tailwinds to growth suggest any slowdown will be transitory and growth should rebound towards end-2011 as policy traction improves and industry joins the strength in services and exports. Therefore, an 8% real GDP growth in FY12 seems like amore reasonable bet.

 

SONAL VARMA V-P & INDIA ECONOMIST AT NOMURA FINANCIAL ADVISORY (INDIA)

 

***************************************


THE ECONOMIC TIMES

NEURAL NET

RISE AND FALL OF THE SOVIET UNION REVISITED

RAJIV JAYARAM


Of the many gems the thriving Soviet joke industry produced when the 'worker's paradise' was in still business, here goes one of the best. One secret policeman to another: "So, comrade, what do you think of the government?" His colleague looks around before replying, "The same as you, comrade." The first policeman declares: "In that case, it is my duty to arrest you."


This month gives us an opportunity to revisit the joke in all its perverse irony. The Soviet Union had many highs and lows, but this April coincides with anniversaries of two events, separated by a quarter century, which throw an ecstatic high and a pathetic low into sharp relief.


Last week, on April 12, the world celebrated the 50th anniversary of the first human spaceflight by Yuri Gagarin. Even before Gagarin made his famous flight in 1961, the Soviet Union stood out a mile from the run of the US in the space race. But Gagarin's was a coup in what was quintessentially the 20th-century battle for scientific and technological superiority, a conflict steeped in decades of ideological divide. Remember, we are talking about the heady days of the Cold War, 1961. The spaceflight was a remarkable achievement for humanity, of course. For the Soviet propaganda machinery, it was fodder to reshape the mythology of communism. It forced the Americans to rethink their own space programme to leap ahead. But when one looks back at the space race and the moral certainty around it, it's hard not to be cynical: was it less about human achievement and more about a sense of superiority that forced everyone to take sides?


The coming April 26 marks the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster, the biggest nuclear accident ever.

 

On that day in 1986, Reactor 4 of the power plant exploded and in a very short span of time, threw up a plume of radioactive smoke into the atmosphere that spread across Europe. The blast is estimated to have released more than 20 times the combined radioactivity of the atom bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The Soviet response to the disaster was in a sharp contrast to the swagger that marked its victories over the West. As usual when disasters strike, the instinctive reaction in Moscow was to cover up the whole incident. But for the release of natural forces, as wind carried radioactivity far and wide, it would even have succeeded. On April 28, officials in Sweden, some 1,000 km away, had raised worldwide alarm about sharply increased levels of radiation coming from the Soviet Union. Faced with irrefutable evidence, the Soviet authorities admitted on April 29, full three days later, that an accident had taken place, but were little forthcoming on details. Tass carried a report saying that one of the reactors at the plant had been damaged. It spoke of casualties, without specifying how many were killed and the scale of destruction.


But the prognosis for Chernobyl and the surrounding area — known as the Zone of Alienation — was horrendous. A few years ago,National Geographic channel had televised a blow-by-blow account of the accident in its blockbuster series Seconds From Disaster. It showcased the mismanagement, incompetence and callousness that attended disaster management at Chernobyl. It took many hours for the authorities to determine that a nuclear accident had happened; in a heavily centralised decision-making hierarchy, the response from Moscow was dictated by apathy and indifference. The evacuation process was no less scandalous: about 1,35,00 people were evacuated from the disaster zone after two days. Many were dying or becoming sick with acute radiation. They were all corralled into a huge convoy of buses, without being clearly told why they were being taken away or where they were heading for.


Even after a quarter of a century, no one is permitted to live within 30 km of the abandoned plant (now in Ukraine), set in a vast wilderness of deformed ecosystem. The ruined reactor is now enclosed in a fast-decaying colossal cube, called the sarcophagus, to prevent radioactive debris from flying out. Many reasons are cited for the collapse of the Soviet Union, and opinions differ. But there is a near-consensus that what accelerated its demise was Mikhail Gorbachev's glasnost(openness) policy, because it suddenly allowed people to see what kind of a country they were living in, even as they learnt more about the nation's horrible history. If that's correct, then the most remarkable unintended consequences of Chernobyl could well be that it spelled the beginning of the end of the Soviet Union. It was the pathological secretiveness that was in fully display in April/May 1986 that convinced Gorbachev, more than ever before, of the futility of skrytnost (secretiveness) and the need to bring in glasnost. And we know how that turned out.

 

***************************************


THE ECONOMIC TIMES

CURSOR

ANGELS TO CAST THE FIRST STONE?

T K ARUN


He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her —Jesus Christ told a bunch of people who brought to him a woman caught in adultery, asking whether she should be stoned. Shamed, the crowd dispersed and Jesus dismissed the woman, admonishing her not to sin again. Now, some people say that the Bhushans have sinned, and therefore should not take aim at the corrupt. This is gross to the point of being profane. For these people trashing the Bhushans to take the moral high ground is like pigs trying to fly. Christ was trying to save the life of a woman. Bhushanbaiters are trying to derail the movement against corruption. Those told off by Christ only had mischief in mind, the Bhushans are trying to use their expertise as lawyers to frame an effective law to prosecute the corrupt. Let us hope that they do not throw in the towel and walk away from the joint drafting committee for the Lokpal bill.


This column is not deluded that an effective mechanism for prosecuting the corrupt is a one-shot cure for corruption. Far more important is reform of political funding, to make every rupee spent by every political party and politician transparent, and traceable to its source. It is vital to insist on transparency of both expenditure and of income, of parties and politicians. Modern technology can enable rival parties/politicians, voluntary groups and citizens to contest, online, expenditure/income claims of parties and politicians. A well-staffed public institution can moderate this process of challenge and verification. Simple, hand-held devices capable of generating immediate receipts and automatic centralised accounting with space and time tags and specific addresses of the contributors can be mandated to be used by all political parties for collecting small contributions in cash. This would put paid to the practice of parties making spurious claims that crores are collected in the form of countless retail contributions. Random checks can stamp out spurious claims. For large contributions, the donors would have to cite their source of income. If the contributions are small, the donors would be so numerous as to make collective falisification difficult.


Another reform required relates to land. The state should sell, not allocate land to applicants. It should hold periodic online auctions of any land it wants to part with. Conversion of land-use from agriculture to commercial should become automatic, for the asking, in zones earmarked for urbanisation. Mining leases should, likewise, be transparently auctioned online. Systemic reform of this kind would remove large sources of corruption.
Today, companies take money off their books to pay politicians. They should be asked to donate to political parties only by cheque. Those that do not show political donations could, perhaps, pay a cess that goes into a kitty distributed to recognised political parties in proportion to the votes secured by them. Companies making transparent donations is preferable to state funding of political parties. Once political funding becomes transparent and viable without resorting to the current modus operandi, comprising loot of the exchequer, sale of patronage and extortion, politicians would not need civil servants to collude with them in corruptions. Non-corrupt politicians can prevent bureaucratic corruption as well.


If these reforms are done, systemic corruption would come down drastically. Then, and then alone, can a Lokpal (ombudsman) be effective. But that said, there is no reason to undermine the Anna Hazare-led movement for a strong Lokpal.


The notion that direct political action by sections of the citizenry undermines democracy reveals a primitive (possibly casteist) vision: politics is the preserve of an elite set while the rest can go about their work without asking for the fruits of their labour. Elected representatives enjoy delegated power, the people wield real power. When the delegates fail on the job, the people have every right to take direct action.

But shouldn't law-making be the preserve of Parliament? How can any group of citizens appropriate that power? The Hazare backed committee is only making a draft, which will go as an input to Parliament, which body will frame the final law. Should Hazare then accept it and shut up, whatever it says? Only in the sense in which the side that loses an election accepts the winners — they abide by the verdict, but reserve the right to oppose and contest again, when the time comes. Should the Bhushans be squeaky clean, to be on the drafting committee? They are indeed cleaner than most hon'ble MPs who do frame laws. But that apart, their job is to produce a workable law, not play Caesar or his wife and shine in a halo.


The honourable men working on the Bhushans' halo would do well to realise that only way to counter Hazare is to mount a more telling challenge to systemic corruption on their own.

 

***************************************


 

******************************************************************************************

BUSINESS LINE

EDITORIAL

MONSOON HOPES

While a robust onset of the monsoon and its steady progress will boost farm prospects, a contingency plan is required.

Even as discomfort across the country is palpable, with rising summer temperatures and elevated food prices, the India Meteorological Department's forecast of a 'normal' southwest monsoon for 2011 comes as a relief. The IMD rates low the probability of deficient or excess rainfall during the season. However, the Met Office has conceded that experimental forecasts from the majority of statistical and dynamic models suggest below-normal to normal monsoon rainfall over the country. It also admits that climate forecasts prepared at this time of the year have large uncertainty. So, notwithstanding the 'normal' forecast, the risk of the monsoon playing truant cannot be ruled out. While the forecast is for the whole country from June to September, what we need are disaggregated forecasts in terms of temporal and spatial distribution of rainfall, especially given the geographical spread of the country and its varied agro-climatic conditions.

To what extent the forecast for June and subsequent months will help agricultural operations is unclear; what is abundantly clear is the urgent necessity to maximise the kharif 2011 output of major field crops such as paddy, coarse cereals, pulses, oilseeds, cotton and sugarcane. While a robust onset of the monsoon — it usually hits the Kerala coast on June 1 — and its steady progress will boost farm prospects, a contingency plan is required in the event of any aberration. State governments have a crucial role to play, not only in ensuring adequate availability of inputs (seeds, fertilisers, agrochemicals, etc.), but also in closely monitoring the progress of farm operations. On its part, the Union Agriculture Ministry must announce the minimum support price (MSP) for various kharif season crops well ahead of actual planting so that growers can decide which crops to plant and source appropriate inputs.

Even from the current high levels, upside risks to commodity prices, including food prices, are real. Globally, in addition to the low carry-in of important crops this year, high crude prices, a weaker dollar, trade and tariff barriers and unchecked flow of speculative capital have all combined to propel food prices higher. Wheat, corn, soyabean and cotton are all at near-record levels which, in turn, have raised the spectre of a repeat of early 2008, when the markets became overheated, but soon collapsed. For a semblance of control over food inflation, it is imperative that the country harvests a bumper kharif crop in September and stays largely self-reliant. It is common knowledge that food demand rises significantly during the festival season (August to October). Excessive stocks of rice and wheat in public warehouses should not only be liquidated effectively in the coming months but also made both accessible and affordable. It is time to address the supply-side issues holistically. The Centre has its job cut out.

**************************************


BUSINESS LINE

EDITORIAL

NORMS FOR JOBS FOR RELATIVES

MOHAN R. LAVI

The requirement to seek Central Government approval to appoint a relative appears needless now.

Irked by the frequency of visiting relatives to his residence, it is stated that a man solved the issue by borrowing from the rich ones and lending to the poor ones after which none came back.

Transactions with related parties have always been under the scanner and detailed disclosure requirements are laid down by accounting standards. China initially raised objections to the detailed disclosure as required by International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) before falling in line with the requirements of the IASB. Apart from transactions with related parties, regulations exist for appointment of relatives also.

Office of profit Rules

As a part of the supporting legislation to the Companies Act, the Directors' Relatives (Office or Place of Profit) Rules were implemented in 2003.

It starts with an embargo by stating that no appointment for an office or place of profit in a company shall take effect unless approved by the Central Government on an application in respect of a) Partner or relative of a director or manager; (b) Firm in which such director or manager, or relative of either is a partner; or (c) Private company of which such director or manager or relative of either is a director or member.

The trigger limit to determine office or place of profit was fixed at Rs 50,000/ month. The application for permission had to be documented with an undertaking from the appointee that he will be in the exclusive employment of the company and not hold a place of profit in any other company, disclosure of the monetary value of all allowances and perquisites and of total remuneration package proposed to be paid to the appointee and details of the services that will be rendered by him to the company and shareholding pattern, particularly the shareholding of the directors along with his relatives, the public holding and institutional holding.

The educational qualification/experience, pay scale, allowances and other benefits of similarly placed executives have to be disclosed.

In case of the appointment of a relative, then, an undertaking from the director/Company Secretary of the company that similarly placed employees are getting comparable salary shall also be enclosed along with the application.

Information would need to be given on the total number of relatives of all the directors either appointed as Managing/ Whole time director, manager or in any other position in the company; the total remuneration paid to each relative and the total remuneration paid to them altogether as a percentage of profits as calculated for the purpose of section 198 of the Companies Act, 1956.

The selection and appointment of a relative of a director for holding office or place of profit in the company shall be approved by adopting the same procedure as applicable to non-relatives.

However, in the case of public companies, the selection of a relative of director for holding place of office or profit in the company shall have to be also approved by a Selection Committee which has been defined to mean a committee, the majority of which shall consist of independent directors and an expert in the respective field from outside the company.

Though relative is not defined in the Rules, one would expect that the two types of relatives envisaged by Section 6 and the 22 examples listed in Schedule 1A of the Companies Act, 1956.

Amendments

Vide Notification No F.NO. 17/75/2011-C.L, dated 6-4-2011, the monetary limit has been increased five-fold to Rs 2,50,000/- and the selection committee requirement is only for public listed companies as against public companies. In the case of unlisted companies, independent directors are not necessary but outside experts should be there in the Selection Committee and in the case of private companies, both independent directors and outside experts are not necessary. If the erstwhile Rules gave an impression of having been hurriedly drafted with a view to putting in something on appointment of a relative, the amendment seems to have been legislated even faster.

The Notification seeks to make the above changes through an amendment to Rule 7 of the old Rules which does not have a Rule 7. It appears that the intention has been to amend Rule 4(7). The generous increase in the monetary limits would result in disclosure being made about middle or senior level executives who are relatives. The new category of outside experts comes without a definition which can mean anyone.

The relaxations seem to be with a view to ensuring that information is provided about relatives who occupy pivotal positions in the company. The requirement to run to the Central Government for approval to appoint a relative appears needless now. Appointment of relatives should be at the discretion of the management of a company with appropriate disclosures.

 

**************************************


BUSINESS LINE

EDITORIAL

BREATHER FOR INDEPENDENT, NON-EXECUTIVE DIRECTORS

SATYAVATI BERERA PANKAJ TEWARI

There is shield available to the non-executive directors in case of honest discharge of responsibility with due diligence.

The recent circular issued by the Ministry of Corporate Affairs with regard to prosecution of directors is expected to provide much needed respite to non-executive and independent directors. It should also bolster corporate governance because they would have some shield in case of wrong doings by the executive management without their knowledge/connivance. Interestingly, the amendment is being made effective with retrospective effect and could benefit even past instances

CRUCIAL ROLE

The non-executive Directors play a crucial role in implementing the principles of effective corporate governance. The presence of independent representatives on the board, capable of challenging the decisions of the management, is perceived as an effective instrument to protect the interests of stakeholders. They are obliged to be active contributors and not passive recipients in the governing process. Indian Inc has gone global and has stakeholders from around the world. The aftermath of some global corporate disasters and evolving mindset of investors, regulators and other stakeholders have contributed in equal measure to the growing realisation of the need to have independent directors.

Statutory Recognition

The Securities & Exchange Board of India (SEBI), the capital market regulator, introduced certain amendments to the Listing Agreement. Clause 49 of the Agreement requires listed companies to have a blend of executive and non-executive Directors. The office of the Chairman of Audit Committee has to be manned by an independent director. Certain board committees are mandated to include independent directors. SEBI's domain, however, is restricted to listed companies. In the Companies Act, 1956, there is one single and isolated reference to Independent Directors with regard to Remuneration Committee applicable in case of certain public companies.

The new provisions under the Companies Bill, 2009 (the Bill)provides recognition to the institution of Independent Directors and tries to bring consistency between the Listing Agreement and Companies Act. Further, the Central Government is empowered to prescribe minimum number of directors in case of other public companies also. The Bill proposes to make the presence of independent director mandatory in board meetings held at a shorter notice to transact urgent business.

Liability Regime

The Indian law does not explicitly distinguish between executive and non-executive directors when it comes to determining penal consequences. There are severe penalties prescribed under Securities Contract Regulation Act for contravention of Listing Agreement. However, Section 5 of the Companies Act 1956 (the "Act") limits the liability for contravention of the Act only to those directors and other officers who are in charge of, or concerned with the management, or are directly responsible for compliance with that particular provision of the Act that has been contravened. Courts have the authority under Section 633 of the Act to provide relief for "honest and reasonable" conduct in case of negligence, default, misfeasance or breach of trust.

However, the above cited defences can be resorted only during the course of legal proceedings. Going through the entire process of prosecution is in itself a turbulent experience and could act as a serious disincentive to join the board. In cases of prosecution under Negotiable Instruments Act for dishonour of cheques, violations under Standards of Weights & Measures Act, a non-executive director may have precious little to do. However, he would still have to undergo the process of summoning and filing response.

Non-executive Directors have reason to be apprehensive about their potential liability. They are not involved in the day-to-day operations of the company which gives rise to the fear of unknown. The current legal ecosystem comprising plethora of legislations and multiple regulators poses its own challenge. There is an increasing propensity today for meting out punishment to directors, including non-executive and independent ones. Punishing those who are not in direct line of responsibility would be unfair and self-defeating. This approach is fraught with undesirable ramifications and could potentially hamper induction of talent on the board.

MCA Directive

It is in this background that the recent directive issued by the government seems to be laudable. It may not and cannot be a panacea for all the ailments but is definitely a step in the right direction. The authorities have been advised to initiate proceedings against non-executive members of the board only after proper consideration and prima facie belief in their culpability. The government thus, has done a fine balancing act. There is no blanket immunity; yet there is shield available to the non-executive directors in case of honest discharge of responsibility with due diligence and in good faith. One hopes that the good intent in the legislation is not lost in its implementation.

A lot needs to be done to strengthen the institution of independent directors and make them truly independent. Selection and on-boarding process, ceiling on number of directorships, remuneration and compensation are some of the areas that need immediate ironing out, in order to help achieve corporate democracy in the right spirit. With second generation of economic reforms strengthening India's position as a preferred destination for foreign investment, this is an opportune time to do so.

(S. Berera is Executive Director and P. Tewari, Senior Manager – Internal Audit, PwC India.)

**************************************


BUSINESS LINE

EDITORIAL

QUESTION MARK OVER BOP POSITION

R. K. PATTNAIK

It remains to be seen whether FDI and FII flows can plug a rising current account deficit. This apart, there is room for more transparency in data on trade and invisibles.

The balance of payments (BoP) data for the third quarter was released by Reserve Bank of India on March 31. The figures point to certain risk factors in India's external account, while also raising issues of data transparency in certain areas.

Despite the improvement in net invisibles surplus, the current account deficit widened during April-December 2010 to $38.9 billion ($25.5 billion a year ago) mainly due to a higher trade deficit. At this level, the CAD works out to 3.1 per cent of GDP during April-December 2010. Despite a significant increase in net capital inflows, accretion to reserves was marginally lower in April-December 2010, compared with the like period in 2009.

DOWNSIDE RISKS

Against the backdrop of these the BoP developments, the downside risks to India's external sector are: (a) higher current account deficit, (b) large debt component of capital flows, (c) higher component of short-term credit as part of debt capital (d) deceleration in inward foreign direct investment (FDI) and (e) higher flows under FII.

First, higher current account deficit could be a concern in the event of uncertainty in international crude oil prices. The financing of the same is not a problem in the immediate future, but could be a concern in view of the deceleration in FDI flows and uncertainty attached to FII flows.

Second, as is evident from the press release, the debt component of capital flows has increased in terms of external commercial borrowings, NRI deposits and short-term credit. A part of FII inflows is also invested in debt.

Third, a large component of short-term credit in the capital flows is a downside risk. Together with ECB, NRI deposit, the residual maturity in the shorter end (less than one year) could be a concern in the medium term.

Fourth, the deceleration of inward FDI could pose a risk in terms of financing a higher current account deficit. Continuation of this trend will be a concern from a medium-term perspective.

Fifth, higher flows under FIIs were helpful in financing the large current account deficit. But the FII flows are speculative in nature and are regarded as 'hot money'. Whether our external sector should depend more on FII flows or FDI flows to finance the current account is a policy issue.

DATA TRANSPARENCY

BoP data are released by RBI on quarterly basis with a lag of one quarter in financial year terms. Over the years, the transparency in data dissemination has been enhanced. But it has been observed that, contrary to the earlier practice, the central bank puts out a press release without explaining all the data developments. Later, as a research article, it publishes a detailed version. This renders the press release incomplete. There are at least three such discrepancies.

First, the discrepancy between import and export data published by the Ministry of Commerce (Customs data) and RBI (banking channel data) are not reconciled. For example, April-December imports are higher in the case of RBI than Customs by $28 billion. The evidence suggests that Customs data are subject to very frequent revisions. It is important that, like the RBI, the Ministry should have a revision policy. This is important for the sake of credibility.

The same holds true for export data, where the difference is about $10 billion. Conventional wisdom suggests that in the case of imports the difference is on account of defence imports and, in case of exports, it is on account of timing, coverage and valuation. But it is important that persistent and large differences are explained in the press release and an attempt made to reconcile these data.

Second, the "Other Capital" item in net capital flows as recorded in the press release amounted to a net outflow of $12.7 billion. This nearly accounted for 40 per cent of the total net capital flows. The RBI press release should have explained such net outflows.

Third, the RBI press release should have been more comprehensive with regard to items under invisibles, such as non-software services and investment income details.

The RBI, being the sole data provider on BoP, has taken a conscious decision not to provide detailed data in the press release, but instead publish the same in the RBI Bulletin in an article form, with a time lag. The reasons for this are best known to the central bank.

The RBI may consider improving its coverage of the three items, so that its press release is self-explanatory.

(The author is Professor of Economics at K.J. Somaiya Institute of Management Studies and Research, Mumbai.)

**************************************


******************************************************************************************

                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

SC 'KHAP' DIRECTIVE TO OFFICIALS WELCOME

 

In sharply placing the onus of preventing brutal community "justice" on the district-level civil bureaucracy and the police, the Supreme Court has taken the first firm step in a long time to deal with a matter that politicians and civil servants have done their best to ignore to avoid taking on local bullies or vested interests who cite custom for their criminal behaviour. There is little that distinguishes the rough so-called "justice" — which generally ends in the brutal, often broad daylight killing of innocent people — imposed by certain community-level mechanisms such as "khap panchayats" in North India and "katta panchayats" in parts of the South, from similar "justice" that the Taliban mete out. In both cases, dispensers of the medieval notion of fair treatment for a presumed offence invoke their understanding of tradition or religion. It cannot be emphasised firmly enough that this barbarism is completely at odds with civilised norms, leave alone democratic values. More, they represent the sharpest deviation from the principles of our Constitution, in which laws of the land are framed by Parliament and interpreted by the judiciary, leaving no room whatsoever for individuals to take the law into their own hands. There is "nothing honourable" about the phenomenon of "honour killings", as a Supreme Court bench of Justices Markandey Katju and Gyan Sudha Mishra observed on Tuesday, while ruling on a four-year-old case from Tamil Nadu. The country's political executive and the bureaucracy should take note that the judges held that the "institutionalised atrocities" in question were "wholly illegal" and must be "ruthlessly stamped out". In recent times, certain politicians have made excuses for the practice of sati (burning a wife on her husband's funeral pyre), and others such as the Haryana Chief Minister, Mr Bhupinder Singh Hooda, have offered glib explanations when under khap "rules" eloping couples have been murdered. The implied sanction of politicians to such acts stems from their fear of alienating votebanks. The homegrown custodians of morality thus get away even when they are participants in the proceedings of kangaroo courts. This leaves people stricken with fear. They then prolong the cult of silence in the face of blatant crime. At a village in Haryana's Bhiwani district the other day, two widows in their thirties were reportedly beaten to death by a young male relative of one of them — who happens to be a convicted rapist, out of jail on parole — on the suspicion that they were involved in so-called immorality. Over 100 people watched the horror mutely. One of the murderers smoked a bidi sitting on a corpse, striking a posture of triumphal patriarchy. Typically, the police arrived two hours after the event. District magistrates and police chiefs of districts, under the Supreme Court's order, will face suspension, departmental proceedings and criminal action if they fail to check these atrocities when their occurrence is likely. They are to be dealt with in the same way if they do not immediately act to apprehend the culprits in the event such an atrocity occurs. Now politicians at different levels can't hope to maintain a wretched status quo with a view to protecting their electoral base, as the onus has been placed on the district administration. Upholding the law is in any case the primary function of the latter. If human rights and justice, and the legitimate autonomy of the individual, cannot be upheld at the ground level, all talk of democratic governance ends up being a sham.

***************************************


DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

SECRETS AND SPIES

 

Our intelligence agencies periodically find themselves in the midst of a public uproar over alleged acts of omission as well as commission. On one hand, they have been pilloried for apparently failing to prevent major breaches of national security, ranging from the Pakistani incursion in Kargil to the terrorist attacks in Mumbai. On the other hand, they have been embroiled in controversies over illegal eavesdropping, corruption, political machinations, and arbitrary detention and violence. Ascertaining the veracity of these allegations is nigh impossible. For the intelligence agencies are responsible only to the Executive. Then too, there is no legal framework that governs their existence and functioning. Our agencies are, in a very real sense, shadowy outfits. The drafting of a private members' bill on intelligence is a long overdue and welcome move. The draft has been spearheaded by the Congress MP, Mr Manish Tiwari, who has been vocal about his concerns regarding the absence of a legal framework for the agencies. The Intelligence Services (Powers and Regulation) Bill 2011 will hopefully generate serious discussion on this important but neglected issue. Though it is unlikely that the private members' bill will be passed by Parliament — not least because of the resistance that the agencies will put up. Two provisions of the bill are worth underlining. First, it provides for a Standing Committee of Parliament on Intelligence. The bill states that this will function very much like the Standing Committee on Defence. But the analogy with defence breaks down when we look at the provisions for the functioning of this committee. The bill states that if the Standing Committee on Intelligence seeks information from the directors of the Intelligence Bureau (IB), Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) or National Technical Research Organisation, the latter can refuse to disclose it because "it is sensitive information, which, in his opinion, may not be made available". Here lies the nub of the problem of civilian control of intelligence. Striking an optimum balance between efficiency and control is very difficult owing to the undeniable requirement of secrecy. There is an obvious need to keep the activities, methods and sources of intelligence away from the public glare and restricted to the smallest possible circle within the government. The problem is further complicated by the fact that even within an intelligence agency, information is shared on a strict need-to-know basis. The requirement of secrecy naturally provides wide latitude to the agencies and limits the extent of executive control. As it stands, the bill is not strong enough and leaves too much to the discretion of the heads of the agencies. Historically, the agencies have seldom shied away from exploiting these limits. Take the case of the IB. After Independence, the IB continued to maintain close links with its erstwhile parental organisation: the British Security Services (also known as MI5). The MI5 retained a Security Liaison Officer (SLO) in New Delhi from early 1947 onwards. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru was dimly aware of this arrangement, but did not know about the extent of the cooperation between the IB and MI5. Recently released MI5 documents show that the first director of the IB, T.G. Sanjeev Pillai, cooperated with British officials in keeping a tab on the Indian high commissioner to London, V.K. Krishna Menon — a man they deeply distrusted for his alleged Communist leanings. The next director of IB, B.N. Mullik, went further in his dealings with the MI5. The latter even sent officials to Delhi to review the IB's espionage on the Communist Party of India. Throughout this period, Mullik threw a veil on the MI5's liaison in Delhi and misled Mr Nehru. A British SLO noted that Mr Mullik did not have "sufficient confidence in the Prime Minister's continuing approval of the liaison willingly to draw his attention to it". Mullik, of course, was thoroughly delighted with the relationship. He wrote to the director general of the MI5 after a trip to London: "I never felt that I was dealing with any organisation which was not my own. Besides this, the hospitality and kindness which all of you showed to me was also quite overwhelming". A second important feature of the bill is that it explicitly prohibits the agencies from furthering the interests of any political party or coalition. Given the activities of the agencies, especially the IB, in the past, it is not clear that a mere injunction would suffice. Besides, the line between interests of the state and more narrow political interests is often blurred. Consider two examples. In late October 1962, following the onset of the war with China, the IB began tapping the telephone of the senior political leader, T.T. Krishnamachari. Mullik believed that Krishnamachari was critical of the government's handling of the crisis, hence his activities needed to be monitored. Mullik's presumption was matched by his agency's incompetence. Krishnamachari soon became aware of the eavesdropping and took up the matter with Nehru. It took the Prime Minister's personal intervention to bring the issue to a close. A few months later, the irrepressible Mullik sent another "intelligence report" that claimed that the Swatantra Party, led by C. Rajagopalachari, had decided to launch a political offensive against Mr Nehru for the botched conduct of the war. Mr Nehru ensured that a copy of the report reached his old colleague and friend. Rajaji responded forcefully: "The whole story is a diabolical fabrication… We are living in the midst of dangerous liars and fabricators". In the post-Nehru period, the IB's shenanigans received explicit political blessing. The newly created RAW also plunged into electoral politics in 1971-72, though its mandate was external intelligence. The agencies have not only been used by their political masters, but have willingly insinuated themselves into political affairs. This is largely because of the quest for continued patronage. The bill rightly holds that the heads of the agencies should not be eligible for reappointment to any post. They would do well to emulate the example of the British director of the IB, who, after quelling the Quit India protests of 1942, quietly retired from the service and spent the rest of his days as the vicar of his Cambridgeshire village. * Srinath Raghavan is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi

 ***************************************


DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

STRIPPED OF DIGNITY IN ORDER TO TRAVEL

A young computer programmer on his way to a pheasant-hunting trip last November offered a cri de coeur about government groping. "If you touch my junk", he told the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agent at the San Diego airport just before he abandoned his trip, "I'll have you arrested". It's hard to feel safe in the skies when you have to worry not only about terrorists but our own air-traffic controllers conking out, watching movies and making boneheaded mistakes. A controller's error on Monday evening put Michelle Obama's plane frighteningly close to a 200-ton military cargo jet. Ever since the Thanksgiving rebellion over intrusive new pat-downs that some have dubbed "gate-rape", Americans have been debating security requirements versus privacy rights. Consternation crackled again last week when a Kentucky couple posted a video of their six-year-old daughter being given the deep probe by a female TSA agent in New Orleans. "We felt that it was inappropriate", the girl's mother, Ms Selena Drexel, told ABC News. "You know, we struggle to teach our child to protect themselves, to say 'No, it's not okay for folks to touch me in this way, in these areas'. Yet, here we are saying, 'Well, it's okay for these people'". The Alaska state representative, Ms Sharon Cissna, has become a heroine for many women with breast cancer since she spoke out about the "twisted policy" of having the "invasive, probing hands of a stranger" on her, after scanners twice showed the scars from her mastectomy and she was ordered to undergo "humiliating" body searches. The second time the Anchorage Democrat was told to do the pat-down in mid-February, returning to Juneau after getting medical treatment in Seattle, she refused. She rented a car, drove three hours into British Columbia, took a plane from Vancouver to the small town of Prince Rupert and then got on a ferry for a two-day trip to Juneau. Her fellow lawmakers in the Last Frontier, where people have to travel by air quite a bit, passed a bill she co-sponsored pushing the TSA to rethink its methods because "no one should have to sacrifice their dignity in order to travel". Ms Cissna, 69, who said the aggressive pat-down also stirred unpleasant memories of a teenage molestation, said she has gotten more than a 1,000 letters. The Alaska Legislature has asked the US Senate to hold hearings. "I don't have a huge war against the TSA", she said on Monday. "I have a huge war against government that isn't looking carefully enough at the people that it serves". She asserted that the system does not seem smartly tailored to focus on dangerous people rather than "good, law-abiding people". So kids, seniors and those with disabilities, joint replacements and other medical conditions — things they already feel embarrassed about — end up getting harassed. "Not only breast cancer veterans like myself", she said, "but people who've had colostomies, any kind of alteration to their bodies that makes them look not absolutely 100 per cent normal. And it is assaultive". One of my relatives, a distinguished federal official, recently sent a letter of complaint to the TSA about her experience submitting to a body search at Washington's Reagan airport after the scanner reflected the shadow of the ostomy bag she wears on her abdomen. Fearing that would happen, she had printed out the notification card on the TSA website, as she wrote, "so as to discreetly inform the TSA agent of my medical condition. The agent would not even look at the card. The agent then did a hand search of my groin, breasts, under the waistband of my slacks and around my ostomy bag. Does having an ileostomy now make you a terrorist suspect?" She has been rethinking how long she wants to work for the government in a job that requires a lot of air travel and says she would consider joining a class-action lawsuit against the TSA. Mr John Pistole, the TSA chief and 26-year veteran of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, said he called Mr Tom Sawyer, a 61-year-old bladder cancer survivor who had his urostomy bag dislodged and urine spilled on him, after a rough TSA search in Detroit last November. "I asked him to come in and provide some personal perspective that could be used in training to give greater sensitivity", said Mr Pistole, who flew Mr Sawyer from Lansing, Michigan, to Washington. He said they are trying to move past a "one-size-fits-all" programme and implement a "risk-based, intelligence-driven process" by the end of the year that would have more refined targeting. If passengers are willing to share the same information they give to airline frequent-flier programmes, he said, maybe some day they will be able to "keep their jacket on and their laptop in their briefcase and hang on to that unfinished bottle of water". "I'd like to get to the point", he said wistfully, "where most people could leave their shoes on".

 ***************************************


DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

CAUGHT IN THE CD WARP

 

Try to practise what you preach By Mohan Singh Certainly there is a moral issue involved in the CD controversy pertaining to two civil society representatives on the joint Lokpal Bill drafting panel. As for the question of the continuation of Mr Shanti Bhushan and Mr Prashant Bhushan on the committee, I would like to leave it entirely to their conscience as they are people who habitually seize any opportunity to go to town to talk about morality. As long as the alleged CD controversy goes on, they should exercise their moral judgment whether they should recuse themselves from the panel. The Samajwadi Party has nothing to do with the controversy. We are not people who indulge in the making of CDs, or are participants in such a controversy. The alleged CD recording conversations of three people is clearly an attempt to malign the image of the Samajwadi Party chief, Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav. Mr Yadav has never indulged in activities claimed by the controversial CD, hinting at talk of bribing judges. I would also like to state here that the notification of the government constituting the joint drafting committee for the Lokpal Bill is equally questionable. Just three or four people cannot claim to represent the entire spectrum of the civil society in the country. Therefore, it is not merely a question of the Bhushans being embroiled in a CD controversy. What justifies the participation of members of the so-called civil society on the Lokpal Bill drafting committee? On what basis do they represent the whole of civil society? Many others can have a similar claim. The former Chief Justice of India J.S. Verma or Ms Aruna Roy, easily fit the mould. They should have been consulted on the constitution of the joint drafting committee. Our concern is that a comprehensive Lokpal Bill should be drafted for which the government needs to reach out to a wide section of civil society in the country. The government should solicit the views of citizens in every possible manner, including through advertisements. Confining the drafting exercise to just three or four persons of civil society is not good. Further, setting a deadline for the drafting of the Bill is also questionable. We cannot agree to the deadline set out in this case — June 30 for preparing the Bill, and its passage by August 15. This jeopardises the supremacy of Parliament. (As told to Manish Anand) Mohan Singh, Rajya Sabha MP and Samajwadi Party spokesman * * * If he is guilty, let an inquiry begin Manish Shishodia ever Since the former law minister, Mr Shanti Bhushan, was nominated to the joint Lokpal Bill drafting committee, there appears to be a concerted effort to get him out of the panel by tarnishing his image. A clandestine campaign is on by a section of people having vested interest with the help of the media. Why should Mr Bhushan oblige such elements and weaken the effort of drafting a robust Jan Lokpal Bill which will go a long way in purging the "rotten system"? Pertinently, the drafting committee is not a body that is either permanent or has executive powers to influence the system. It is there only for two months to draft a Bill which will be first cleared by the Union Cabinet and then go to Parliament for its vote. The civil society members, including Mr Bhushan, are there only to facilitate the government's work. If the government finds any acts of omission or commission by Mr Bhushan that are wrong, it should institute an enquiry. After that let the law take its course. We, as volunteers of "India against corruption", are in favour of Mr Bhushan being in the panel because he has all along been a part of the drafting of the Lokpal Bill. We think he is the right person to explain our perspective and the provisions of the law to the government representatives on the panel. Instead of waging a war of "moral turpitude" against Mr Bhushan, it might be better for his opponents to prove him guilty of a crime and bring him to book. In that case he will automatically cease to be a member of the drafting committee. When a personal issue is imported into the public domain, I feel there is a determined move by "corrupt elements" in the society to divert attention from the main issue of fighting "cancerous corruption" which is eating into the vitals of our society. The campaign is for collective well-being and to bring about an effective anti-graft law. My humble suggestion is to focus our debate on the issue of corruption. If we pay heed to fringe allegations, the country as a whole loses an opportunity to ensure that the high and mighty are made accountable to the law of the land. Therefore, let us join hands to defeat the pernicious design of the corrupt elements. * Manish Shishodia, RTI activist and a close associate of Anna Hazare

 ***************************************


DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

YOU HAPPY, ALL HAPPY

 

You may have great intentions, you may have great ambitions, you may have many desires, but, fundamentally, everything that you do in this world spells out who you really are within. One thing that I would like to remind you at this point is, in this world, on this planet, most of the harm, most of the pain and most of the suffering that has been caused to people or the humankind, is done only with good intentions, not bad. The intentions behind the maximum slaughter and killing have been good. If you look at the world, the fight is not between the good and the bad. It is always the good people who are fighting. If you are a good Indian, you fight a good Pakistani; if you are a good Hindu, you fight a good Muslim. The better you are, the more you fight. It is not the bad people who are fighting each other. It is always good people with good intentions. So our intentions are fine, but, fundamentally, every human being first needs to work on himself/herself because whatever you do in your ignorance, you are only harming yourself and the world around you. The first and most fundamental responsibility for a human being is to become a joyous human being; because no matter what you are doing, it doesn't matter what you are pursuing in your life, whether it is business, money, power, education, service or whatever else, you are doing it because somewhere deep inside you is a feeling that this will bring you happiness. Every single action that we perform is springing from an aspiration to be happy. Today, we are seeking happiness so vigorously that the very life of the planet is being threatened. In the last 100 years, with the help of science and technology, much has been done on this planet. There are many conveniences and comforts that could never have been dreamt of 100 years ago. In spite of that, it cannot be said that humanity is any happier than what it was. So it does not matter with what intentions you do any act, because, fundamentally you are only creating what you are. If a man does not take up this project in his life — that he changes himself into a joyous human being by his own nature, not because of something or somebody else — then unknowingly, with good intentions only, he will cause much damage to everything around him. — Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev, a prominent spiritual leader, is a visionary, humanitarian, author, poet and internationally-renowned speaker. He can be contacted at www.ishafoundation.org

 ***************************************


DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

HAZAAR QUESTIONS FOR HAZARE

 

Cynicism, Wikipedia tells us, "refers to the beliefs of an ancient school of Greek philosophers known as the Cynics. Their philosophy was that the purpose of life was to live a life of virtue in agreement with nature. This meant rejecting all conventional desires for wealth, power, health and fame, and by living a simple life free from all possessions." It is a term that has been freely bandied about in recent days. In modern usage, cynics are people who scoff at things and express doubt that anything worthwhile will happen. So those who asked questions of the anti-corruption crusade of Anna Hazare and his brigade were immediately dismissed as being cynical. The implication was that they were unconvinced about the genuineness of not only the campaign but also of Mr Hazare himself. Barely hidden beneath that dismissal of their views was the notion that they somehow were on the side of the corrupt, or at least were not as angry with corruption as the rest of the country. Basically it amounted to "if you are not with the campaign you are happy with the status quo." On a personal note I can say that many people called me that (and several other unprintable things) for comments I made on social networking sites and during television discussions on the subject. If anyone does fit the classical description of a follower of the cynicism school it is Mr Hazare himself. We must presume that he is free of all desires for wealth, power and fame and his zeal for cleaning up the system is totally selfless. His many followers will undoubtedly agree with this definition. Yet, perhaps, one could also make a case that he has displayed a cynical attitude in other, more conventional ways too. Consider his views on the masses of India. In one casual sweep of the hand, he dismisses the multitudes as ignorant and even corrupt. When asked if he would stand for elections, he said he wouldn't because he would just end up losing his deposit. The voters can be bought off with liquor and gifts and he did not have the wherewithal to do so. Thus, in his worldview, voters (the aam janata) were a greedy bunch of people who would vote for a candidate on the basis of the cash they got. To my mind this is an exceptionally offensive statement. It not only shows crass ignorance of complex political processes but also flies in the face of the facts. Time and again, voters have shown immense maturity and sagacity, voting in or out entire governments on the basis of their performance. When Indira Gandhi lifted the Emergency and went to the people, they threw her out because they were angry with her subversion of democracy. Less than two years later, they voted her back in because they saw the alternative was even worse. There are no dearth of examples of strong candidates losing and hopeless candidates winning because of the collective decision taken by voters. To think that the countless millions who queue up in the hot sun to cast their vote are there because of the kitchen gadgets they got from political parties is ridiculous. In all the election rounds in Kerala, Assam, Tamil Nadu and now West Bengal, we have seen over 70 per cent turnouts; could all of them have been under the influence of party-sponsored liquor? And yet, those who pointed this out as well as raised doubts about other aspects of the anti-corruption crusade or the Jan Lokpal Bill or indeed the inclusion of a father and son team on the panel as representatives of "civil society" were dubbed as cynics. It was as if they were the naysayers who stood for a corrupt system while Don Quixotes were out there trying to bring down the evil giants who were pretending to be windmills. A very romantic image, no doubt, but completely off the mark. Dismissing those who ask important question as "pro-establishment" or "vested interests" is an old trick deployed by the causerati who see themselves as the conscience keepers of the world. NGOs, activists and now those who show their support by posting Tweets see everything as a "them and us" mode. Their dedication to their favourite cause blinds them to everything else. They chafe at any questions being asked. I once recall interviewing a young film-maker who had made a documentary about Bombay's slums; in the middle, she just stood up and walked off, claiming that the issue (and her belief in it) was not open to questions. Self-righteousness is a handy attribute to have when one is so committed to a cause. The easiest way to go after anyone who shows another side to the story is to label him/her "cynical". This is negativist thinking. In this age of hyper media, especially 24/7 television channels, which see issues in a simplistic black and white way, critical thinking takes a back seat. Which is why the so-called cynics cannot be heard above the din. Now that the dust has settled down, the celebrities have gone home and the media has moved on to other things, let the questions begin. * Sidharth Bhatia is a senior journalist and commentator on current affairs based in Mumbai

 

 ***************************************

 


******************************************************************************************

THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

'UNCIVILIZED SAVAGES'

SUPREME COURT SETS THE GROUND RULES

 

IT is perhaps not so ironical in the Indian context that the highest judiciary has had to intervene in the 21st century to end a social aberration that is chillingly reminiscent of the 19th. The Supreme Court (coram: Markendeya Katju and Gyan Sudha Mishra, JJ) has declared khap panchayats as illegal and "honour killings" barbaric and shameful. Not that the State ~ as an entity of governance ~ was unaware of man's inhumanity to man, notably in the national Capital, Haryana and Rajasthan. Or the equally sinister machinations of the katta panchayats of Tamil Nadu. The onus has now been placed fair and square on governments to suspend DMs, SPs and other bureaucrats for inaction against the khaps. It might be less than fair though to blame the administration alone for having tacitly condoned the killings for same gotra marriages; that inaction is also embedded in the fear that bureaucratic intervention might incur the wrath of the political class. Not least because of reservations expressed by some MPs, including Congress leaders, against action. There is little doubt that the social malaise of "honour killings" doesn't stir the conscience of a section of the legislators. The Bench has advanced a resounding message with the observations that the social quangos have decreed "honour killings" in an "institutionalised way" ~ the work of "uncivilised savages who deserve no mercy".


Tuesday's ruling will hopefully facilitate the task of that almost mandatory embroidery called the Group of Ministers, which only recently approved the legislation against honour killings. It is fervently to be hoped that the Bill will be introduced in the monsoon session of the Lok Sabha. The parameters of the Bill titled "Prevention of crimes in the name of honour and tradition" are stringent enough to rein in societal killers. Honour killings are to be treated at par with murder, as they ought to be. Above all, there is need for a dramatic transformation of attitudes and mindset of the khaps.


It is one thing to punish the killers or inflict punitive punishment on the district administrators; quite another to bring about a fundamental change in the fountainhead of family crime, perpetrated in the name of honour. As with the plight of the circus child, the Supreme Court has spoken; the executive, legislature and not least the social activists must now take action in the follow through.

 

MANIPUR AMBUSH

DISSENT NO EXCUSE FOR BRUTALITY

IN Manipur, incidents of militants ambushing and killing security personnel and vice-versa are so commonplace as to no longer raise hackles. But the attack on 15 April, in which six Manipur Rifles personnel and a civilian were killed and three government vehicles damaged, was unfortunate in that the victims were escorting Independent legislator Wungnaoshang Keishing, who represents Phungyar constituency of Ukhrul, the district from where NSCN(IM) general secretary Th Muivah comes. He was returning to Imphal after attending a workshop on HIV/Aids at a village. Keishing is said to have submitted a memorandum two months ago on behalf of the District Demand Committee to make Phungyar a full-fledged entity by 15 April and was reportedly facing threats. The United Naga Council, an apex body of Nagas in Manipur, had asked Keishing to withdraw the memorandum as it feared such a demand would upset the NSCN(IM)'s "Greater Nagaland" concept. The memorandum listed lack of development in Phungyar, a constituency which three-time Congress chief minister Rishang Keishing had nursed since joining politics in the 1950s until his defeat in the 2002 Assembly election ~ interestingly to W Keishing.


For many years the UNC has also opposed the government's proposal to make the Sadar Hills (Kuki-dominated Kangpokpi) of Senapati district a revenue entity. Now it is demanding the creation of a separate administrative unit for all the hill districts. Any group seeking to physically eliminate dissent must be condemned in the strongest terms. No militant outfit is said to have claimed responsibility for the latest outrage, but the only one known to be active in Ukhrul is the NSCN(IM).

 

SKIRTS OR SHORTS

MANY A SLIP IS SHOWING

TYPICAL Western insensitivity to the social customs of more conservative societies is reflected in the revised badminton dress code that makes skirts mandatory for women participants in major tournaments. It would, however, have been prudent to await the response of Badminton World Federation to possible objections from affiliated units before shrieking "sexist", "sinful" etc. That it was not determined to convert the sport into a skin-show was evident from the code permitting shorts under the skirt. Hence reaction from a section of Indian feminists tends to have gone overboard: it is important to note that the leading Indian stars have not gone beyond stating that the choice should be left to the individual, not one of the prominent players who "made it" to the media have said they would be uncomfortable with skirts, through traditionally Indian girls prefer shorts (for the record, India's women hockey players wear skirts). It was also significant that none of them objected to the attempt to inject some "glam" into the game: in that regard badminton has been tennis' poor relative. For all the protests about "male domination", the fact remains that "good looks" count more in women's sport ~ David Beckham, James Anderson and Shane Warne would dispute that ~ so history records the exploits of "Gorgeous Gussie" Moran whose frilly knickers had Wimbledon agog in 1949, Anna Kournikova, and of course contemporary tennis has witnessed many a specialist with both racquet and fashion-flaunting.


The likes of Gabriela Sabatini, Maria Sharapova and the Williams sisters who sell the body-powerful equals the body-beautiful line. And not just tennis, who did not notice elegant Florence Joyner's manicured finger nails varnished in different hues, or graceful Yelena Isinbayeva's varnished black as she gripped the pole that vaulted her to many a "gold". Admittedly Indian women have been more "modest", but Sania Mirza and Ashwini Nachappa never backed off from ensuring they were attractive. Saina Nehwal, Ashwini Nonappa and Jwala Gutta have not cried foul, in fact their mature response attests that Indian sportswomen have shed an inferiority complex, so the protest from others rings a little hollow. One TV anchor found herself isolated: none of the players she interviewed endorsed her sexist charges. What has really sent the shuttlecock ballistic is the condemnation from the National Commission for Women and All India Democratic Women's Association ~ surely they ought to be focused on addressing myriad other assaults on Indian womanhood rather than entering into a "leggie" debate.

***************************************


THE STATESMAN

ARTICLE

A BILL ON THE ANVIL

LOKPAL MAY REDUCE CVC AND CBI TO IRRELEVANCE

NK SINGH


ANNA Hazare's fast-unto-death, undertaken at Delhi's Jantar Mantar from 5 April, has ended fruitfully. It has trashed the cynicism, commonly expressed, that corruption is not a big issue. It is indeed a big issue, provided the agitation is undertaken by a worthy and credible leader like Anna Hazare.


Under public pressure, the government eventually conceded Anna's demand to constitute a joint committee, representing a section of civil society, which has come out with a Jan Lokpal Bill, and representatives from the government side to finalise the draft of the Lokpal Bill. The government has announced that the Bill will be passed by Parliament in its monsoon session.


It remains to be seen whether the institution of Lokpal, which emerges out of this exercise, will really be balanced and effective. Any attempt to sidetrack the issue and derail the work must be thwarted.
The government's 2010 Bill is unacceptable because of certain crucial issues. Though the Prime Minister has now been brought into its ambit, the Bill confines its jurisdiction only to complaints referred to it by the Speaker of the Lok Sabha. Secondly, under the government's Bill, the Lokpal's recommendation would be entirely advisory and not binding, thus rendering it toothless.


It is essential that once the Lokpal has enquired into an allegation, its recommendations should be binding. It will be a three-member entity, headed by a Chairman, who can either be a serving or retired Chief Justice or judge of the Supreme Court. The two other members can either be serving or retired judges of the Supreme Court or Chief Justice of a High Court. The other terms and conditions are equivalent to those of the Chief Justice and judge of the Supreme Court, respectively.


Both sides have divergent views on the question of selection of the Lokpal. Those who have drafted the Jan Lokpal Bill are exceptionally dedicated persons, committed to the cause of corruption-free public life. But their Bill seems to be based on total distrust of our constitutional system, parliamentary and democratic processes and the political class as a whole. Even Opposition leaders in both Houses of Parliament are not to be trusted. Under the government's Lokpal bill, the selection committee that will recommend the names to the President, will comprise the Vice-President, the Prime Minister, the Speaker of the Lok Sabha, the Law Minister, the leader of the ruling party in the House other than the one to which the PM belongs, and Opposition leaders in both Houses of Parliament.


As far as the Jan Lokpal Bill is concerned, they do not seem to be very clear as to what they want. First of all they proposed two seniormost judges of the Supreme Court, an equal number of seniormost Chief Justices of High Courts, and retired five-star generals, as well as international awardees. Thus they wanted a selection committee comprising retired five-star generals, rather than the Prime Minister of the country and Opposition leaders in both Houses of Parliament. Responsible sections felt outraged and now they have agreed to have the Prime Minister and leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha. It will now have two junior, rather than seniormost judges of the Supreme Court and an equal number of Chief Justices of High Courts. This stress on junior rather than senior judges is difficult to comprehend.


During the process of selection, almost a mini-referendum will be held through the website and public notification, inviting feedback on the selected names. Under the Jan Lokpal Bill, the office will have a vast jurisdiction, including the Prime Minister, ministers, MPs, the higher judiciary, the entire administration and the bureaucracy, local bodies and corporations. There is a proposal to do away with the Central Vigilance Commission, which is now a three-member body. The vigilance officers in ministries and departments will be transferred to the Lokpal. The CVC Act was passed by Parliament only in 2003, to execute the Supreme Court directive in the Vineet Narain case (18 December 1997). This Act will stand repealed.


The CVC was created in 1964 by Lal Bahadur Shastri on the basis of recommendations of the Committee on Prevention of Corruption headed by K Santhanam, to deal with corruption amongst central government employees. Like many other institutions, it has not succeeded in effectively doing so and does need further reform and empowerment. But it has a history of 47 years. It is easy to demolish an organization, but very difficult to build up one. It has been claimed by a leading member of the group that the jurisdiction of the proposed 'Lokpal' will extend from the Prime Minister to a patwari. But the moot point is whether a Lokpal, all alone at the Centre, will be able to effectively deal with corruption amongst politicians, judiciary, bureaucracy, and corporations ~ undoubtedly a vast segment.


Or will it be a case of missing the 'tree' (corruption at high places) for the 'wood' (the entire administration)? This is the question agitating the minds of many. Why not leave the 'Lokpal' to deal with corruption at 'high places' ~ the higher judiciary, political functionaries, top bureaucrats such as Secretaries to the government and heads of departments? The rest can be left to an empowered CVC, with a network of vigilance officers in the ministries.
And what a monster the Jan Lokpal Bill proposes to create. It will have an unwieldy 1+10 members, with powers to cancel licences, blacklist firms, search, seizure, confiscation etc, to take up, suo motu, investigation of cases and launch prosecutions. Besides quasi-judicial powers, it will be vested with police powers and the authority to award punishment. One member of this group has rightly called it a 'super-cop'.


Additionally, it has now been proposed that the Lokpal will have the authority to tap telephones. The CBI is, of course, there to be shuffled around. The CVC also has a vast jurisdiction. The Jan Lokpal Bill envisages certain powers and jurisdiction now under the control of the CBI. Thus, along with the CVC, the CBI, also with a 47-year history and created by Lal Bahadur Shastri, will be reduced to irrelevance.


The powers that will be given to the 'Lokpal' need to be rationalized without being so out of proportion as to be unwieldy. Cases taken up by the CBI, on the basis of findings of the 'Lokpal', ought to be monitored and controlled by it. The proposal in the Jan Lokpal Bill to do away with the Single Directive in the CVC Act and to entrust the power of sanction to the Lokpal under 197 Cr PC & Sec 19 of the P C Act must be accepted. In view of its enlarged jurisdiction, it could perhaps be made a five-member body, one of whom should be from outside the judiciary.


The writer, a former Joint Director, CBI, retired as Director-General, Bureau of Police Research & Development

 

***************************************


THE STATESMAN

ARTICLE

PAK, BANGLA STILL STAND APART

VISITING Pakistan and Bangladesh within a span of 14 days is like harking back the 40 years when the two countries separated from each other. Why did it happen? How did it happen? Who was responsible for it? Such an exercise can only be of academic distraction. But it is clear that the disputes between the Bengalis in East Pakistan and those living in West Pakistan had become so acute towards the end of the sixties that their parting of ways had become inevitable.  

I was at Islamabad in the end of March and at Dhaka in mid-April. What I have seen in both the countries underlines my earlier belief that the two peoples are so different in their thinking and approach that they could not have lived together as one country. Both are proud to be Muslim. Yet the Islam practised in Bangladesh is liberal and accommodating. The maulvis and mullahs or other demagogues are there. But they do not disturb the rhythm of life which is pluralistic.

Text books in Bangladesh teach history. They do not distort it or preach enmity as the books in Pakistan do. A Hindu is not considered an enemy in Bangladesh. Even the liberation war 1971 has been told in a historical perspective without chauvinism and vengeful note. Bengali, the national language which was sought to be replaced by Islamabad with Urdu and ultimately led to the secession of East Pakistan, has given birth to a different culture, tethered to Islam but not to parochialism. Urdu does not figure anywhere, not even taught in schools. Sign boards are mostly in English and at very few places in both the languages.

Dance, music and art are galloping freely. They do not have to conform to a particular way or style. It is an art for the sake of art. Rabindranath Tagore is as much popular and loved as Qazi Nazrul Islam, the poet laureate of Bangladesh. Kathak and Odissi, the two types of dance in Bangladesh, are not discouraged because they have the Hindu orientation. Nothing in dance or music is banned so long as they are in realm of art. Women wear no hijab and very few men keep long beards. And there is no law of blasphemy, not even a murmur of demand.
Pakistan has many liberals. But they are afraid to speak out and be counted. The assassination of Punjab governor Salman Taseer and cultural minister Shahbaz Bhatti has muffled the voice of critics. Hafiz Syeed, leader of Lashkar-e-Taiyyaba, talking in terms of jihad against India makes news. A person like him does not cause even a ripple in Bangladesh. The Jamiat-i-Islami here tries to muddy the water of secularism but without much effect.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has many negative traits. But her relentless fight against communal forces is her positive contribution to the ethos of Bangladesh. The government, unlike at Islamabad, shows no quarters to religious forces meddling in the affairs of the state or society. Founder of Pakistan Qauid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah had also advised the Pakistanis to adopt a similar path. But his untimely death changed the course.
Yet the return of Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), headed by Begum Khalida Zia, can change the atmosphere. By playing the Islamic card she has made a difference in the past. It may happen again if she assumes power. But the country would not be going back to square one. The Bangladesh society cannot be changed by the fundamentalists, waiting in the wings. The Jamiat elements may come to the fore. Liberalism may get battered but it will stay. I feel the society is vertically divided into two parts, one pro-liberalism and the other prone to religious propaganda. Liberalism will triumph ultimately.

Terrorists have no direct or indirect support from the government, something which I cannot say for certain after my recent visit to Pakistan. But then East Pakistan was always more liberal than West Pakistan and was even considered close to Hindus. A Bangladeshi intellectual explained to me how their separation from Pakistan took away from that society liberalism and the sense of accommodation, leaving the country to wallow in extremism and prejudice.
Bangladesh founder Sheikh Mujib-ur-Rehman told me in 1972, when I interviewed him at Dhaka: "All along Pakistan has preached four things: one, Islam is in danger; two, the Hindu is kaafir; three, India is the enemy; and four, Kashmir must be conquered. The Pakistanis have been fed on this propaganda for the last many years. The hate campaign unleashed in that country is even against the tenets of Islam. Unless there is a change in the mentality of the people of Pakistan they cannot get out of their make-believe world."

Yet I found a streak of sympathy for Pakistan. Many used the word, "pity". I believe that an overwhelming majority in Bangladesh feels that the Pakistanis face a situation which requires understanding and help. Bangladesh has neither forgotten not forgiven the atrocities committed against their nationals in 1971. But that does not stop some nostalgically recalling the period when the two lived together. The younger generation is indifferent, like the youth in India towards Pakistan.

 What Islamabad does or does not has little effect on relations between India and Bangladesh. New Delhi is responsible for it. Dhaka has practically done everything which the accord between the two countries laid down. It has given the transit facilities to enable North-eastern states to have better and quicker connectivity with the rest of India. Yet the much-publicised loan of $1 billion has not come through.
Indian officials blame the Bangladesh government for not providing the detailed project reports (DPRs) which the banks demand before releasing loan. I have been assured that the DPRs have reached India and that the loan will be released within the next few days.

However, the better news for Bangladesh would be free trade. I have never been able to understand why New Delhi drags its feet when it comes to trade with Bangladesh or, for that matter, Pakistan. Duty free trade with them would make little difference to the imports worth billions of dollars. The two countries can gain from the huge market India has. This would create vested interests in Bangladesh and Pakistan.
Sheikh Hasina is anxiously awaiting the visit of Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh. The signing of Teesta River agreement is expected. But more than that Sheikh Hasina hopes to shore up her sagging popularity through the agreement and other goodies. I hope she turns out to be correct. But my experience is that India is too squeamish when it comes to dealing with the neighbouring countries. New Delhi is yet to learn the art of diplomacy.

kuldip nayarThe writer is a veteran journalist and commentator

 

***************************************


THE STATESMAN

CROWNING GLORY

AC TULI


On a sunny day in winter, when I sit lazing on the verandah of our house, I love a liberal dose of hair oil briskly rubbed into my scalp. The other day, when my wife was giving me this treatment, she suddenly stopped midway and an ejaculation of shock escaped her lips. Perplexed, I asked her what was the matter with her.
"Bad news for you!" she said, with a note of concern in her voice. "You have started going bald. I can see the faint outline of a round patch on the crown of your head. It is of course the beginning of the shape of things to come. So, do something about it before this faint patch expands and starts looking like a vast clearing in a jungle."


Now, when a man is past his prime, he does not exactly expect a mop of dark glossy tresses falling across his forehead, a la Ranbir Kapoor. But baldness also is not the kind of fate that he would cheerfully accept as his inevitable lot. So, I decided to consult a doctor, hoping that he would prescribe a course of treatment to prevent the incipient desert on my head from becoming a full-fledged Sahara.


To my disappointment, the doctor to whom I went for consultation proved to be more a philosopher than a student of medical science. Strangely, after casting a cursory glance at the tell-tale round patch on the apex, he said the only way to treat baldness was to stop thinking about it.


"My friend," he said, with a chumminess that was uncharacteristic of the general run of medicos, "a quack would have recommended herbal oil massage and God knows what other nostrums just to pocket a cool Rs 200 as his consultation fee. My advice is that you forget about your hair and let nature go on with what it has planned for you. Baldness, in most cases hereditary, is virtually incurable. However, there is some hope now, for I have read somewhere that the scientists engaged in stem cell research at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine have said that baldness is curable. But my advice to you, I reiterate, is that you let Mother Nature go on with what it has planned for you."


A sane advice, indeed, but the trouble with sane advice is that it is far easier to give but a damned sight more difficult to take. For a while I wondered how this philosopher-doctor would react if one of these days he found that his own mop of thick curly hair had started parting company with his scalp.


Approaching baldness worried me. Then, one day a friend dropped in at my house. He is almost a decade younger than I, but has as much hair on his head as I have on the palms on my hands.


"Never thought you would go into mourning over such a trifle," he chided me, when my wife had told him how the prospect of approaching baldness was depressing me. "Tell me what's wrong with being bald? Just imagine what a gainer you will be. Oh, you'll be saving on combs, shampoos, dyes, and hair oil. Then, there is no problem of dandruff and lice for baldies. Also, no more waiting for your turn at a crowded barber saloon. In fact, a baldie is perhaps the only person in this world who can afford to go to his office or place of work straight from his bed.


"Besides, I believe that baldies are not losers in life? In almost every field of life, you will find baldies doing pretty well. Take, for instance, the film industry. Right from the beginning of the talkies we have had bald actors. Legendary singer-actor KL Saigal had started going bald when he was in his late twenties. Moti Lal was bald. Anupam Kher, the current favourite of millions, lost his hair before making his debut in films.
"In politics, too, baldies have done well. We have had Presidents, Prime Ministers, chief ministers, and Governors of states who were bald. At the international level, we find it is baldies who have brought about revolutionary changes in world politics. Can you imagine the Russian Revolution sans its leading light Lenin? And Lenin was bald. And the man who matters most in Russia today is Vladimir Putin. He too is bald. There are so many other noted figures in public life sporting glittering craniums.


"In romance and love, baldies have seldom fared badly. In fact, lack of hair does not detract from their appeal as lovers and husbands. So, why on earth are you worried about your approaching baldness?"

 

***************************************


THE STATESMAN

100 YEARS AGO TODAY

OCCASIONAL NOTE


It will be observed that while information respecting the Abor outrage has been rigidly withheld  from the Press in India, where the question is one of direct importance, a full despatch from the Police Commandant at Pasighat has been issued by the India Office, although London has but a faint interest in the matter. We do not know who is responsible for the puerile secretiveness which has been observed in this matter in India. But there is no valid excuse for the attitude adopted by officialism. The Abors as an enemy could derive no tactical advantage from the publication of details of the outrages committed by them, while, on the other hand, a large section of the public were anxious to ascertain the exact position on the frontier. Yet the inquiries addressed to official quarters have been met with a silence which is at once blameworthy and incomprehensible. The officials who can be reticent when news is anxiously awaited possess, however, a very full appreciation of the value of publicity when it is a question of issuing portentous Resolutions or Reports.

 

***************************************


******************************************************************************************

THE TELEGRAPH

GLASS HOUSE

Honesty and transparency, like charity, must begin at home. Champions of the so-called civil society movement against corruption seem to be oblivious of this simple axiom. Many of them, including the "hero'' of this movement, Anna Hazare, are unwilling to face the rigorous tests of ethics and transparency that he expects politicians and public officials to pass. Mr Hazare and his acolytes have cast many stones and these have caused ripples across sections of urban society in India. He cannot in all fairness expect that those against whom the stones have been cast will remain quiet and not retaliate. The discussion on corruption, precisely because it is essential for the health and the future of Indian society, cannot be allowed to become a sermon from Jantar Mantar or some other public space with Mr Hazare in the role of a holier-than-thou preacher. Other voices and other views must be allowed to be heard and debated. But Mr Hazare is unwilling to have any of this or to have his own activities brought under scrutiny. At the mere suggestion of criticism being directed towards him from leaders of the Congress, he has labelled it a smear campaign and has written a letter to the Congress president, Sonia Gandhi, asking her to rein in her party members. Mr Hazare is under the delusion that he holds a monopoly over criticism and the discourse on corruption.

Such double standards are endemic to Indian public life. Not too long ago, leaks from phone conversations that were tapped and recorded created a stir among the urban elite. No questions were asked regarding the provenance and the authenticity of the tapes. On the basis of selective leaks from the tapes, a campaign was launched and the reputation of some public figures was tarnished. Indeed, they were seen to be guilty of various violations on the basis of the leaks even before proper investigations had begun. It is no coincidence perhaps that the movement in favour of a lok pal bill is similarly haunted by a recording whose authenticity appears to be under dispute. Those who rejoiced at what has become notorious as the "Radia tapes" cannot now be dismayed by the controversy regarding a doctored CD. Both episodes point to something very unsavoury in Indian public life. Mr Hazare, if he is sincere about his project to clean the Augean stables, should be careful about falling prey to double standards.

***************************************

 


THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

JUST A COVER

The lifting of a 50-year-old emergency law can have two, mutually contradictory, outcomes — it can either usher in an era of change or be regarded as pure eyewash. In Syria, chances of the latter coming true are more likely. After weeks of public protest, the belligerent tone of President Bashar al-Assad appeared to have softened somewhat when he decided to 'liberate' his people from the clutches of an antiquated and oppressive law that was installed, and nurtured, by his own party for decades. It is clear, however, that this is just a ruse. Although Mr al-Assad annulled the emergency law, and plans to abolish the state security court, he ensured that checks and balances were retained in order to regulate political freedoms. So the government effectively pulled down one bad law and replaced it with something worse. The new law aims to regulate "the process of demonstrating" in order to "protect demonstrators". The implication is that anyone who dares to protest against the government will be set upon by enraged citizens. Given the fuming popular dissatisfaction with the regime, nothing could be more ridiculous. The ironies darken when one notes the noble pledges made in articles 38 and 39 of the Syrian constitution to uphold the right of all citizens to express themselves freely. In countries with long histories of entrenched autocracy such as Syria, what the law says is always less important than the way it is applied.

The primary impediment to real political reform in most countries of the Arab world is the dependence of a large number of people on their national governments for their subsistence. As a result, it is easy for devious regimes to blackmail the people into a state of permanent allegiance by threatening to lay them off the moment a rebellion flares up. In Bahrain, the government withdrew financial support from students who recently attended peaceful pro-democracy marches. In Syria, half the population is in the employment of the government, and most of them would rather not have their loyalty to the regime called into question. Such a possibility is liable to endanger their very existence. In theory, every Syrian has a right to speak his mind, but how many, in real life, will ever exercise that right without the fear of deadly reprisals? In Syria, as in authoritarian dynasties across the world, the more things change, the more they remain the same.

***************************************


THE TELEGRAPH

TRAVAILS OF WEST BENGAL

A PHILOSOPHY OF POVERTY VERSUS A POVERTY OF PHILOSOPHY DIPANKAR DASGUPTA

If economists are to be trusted, then a price has to be paid for acquiring one's desired objectives. From the point of view of the producer, inputs involve a cost in order for an output to appear. The producer is satisfied if the sales revenue adequately exceeds the costs. The same logic applies to consumers. Consumption of commodities and services involves payment. On the other hand, the consumer derives a satisfaction that normally exceeds the cost of purchase.

Like production and consumption, which are instances of change from one state to another, all changes are costly and, more often than not, the cost cannot be viewed as simple monetary loss. Perhaps the closest example at hand in this context is the story of Singur. The Nano factory would have industrialized a primarily agricultural region, changing thereby an agrarian society into an industrial community. The cost involved was not merely the farmers' loss of the land they tilled for an income. As events have demonstrated, there were other costs too, surrounding an adjustment to a new way of life. The fact that the Tatas were driven away probably demonstrates the simple economic truth that the benefits of industrialization they promised appeared small in the eyes of the potential beneficiaries compared to the multifarious costs they would be called upon to incur to accept the change. Neither the benefits nor the costs were all too clearly defined, but there is little doubt that the people living in the region, or at least a large number of them who thought rationally, did engage in a cost-benefit calculation and concluded that the costs exceeded the benefits. Consequently, when State power attempted to force the 'benefits' down their throats, they revolted.

Assuming that a section of politicians, the Opposition if you will, was responsible for the uprising amounts probably to putting the cart before the horse. The Opposition had surely used the brewing resentment to attract people's support towards itself, but in its incipient stage at least, the public antipathy was not the Opposition's creation. And, in a democratic society, of course, it is only too natural for a given set of rulers to be removed from power by competitors. Judged by the current attitudes and statements of the people who have ruled West Bengal for the last 34 years, however, this simple truth does not seem to have dawned upon them. Needless to say, one cannot rule out corrupt practices surrounding the drive to halt the Left juggernaut in its tracks, but classics in history, such as The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, teach us that corruption has never been a one-sided game.

Nonetheless, a suggestion of being dislodged from the seat of power seems to sound as foolish to the occupants of the Writers' Buildings as the Napoleonic "impossible", or, probably, as absurd as the dinosaurs must have considered any thought of their extinction a million years ago. Yet, however impossible the emerging scenario might appear to the powers that be, the approaching wheels of democracy seem to be sending precisely the message the rulers wish to turn a blind eye to. And what is making their publicly displayed sense of incredulity vis-à-vis a possible defeat in the elections look totally unconvincing is the state of the exchequer. Even if they are returned to the Writers' Buildings, there are reasons to suspect that they will have little to offer to the people of the state other than a mendicant order. They are perilously close to preaching a 'philosophy of poverty'; in other words, one that Gautama Buddha might have approved of, but certainly not the Marxists who flew into power in 1977, flapping their dialectical wings. The fortunate amongst them are no longer around. The unfortunate few are hopping across television channels, explaining to gullible members of the populace that accumulating enormous debts is a way of life for the entire country, and not Bengal alone, without bothering to locate the creditors who will assure that the debtors will live in perpetual bliss.

If all this appears to be unpalatable, the tragedy, alas, does not end here. The reverse side of the coin, the Opposition, in other words, should probably hold its euphoria in leash as well. A comparison of costs and benefits applies to them as forcefully as it does to the ageing class of Left rulers. Removing the latter from power is quite obviously a costly affair, involving — if politicians, social commentators and the media are to be trusted — entities as precious as human lives. What, however, constitutes the benefits? The primary benefit, as most people seem to believe, lies in exorcising the supposed fiend. So far so good, but life does not stop after retrenchment, neither for the retrenched nor for those who hand out the pink slips.

What will society look like once the evil is banished? The manifesto of the principal member of the Opposition offers a quick view of the fairyland that West Bengal is about to be transformed into. During the first 200 days of assumption of power, it will present West Bengal with a "basic industrial strategy" of creating "massive employment through development of the manufacturing sector". There will be "a chain of industrial towns… across the state" along with "inter-linkages". A "[t]arget creation of 300 ITIs [from the present 51] for basic skills with focus on SME's worker requirement" has found a place in the first 200 days' agenda too. Moreover, "17 clusters will be selected to be converted into world class centres of excellence with focus on cooperation between enterprises and promoting economies of scale". The government will "benchmark Kolkata with the best cities in the world". (May god save the pavement-hawkers.) The list is literally endless and, given the 200 days' deadline, it raises visions of an Aladdin in the making, or at least of the wonderful lamp that won him the princess.

One does not know yet if the coalition partners of the presumed government-to-be will be anything more than strange bedfellows. However, it is not hard to form an opinion about the assortment comprising the big brother or sister of the coalition. It is a collection of individuals sharing one and only one cause among themselves, namely, a total demolition of the Left. Apart from this, it is a motley crowd, totally shorn of a macro or a social character. As in the case of society, which is not merely a gathering of people, a group of highly competent professionals cannot constitute a political identity if the solitary adhesive that holds it in place is a common hatred of the enemy. Such diverse assemblages work perhaps when a country goes to war, but once the war is over, they are normally not expected to deliver peace-time governance. A government in power must necessarily be characterized by a macro personality, a common vision of the future, a jointly held belief. It should not be confused with a joint stock company, each department of which is being supervised by an able 'professional'. Once we view the matter from this point of view, one suspects that this political formation is characterized by a 'poverty of philosophy' as opposed to the 'philosophy of poverty' of the Left.

It was the poverty of a common philosophy that dislodged three consecutive governments between 1967 and 1972. The Left came to power in 1977 and continued to rule for 34 years because it succeeded in forging a common world view, rightly or wrongly. Unfortunately, however, it is now entrenched in internal contradictions itself and has little more than its 'philosophy of poverty' to offer.

West Bengal is caught between the devil and the deep blue sea and the election results will hardly symbolize the end of its tragedy.

The author is former professor of economics, Indian Statistical Institute, Calcutta

 

***************************************


THE TELEGRAPH

GLOBAL WINDOWS

SHIBASHIS CHATTERJEE

I quote from a recent report in The Telegraph: "Jadavpur University... scrapped its 51-year-old MA course in international relations (IR) and replaced it with an MA in political science with IR." As an alumnus and as a member of the faculty, who has been away for nearly four months on a fellowship, I found the news curious for several reasons. I would not go into the messy business of debating the factual accuracy of the report. But three elementary points need to be made clearly here.

First, change is not necessarily bad. Institutions are driven by circumstances, and must adapt if the dynamics change. But we are no pioneers here. The School of International Studies — India's most well-known global window to international affairs — named its post-graduate degree Politics (International Studies) more than two decades back. The circumstance that forced the decision upon it was similar to the one faced by JU: academic parochialism and prejudices displayed against its students. The SIS is still considered the premier place to study international relations — regardless of what the degree is called — and receives approbation for its performance. There is no reason to think that our case would be any different.

Second, and again on the SIS model, the department would continue to use its old name. Hence, let us not confuse the name of the degree with that of the department. Third, the employment market for all social sciences throughout India is, by and large, comparable. Our department has successfully placed students in diverse professions all over India, and often, abroad. The prejudice has a macro socio-political basis that cannot be disclosed in public. But if discretion is the better part of valour, one can say that there is nothing wrong in pragmatic adaptation to hostile circumstances.

Sheer prejudice

There are, however, a few larger issues involved here that might help put matters in their proper perspective. First, despite India's long-standing role of importance in the global political scene, the academic study of international relations could not grow in India. This is paradoxical, particularly in the context of the last few years, when India has grown confident as a power, and plays a pivotal role in world politics. The contrast with what is happening in China is galling. As China emerges as a world power, it is investing liberally in international relations to train experts, who will make sense of the responsibilities that come with the assumption of a global role. The culture involving the social sciences in West Bengal, however, seems to be the very opposite of this. Power is viewed here with shame and guilt. It is no mean feat that we survived for more than 50 years in this environment.

Second, the turf war in the arena of the social sciences in West Bengal would put the politics of Tamil Nadu to shame. Parochialism operates with a vengeance here. It is blasphemous for an English graduate to study international relations or for a student of political science to take up anthropology. Yet, a free exchange of ideas is routinely celebrated in the corridors of power and academic decision-making. The reality, however, is just the opposite. All disciplines are at war and parochialism has emerged as the rule of survival.

At a more mundane level, there is no necessary cognitive dissonance between international relations and political science. If we want a better academic atmosphere, hard soul-searching is required. Preserving good institutions and encouraging specialized inquiries are collective responsibilities. Academic international relations never had any hard battle against political science. They are, and would always remain, co-ordinate concerns. Hence, nothing is to be read in the name of a degree. The rest is sheer prejudice.

***************************************


THE TELEGRAPH

SOLDIER, SAILOR, RICH MAN, THIEF

IT IS DANGEROUS TO IGNORE CORRUPTION IN THE ARMED FORCES, WRITES BRIJESH D. JAYAL

The army recently held a three-day exhibition in Ahmedabad named Know Your Army. Reportedly, the seniormost army officer posted in the state showered praises on the chief minister, who was the chief guest, likening him to an army commander who sets targets and then sets about to achieve them. Praising him for his vision for the development of the state and the nation, the major-general then requested the state to follow the example of other states in allocating land for the Army Welfare Housing Organization to help serving and retired military personnel. Looked at objectively and not through heavily tinted political lenses, all that the general was doing was softening up the chief minister before going in for the request. Perfectly fair tactics.

Judging by media reports, this rather innocuous incident pushed up eyebrows in Lutyens' Delhi and the ministry of defence sought an explanation from the major general for allegedly violating the army code of conduct, which does not allow soldiers to make political statements of any kind.

When this writer was commanding South Western Air Command then located in Jodhpur, the area of responsibility extended through the states of Gujarat, Maharashtra and Goa. This was in the early 1990s and the then Gujarat chief minister had been supportive in offering the air force a large tract of land in the Ahmedabad area to set up permanent headquarters for the command, which has since shifted there. On more than one occasion the undersigned had openly acknowledged the generosity and help that the chief minister and the state government were extending to the services. Earlier, when commanding Eastern Air Command, one recalls public occasions when similar platitudes were exchanged. The national political climate was relatively benign then.

None of these instances drew unnecessary debate because they were seen for what they were: genuine respect by the armed forces for the civilian leadership in the wider context of civil-military relations. Indeed, in the true apolitical ethos of the armed forces, all that mattered was to use civil-military relations for the larger good of the forces serving within the state's borders and maintaining a good working rapport should a situation warrant unforeseen aid to the civil authority. The recent episode in Gujarat possibly followed the old spirit. It is the fractious and recriminatory politics of the country that is drawing the armed forces into its ever-strengthening vortex.

Since healthy civil-military relations are the bedrock of a vibrant democracy, this brittleness at a time of mounting security challenges, both internal and external, does not bode well for the Indian state.

Today, unbridled corruption has become the hallmark of the democracy. It is no longer limited to the political, bureaucratic and corporate worlds, but has engulfed the fourth estate and the armed forces too. Yet the nation across political dispensations has shown no determination to stem this rot. The conclusion is obvious — all are to some degree complicit and are beneficiaries.

So it was with considerable cynicism that the nation watched the two Houses of Parliament indulging in a supposedly serious debate over what is called the 'cash for votes scam'. The incident occurred in 2008 in the run-up to the debate on the controversial nuclear deal. It was public knowledge that trading in members of parliament had taken place. A parliamentary committee to look into the allegations did not find conclusive evidence and recommended further investigation. For three years, the law was taking its own course. And this happy state would have continued, had not the cables from the American embassy in Delhi been revealed by the media courtesy WikiLeaks.

Suddenly the conscience-keepers of the nation were aroused — leading to a futile debate in Parliament. The only meaningful point in it was when the prime minister expressed sadness that he was addressing the House when the country faced enormous challenges: "I thought that this august House would use this opportunity to reflect, not in a spirit of partisan upmanship, but as one, as people charged with the responsibility of governing this country to work out a viable strategy as to how we should and we can deal with these emerging events."

The prime minister, having made a point of national import then failed to follow up — presumably because even he does not really care. Otherwise, he could have drawn the attention of the House to the decline in the one national institution that must remain untouched by the rot that is eating into the vitals of our polity, the armed forces.

To drive home the point, he could have said that in the recent past no less than three erstwhile service chiefs, six lieutenant generals and three major generals have been put under investigation for gross irregularities. Of these, one lieutenant general has been committed to trial for divulging sensitive information to vendors, and another to three years' rigorous imprisonment for a scam relating to rations. An Indian air force officer was found taking bribes to show favours to a French company at the Aero India show and a top secret file relating to the lucrative combat aircraft purchase was found on the roadside. These are not individual aberrations but reek of systemic rot. It is possible that just this one statement would have aroused a clamour for a full debate. The prime minister, in turn, would have emerged a moral crusader for offering a constructive platform to prepare for the challenges he cautioned against.

The brittleness of civil-military relations is evident from the unresolved issues relating to the Armed Forces Special Powers Act and the army's consequent unwillingness to commence training in Chhattisgarh until the government issues clear rules of engagement with respect to any Maoist interference — something the civil authorities will find difficult to resolve in the climate of trust deficit that prevails.

Grievances of veterans have been ignored for years even when the Supreme Court has issued favourable judgments. Today, at regular intervals, veterans are returning their medals to their Supreme Commander — who has not once thought fit to meet them. No self-respecting democracy is so callous towards the sentiments of its veterans. This lack of respect is not lost on those serving; it is also received with some glee across our borders. But to our politics and parliament this means little.

The fragility of civil-military relations has other adverse effects. Modernization will continue to be sabotaged by vested interests which will raise the bogey of wrongdoing at critical times in the process of procurement. The lack of consensus on the appointment of a chief of defence staff ensures that we cannot develop an integrated fighting capability so crucial to combating modern security challenges. Inability to set up a national defence university ensures that we are denied the opportunity to educate and train leaders, both military and civil, who will be better prepared for the emerging security challenges.

It is crucial for the nation to decide what place it wants to accord its armed forces in the national scheme of things. This writer had pleaded in these columns ("Through thick and thin", June 3, 2009) for a Blue Ribbon Commission to make recommendations to Parliament, which could then take a final call.

Now that the debate in Parliament has shown the country how fragmented our polity is and how unreal our priorities, perhaps on the issue of national security and the role of the armed forces there is an opportunity for our polity and Parliament to redeem themselves and display that elusive unity. This is one debate that the guardians of our nation's borders — the armed forces — will watch with great interest as will our friends and potential foes. But it will need more than poetry and innuendoes.

The author is a retired air marshal of the Indian Air Forc

***************************************


THE TELEGRAPH

DON'T WAIT TOO LONG

TAKE A CHANCE INDIA STANDS TO GAIN A LOT BY COMBATING INSURGENCY ON THE NORTHEASTERN BORDER

India's relations with its neighbours have infinite points of contact with varying impact. The model of bilateralism attaches due weight to the unique features of each individual relationship in the region. In its relations with Bhutan especially, India has properly utilized the model of bilateralism that has been characterized as beneficial bilateralism. Bilateral bonds between India and Bhutan are strong in almost all fields of development, more so in trade.

Presently, the most important road link between India and Bhutan is the Jaigaon-Phuentsholing border link through North Bengal. More than 90 per cent trade is carried out through here. In contrast, northeastern entry points like Gelephu or Samdrup Jonkher are less convenient for large-scale trade, though this route is more cost-effective. Road connectivity has been developed recently, but is still not up to the mark.

As Nepal, Bhutan, North Bengal and Bangladesh fall within a radius of 80-100 km, this sector has extremely good trade via North Bengal. Other than India, Bhutan sends to Bangladesh fruits, boulders, and agricultural products. Bangladesh sends to Bhutan garments, medicines, batteries, carpets, cutlery and crockery. But Tsering Wangda, the Bhutanese consul-general in Calcutta, contends that "nothing is happening on the northeast front... logistically this route is more economic." He adds that "truckers are unwilling to take the Assam route due to the militant problem." He continues, "Even if the facilities are there in the Dewki route, the outcome is absolutely zero, except by air." Taking the reference of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation, he states that although 14 priority areas of cooperation have been identified in Bimstec, "this sub-regional group will have no meaning unless the insurgency problem is solved in the northeast corridor". According to the consulate, tourism between Bhutan and India is also not picking up through the Assam route because of insurgency.

On the Indian side, there can be no debate that India has immense potential for trade in the markets of Bangladesh, Myanmar and Thailand through its borders along the Northeast. But together with the problem of insurgency, inadequate official border trade procedures are also responsible for unexplored trade in this region.

In the last two decades, India's Look East policy has enabled the emergence of possible trade links with Myanmar, Bangladesh, Thailand and so on. This has resulted in emphasizing infrastructure development in the northeastern states. These opportunities also include trade link with Bhutan. The eastern part of Bhutan has great potential for producing vegetables and fruits, which have a favourable market in the Northeast as also in Myanmar and Bangladesh. Bhutan also has mineral reserves, mainly in the eastern region, close to its border with Assam. Several hydel-power projects, jointly implemented with India, are situated closer to the northeastern states. Hence, infrastructure development in these parts will enhance the scope of cross border trade through the corridor.

Since the flushing out of militants from Bhutan in 2003, the royal government has been very strict about protecting its 700 km open Indo-Bhutan border. It has also adopted policies to stop public support for the militants, especially from villagers living in the Assam-Bhutan border. Wangda says, "Bhutan is helping these villagers with employment, electricity, and free irrigation services." But India is yet to take a stable stand in combating insurgency and making the Northeast corridor a viable alternative for trade. India's objective national interest pertaining to this region is threefold: physical survival, economic well-being and collective self-esteem. The Northeast is indeed an ideal environment which may not wait to justify serious intervention on the part of the authority.

DEBAMITRA MITRA

 

***************************************

 

 


******************************************************************************************

DECCAN HERALD

FIRST EDIT

HOPEFUL SIGNS

'THERE HAS TO BE AN EFFICIENT TOOL FOR MICRO-FORECASTING.'


The forecast by the India meteorological department of a normal southwest monsoon this year will cheer everyone, including the farmers, policy-planners and decision-makers. The expected precipitation of 98 per cent of the long-term average of 89 cm of rainfall for the country as a whole is good, coming after a good monsoon last year. The economy depends much on the state of rainfall, even after the industry and services sectors have made great advances in recent years. The output of foodgrains and other farm produce and the spending power of the farmers are important factors in the overall performance of the economy. The predicted good monsoon should take food production beyond the 236 million tonnes of 2010, which was itself a very good yield. All crops, except rice, saw record output. Higher agricultural output this year may have some calming influence on inflation which is now the biggest challenge to the national economy and domestic budgets.


But monsoon forecasts are not always dependable. In spite of predictions of a normal monsoon, 2009 was a bad year which saw excessive rainfall in some areas and deficit in many others. The national average was only 77 per cent of the long term average. This is partly because the IMD's model, which was developed after decades of studies and research, is still not perfect. Unexpected phenomena in the Pacific Ocean, which have a major influence on the behaviour of the monsoon, can spoil predictions. The IMD has itself pointed out this uncertainty factor. It has only made the first stage, long-range forecast which will be updated later. The monsoon usually sets in on June 1. Delays in onset in different areas and the distribution of rainfall over various regions are important factors. Though predictions will later be made for the four geographical regions of the country, there is still no efficient tool for micro-forecasting. Farmers will be best helped if there are fairly accurate predictions of monsoon behaviour in their districts. These are however a long way off.


The water storage levels in all major reservoirs in the country are also good now, much above last year's levels. This is also a positive for all major crops. Governments should now start thinking of making arrangements for adequate supply of seeds, fertilisers and other inputs and make credit available to the farmers where necessary, so that they are not disadvantaged in any way.

 

***************************************


DECCAN HERALD

SECOND EDIT

GROWING GAP

'THERE IS NEED FOR AN OVERHAUL OF THE SALARY STRUCTURE.'


A crippling shortage in the officers' ranks of the Indian armed forces that is likely to persist beyond 2020 is reason for serious concern. It could severely undermine the efficiency of the country's armed forces. The armed forces are facing a shortage of 15,004 officers with the army confronted by the most serious shortfall. While the army is short of around 12,349 officers, the navy and air force have a shortfall of 1,818 and 837 officers respectively. The shortage in the army is particularly serious — over 25 per cent of its sanctioned strength. Not only has the shortfall in officers existed for years but also the gap has grown.


Low salaries, high stress and slow promotions in the armed forces are among the reasons why youngsters are not drawn to a career in the armed forces, especially when compared to a job in the private sector. So unattractive has a career in the forces become that seats in the military academies are going unfilled year after year. Those who do give it a shot and enter the forces are putting in their papers before long. The armed forces are suffering from high attrition rates.


Some have suggested forced conscription to address the shortage. This is a bad idea as it will not make for a motivated force. Besides it goes against India's ethos of democracy. The government has been saying that it is taking remedial measures to deal with the shortfall. It has said that all officers including those in the short service commission (SSC) will be eligible to hold substantive ranks within a few years of reckonable service. The tenure of SSC officers has been increased too. Efforts are on to attract youngsters through advertisements. However, these measures are at best superficial. What is required is a complete overhaul of the salary structure and of the promotions policy so that good officers are motivated to remain in the military and the best and brightest are drawn to a career in the armed forces. In its effort to improve the fighting capability of the armed forces, India is investing billions of dollars in modernising military hardware. It is however neglecting the problem of shortage of officers. The latest weaponry alone will not make our borders safe. We need the right personnel to plan and lead from the front.

 

***************************************


DECCAN HERALD

MAIN ARTICLE

FOR WHOSE BENEFIT?

 BY BHAMY V SHENOY


The poor may get a total subsidy of only about Rs 235 per month through PDS kerosene and that too if they are lucky to get their quota.


Is it possible that a rich family like that of Ambanis who live in 20-storied houses get far more subsidy through lower priced LPG, petrol and diesel than a poor family living in a slum or in a village? It may not be the intention of the government to shower petroleum subsidy on the rich and the middle class of India. But that is the result of the irrational petroleum pricing policy of the government. Why is the political class or civil society silent on such a shocking development? Is it the ignorance or the indifference? If it is the latter, this article may help solve the problem.


International crude oil price has been above $100 per barrel since February. When the public sector oil companies are bleeding with huge losses, the government is indifferent to their plight. The last price increase allowed for petrol was on January 16, 2011, when crude oil price was about $92/b. At that time, the subsidy on diesel was Rs 7 per litre and residential LPG was Rs 366 while oil companies were breaking even on petrol though they claimed to lose.


Soon after his appointment as minister for petroleum, Jaipal Reddy announced that it would be politically impossible to deregulate diesel prices though it is an economic necessity. The government was hoping that once the unrest in Arab countries and North Africa comes to an end, crude oil prices would come down to their previous level of $70/b and the pricing problem may become more manageable. However the Libyan unrest which has been on since February 15 and the continuing political turmoil in Yemen, Bahrain, Syria, etc to secure more democratic rights to the people has helped the speculators to push oil prices above $124/b.

Currently the Indian basket of crude costs about $120/b. At that price level, implied losses to the public sector oil companies (more correctly forced subsidies to consumers) are Rs 7 per litre on petrol, Rs 17 per litre on diesel, Rs 29 per litre on kerosene and Rs 500 on a cylinder of residential LPG. For most of us these numbers may not mean much. However, if we translate these numbers into what each family is able to save as a result of the government largesse, we may be in a better position to appreciate the significance of the unintended subsidy to the rich class.


The poor may get a total subsidy amount of only about Rs 235 per month through PDS kerosene and that too if they are lucky to get their monthly allocated quota of 8 litres. But the rich and the middle class families get a subsidy of Rs 500 through their monthly LPG quota of one cylinder. If some are able to get two or three cylinders per month, then their LPG subsidy can be as high as Rs 1,500 per month. A rich family with one diesel car and a petrol car may be getting as much as Rs 2,587 per family. In other words, a rich family can get a total subsidy amount of Rs 4,087 per month.


Loss of Rs 1,99,945 crore

At the national level, on an annual basis the above subsidies will result in a total loss of Rs 1,99,945 crore to the oil companies. Some politicians question the methodology of estimating such losses by suggesting that these are just notional losses. They usually give two reasons. The first is that while the oil companies are losing money in the marketing of these products based on notional costs, they are making for it in refinery operations. While this is true for a private refiner like Reliance, it is not true for public sector oil companies. Public sector companies are losing even on an integrated basis. Reliance has one of the most sophisticated refineries in the world and they can process the worst kind of crude which costs considerably less. Also they export most of the subsidised products.

The second reason they give is that the government earns money by taxing these products. Of course at this level of losses even the total tax collected from petrol and diesel is not able to cover the total marketing losses of the public sector oil companies. In most parts of the world, petrol and diesel are heavily taxed products. Such tax collections account for large part of the revenues of the government. They are used not only for roads but also for other purposes. In a country like India where overall tax burden is less than 10 per cent of GDP, taxing petrol and diesel is easily justified.


In recent years three high level committees chaired by C Rangarajan, B K Chaturvedi and Kirit Parikh had all recommended that it was in the best interest of the economy to liberalise petroleum prices. However the political class out of their ignorance and mistaken notion of losing their vote banks are preventing the government from taking the right step.


In 2008 also, when the crude prices reached $147/b, we had faced a scenario of the rich getting more subsidy than the poor. We are now in the same situation again. Unless the civil society understands the terrible damage done to the society as a result of the huge petroleum subsidy and puts pressure on the government there will be no reform. This kind of revenue losses will only harm the poor more than the rich in the long run. We as a society should help those who are below the poverty line with subsidised kerosene and LPG, but not the rich or the middle class.

 

***************************************


DECCAN HERALD

IN PERSPECTIVE

LESS SUPPORT FOR DEATH PENALTY IN NORTH AFRICA

BY AMOR BOUBAKRI


In Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia, abolition of death penalty seems to be a mere question of time.
Unlike West Asia, North Africa has recently given signs it is moving away from capital punishment. The exceptions, however, are Egypt and Libya, which still have the death penalty and voted against the three UN General Assembly resolutions on a capital punishment moratorium adopted in 2007, 2008 and 2010. In Libya, at least 18 persons were executed in 2010.


A de facto moratorium has been observed since 1991 in Tunisia and since 1993 in Algeria and Morocco. Algeria was a co-sponsor of the three UN Resolutions. Morocco and Tunisia were less enthusiastic but not negative about them. Indeed, Tunisia chose not to attend the vote in order to avoid abstaining and voting 'no'. The Tunisian government said it was simply not ready to adopt a more courageous attitude toward the moratorium. Morocco abstained.


The governments of Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia have always argued that their societies are not ready to accept the abolition of death penalty. It is true that the readiness of these societies for a total abolition remains questionable, but nothing has been done to change this situation. Neither the media nor the parliament has opened a public debate to enhance awareness of the issue and its problems among people. Indeed, the 'not ready' argument has been always an excuse for passivity and inertia. Moreover, the North African governments have not been tolerant enough of NGOs fighting against death penalty, which have had to struggle to get access to the public to plead their cause.


Tunisian model

However, with the political situation in the region now radically different, prospects for the abolition of death penalty are likely to improve considerably. Indeed, the peaceful Tunisian revolution which put an end to Ben Ali's dictatorship on January 14 has become a model that has spread throughout the region. Political reforms, including the enhancement of human rights, have risen to the top of the agenda. This would be sure to help the abolitionist movement in the region because it will have more liberty to act and to campaign against death penalty.

Furthermore, the promises of the Tunisian revolution are likely to be trustworthy. Just days after taking power in mid-January, the Tunisian government that was formed after the failure of Ben Ali's regime made numerous revolutionary decisions, all intended to consolidate human rights. On February 19, Tunisia became a member of the International Criminal Court and ratified the International Convention protecting persons against forced disappearance. In addition, the UN Human Rights Committee and the Committee against Torture will be able to accept individual claims against the Tunisian government after the first Optional Protocol to the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture have been adopted.


It is true that the second Optional Protocol to the 1966 Covenant aiming at abolishing the death penalty has not been adopted yet, but there is no doubt now that human rights are at the top of the political and civil actors' agenda in Tunisia. Probably the interim government chose not to make this decision in order to give the next government, which will be selected in upcoming elections, the opportunity to launch a large debate on the issue.

In Egypt, the end of Mubarak's regime on February 11 has raised major hopes for more respect of human rights in general and specifically the right to life. Indeed, the uprising that has spread through the region since the success of the Tunisian revolution has highlighted the importance of democracy and human rights. The genuine commitment of the new political and social actors who have carried out this uprising will lead to more courageous decisions regarding capital punishment.


Still, a total abolition would not be easy to push through in all North African countries. In Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia, abolition of death penalty seems to be a mere question of time. The new regime in Egypt will at least restrain from the use of the death penalty and adopt a de facto moratorium like Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia.


While in Libya the situation remains unclear, observers agree that nothing will continue as before and that the future Libyan regime will certainly display more respect for human rights and so likely follow the regional trend of diminished tolerance for the death penalty.


IPS

 

***************************************


DECCAN HERALD

IN RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE

 

GIVE ME THOSE SEA GULLS

BY SAVITHA KARTHIK


I long to wake up at 4.30 am to listen to some crisp commentary.


This is certainly not the best of times to talk about Test cricket, considering all the hype and hoopla over two cricketing jamborees back to back. First, the World Cup, and now the T-20. But, it is precisely at such times that I begin to yearn for the beauty of Test cricket. The sound of the middle of the bat making contact with the red ball, the white flannels, the unhurried gaits of the fielders, and the long strolls in the middle that the batsmen take, with a little bit of gardening, poking and prodding the wicket, to see if it will turn on Day Four.

It is at such times that a certain Steve Waugh, with a red handkerchief peeping out of his pocket, comes to mind. His dogged determination, and his twin's fluid strokes, the other Waugh, Mark. The stylish Brian Lara, too, and a typical away-test for India at West Indies, with the Calypso rhythms, and the rastafarians in the stands, come to mind. And the knowledgeable Tony Cozier's commentary that can lull you into sleep, especially because if you are in India, you'll be catching the action at an unearthly hour. But, the fans, the colourful supporters, among them, an iconic one who was known to sprinkle some voodoo concoction on the ground, to act as a curse on visiting teams!



If it's Australia, the sea gulls, all taking flight, when a caressed cover-drive goes their way and in the stands families picnicking on a hillock. And Richie Benaud, with his shsss.


Welcome to the Esh Shee Gee...


I remember tweaking the famed Australian victory poem:


Under the Southern Cross I stand/With a sprig of wattle in my hand/A native of my native land/Australia you little beauty to read: Under the Southern Stand I sit/With a sprig of lotus in my hand/A native of my native land/Azza, you wristy beauty, during the Australian tour of India (1998). It's another matter that the moment I put up that banner, Azza got out. And Australia eventually won that Bangalore Test.


My mind also goes back to that unbelievable summer of '96. At Lords, when three youngsters made their Test debuts. Sourav Ganguly made his century, Rahul Dravid just missed his by a paltry five runs and Venkatesh Prasad scalped a fiver.


My romance with Test cricket hasn't ended. I long to wake up at 4.30 am to listen to some crisp commentary and watch men in whites battle it out for five days to decide who wins. Sometimes, no one does, but who gives a damn?

 

***************************************


******************************************************************************************

HAARTEZ

OPINION

REACH A DEAL ON SHALIT

WITH ALL DUE RESPECT TO THE EUROPEAN MEDIATOR AND THE ISRAELI NEGOTIATOR, IT IS THE ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER AND HIS HAMAS COUNTERPART WHO ARE ULTIMATELY RESPONSIBLE FOR REACHING AN AGREEMENT ON SHALIT'S RELEASE.

Gerhard Conrad, the senior German intelligence official who mediated the 2008 deal that secured Hezbollah's release of the remains of Israeli soldiers Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser in exchange for Israel's release of Lebanese prisoners, has also attempted to mediate the Israel-Hamas talks on the return of captive soldier Gilad Shalit. Conrad failed, resigned, went back to the job and ultimately quit again. According to Hamas spokespeople and Arab-language media, another European mediator has been appointed in his place. As with Conrad at one point, the identity of his replacement has not been made public, in an effort to make it easier for him to make contact with both parties far from prying eyes.

But the problem does not lie with the identity of the mediator or with that of the Israeli coordinator on the Shalit talks. Shalit was seized in June 2006, when Ehud Olmert was prime minister. After a fateful delay that caused Israel to lose out on making progress on freeing Shalit during the first weeks after the cross-border raid, since Olmert had declared his opposition to a deal, Ofer Dekel, a former deputy director of the Shin Bet security service, was appointed as Israel's liaison with Conrad. Dekel was the one who achieved the desired result in the Regev-Goldwasser deal, because in that case, Olmert and Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah wanted the exchange to take place and were decisive about implementing it. In the Shalit talks, Israel and Hamas were on the verge of an agreement, but at the last minute they were unable to go through with it.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thought he had the solution: appointing a new negotiator, former deputy Mossad director Hagai Hadas. Netanyahu saw Dekel as insufficiently daring and creative. Two years passed, and Netanyahu and Hadas got stuck the same point as Olmert and Dekel. Now Hadas has resigned, and Netanyahu has found another negotiator. David Meidan, like his two predecessors, has a background at the top of the intelligence community, having served as a department head in the Mossad. Of course, he needs time to learn how to do his new job; months will pass until then.

With all due respect to the European mediator and the Israeli negotiator, it is the Israeli prime minister and his Hamas counterpart, who in this case appears to be the head of its military wing, Ahmed Jabari, who are ultimately responsible for reaching an agreement on Shalit's release. Like Olmert, Netanyahu has learned that buying time doesn't lower the price. If he doesn't move forward, the next prime minister will be called on to accept whichever deal is on the table. It's a shame that until an agreement is finally reached, the captive soldier and his family will have to suffer needlessly.

***************************************


HAARTEZ

OPINION

LAST CHANCE

THIS TIME IT IS NOT THE CHANCE TO END THE CONFLICT WITH THE ARABS BUT TO WORK WITH THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY TO FIRMLY ESTABLISH THE JEWISH STATE'S RIGHT AND ABILITY TO EXIST.

BY ARI SHAVIT

Just like the Palestinians, we never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. Time after time, we reject the complex diplomatic proposal that has been placed on the table. Time after time, the next proposal is more difficult than its predecessor. Although time is against us, we recklessly refuse to realize this. We refuse today what we will ask for tomorrow and what will cause us regret the day after tomorrow.

In 1987, Israel did not move ahead on a peace agreement that might have have been signed with King Hussein. In 1991, Israel did not reach an autonomy agreement that it might have been able to reach with the Palestinian leadership in the territories. In 1993, Israel did not demand that mutual recognition between it and the Palestinian Liberation Organization be immediately turned into a final-status agreement. In 1995, Israel did not try to implement the Abbas-Beilin understandings. In 2002, Israel did not propose its own initiative to counter the Arab peace initiative. In 2005, Israel did not leverage disengagement to determine a defensible border that would divide the land.

Because of greed and hesitation, we always did too little too late. Because we tried to have it all, we have attained little. Because we tried to expand our border, we have narrowed it. Deplorable foot-dragging has caused us irreversible diplomatic damage.

Make no mistake: It is not at all certain that at any one of the tests over the past quarter-century, Israel had a partner. It is unclear whether King Hussein, Faisal Husseini, Yasser Arafat, Mahmoud Abbas and the Arab League were partners for peace. But the moment to test Husseini was the year of the Madrid Conference. The moment to test Arafat was the great summer of Oslo. The moment to test Abbas was the winter after Rabin's assassination. The right time to test the Arab League and the international community would have been right after disengagement. Israel did not act at the right time and the right place to put its enemies and allies to the true test.

The outcome is an avalanche. The more time that passes, the more the Jewish national movement retreats and the stronger the Palestinian national movement becomes. International support for Zionism has eroded while Israel's security and demographic situation grows worse.

What Israel could have gotten from Jordan we are unlikely to get from the PLO and will not be able to get from Hamas. What we could have gotten from Clinton, it is doubtful we can get from Obama and impossible to get from his successors. What we could have gotten from the international community in exchange for a major withdrawal in 1990, in 2000 and in 2005, we cannot get now. The slope is not only slippery, it is also steep.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should understand the process well. The statesman who was once a Greater Land of Israel man now has the views of one of Labor's early predecessors, Ahdut Ha'avoda. His fondest dream is the Allon Plan to partition the West Bank. His red lines are Rabin's lines. What deputy foreign minister Netanyahu rejected point-blank in 1991, Prime Minister Netanyahu is enthusiastically prepared to adopt in 2011. But even during his two years in leadership, Netanyahu has continued to stall and stall - and stall. He did not produce a daring diplomatic plan following his Bar-Ilan speech. He did not propose the establishment of a demilitarized and limited Palestinian state last summer. He allowed Obama, Abbas and time to wreak havoc on him. He brought Israel to a point in which time, which is working against it, could be its undoing.

The opportunity of the summer of 2011 differs from all previous ones. This time, it is not a chance to make peace, but to avoid defeat; not the chance to end the conflict with the Arabs but to work with the international community to firmly establish the Jewish state's right and ability to exist. But to implement even this modest opportunity, we will have to pay. It must be made clear that Israel will not rule over another people, and that under the right conditions and at the right time, Israel will withdraw to adjusted 1967 borders. The payment required is costly and painful. For Prime Minister Netanyahu, the chance of the summer of 2011 is the last chance.

***************************************


HAARTEZ

OPINION

THE RIGHT MUST BEGIN TO GOVERN

THIS ISRAEL HAS THE RIGHT TO KNOW WHERE IT'S GOING, WHAT IT WILL LOOK LIKE, FOR EXAMPLE, IN ANOTHER 20 YEARS, ACCORDING TO ITS LEADER'S VISION.

BY GIDEON LEVY

A word of warning: This article is being written without the slightest cynicism; this call on Benjamin Netanyahu is being written with due sincerity and seriousness. And I'm begging him to tell us and the world what he wants and where he is heading.

We have never had a prime minister of a government that was so right-wing, nationalist and unified, without any stain of liberalism or blot from the left. No one has had such sympathetic backing from the public, which is also right-wing and nationalist, for the most part. The Israeli right does not have any real opposition. So this is the chance of a lifetime for him to say his peace and carry out his ideas.

Whether it's "Bar-Ilan 2" or "Congress 1," Netanyahu mustn't miss the chance. In another month, he will have to stand at the podium in Congress and air his real and full doctrine. Enough of glancing to the left, enough of invalidating the left, enough of intimidating, enough of hearing what will not be. The time has come to say what will be. And enough of trying to curry favor with the Americans; in any case, they're willing captives of Israel and its aggressive lobby. Enough of trying to curry favor with Europe; we don't take them into account anyway. Let's once and for all hear the ideas of the Israeli right, without embellishment.

Ideology is not a matter to be hushed up, as if it were a detective game for kids. It must be presented out front, without obfuscating it and without tricks. Too few people, if any at all, know the direction this government and its chief are taking. This situation is insufferable. If the right has a plan of action, let it show it immediately. Let it carry it out.

As it is, the world, not including America, is sick and tired of Israel's deviousness, so there's very little to lose in the international arena. The domestic arena is super ready for the right's plan to be implemented. That's why Netanyahu has to speak out on May 24 and say what's in his heart, without spin and without gimmicks - the speech of his life.

Let him tell us: We will remain in all the occupied territory. We will continue to build the settlements. Human rights will continue to apply to Israelis alone. We will continue to rule forever with force over millions of Palestinians, when the other Arab nations are fighting for their freedom. The boycott of Hamas and the siege of Gaza will continue to the end of time.

Let him tell us. Let him tell us why we should not officially and legally annex all the territories if the intention is to remain there forever. And if the intention is to leave some of them, why not now, and why not annex right away the Jordan Valley and the "settlement blocs," including Ariel? Because, after all, there's a "consensus" on that. Why wait? After all, he won't have a golden opportunity like this again.

He must also tell us what kind of democracy he wants to bequeath us - with the left, without the left? With Arabs, without Arabs? With "traitors," without "traitors"? Why should he continue to beat around the bush, to do things in such small measures? Why not state the truth and carry it out?

Let Netanyahu stand in Congress and present his vision with pride; he won't have another opportunity like this to carry it out. Enough of the right that is seemingly tagging along after the left, enough of the talk about two-states-blah-blah and negotiations shmegotiations. There is no need for them. As always, in the end the truth will be valued more than frenetic illusions.

And it's high time to start moving. Two years into his government, the time has come for Netanyahu to govern; he owes this to his voters. Not a camouflaged construction freeze and not an annexation wearing a mask, but rather construction and annexation in the light of day and with its head held high.

The Israeli public that cheers every violent action by its government and which is not interested at all in the occupation knows how to admire a determined right-wing prime minister. This Israel has the right to know where it's going, what it will look like, for example, in another 20 years, according to its leader's vision.

I, little old me, didn't vote for Netanyahu and I apparently won't in the future, either, but then again I never expected Netanyahu to put my ideology into practice. He was elected to fulfill his ideology, which I of course view as a disaster - and it is his duty to do so. Hardly anyone will try to stop him, so why is it not happening?

 

***************************************


HAARTEZ

OPINION

POST-MODERN RACISM

THE ACCEPTANCE COMMITTEE LAW FOR COMMUNITIES IS CLEAR POST-MODERNIST RACISM, WHICH IS UNASHAMEDLY MASQUERADING AS MULTICULTURAL DISCOURSE ON A RELIGIOUS-ETHNIC MINORITY.

BY DMITRY SHUMSKY

Alexander Yakobson claims the critics of the so-called racist legislation recently passed by the Knesset are being unfair and untruthful in his opinion piece "What the Law Really Says," published in Haaretz on April 14. Yakobson says the critics are decrying the Acceptance Committee Law for communities in the Galilee and Negev as a racist law, which has transformed Israel's image into the equal of the most clearly racist states known in the 20th century - all long passe - adding that these critics have ignored the ban on ethnic discrimination written in unambiguous language in the law. "Acceptance committees will not refuse to accept a candidate for reasons of race, religion, gender, nationality, disability, personal status, age, parenthood, sexual proclivity, country of origin, opinions or political affiliation," states the law.

But it turns out that the those who preach about the righteousness of the rising curve of Israeli racism are no less guilty than some of the critics in hastily using far-reaching historical analogies, and tend not to see the entire truth.

In today's post-modernist world, terms such as "culture, "cultures" and "social cultures" have become a form of alternative code words for broad categories of group membership, including race, religion, nationality, country of origin - and usually all of these together. What we have here in the law is a sophisticated attempt by Israeli legislators to approve ethnic-national discrimination by using politically correct legal terminology, elegantly adapted to the spirit of the times.

Because most of the residents of communities in the Galilee and Negev have a culture that is, as best as we know, Jewish (in other words, they are Jews ), it is possible to assume that those who will not be accepted to those communities "based on ... inappropriateness ... to the social-cultural fabric," are first and foremost those Israeli citizens who do not want to adopt the Jewish culture: for example, Israeli citizens whose culture is Arab (in other words, Arabs. )

But the twist in the (multi )cultural wording of the law, which speaks in the spirit of the times of the right of a community to maintain its unique social-cultural character allows the supporters of democracy and multiculturalism among us to swallow the pill of discrimination and ethnic separation between Israeli citizens.

Therefore, there is no choice but to see the Acceptance Committee Law for communities as an expression of the anachronistic return to the open and callous ethnocentric nationalist racism of the old Europe of the previous century. In fact, like the new right-wing European racism, the present new Israeli racism is also a somewhat cultured racism, which in its attempt to exclude minorities, those who are different and foreigners, also exchanges the use of "race" for the use of "culture."

This is clear post-modernist racism, which is unashamedly masquerading as multicultural discourse on a religious-ethnic minority, as if we were not talking about a nationality but a tiny Jewish community of the Diaspora under the threat of cultural extinction.

It would be appropriate to speak the truth and only the truth about the new racist legislation, which is being passed into Israel's legal cannon, between the lines and somewhat hidden. But this truth must include the full truth, since a half truth in this case might possibly yield an especially dubious contribution concealing the racist sting of this legislation from the eyes of the Israeli public.

 

***************************************


HAARTEZ

OPINION

A NONEDUCATIONAL HAGGADAH

WHO ARE THE BEST JEWS ACCORDING TO THE SPIRIT OF THE TEXT? THE ULTRA-ORTHODOX, WHO DO NOT SERVE IN THE ARMY AND LEAVE THE DIRTY WORK OF POURING WRATH ON THE NATIONS IN THE HANDS OF GOD; OR THE NEW JEWISH SPECIES, AS EMBODIED IN THE ARROGANT IMAGE OF FOREIGN MINISTER AVIGDOR LIEBERMAN?

BY NERI LIVNEH

As a child, I used to enjoy the Passover holiday very much. I particularly loved the seder itself, which we held every year on the kibbutz. The texts included in the kibbutz Haggadah and the accompanying songs composed by Yehuda Sharett were pleasant and filled with joy about the coming of spring. The tiresome interpretations of scripture were deleted from the text.

Of course, I participated in quite a few seders in which portions of the Haggadah were skipped until the song "Ehad Mi Yodea?" ("Who Knows One?" ) was reached, but it wasn't until this latest Passover that I had the opportunity to participate in a traditional Seder, including a complete and accurate reading of every letter and every note, along with the interpretations of the person conducting the Seder - a secular man who, it turned out, was a yeshiva graduate.

Everyone is obliged to tell his children the story of the exodus from Egypt, the man leading the seder told his grandchildren, who were seated around the table.

He then proceeded to read the traditional text, parts of which sounded completely obscure even to the adults at the table; there's no chance that a child would comprehend them, but this is actually for the best because we are dealing with a clearly noneducational text.

I wouldn't like to justify to my children the subject of the plague, in which the firstborn were killed; nor the idea that "had He taken us out of Egypt and not lynched them, we would have been satisfied." What was the purpose of God's whole campaign of revenge, death and destruction? "Pour out Your wrath on the nations that do not acknowledge You," arouses revulsion in me.

And the plague gives rise to the question: Who are the best Jews according to the spirit of the text? The ultra-Orthodox, who do not serve in the army and leave the dirty work of pouring wrath on the nations in the hands of God; or the new Jewish species, as embodied in the arrogant image of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and the admiring members of his Yisrael Beiteinu faction - who already learned in Russia, as MK Anastassia Michaeli explained, that they must obey their leader?

Who was conceived in the image of God? MK Meir Porush (United Torah Judaism ) or Yehuda Meshi-Zahav (the founder of ZAKA rescue services ), who pay attention to every minute detail? Or perhaps those who mostly cast doubt on the Judaism of the people they represent, like Lieberman (and MK Fania Kirshenbaum, who is no less terrifying )?

Among Lieberman's supposedly God-like attributes is the fact that those who believe in him are in awe of him; that he manages to escape every investigation unscathed; and that he is no more afraid of his interrogators than he was of that small child he assaulted for insulting his son.

While this is not the place to ask whether God himself has to believe in God, there is no doubt that Lieberman believes in himself. But perhaps the one who best bears the image of the Lord is precisely the Jew of the caliber of MK Michael Ben Ari (National Union ) and the settlers (they say only a handful ) - who uproot olive trees, throw stones and go out to exact a "price tag" from the Palestinians?

All of these figures take on the role of God themselves because, after all, it is written in Deuteronomy 32: "To Me belongs vengeance and recompense." That is to say, to God and not to the human beings who adopt His role themselves.

The image of God as it emerges from the Passover Haggadah arouses terror and repugnance, but if in fact revenge had remained solely with God and not with those who have appointed themselves His representatives on earth, if instead of launching campaigns of war, robbery and revenge on our own behalf we would be satisfied simply to shout hurrah three times to the Lord; satisfied with fantasies and leaving the actual fulfillment of revenge in the hands of God and not with us - then perhaps there would be peace here between the nations, and perhaps we could really mean what we say in the Haggadah: "Next year in the rebuilt Jerusalem."

***************************************


******************************************************************************************

                                    THE NEWYORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

HOW NOT TO PLAN FOR THE FUTURE

 

The agreement between Congress and the White House to virtually eliminate money for high-speed rail is harebrained. France, China, Brazil, even Russia, understand that high-speed rail is central to future development. Not Washington.

The budget package eliminated about $1 billion that President Obama had wanted to add to the current budget, and it rescinded $400 million of $2.4 billion that was already designated for high-speed rail this year.

 

That money was supposed to go to Florida, but it's now up for grabs after Gov. Rick Scott mindlessly rejected a plan to build the first high-speed rail corridor between Orlando and Tampa. Despite the vast support of business, Governor Scott claimed it would be too costly for the state government. It turns out that a lot of other governors — including 11 of Mr. Scott's Republican colleagues — would love that money.

 

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has to choose among 90 proposals from 24 states, the District of Columbia and Amtrak — $10 billion worth in all. The real scandal is that Washington won't pay most of them.

 

Two areas stand out on that list: the Northeast corridor from Boston to Washington; and California, which has ambitions to build a high-speed rail system from San Francisco and Sacramento to San Diego. California voters have approved almost $10 billion in bonds for the project (which has an ultimate price tag of some $45 billion), but the state wants the $2 billion for an extension.

 

That is a promising project, for later. The overall price is not practical now, and the Northeast already has the fastest train in the country, the Acela, which is running on tracks that do not allow it to reach its full speed.

 

Amtrak, backed by regional governors, is asking for $1.3 billion that would help speed up Acela trains. Some would go to signal, electrical and track improvements to boost the Acela's speed from 135 miles per hour to 160 m.p.h. in a long stretch between Philadelphia and New York City. New York has another request to clear a path for Acela through an overloaded exchange near New York City's Pennsylvania Station. Right now more than 750 Long Island Rail Road, Amtrak and New Jersey Transit trains pass through there daily.

 

Other requests in the Northeast proposal include money for Amtrak to start work on two tunnels under the Hudson River. Those tunnels, vital to rail and road travel through the region, would replace a project that New Jersey's governor, Chris Christie, canceled last year, costing his state $3 billion in federal funds.

 

After making that terrible mistake, Mr. Christie now says he wants $570 million in funds to replace another choke point for the Acela — the 100-year-old Portal Bridge across the Hackensack River. He is even willing to put up $150 million of state money, since the bridge is also used by New Jersey commuter trains. In his letter asking for federal funds, he lamented that the bridge, which swings open for river traffic, is "beyond its useful life" and delays trains. That's rich coming from the man who canceled a project that was vital to ending train delays in the future.

 

There are many requests, even one from Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, a Republican who earlier rejected $810 million of these funds. Now he wants $150 million for a modest rail project between Milwaukee and Chicago.

 

President Obama originally proposed spending more than $50 billion over the next six years to make America's passenger rails compete with other industrialized nations. He wants 80 percent of the nation to have access to high-speed rail in 25 years. That's not likely to happen with this Congress. Perhaps Governors Christie and Walker, and other Republicans who have a sudden fervor for high-speed rail, can help make his case.

 

***************************************


THE NEWYORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

77 CENTS ON THE DOLLAR ISN'T FAIR

 

In a disappointing defeat for women, Senate Republicans worked overtime in December to ensure that a measure addressing gender-based wage discrimination never reached the Senate floor where it likely would have passed by a sizable majority. Fortunately, supporters of the Paycheck Fairness Act have not given up.

 

Last week, Senators Harry Reid, the majority leader from Nevada, and Barbara Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat, reintroduced the bill. Representative Rosa DeLauro, a Democrat of Connecticut, has reintroduced the legislation in the House.

 

Women now make up almost half of the American work force, but, according to data compiled by the Census Bureau, full-time female employees still make, on average, only 77 cents for every $1 earned by men.

 

The bill, a much-needed updating and strengthening of the nation's half-century-old Equal Pay Act, would enhance remedies for victims of gender-based wage discrimination, shield employees from retaliation for sharing salary information with co-workers and require employers to show that wage differences are job-related rather than sex-based, and justified by business necessity.

 

President Obama has pledged to "keep up the fight" to pass the bill. In a recent radio address, he explained that he takes the issue personally, "as the father of two daughters who wants to see his girls grow up in a world where there are no limits to what they can achieve."

 

With Republicans now in charge of the House and the Senate's Democratic majority whittled down, securing the needed votes will be tough.

 

Women around the country — from both parties — need to speak up. Lawmakers might think twice about refusing to act if they knew that female voters were taking down the names of those who would rather please corporate interests than stand up for a woman's right to earn equal pay for equal work.

 

***************************************


THE NEWYORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

A GOOD LAW THAT'S WORKING

 

After years of overfishing, many fish populations have begun to recover. On Monday, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke announced that New England's fishermen will be allowed to increase their catch of 11 commercially important fish stocks in Atlantic waters this summer.

 

This progress, and that announcement, can be traced directly to the Magnuson-Stevens Act, a 35-year-old law that imposes ambitious timetables for rebuilding depleted fish stocks and gives scientists a major say in setting limits. So it is disturbing that New York's two Democratic senators, Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand — both with solid environmental records — want to weaken the law.

 

Along with two senators from North Carolina, Kay Hagan, a Democrat, and Richard Burr, a Republican, they have introduced the Flexibility in Rebuilding American Fisheries Act. It would extend the deadlines for rebuilding fish populations and give greater weight to the "economic consequences" of fishing restrictions — another way of saying that science should play a less-decisive role.

 

Senators Schumer and Gillibrand are responding to the complaints of Long Island fishermen who say they are seeing more fish like summer flounder and argue that they should be allowed to exceed existing quotas. But they should ask themselves this: Why are they seeing more fish? As in New England, the reason is Magnuson-Stevens, and the limits on overfishing it imposes.

 

The senators need to show more patience. As fish populations improve, catch limits are relaxed. The summer flounder quota has gone up by 89 percent since 2008 — a healthy jump for fishermen but not enough to slow the species' steady recovery. Since many other species around the country have not fared as well as those in eastern waters, and still need time, the message here is clear: Leave Magnuson-Stevens alone.

 

***************************************


THE NEWYORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

STUMBLING INTO BAD BEHAVIOR

BY MAX H. BAZERMAN AND ANN E. TENBRUNSEL

 

IT'S easy to look at big names like Warren E. Buffett, and big companies like Ernst and Young, and be judgmental. Of course they overlooked ethical lapses. Why wouldn't they? That's business.

 

Regulators, prosecutors and journalists tend to focus on corruption caused by willful actions or ignorance. But in our research, and in the work of other scholars who study the psychology of behavioral ethics, we have found that much unethical conduct that goes on, whether in social life or work life, happens because people are unconsciously fooling themselves. They overlook transgressions — bending a rule to help a colleague, overlooking information that might damage the reputation of a client — because it is in their interest to do so.

 

When we are busy focused on common organizational goals, like quarterly earnings or sales quotas, the ethical implications of important decisions can fade from our minds. Through this ethical fading, we end up engaging in or condoning behavior that we would condemn if we were consciously aware of it.

 

The underlying psychology helps explain why ethical lapses in the corporate world seem so pervasive and intractable. It also explains why sanctions, like fines and penalties, can have the perverse effect of increasing the undesirable behaviors they are designed to discourage.

 

In one study, published in 1999, participants were asked to play the role of a manufacturer in an industry known for emitting toxic gas. The participants were told that their industry was under pressure from environmentalists. To ward off potential legislation, the manufacturers had reached a voluntary but costly agreement to run equipment that would limit the toxic emissions. Some participants were told they would face modest financial sanctions if they broke the agreement; others were told they would face no sanctions if they did.

 

An economic analysis would predict that the threat of sanctions would increase compliance with the agreement. Instead, participants who faced a potential fine cheated more, not less, than those who faced no sanctions. With no penalty, the situation was construed as an ethical dilemma; the penalty caused individuals to view the decision as a financial one.

 

When we fail to notice that a decision has an ethical component, we are able to behave unethically while maintaining a positive self-image. No wonder, then, that our research shows that people consistently believe themselves to be more ethical than they are.

 

In addition to preventing us from noticing our own unethical conduct, ethical fading causes us to overlook the unethical behavior of others. In the run-up to the financial crisis, corporate boards, auditing firms, credit-rating agencies and other parties had easy access to damning data that they should have noticed and reported. Yet they didn't do so, at least in part because of "motivated blindness" — the tendency to overlook information that works against one's best interest. Ample research shows that people who have a vested self-interest, even the most honest among us, have difficulty being objective. Worse yet, they fail to recognize their lack of objectivity.

 

In one experiment for a study published last year, student participants were asked to estimate a fictitious company's value. They were assigned one of four roles: buyer, seller, buyer's auditor or seller's auditor. All participants read the same information, including an array of data to help them estimate the firm's worth. Not surprisingly, sellers provided higher estimates of the company's worth than buyers did. More interestingly, the auditors, who were advising either a buyer or a seller, were also strongly biased toward the interests of their clients.

 

Rather than making a conscious decision to favor their clients, the auditors incorporated information about the company in a biased way — with the sellers' auditors providing estimates that were 30 percent higher, on average, than the estimates of auditors who served buyers. The study was replicated, with actual auditors from one of the "Big Four" accounting firms, and with similar results.

 

A solution often advocated for this lack of objectivity is to increase transparency through disclosure of conflicts of interest. But a 2005 study by Daylian M. Cain, George Loewenstein and Don A. Moore found that disclosure can exacerbate such conflicts by causing people to feel absolved of their duty to be objective. Moreover, such disclosure causes its "victims" to be even more trusting, to their detriment.

 

Our legal system often focuses on whether unethical behavior represents "willful misconduct" or "gross negligence." Typically people are only held accountable if their unethical decisions appear to have been intentional — and of course, if they consciously make such decisions, they should be. But unintentional influences on unethical behavior can have equally damaging outcomes.

 

Our confidence in our own integrity is frequently overrated. Good people unknowingly contribute to unethical actions, so reforms need to address the often hidden influences on our behavior. Auditors should only audit; they should not be allowed to sell other services or profit from pleasing their customers. Similarly, if we want credit-rating agencies to be objective, they need to keep an appropriate distance from the issuers of the securities they assess. True reform needs to go beyond fines and disclosures; if we are to truly eliminate conflicts of interest we must understand the psychology behind them.

 

Max H. Bazerman, a professor of business administration at Harvard, and Ann E. Tenbrunsel, a professor of management at the University of Notre Dame, are the authors of "Blind Spots: Why We Fail to Do What's Right and What to Do About It."

 

***************************************


THE NEWYORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

THE REVOLUTION'S MISSING PEACE

BY ABDULLAH GUL

 

Ankara, Turkey

THE wave of uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa is of historic significance equal to that of the revolutions of 1848 and 1989 in Europe. The peoples of the region, without exception, revolted not only in the name of universal values but also to regain their long-suppressed national pride and dignity. But whether these uprisings lead to democracy and peace or to tyranny and conflict will depend on forging a lasting Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement and a broader Israeli-Arab peace.

 

The plight of the Palestinians has been a root cause of unrest and conflict in the region and is being used as a pretext for extremism in other corners of the world. Israel, more than any other country, will need to adapt to the new political climate in the region. But it need not fear; the emergence of a democratic neighborhood around Israel is the ultimate assurance of the country's security.

 

In these times of turmoil, two forces will shape the future: the people's yearning for democracy and the region's changing demographics. Sooner or later, the Middle East will become democratic, and by definition a democratic government should reflect the true wishes of its people. Such a government cannot afford to pursue foreign policies that are perceived as unjust, undignified and humiliating by the public. For years, most governments in the region did not consider the wishes of their people when conducting foreign policy. History has repeatedly shown that a true, fair and lasting peace can only be made between peoples, not ruling elites.

 

I call upon the leaders of Israel to approach the peace process with a strategic mindset, rather than resorting to short-sighted tactical maneuvers. This will require seriously considering the Arab League's 2002 peace initiative, which proposed a return to Israel's pre-1967 borders and fully normalized diplomatic relations with Arab states.

 

Sticking to the unsustainable status quo will only place Israel in greater danger. History has taught us that demographics is the most decisive factor in determining the fate of nations. In the coming 50 years, Arabs will constitute the overwhelming majority of people between the Mediterranean Sea and the Dead Sea. The new generation of Arabs is much more conscious of democracy, freedom and national dignity.

 

In such a context, Israel cannot afford to be perceived as an apartheid island surrounded by an Arab sea of anger and hostility. Many Israeli leaders are aware of this challenge and therefore believe that creating an independent Palestinian state is imperative. A dignified and viable Palestine, living side by side with Israel, will not diminish the security of Israel, but fortify it.

 

Turkey thinks strategically about the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, not only because it knows that a peaceful Middle East would be to its benefit, but also because it believes that Israeli-Palestinian peace would benefit the rest of the world.

 

We are therefore ready to use our full capacity to facilitate constructive negotiations. Turkey's track record in the years before Israel's Gaza operation in December 2008 bears testimony to our dedication to achieving peace. Turkey is ready to play the role it played in the past, once Israel is ready to pursue peace with its neighbors.

 

Moreover, it is my firm conviction that the United States has a long-overdue responsibility to side with international law and fairness when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. The international community wants the United States to act as an impartial and effective mediator between Israel and the Palestinians, just as it did a decade ago. Securing a lasting peace in the Middle East is the greatest favor Washington can do for Israel.

 

It will be almost impossible for Israel to deal with the emerging democratic and demographic currents in the absence of a peace agreement with the Palestinians and the rest of the Arab world. Turkey, conscious of its own responsibility, stands ready to help.

 

Abdullah Gul is the president of Turkey.

 

***************************************


THE NEWYORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

TIME FOR PLAN B

 

A 14-year effort to negotiate an international treaty banning the production of nuclear weapons fuel is getting nowhere. Under the terms of the United Nations' Conference on Disarmament, all 65 participants must agree. Pakistan, which is racing to develop the world's fifth largest arsenal, is refusing to let the talks move forward.

 

It is clearly time for a new approach. So we are encouraged that the Obama administration has begun discussing with Britain and France and others the possibility of negotiating a ban outside the conference, much like the 2008 convention on cluster munitions and the 1997 land-mine treaty. While the United States, Russia and China still are not signatories — they should be — many others are, and the two agreements are credited with greatly diminishing, although not eliminating, the use of both weapons.

 

Russia and China, which must be part of any fissile material ban, are resisting the idea of ad hoc negotiations. They should tell Pakistan to let the conference do its job, or they should accept the alternative. China has particular influence as Pakistan's longtime supplier of nuclear technology, including a fourth reactor for producing even more nuclear fuel.

 

Islamabad dug in its heels after the George W. Bush administration persuaded the international community to lift a ban on civilian nuclear trade with India. The ban remains in place for Pakistan.

 

India, unlike Pakistan, isn't a serious proliferation risk. Still, the deal was deeply flawed. It did not require India — estimated to have at least 100 nuclear warheads — to halt fissile material production. And now that New Delhi can buy foreign uranium for its power reactors it can husband its domestic uranium for weapons.

 

Islamabad argues that the fissile material ban would further lock in a military advantage for India. Pakistan already has 95 or more deployed nuclear weapons, up from the mid- to high-70s two years ago. It should be less fixated on India and more focused on using scarce resources to educate its children and battle home-grown extremists. Along with the test ban treaty (which the Senate still must ratify), getting countries to stop producing fissile material is essential for curbing the world's most lethal weapons. A ban would give the United States and others more leverage to pressure North Korea and Iran to abandon their nuclear efforts. Serious negotiations need to start now.

 

***************************************

 


******************************************************************************************

HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

FROM THE BOSPHORUS: STRAIGHT - UPHOLDING DEMOCRATIC LEGITIMACY

A decision by Turkey's top election board to bar some prominent Kurdish politicians from the June 12 elections has sparked a major crisis in Turkey. If the impasse created by the Supreme Election Board, or YSK, is not overcome, it will have serious socio-political consequences.

As underlined in the commentary by Sedat Ergin today, it is impossible to believe no one was aware of the accident coming. The YSK is precisely there to avoid such accidents. Not only did it fail to provide any early warnings, but the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy, or BDP, officials are accusing the YSK to have misled them.

The Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, being the exception, many have criticized the decision, without even questioning the legal dimension of it, as many fear its potential consequences. The tension on the streets with clashes between police and demonstrators has shown that the fears are not baseless.

As expected, the decision is perceived by the Kurdish electorate as a way to bar their representation in the Parliament. The fact that the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, has abstained from lowering the 10 percent threshold has already been interpreted by the Kurds as a way for the government to obstruct pro-Kurdish parties from entering the Parliament.

Having a 10 percent threshold has become a bad joke, since the pro-Kurdish party forms a group in Parliament after their members run as independent candidates.

After many bloody years that cost thousands of lives, Turkey has finally come to the point of realizing that the Kurdish problem cannot be solved by military means. Kurds have been called upon to "make politics in the plains" rather than resort to an armed struggle from the mountains.

Yet many still recall how the immunities of some Kurdish deputies were lifted and they were sent to jail in the mid-1990s. Things have improved since then, but mistrust is still strong among the Kurdish electorate toward state mechanisms. The latest decision has only reinforced that mistrust.

When Kurdish deputies were stripped of their immunities and sent to jail, few objections came from non-Kurdish circles. Most probably those who have not condemned that move are today having second thoughts. The current uproar within society shows that there is more sensitivity toward democratic legitimacy when it can contradict legal grounds.

The next Parliament will assume a historic responsibility, that of preparing a new constitution. If we want to live in a peaceful and stable country, we have to make sure that Kurds do not feel excluded from that critical process.

The YSK will make its new evaluation today. We call on all sides to act with utmost responsibility. That includes the BDP far the course of action it will take will be of critical importance.

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

***************************************


HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

A RE-POSITIONED TURKEY

RICHARD REID

There is no question that Turkey has re-positioned itself geopolitically. The shift, a historic one, became clear over the past two years. It has been a move from a fundamentally Western to an independent and more Eastern foreign policy orientation. How is this historic? It changes the once-thought irreversible direction Mustafa Kemal Atatürk set for the country. His and the Republic's founding aim were to point Turkey westward. From the founding, through the world wars and up to recent years, Western-oriented secularism was Turkey's global face.

But what was once a given has now been altered, and the strategic meaning of the alteration has Western and other foreign policy analysts scratching their heads.

It's at NATO that people are most baffled and alarmed. For NATO, Turkey has always been an unquestioned core asset, a member for 59 years. It was one of the alliance's four or five most valued stakeholders, NATO's eastern bulwark against the Soviets. Turkey's solidarity was almost a cliché.

That assumption was first shaken when Ankara stonewalled against the naming of the ex-Danish Prime Minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, as NATO secretary-general in 2009. In its opposition to Rasmussen, it seemed to many that Turkey was aligning itself with the rioters on the Pakistani street. The issue was the refusal of Rasmussen's government to shut down the newspaper responsible for the cartoons lampooning the Prophet Muhammad. It was only the second time a NATO member country had taken a blocking position on a religious issue.

The belief that Turkey would stand shoulder-to-shoulder with its alliance partners was jolted again last year when it once more played an essentially religious card, opposing the NATO missile shield because of its anti-Iran premise. Ankara grounded some of its arguments on its important trade relations with Iran, as well as on some of the technical questions surrounding the missile shield, but its main opposition was taken to be a reflexive defense of a co-religionist. Earlier in 2010, when it was a member of the U.N. Security Council, Turkey voted against primary NATO allies when the council called for sanctions to slow Iran's nuclear program. Observers asked themselves whether Ankara had made a choice of Islamic solidarity, or simply one of neutral, independent judgment.

NATO and Turkey stood opposed again as the Libya crisis began. For several days Ankara criticized the United States and NATO majority-imposed no-fly zone. True, so did a NATO pillar, Germany. Also true, Turkey in the end agreed to send support ships. But by that time, Ankara had become the alliance's black sheep in the eyes of the NATO establishment, a member with maverick tendencies, one that could not always be relied on. Here again, as with its Iran stance, Ankara was swayed by trade and money concerns. A state overthrow in Libya following a rebel victory could liquidate the multi-billion-dollar contacts Turkish companies signed with the Moammar Gadhafi government. Worth noting, however, is the point that NATO member Italy, with far more than Turkey to lose if the regime were to go belly-up, has stood foursquare with the alliance from day one of the crisis.

Doubts rose earlier when Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Brazilian President da Silva met in Tehran with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in an attempt to break the impasse in negotiations over Iran's nuclear program. The effort was well-intended, but to the five powers formally brokering the negotiations it seemed reckless and flamboyant, whether or not it may have been "cleared" with Washington in advance.

There will be more qualms in the U.S. and Europe if Ankara acts on some of the political opportunities created by the current Arab-state uprisings. Turkey will be tempted to capitalize on the popularity and influence it has won with the Arab street and media by its split with Israel and its show of independence from the big-power consensus. It will be a short and easy step for it to give favored counsel to the governments that will take shape in Egypt and Tunisia, for example, over the coming months. Strong signs already show these governments will have a strongly Islamist flavor. Ankara will need to decide how much it is willing to jeopardize the positive global currency of "the Turkey model" by associating itself with regimes that adopt Shariah law.

The Justice and Development Party, or AKP, leadership may be content to continue with an outlier's image, feeling a broadened strain of independence fits Turkey's new clout and its economic ascent. Charles de Gaulle took France out of NATO's military command structure some four decades ago, citing his country's "force de frappe" and Nicolas Sarkozy has abruptly brought it back. Greece not only refused to join NATO actions against its co-religionist, Serbia, during the Yugoslav wars, but is believed to have tipped off Serbian forces prior to NATO attacks.

As Prime Minister Erdoğan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu rub up against Western leaders in the daily traffic of their business, they may arrive at second thoughts about how far Turkey should prudently stray from the NATO fold. Certainly such contacts happen often. It is reported that the prime minister and President Obama speak frequently by phone. It taxes the imagination to guess at any meeting of the minds between these two near-opposites, but as master politicians they are both capable of the ingratiating word. Would the prime minister assure the president that Iran is not really a bad egg, not the malignancy that many in the West think it is? Would the president urge the prime minister to try to see things Israel's way? When the two talk, how good are the interpreters? How many idioms and nuances are lost?

Whatever bumps and shocks a re-positioned Turkey may cause in NATO and the West, the country is not headed out of the alliance. First, with dominoes falling in the Middle East as never before, NATO needs Turkey as urgently as it did during the Cold War. Second, if Ankara objects to being left out at the high table, it must see a maverick style will not help it get a seat there.

***************************************


HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

DID NOBODY SEE THE ACCIDENT COMING?

SEDAT ERGİN

The election plans of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, have turned upside down as the Supreme Election Board, or YSK, found a group of independent deputy candidates ineligible for the elections and a political crisis has erupted. The crisis will give dramatic legal, political and social consequences if not taken under control.

My first observation is: The YSK's decision shows we can face any contradiction any time between legal ground and democratic legitimacy in Turkey.

Besides, the decision is problematic not only in terms of content but of the way it was announced, which has created an impression that the board doesn't feel a need to inform the public.

Constitutional article very clear 

The YSK based its decision on the Constitution and the Deputy Election Law. Article 76 in the Constitution regulates the eligibility to be a parliamentary deputy. Elaborating on who is not eligible, the article states, "Persons convicted of … involvement in acts of terrorism, or incitement and encouragement of such activities, shall not be elected deputies, even if they have been pardoned."

And the Deputy Election Law reiterates the fact that persons who are convicted of involvement in terror acts shall not be elected deputies. 

The YSK evaluates a big part of the independent candidates supported by the BDP within this frame of articles.

Ironically though, the relevant article in the Constitution was re-regulated in order to clear the way for today's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan being elected deputy on Dec. 27, 2002. Erdoğan had been banned from politics.

Could the YSK not warn in advance?

One of the questions we should find an answer to is whether the YSK acted with insight and could have strongly warned in advance of its decision. Before the issue became a crisis on the eve of the June 12 elections and affected the entire election process, the YSK could have mentioned the problem and triggered solution efforts.

We should answer a couple of questions as well in terms of the government's perspective on the issue. Did the government need to be warned by the YSK in advance of what might happen? Was it possible for the government not to see this beforehand? And here is a bona fide question: Following the launch of the Kurdish initiative in the summer of 2009, could an amendment not be included in the referendum over the Constitutional amendments package last September to eliminate possible problems that some members of the Kurdish political movement might face?

However, let me point out that it was impossible for the BDP not to know about any of legal and constitutional barriers lying before them as they prepared deputy candidate lists. Apparently, the BDP wanted to take the risk and test whether they would downgrade the legal framework despite the restrictions.

Difficult to explain to the West

The crisis is just an accident in which the main actors should have been able to see in advance.

The issue we face today is that everyone will remain under the wreckage. The damage report of the accident signals a high cost. First of all: If a solution is not found, millions of Kurdish citizens who sympathize with the BDP will have the feeling of being treated unfairly.

Besides, the crisis has a potential to make it difficult to find a solution to the Kurdish conflict. Since the BDP's election process is harmed, efforts to seek a solution in a democratic political ground will turn in vain as it encourages pro-violence tendencies in the Kurdish movement.

A likely perception as a result is that elections are not fair and appropriate. No matter which strong legal justifications exist, the Western world will probably say, "Why did you not correct it then?" It does seem easy for Turkey to convince the West.

Instead of taking all the risks casting a shadow over the entire election process, a practical solution should be found. A special regulation can be made similar to the one made for lifting Erdoğan's political ban in 2002. Why not?

From this angle, the main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu's announcement that they are ready to provide any kind of contribution to the solution reflects a positive approach.

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

***************************************


HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

DARK DAYS FOR FREEDOM IN TURKEY AND AZERBAIJAN

ELDAR MAMEDOV

In his book on the Turkic world, "Sons of the Conquerors," Hugh Pope, an American expert on Turkey, provides an optimistic picture of countries that are friendly to the West, pragmatic in their approach to Islam and offer a secular alternative for the Muslim world caught between pressures for change and fundamentalism. These days, the two countries of the Turkic world with particularly close historical links to each other and to the West are Turkey and Azerbaijan. But they are in the news for the wrong reasons, such as the growing intolerance of dissent, attacks on the freedom of expression and the jailing of anti-government activists and journalists.

To be sure, crucial differences exist between the two countries. Turkey's record on the freedom of expression is, on the whole, vastly superior to that of Azerbaijan. Turkey regularly holds competitive elections. It is still possible to criticize the government, which dozens of newspapers and TV stations diligently do. Bookshops are full of books highly critical of the government. Some of these books disgustingly so, a particularly obnoxious example is Ergün Poyraz's latest book, "Takunyalı Führer" (Reactionary Fuhrer), whose cover shows Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as Hitler.

However, the trend is a different story. The ruling religiously conservative Justice and Development Party, or AKP's, growing intolerance of dissent is a cause of major concern. Erdoğan has sued scores of journalists and cartoonists for "offensive language and emotional damages." Freedom of expression suffered a further severe blow when well-known investigative journalists Nedim Şener and Ahmet Şık were arrested in the ever expanding scope of the investigation into Ergenekon, an alleged coup-plotting ultra-nationalist network.

After the arrest of the journalists, the police raided daily Radikal and some publishing houses in search of Şık's book, "İmamın Ordusu" (The Imam's Army), which investigates the influence of the Fethullah Gülen Islamic community on Turkish security forces.

The prosecutors in the Ergenekon case not only keep dozens of suspects in pre-trial detention; they also pretend to police thoughts by arresting people for "creating the psychological environment for a coup," which apparently includes publishing books critical of the Ergenekon investigation and the Gülen movement. With these arrests, as the Turkish Journalists' Association said, the number of journalists in prison has reached above 60, more than 2,000 journalists are being prosecuted, and investigations have been launched against 4,000 journalists. This, together with the numerous (and un-investigated) death threats against journalists, makes it extremely difficult to work in this profession.

There are not nearly that many journalists in prison or under prosecution in Azerbaijan, but this is only because the media, except a few small opposition newspapers, are under the strict control of the government. Those who overstep the boundaries set by the authorities, for example, by exposing high-level corruption, face violence or worse. The murder of the investigative journalist Elmar Huseynov in 2005 remains unsolved. Another journalist, Eynulla Fatullayev, is serving an eight-year jail sentence despite the binding ruling of the European Court on Human Rights that Azerbaijan has to immediately release him.

According to the United States Department of State annual report on human rights, the number of cases of physical and psychological pressure on journalists in 2010 doubled in comparison with the previous year and reached above 100. On March 11-12 and on April 2, 2011, thousands of Azerbaijanis, both the new generation of Facebook-inspired activists and members of the long dormant traditional secular nationalist opposition, gathered in downtown Baku to demand respect for their civil liberties and to call for an end of the abuse of power. The authorities refused to listen to their grievances, unleashing instead the worst repression since the presidential elections of 2003. Prior and during the protest 174 people were detained. Young activists Bakhtiyar Hajiyev and Jabbar Savalanli were arrested and are being held in pre-trial detention for their calls for peaceful protests against the government. The journalists from the opposition newspaper Azadlyq (Freedom) Ramin Deko and Seymour Haziyev were abducted and beaten, apparently for their reporting on the protests of April 2.

These are dark days for the Turkish and Azerbaijani liberals. But this is no reason to despair. Some hope might come from Europe. The European Union in particular has strong leverage over Turkey and Azerbaijan. Turkey is negotiating, albeit at a snail's pace, its accession to the European Union, while Azerbaijan wants an association agreement with the EU.

It is only natural that the bar is set higher for Turkey, since it is aspiring to become a member of the EU. The EU has been very critical of the attacks on the freedom of expression in Turkey, as testified by the European Commission's and European Parliament's latest reports on Turkey. But an association agreement with the EU also entails a strong commitment to upholding human rights and fundamental freedoms. It is in the EU's power to make it clear to the Azerbaijani government. All it takes is political will and some consistency on behalf of the EU member states and institutions. It is not only about principles and values but also about an enlightened self-interest, as the events in North Africa have amply demonstrated. The policy of unconditionally privileging stability over democracy in the end brings neither.

Ultimately it is up to the Turkish and Azerbaijani societies to reverse the assaults on freedom in their countries. They could derive more force from working closer together. Azerbaijani democrats could benefit a lot from their Turkish counterparts' advocacy skills and links to Europe. Azerbaijanis have also acquired a wealth of experience in Internet activism, particularly through the skilful and creative use of social media (about this, see the excellent report of the European Stability Initiative Generation Facebook in Baku available at www.esiweb.org).  

Up until now, it is mainly nationalist and religious groups from both countries who have been interested in bonding. But their agenda is ill suited, if not harmful, for the promotion of democratic change. It is time that Turkish and Azerbaijani liberals discover each other. In the end, it is not the outdated nationalist or religious utopias, but true commitment to human rights, civil liberties and secular democracy that will make Turkey and Azerbaijan successful nations in the 21st century, and prove Hugh Pope's optimistic assessment right.

* Eldar Mamedov is an international-relations analyst based in Brussels.

***************************************


HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

CELEBRATING THE HOLY BIRTH WEEK IN THE SCHOOLS OF A SECULAR COUNTRY

AHMET İNSEL

Education Minister Nimet Çubukçu said in a circular dated April 7 that education on values had been given importance in program development efforts since 2004. Mercy is this year's theme in the "Holy Birth Week," which is organized annually in April by the Religious Affairs Directorate, she said.

The importance and specialty of the week should be given attention and activities with the themes of love, respect and mercy should be organized in schools, Çubukçu said. "We should find ways to let people explore the beauty of mercy, one of the basic characteristics of our holy Prophet Muhammad."

Secular religion

Kürşat Bumin of daily Yeni Şafak wrote about the circular, saying "no moral values of a religion or an ideology should be imposed through circulars" in any schools in a secular country. If this happens, then it means the principles of secularism are being violated. "The circular above clearly violates laicism as much as the imposition of worshipping Atatürk does," he said.

The Religious Affairs acceded to the Gregorian calendar instead of the Islamic (Hijra) calendar and put the birthday of Prophet Mohammed between the Easter of Christians and the Passover of Jews. This is a Muslim problem, though. As the Holy Birth of Prophet Mohammed, or Mevlit Kandili, is celebrated according to the Hijra calendar, children might ask the question if the Prophet Mohammed was born twice a year. I hope the directorate has an appropriate answer. But this has nothing to do with laicism.

Muftis' offices have been observing the Holy Birth Week with various activities since 1989. In a secular country, this is an activity that the state cannot have a say in how it is organized or by whom it is attended, as long as the activities do not put the security of citizens in danger or violate law and order.

On the other hand, according to the ministry's circular, though it does not include any mandatory implication, the Holy Birth Week celebrations take on an official form as part of the Education Ministry's activities. This is an extension of the mandatory religious courses and a second violation of secularism. Besides, which procedures are being followed for the release of this circular is unclear. The Council of State can apply for a cancellation of the circular within 60 days. Let's see who will apply to the council and for what reason.

A quiz show titled "Life of Our Holy Prophet Mohammed" for primary, secondary and high school students was organized by the Siirt Mufti's Office and the Education Directorate as part of the Holy Birth Week activities. This is violation of laicism because one of the organizers is the Education Directorate.

Almost everywhere, celebrations are held in schools' conference rooms. In some districts, it is possible that activities are being held in schools since there is no other suitable place. However, by looking at the long list of activities, one can see the lack of meeting rooms is not the only reason why the week is being observed in schools. As suggested in the circular, the Holy Birth Week is a school activity. Singing nasheeds is a big part of the celebrations. There is nothing wrong if children sing nasheeds in mosques, private premises, cemevis or dervish lodges. But the schools of a secular state should be completely closed to such celebrations.

Form and mentality

Form is not the only issue here but the mentality as well. A conference titled "The Prophet Muhammad in the Quran and Mercy" was organized in the Black Sea province of Trabzon by the Beşikdüzü Mufti's Office at the conference room of a local high school. At the end of the conference, District Governor Alper Faruk Güngör said in a speech "As long as we remain on the jolly path of our Prophet and we follow his path, we will reach absolute Truth, Beauty and Reality." Is this the representative of a secular state, or an imam or a mufti, or a district governor addressing high school students at the end of the conference organized by the mufti's office?

That's correct. Another district governor might perfectly make a similar speech and say "Almighty Atatürk" instead of "Our Prophet" and the so-called laicism in this country would not be violated. But will laicism rise on democratic and social pillars by replacing the sacrosanct nature of a secular religion with the sacredness of an Abrahamic religion?

* Ahmet İnsel is a columnist for daily Radikal, in which this piece originally appeared. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.

***************************************


HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

ERDOĞAN SHOULD STEP IN FOR THIS MATTER

MEHMET ALİ BİRAND

Leaders set their priority when it is their party's turn to enrich and lead the country successfully while staying in power as long as possible.

It is the primary target of every politician. After finishing his apprenticeship, each leader changes his target. He intends to make history and put his mark on the destiny of the country.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has entered the stage of a master. Now it is important for him to put his mark and make history just like Atatürk, founder of the modern Turkish Republic, or late President Turgut Özal.

And he has obtained a great opportunity.

The leader who can find a solution to the Kurdish issue without shedding blood will make history and never be forgotten.

A Turkey that can't solve its Kurdish issue will always remain a dwarf.

It will neither break a record in economy nor prove its power in the region. The Kurdish issue is the single worst disease sucking the country's blood. As long as it is not removed it will weaken the country.

Erdoğan may still say, "The Kurdish issue does not exist any more, it is only that Kurdish citizens have a problem." I don't think he believes his own words.

Erdoğan is forced to make a decision after the general elections set for June 12.

Either he finds a solution no matter what the cost or he needs to take brave steps to stop shedding blood on streets. Or he may appear as if he is spending much effort like other leaders, blame the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, and suffice with waving the nationalistic flag. 

Turkey will thus miss out on another historical opportunity.

Not only the Southeast but also the streets of big cities like Istanbul will turn into a fireball.

The reaction to the latest decision by the Supreme Election Board, or YSK, will reveal Erdoğan's and the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, administration's general attitude. For, didn't non-sense decisions by the same YSK in the past punish Erdoğan?

Erdoğan's reaction will also shed some light on his attitude with respect to the Kurdish issue. Will he leave the BDP alone or protect it under the umbrella of democracy?

The prime minister is facing such a political risk, taking brave steps to inscribe his name among the unforgettable or just be forgotten like all the other leaders.

From what I understand, Erdoğan will prefer to make history, in elections he obtains a result that won't destroy his confidence.

He wouldn't want to miss the opportunity.

Don't be upset with the Alatons, listen to them

Recently there was a great conference organized at Bilgi University on the Kurdish issue.

Alarko Holding Chairman Ishak Alaton's speech stirred some trouble. Alaton is a unique person. With his liberal view he is one of the most valuable people to this country.

I was surprised when I saw reactions to his speech in the paper the next day.

To my surprise, despite all our experience, we still have the approach of "Kurds need to be punished" encoded in our minds.

To my surprise, despite so much blood shed and changing conditions we still get confused about different views.

To my surprise, we are still refusing new and brave propositions.

What did Alaton say?

 "Lay your weapons down, killing people won't lead anywhere," he told the PKK.

If it contributes to a solution, then let PKK's jailed leader Abdullah Öcalan serve his time at home.

Hell broke lose.

According to some this can't be democracy.

According to some this is non-sense.

I wonder why it can't be.

In order for a society to be well off, to prevent shedding blood and create harmony, why should it be impossible to serve time at home?

Let's no longer be deaf.

The civilian disobedience movement is spreading. Now there are different methods used instead of weapons.

Let the Alatons speak.  

Let them propose something out of line.

Until now we have chosen to be conservative, where has it led?

We neither won nor lost.

Let us face the truth:

Citizens of Kurdish origin living in this country, under this flag want to learn their own language and manage themselves in regions they pose the majority.

If we resist and think we could oppress them by using violence, then we'll really split this country.

I repeat that our last chance is to provide for their rights through changes to be made after elections. Otherwise we'll all face a great chaos.

What a pity, isn't it?

***************************************


HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

AN OUTDATED INSTITUTION

ERSU ABLAK

The protests to cancel the university entrance exam, or YGS, after the recent fiasco continue. According to media reports, this year's YGS reportedly contained a "code" that allowed students to answer many questions with numerical answers correctly simply by choosing the option to the right of the highest number offered. Officials with the national testing body said the code was accidental. It is sad to see the authorities show no sign of remorse with no one resigning or even apologizing. Prime Minister recap Tayyip Erdoğan said the exam would not be held again and that he saw no need for the head of Turkey's Student Selection and Placement Center, or ÖSYM, Professor Ali Demir, to resign. Meanwhile it was discovered that Demir committed plagiarism in the past. Even this should have been enough for him to resign, but he still sits in his given seat without shame.

The ongoing protests reminded me of an exam held last year. Turkey's first e-learning company Sebit in cooperation with the Ministry of Education sponsored a high school placement test specifically designed to make the students feel better and learn better. Some 636,000 students entered the exam and each received personal feedback saying how they compared to other students. Sebit also prepared reports for teachers as well, showing them the areas their students did well and areas where they failed, allowing teachers to improve their work. The results were ultra successful. The students who took the test and read the feedback showed increased performance. There are millions of students using Sebit's Vitamin software and those who follow the courses regularly get higher results than those who don't, proving the success following the examination was not out of luck.

The main difference between what ÖSYM does and what Sebit does lies in the focus. Sebit has always been a company that cares for students and works to improve student learning. On the other hand, ÖSYM is an institution created after a military coupe to standardize Turkish youth. Its main purpose is to keep Turkish youth on their toes and keep them under control because their fate depends only on the three exams that ÖSYM sets.

It would be extremely beneficial for Turkey if the government would close ÖSYM and find another way to place students in cooperation with companies like Sebit who use technology and modern teaching methods to turn examinations into tools to empower youth, not to seal their future.

I wrote about Turkcell's future a few times in this column. Today if the board meeting happens, Mehmet Emin Karamehmet might lose control over the company. On Tuesday, Akşam newspaper wrote that Telia Sonera took a few journalists on a trip to Sweden and fed them lies to write what Telia management wants. I was one of those journalists. I have to say it is a shameful method to undermine people the way Akşam did. Unfortunately in Turkey, journalists are pressured on many fronts like this and some journalists are okay with it. I hope that the journalists at Akşam remember they should be impartial to every side and not obey their patronage without question like they have been doing so far.

***************************************


HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

AN ANSWER

YUSUF KANLI

As I often do every morning, I spent almost two hours yesterday reading through the electronic bombardment of protests from supporters of the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, or some pro-Kurdish readers who believed in the "Freak mentality" and "Democratic culture" articles I "poured out" what was interestingly described as "obsessive opposition to the AK Party."

Freedom of expression has to be respected by everyone. The right of everyone to criticize cannot and should not be curtailed and definitely no one can be immune from criticism, including that "bold, bald, ever-angry man yelling at everyone."

Letters criticizing me are most welcome and definitely I am not getting mad at anyone just because they criticized what I wrote, simply disagreed with what I wrote or mercilessly curse and even swore at me. Naturally, I cannot accept hate letters or scraps that contain no ideas other than threats. Of course, I feel threatened by such letters, as I am definitely attentive to the constant persuasive efforts of Aydan, my better half, who says: "Please Yusuf, for God sake stop criticizing these people [AKP], look at what happened to your friends… They are all at Silivri."

But, scaring and forcing people into prisons in their brains and instilling a climate of fear has been the driving force behind the AKP's "advanced democracy" project anyhow. As I have been trying to always underline, the era of "dead heroes" must come to an end in this country and I definitely have no freak intention of becoming a hero, but as long as I have a space to continue expressing what I see and perceive, I believe it is my duty to continue. Obviously, as a personal witness to many past examples of it, I do not have the slightest doubt of the advanced persuasive capabilities of the government.

Don't I have obsessions? Of course I have many, headed by my strong conviction backed up with extensive reading on Islam, democracy, governance models and over 32 years of observation of politics that individuals can be both democratic and pious. But democracy and Islam cannot exist together in state administration as one is divine with absolute rules and requires total surrender to the creator while the other is man-made, changeable and can only exist if it is based on the free will of all equal people with the right to think about, express, criticize and question virtually everything. While I do not consider secularism as some sort of a religion, like most secularists in Turkey, I do consider it a fundamental element of co-existence or the side-by-side existence of Islam and democracy in a Muslim society; one belongs in the private sphere and the other to the public sphere.

Even at times when it was somewhat taboo to say it, I clearly wrote in this column that I am not a Kemalist, but I strongly admired and appreciated the great works of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the foremost one of which was the creation of a secular and democratic republic on the ashes of the "ill man of Europe," the Ottoman Empire. Atatürk was a great leader, a great statesman, founder of the Republic and we owe him a lot, but he was mortal and died back in 1938. Turkey should manage to look forward, rather than trying to find remedies to its many modern-day challenges with principles and policies laid down in the first quarter or so of the last century.

In the founding period of the Republic, because of the prevailing international and domestic conditions of the time, consecutive governments might have undertaken executive decisions that might be condemned according to today's perceptions. Yet, everything must be judged within its own context. Would today's Turkey repeat the Dersim tragedy? Definitely not. Was everything Turkey did to quash the 1925 uprising correct? How could it be? Yet, the past is the past. While it must be examined, lessons should be drawn so that similar mistakes are not repeated again, we have to look forward and try to find answers to today's problems through today's possibilities.

Nourishing a neo-Ottomanist and, I fear, an expansionist political obsession that is causing Turkey to drift away from democratic governance and shift toward creating a neo-sultanate under the pretext of "advanced democracy" cannot be in the best interest of Turkey. If this is "obsession," of course I have that obsessive fear.

The moment that "bold, bald, ever-angry man yelling at everyone" puts aside the written text prepared by an army of scriptwriters and starts talking off the top of his head he indeed testifies to this bitter reality.

For example, is it a democratic mentality or can it be reconciled with democracy at all, if a prime minister says he could order some 5,000-10,000 young supporters of his party to counter tens of thousands of students protesting alleged irregularity at the university entrance examinations?

Thank God, he has not yet gone that far.

***************************************

 

 


******************************************************************************************

 I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

'A NATIONAL

 

Only weeks after the size of the federal cabinet was cut from just over 50 to 22 ministers in January this year, the government seems set to inflate it once again, with contacts reported to be on with the PML-Q, the JUI-F and the MQM. Slots still vacant in the cabinet would then go to these groups, with the PML-Q apparently engaged in the most active negotiations at this point with President Asif Ali Zardari. According to reports four slots in the cabinet as full-fledged ministers are being suggested, alongside positions as minister of state and in the provincial setups. A post of deputy prime minister is also said to be under consideration, while overtures are also being made to the PML-N to join what would be a "national government". The purpose of the exercise, we are told, is to create a wider setup which can deal with the most pressing issues we face. Economic recovery tops the agenda, and this of course is hardly surprising given the failure to extract solid cash from the IMF during the tough talks in Washington. Worsening law and order and the energy crisis are other issues to be put before any new, wider body that can be formed as a result of the latest efforts.

Developing consensus on key issues is always a welcome step. But do we detect here a hint of distinct desperation on the part of the government? Is it now – after making a mess of matters and some two years before the elections are due – keen to share out the blame and save itself from standing alone on the chopping board as voters express what is likely to be anger. There seems to be little other logic in setting up a broader government at this juncture, especially as ties with allies have weakened and whittled away over the past months. The exercise will also bring together parties with widely differing ideologies. Indeed the sight of former arch-enemies – the PPP and the PML-Q – around a common table will, if things happen as is being planned, be rather comical. What is not at all funny is the sums of money that will be spent on a swollen cabinet. The PPP has already faced criticism for setting up one of the largest cabinets in the world; and it is now set to increase the size of government dramatically once more, in an exercise that may not necessarily yield very positive results.

***************************************


I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

TIES THAT BIND

 

The tapestry of our relations with the US becomes more complex almost by the day. Of late the fabric of the tapestry has come under extraordinary strain, epitomised by the Raymond Davis Affair. Our exchanges have become more fractious; we are more assertive in our determination to retain sovereign power and we seek to limit the extent to which the US acts unilaterally within our borders. There are credible – but inevitably denied – rumours that the exchange of information between our own and the American intelligence agencies has slowed to a trickle. Anti-American public sentiment has reached a new high. Despite all this the ties that bind us together, willingly or otherwise, are intact and must be maintained – so said Admiral Mike Mullen before he arrived in Islamabad yesterday. He said that we could not afford to let security ties unravel. To allow this to happen would be dangerous for us, for the US and a danger to the region as a whole. Mullen is almost certainly right, though perhaps more 'right' in terms of US interests than our own.

As he was making his statement our Finance Minister Hafeez Shaikh was singing from a different songsheet on the other side of the world. He has failed in his mission to persuade the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to release the next tranche of funding to us, and an IMF team is due to visit us next month to evaluate just what we have done in terms of expanding the tax footprint. Apart from the failed negotiations, the finance minister revealed that far from us benefitting in terms of billions of dollars from the Kerry-Lugar-Berman Bill, we have to date received $300 million, which is a lot to a poor man but small change in the context of what the KLB was supposed to deliver – $7 billion over five years at approximately $1.5 billion a year. It is all very well for Admiral Mullen to talk of the importance of our security relationship, but in parallel with that is the relationship the US has with us economically, and if those two interconnected relationships are differentially serviced as they appear to be it is unsurprising that tension is the outcome. If the US wanted to really do us a favour it would open its markets to our goods and allow us to compete on a more level playing field. That there needs to be change in the way we do many things is undeniable, but equally undeniable is that those who seek change from us need to make changes for themselves if the relationship is to prosper.

 

***************************************


I,THE NEWS

OPINION

AT HOME ABROAD

 

A private member's bill introduced in the National Assembly by the PML-Q's Raza Hayat Hiraj seeks to introduce a new constitutional provision that would disqualify from parliament or the provincial assemblies anyone who also holds the nationality of another country. The PML-Q member has argued that such persons cannot be expected to demonstrate the degree of nationalism and patriotism the nation needs. The PPP has not opposed the bill stating none of its members is affected, though this assertion has immediately raised questions about the status of the president and former prime minister Benazir Bhutto. However, as neither are members of the legislature, it is somewhat unclear if the new law would affect them in any way. Benazir's nationality is, at any rate, nothing more than an academic issue at this point, given that she will never again sit in parliament.

Raza Hiraj says five to 10 percent of sitting members will be affected. It is uncertain if further inquiry may reveal a higher number especially as the bill also seeks to exclude those who hold property overseas in their own name or that of close relatives. We know there are quite a few in all parties who do. Some make no secret of this. Whether dual nationality or holdings abroad have an impact on patriotism is a matter that needs to be debated in parliament so some view can be reached on just how significant it is, given all the other issues we face and also in light of the laws of our land as well as those of other countries.

 

***************************************


I. THE NEWS

OPINION

THE ARMY AND THE CONSTITUTION

IKRAM SEHGAL

 

A delegation of army officers from the prestigious Command and Staff College, Quetta visiting the Supreme Court (SC) were told by their host, Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, that repeated military intervention had weakened state institutions, that the military had no business intervening in the governance of the country. He emphatically reminded the assembled army officers about their "oath of allegiance" to uphold the Constitution, not to succumb to the temptation of abrogating it at will as has happened time and again. "The prime duty of the armed forces is to defend the country against any external aggression or threat of war," the CJ said. "The prime duty of defending the supremacy of the Constitution lies upon the SC," he added.

The CJ reminded the delegation that the 1973 Constitution introduced a new chapter for the armed forces containing provisions pertaining not only to their command and functions but an oath by every soldier to "bear true faith and allegiance to Pakistan and uphold the Constitution and that he should not engage himself in any political activities whatsoever". Easier said than done!

If the loot and plunder that the elected are indulging in shows no signs of abating and the SC seems powerless to prevent it, if the opposition seems to be hand-in-glove with the government and if it becomes impossible for the common man to survive in the face of rising prices and acute shortages of essentials including electricity, it does not take a genius to draw comparison with Mao's saying, "power flows through the barrel of the gun".

The long-suffering and frustrated people have no one to turn to but the armed forces. Inadvertently perhaps, and maybe even unwillingly, the uniformed personnel take to politics, but once they do so, how long does it take before they become politicised?

Through different judgments, the SC has maintained that the soldier and the citizen are alike before the law, therefore they must both obey the commands of the Constitution and show obedience to its mandate. Quoting Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen, "a country does not have to be fit for democracy, rather it has to become fit through democracy," the CJ added that military interventions in the political process have always weakened democratic institutions and adversely impacted constitutional and legal development in the country.

"Now, if we want to make this great state of Pakistan happy and prosperous, we should wholly and solely concentrate on the well-being of the people, and especially of the masses and the poor. If you work in cooperation, forgetting the past, burying the hatchet, you are bound to succeed," he said.

Unfortunately those elected, albeit mostly by bogus votes, have shown no inclination to work assiduously to uplift the sorry lot of our masses. The men in uniform need to be assured that their rulers will try and achieve such objectives while themselves obeying the laws of the land they were elected to implement.

The CJ emphasised that since Pakistan is being governed by a written Constitution, all powers and duties of the armed forces must flow from the provisions of that charter, that a heavy responsibility lies upon the shoulders of their officers to adopt patriotism and the highest moral and professional standards. "Only then you will be able to defend your country from extraneous threats," he added.

Soldiers of this country are dying on a regular basis in place such as Swat, South Waziristan and Orakzai Agency. While the nation is grateful to the soldiers for their sacrifice, where are the signs of any tangible progress by their elected leaders in correcting the various ills that afflict the populace?

Time and again, the army has come to the rescue of the common citizenry in times of disaster. Is it surprising that given such circumstances some adventurers take it to be an open-ended "invitation" to ameliorate the miseries that the populace is facing? In the face of survival of the country, is it surprising that the Constitution and oaths of allegiance to it, take a back seat?

The circumstances in Pakistan are usually such that they provoke the minds and senses of the personnel of the armed forces as they do of common citizens. It does not help for them to see the apparent helplessness and inadequacy of the SC to implement its judgments on the one side and on the other, the long suffering public exhorting them to "do something" and being insistent about it (no matter that they turn on their "benefactors" soon after they have "done it").

This frustration is enhanced when the rank and file see the incumbent government adopt the simple expedient of repeated filibustering, the changing of counsels that has successfully hindered the implementation of the NRO judgment for the last 18 months since late 2009. All the rhetoric by the SC declaring the NRO to be a black law and those in office affected by the NRO to be ineligible for office has remained just that, "rhetoric". The ineligible have thus become legitimate and are legitimately looting the till. The result is that those who should be prosecuted by law for their countless misdemeanours are themselves prosecuting those who should be prosecuting them.

While defending the Constitution is the SC's prime duty and one does not doubt for one moment that the honourable justices have their hearts in the right place, where is the definite will to ensure the ends of justice are served? The fact that many of their judgements have simply been ignored by the government rankles the public mind and even if the public does not doubt its true intentions it makes both the intelligence and the masses sceptical about the SC's ability to implement the rule of law. One fears for the rule of law as this provides fuel for those who encourage the military to believe that they are "the saviours incarnate" of the republic. Is it a coincidence that some controversies miring SC judgments have gained currency and the SC's pristine reputation has been brought back a peg or two by clever manipulation of facts with fiction?

CJ Chaudhry says the welfare of the people must be the supreme consideration of all institutions and all functionaries of the state, adding that "in adherence to constitutionalism and legal principles lies our salvation and future development as a civilised nation". The CJ and his fellow justices have certainly tried but have not been able to stop the loot and plunder by deliberate and systematic disregard of rules and regulations. The integrity and sovereignty of the state has clearly been eroded, if the SC does not act, who will?

Given that the government of the day has no intention of listening to the SC, is it a mystery that the masses hope that they will at least "beware of the rage of angels" as represented by the men in uniform?



The writer is a defence and political analyst. Email: isehgal@pathfinder9.com

 

***************************************


I. THE NEWS

OPINION

THIS LIBERALISM WON'T WORK

AMIR HUSSAIN NIHAL

 

A nation mired in the mud of unemployment, hopelessness, poverty and insecurity that finds solace in its deteriorating state of affairs will never improve. The dissenting voices are vanishing, giving birth to a hypocritical culture where a band of trendy liberals hold sway. They trade on the public fear of extremism to run the lucrative industry of criticism of religious obscurantism by juxtaposing this substance-less liberalism with enlightenment. This is a dangerous move that tramples the hope to create an inclusive, tolerant and pluralistic society where intellectual debates lead to solutions not to denigration.


Liberalism in its true spirit encompasses a vast array of intellectual traditions and ideological underpinnings that evolved from centuries of political and cultural movements and their inner strains. The process of thesis, antithesis and synthesis where ideas are put forth debated and built on for a higher intellectual tradition has ever remained the hallmark of liberalism elsewhere.

Liberalism has never been a monolithic concept and it is as contested a concept as fundamentalism and extremism. Liberalism, therefore, cannot be seen as a singularly anti-extremism philosophy at best and a trendy mode of life at worst. Our liberals in Pakistan have lined up against religious extremists and in doing so they have lost sight of the broader issues that cause extremism to flourish. One example of this was the glorification of the late Salmaan Taseer, not because of his tragic murder, which is condemnable, but more because of his way of life. The more important thing to do is to explore the causes of the hopelessness that breeds extremism than to exhibit hatred towards these hopeless people. Ravaged by poverty, unemployment and starvation with nothing to lose, our youth is increasingly gravitating towards the ideals of a promised better life being propagated by the proponents of extremism.

The powerless, voiceless and alienated youth from the lower socioeconomic stratum find it more appealing to join hands with extremists than to embrace the values of the "elite culture" of the "liberals". More so because this hollow liberalism does not empower the poor and it does not hold the promise of an exalted life. All it offers is an experience the poor in Pakistan have never undergone. Their hatred becomes furious when they see a class with obscene wealth, and opulence enjoying a princely life in a country where millions are deprived of their basic needs.

The political leadership has turned a deaf ear to the plight of the poor. Globalization has added salt to the injury with the anti-poor economic agenda of the IMF being implemented. The neo liberal mantra of economic growth has never worked in Pakistan and the developing world at large. The agenda of the IMF, in the absence of any social-safety net for the poor people, has greatly contributed to poverty and vulnerability.

Extremism will grow if "progressive" forces continue to live in their comfort zones when they should come forward with viable political alternatives to both religious extremism and unthinking liberalism. The increasing divide between pro-west liberals and anti-west religious extremists may drag our society towards a political and economic collapse and anarchy.

The need for drastic political and economic measures is more urgent today than ever. The government is obsessed with cosmetic changes. The talk about tax reforms and downsizing of the cabinet is shFinding a revolutionary solution

Kamila Hyat

The writer is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor

 

***************************************


I. THE NEWS

OPINION

FINDING A REVOLUTIONARY SOLUTION

KAMILA HYAT

 

The writer is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor

Like a contagious disease, revolution catches fast, spreading from person to person and quickly becoming a kind of battle cry echoed by almost everyone.

While the MQM's Altaf Hussain has been regularly speaking of revolution and the need for it, as have other politicians, a call for revolution came recently from a rather unexpected direction.

During a talk on disaster management in Karachi, the gentle humanitarian and social worker Abdul Sattar Edhi suggested a 'bloody revolution' was needed.

The idea of Edhi espousing events that could result in bloodshed of the worst kind and even more chaos than we witness at present, is something of an anomaly.

Although Edhi later stressed that he believes that the government should complete its term in office, the fact that even Edhi sees the situation as desperate enough to seek revolution is not insignificant. Clearly, the degree of frustration with the present state of affairs is growing rapidly and affecting even those known for the gentleness of nature and of extraordinary patience typical only of saints.

These startling words from Edhi are obviously not motivated by politics of any kind or other such factors that lead to the heads of parties making provocative remarks at specific times.

The now aging philanthropist obviously believes that there is need for overwhelming change which can quickly rescue people from their pitiful plight, and possibly also from a government which has so far done little to try and ease their many miseries or address their most pressing concerns.

The view is one shared by many. Quite obviously, events in the Middle East have influenced thinking and brought before so many of us the more idealistic notions attached to revolution and all that it means. Television images from Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain and even Libya – where events have been complicated by external intervention naturally act as a source of inspiration even if the factors behind them, and the consequences that arise from them, have not been fully explored and have barely been discussed as far as the media go.

There can be no criticism of Edhi's words. He has no need to prove that, perhaps more than any other individual in the country, he cares passionately about the people of Pakistan and their well-being. But others talking of revolution need to be just a little more cautious.

The fact that we need dramatic change is beyond the scope of doubt. Many complain that the government is doing 'nothing at all' and failing on every front. There may be some truth in this bleak assessment.

But the problem also is that the scale of change required is so great that the little bits of tinkering we see here and there simply do not make a difference that can really alter the way people live, locked constantly in a desperate struggle for survival that is both exhausting and demeaning.

The political will to bring about change is undoubtedly lacking. But there are also other hurdles such as the manner in which the budget is allocated and a continued feudal mentality which refuses to allow space for the development we desperately need.

As things stand now, only a massive budgetary shuffle combined with measures such as meaningful land reforms, dividing the vast holdings spread across huge areas, can really bring about the kind of change we need.

This would be nothing less than a revolution. But perhaps we also need to think just a little more carefully about all that a revolution could involve.

We are waging at present a battle against a well-armed force of militants, in the form of the Taliban, who also seek revolution. A considerable portion of the kind of change they envisage of course involves specific dress codes and brutal punishments for what they see as 'immoral' behaviour of all kinds. The list of all that encompasses is a long one.

The danger is that the kind of chaos any major civic unrest would involve could allow the militants to seize control of larger tracts of territory and whip up even greater ideological confusion than that which exists at present.

While there is every reason to celebrate the removal of Hosni Mubarak and his cronies in Egypt, it is wise also to take a look at the events that occurred immediately after their removal.

While women took an active part in the vibrant movement that led to his ouster, they have since been pushed to the sidelines of events, and, on several occasions including on March 8, they have been humiliated at Tahrir Square by groups of men that included soldiers. The women were ordered to return to their homes and in some cases shoved, groped or abused.

There can be no doubt that the situation in our country calls out, in a voice of increased desperation, for change. The misery of people grows by the day and many – indeed most citizens – would do all they could to bring it about. It is this bitter reality that has resulted in the cry for revolution catching on so rapidly and being made by more and more people.

For obvious reasons, it is a call that carries with it enormous appeal. But the questions of what could happen, who would lead such a revolution – or hijack it along the way – or what the aftermath could potentially be, need also to be considered very carefully.

The assumption of greater power by people who are poorly represented by those who sit in parliament as their representatives would of course be something to be welcomed and warmly embraced. Perhaps we need to focus a little more on ways to achieve this.

A more active role must be played by our people in pushing the government to do the right thing. We are all stakeholders in our democracy. The tactics of peaceful protest are many; they range from sit-ins to poster and handbill campaigns.

Other strategies have been used at other times, in other places. We need more focused discussion on how we can push government in the right direction and make a sincere attempt to correct all that has gone wrong.



Email: kamilahyat@hotmail.com

***************************************


I. THE NEWS

OPINION

THE WAR COMPLEX

TOM TURNIPSEED


 Obama won the presidency campaigning as a peacemaker but approved $40 billion for arms sales to other countries in his first year in the White House compared to the $34.5 billion President G W Bush approved in his last year in office according to the US State Department. Bush, who blustered his way into war, has been replaced by Obama, a smooth salesman for the US war complex, aka the military, industrial complex or defence industry. Obama has surged the number of troops in Afghanistan; deployed planes, cruise missiles and electronic attacks against Libya; and provided increasing amounts of arms to most of the countries in the Middle East, South Asia and most any other country that wants them.

The war complex relies on war and the threat of war to create their markets. Members of Congress, with defence plants and military bases in their states and districts and war complex contributions in their pockets, put defence spending cuts off-the-table while education, health care and other quality of life programmes are cut to the bone. A commander-in chief that goes to war, okays sales and gifts of killing tools to almost any country that wants them and takes campaign contributions from the war complex is their kind of president.

According to national security analyst Lawrence Korb, the baseline defence budget has grown for 13 straight years. Between fiscal 1998 and 2011, the budget rose from $271 billion to $580 billion. This doesn't include war costs and the Afghanistan war alone costs roughly $2 billion per week. The US share of global military spending has jumped from one-third to one-half. If big money is made killing people is anyone exempt from being killed?

Nowadays, national security bigwigs are from the United States intelligence community, led by the director of national intelligence and includes top officers in military intelligence, the CIA and secret service. The IC collects and produces foreign and domestic intelligence, contributes to military planning, performs espionage and provides for the president's personal security. They gather at the White House to brief the president on matters of national security like how he can authorise a nuclear attack with the black box brief case they present him.

I learned that war is a killer and money maker as a young soldier in basic training at Ft. Jackson, South Carolina in 1955. I enjoyed the running and calisthenics but bayonet and machine gun training made me realize what the military is all about. In bayonet training we attached our bayonets to our rifles and ran and stuck a dummy that was 'the enemy'. Our trainers had experienced close up killing in Korea and they made us scream "kill, kill, kill" as loud as we could and stick the dummy as hard as we could. If we didn't holler loud enough or stick the dummy hard enough we had to do all over again.

Later we practiced shooting 30 and 50 calibre machine guns. When we finished the trainers shot up and wasted several boxes of ammunition. I asked my sergeant why they were wasting the expensive ammunition and he muttered, "Shut up young soldier, it's the army way." Is this Obama's way?

He has awarded three Medals of Honour to families of military personnel killed in combat and said to each "fallen hero...gave his life...his last full measure of devotion...for our country." Obama would be a global hero who risked his life for our country and people everywhere by saying "No" to war and the war complex.



Courtesy: www.counterpunch.org

 

***************************************


I. THE NEWS

A CULTURE LACKING BEAUTY AND REASON

AMIN JAN NAIM

 

There is a pressing need for an alteration in the values of our society and the uplift of the character of the nation. The sharp cleavages in our values amidst a general social degradation are evident in all facets of our national life. A radical transformation and emancipation of our society is necessary. This will not be possible without a change in values, norms and outlook.

One aspect which lies at the basis of our state is a precious legacy of the British era – the principles of British common law.

Sadly, we are drifting away from this legacy. A sound, modern polity has to be based on what are now universal principles of jurisprudence. Some examples of these norms are the stipulation that hearsay is no evidence; that a person is innocent until proved guilty; that the burden of proof should not lie on an accused person; and the requirement of habeas corpus.

Long periods of dictatorships and draconian religious ordinances have badly affected rule of law in Pakistan. Some in society and governance develop a close, intertwined network and the rest toil and struggle unsupported and unprotected. That is why most rulers and especially dictators ensure their own men as heads of every major institution in the country. This setup is then perpetuated in the hierarchy and any dissent is crushed.

Our culture lacks reasoning. Precise reasoning based on measures, measurability and numeracy is the basis for modern science. An exposure to modern science and the scientific method will be especially valuable to the young.

Freedom of religion and artistic and intellectual freedom are now the core basis of any modern society. In addition, there is a need to spread the virtues of tolerance, courage and politeness in our populace.

We need to remove malignant values and shun xenophobia and obscurantism. It is sad that Pakistan is becoming increasingly xenophobic. One desirable way forward would be to imbibe the Hellenic tradition.

It is to the pristine influence of ancient Greek thought that the gigantic structure of western civilization owes its splendour and achievements. Western influence through technology, industry, communications as well as scientific, juridical and political ideas is profound everywhere.

But since the west does not have all the answers, we can also gain by imbibing some of the traditions of China, Japan and Korea.

The legacy, mores and aesthetics of the Confucian societies are remarkable in human history. That legacy is now predisposing them towards healthy modernisation based on their own values as well as the acceptance of the best of the western ones.

As one example, these countries are now also in the vanguard of western classical music – a source of strength and social vitality. Besides thousands of their youngsters studying in music conservatories, they have produced world renowned musicians like the Japanese conductor Seiji Ozawa, the Chinese cellist Yo Yo Ma, the Japanese pianist Mitsuko Uchida and the Korean conductor Myun-Whun Chung. Can we also hope for such phenomenon to happen here?

The current winds of change in Arab countries show a blurring of traditions and a triumph of universal values of freedom and human rights. The courage of the protestors in the face of brutal and omnipresent security apparatuses of the autocrats is really remarkable. A similar human triumph was witnessed in the overthrow of the Communist dictatorships in Europe in the 1980s.

Excellence and genius are important, but it is the average norm that will determine the robustness of the future Pakistan. Life in Pakistan must become less morose. The right way to go about achieving all this is through a continued, persistent political and electoral process in a framework of freedom, democracy and rule of law.



The writer is a former Ambassador of Pakistan. Email: aminjan@comsats. net.pk

***************************************


I. THE NEWS

THE ARAB STREET VERSUS THE ARAB ELITE

ASHRAF JEHANGIR QAZI


 Two important statements were recently made. One, the joint statement of President Obama of the US, President Sarkozy of France and Prime Minister Cameron of the UK rejecting calls for a cease-fire in Libya and reiterating that their operations will continue as long as Muammar Qaddafi remains in power. The other is the CIA Director Panetta's reported statement that US operations in Pakistan will continue despite Pakistan's protests as they are determined by US security concerns. The first statement is a flagrant violation of the UN Charter and UN Security Council Resolution 1973. The other, if true, is a flagrant violation of Pakistan's sovereign independence and a challenge to the credibility of the government of Pakistan. Raymond Davis has become the face of the US in Pakistan.


US law and US security concerns alone cannot lawfully be the basis of US military actions in other countries. A western Triumvirate is not entitled to distort UN and regional resolutions in order to militarily implement regime change – however reprehensible the regime may be - in the name of protection of civilians. A No Fly Zone cannot be construed as a declaration of war. This would make Obama, Sarkozy, and Cameron the face of a new imperial world order in place of the UN Charter.


The Arab Spring essentially represents the potential triumph of the "Arab street" over the "Arab elite." Despite western attempts to curry favour with the Arab street in countries where it has at last asserted itself against western supported dictators, the US and its allies are not likely to welcome their compliant Arab elites being permanently eclipsed by an independent and empowered Arab street. This policy is of long standing. In fact it goes back to during World War II and the plans that were then made for the post-war period.

The Council of Foreign Relations (CFR) conducted a War and Peace Studies for the "foreign policy elite" of the US that dealt with the "requirements of the US in a world in which it proposes to hold unquestioned power." The major task, accordingly, was to develop "an integrated policy to achieve military and economic supremacy for the US" including plans "to secure the limitation of any exercise of sovereignty by foreign nations….essential for the security and economic prosperity of the US." These nations, essential for US security and prosperity, comprised a "Grand Area" among which the Middle East, and especially oil producing countries like Saudi Arabia, constituted, according to the State Department, "a stupendous source of strategic power, and one of the greatest material prizes in world history."


The CFR documents noted that "the British Empire….will never reappear and ….the US may have to take its place." The US was transitioning from being a major power to being a global power. This entailed the imposition of a post war Pax Americana to replace the pre war Pax Brittanica as "strategically necessary for world control." In this regard "control of resources" was a key component of US strategy which, according to a noted US scholar, required "equal access for American companies everywhere, but no equal access for others." This in turn required government by US dependent elites in countries where either "primary resources" such as oil and gas reserves or access routes to them were located. Accordingly, the US is not as fearful of Islamic extremism as it is of independent nationalism in Muslim countries which could privilege the use of national resources for the security and welfare of their own people over the security and prosperity of the American people. Only rule by compliant and dependent elites and institutions – whether secular or not – can be depended upon to prevent such "instability."


The CFR war time documents have provided an enduring, if not entirely successful, framework for US strategic policy over more than six decades. All political developments or movements in the Grand Area that sought to assert national and resource-use independence from US strategic priorities were seen as challenges to its unquestioned power. This policy is likely to continue, Arab Spring or not. What is interesting is that the outlines of US postwar strategy were formulated at about the same time as the US was taking the lead in drafting the basic documents of the UN system for the post war international order. Were these exercises mutually contradictory? Or two sides of the same coin? All realpolitik requires an acceptable legal cover to be effective. After the Cold War a New World Order based on Pre-emptive and Preventive War offered unlimited possibilities. One consequence for Pakistan has been to make transitioning from a security to a development state much more difficult.


According to Professor Ziauddin Sardar, a noted Islamic scholar, the Arab Spring happened through a "leaderless and pluralist" but electronically "connected" community that broadened through global information "feedback." It is bound and impelled by a shared vision of democratic responsibility and accountability. This is creating space for the "streets" in other "essential" countries of the "Grand Area." No matter what the media hype about western support for the Arab Spring, in reality western power practitioners recognize the potential threat it represents to the "stability" of their Grand Area. In conjunction with the financial meltdown and economic recession in the west and the rise of the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China), the Arab Spring has confronted the US with the prospect of a secular decline of its global hegemony in what Sardar calls a "post normal world." It is, accordingly, reacting like "a wounded tiger."


The reported CIA statement on drone attacks and the Triumvirate joint statement on Libya are manifestations of "wounded tiger" responses to a broader paradigm shift of international power and influence. Similarly, the current intellectual respectability accorded to Muslim baiting in the west and the lead role of military aggression in western "peace building" strategies, etc. are symptoms of the same syndrome. This wounded tiger syndrome (WTS) is likely to get more acute as the global competition for scarce resources intensifies, and as the "post normal" world increasingly threatens the hegemony of international and dependent domestic elites through increasing connectivity among the awakening streets of the Muslim world. Humanitarian norms such as the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) and UN Security Council resolutions are likely to be used as cover for hegemony maintenance before a genuinely multi-polar world eventually displaces a declining uni-polar post Cold War order.


Meanwhile, the Arab Spring in Egypt and elsewhere will struggle to overcome inevitable impediments. According to Professor Sardar, "the degree of trust it has reposed in the Egyptian Army as an agent of change" is one of its weaknesses. Moreover, pessimists believe that organized and sustained popular support for the Arab Spring is as indispensable as it is unlikely. The elite power structure will not concede more than it has to while it plans a restoration. The battle is joined – and history, far from being at an end, as Fukuyama insisted, is being created. The failure of the Arab Spring in Egypt would, of course, endanger its dissemination throughout the Arab and Muslim world.


In view of the foregoing, the reported CIA statement justifying drone bombings of Pakistani territory over the protests of the Pakistan government – an unquestionable international crime - needs to be seen in a broader context. The governance challenge in Pakistan presents the west with a dilemma. On the one hand, it complicates their so-called war on terror. On the other, the war on terror complicates governance challenges in Pakistan. What is the way out of this vicious circle? The US must recognize that its continued active military presence in Afghanistan is destabilizing that country and the whole region without assuring it a dignified exit. Pakistan must address its governance challenges as a matter of urgent priority to increase its policy options and to be a real peace broker in Afghanistan. It needs to realize that a US military presence on its territory, and in the neighbourhood, can never be a substitute for good governance as a guarantor of its security, stability and development. The current pessimism that this is unlikely must be overcome through making difficult choices and implementing policies based on them.

The writer is Pakistan's former envoy to the US and India. He is presently the director general of the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad. Email: ashrafjqazi@yahoo.com

 

***************************************


 

******************************************************************************************

PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

EXPANDING COALITION AND CHALLENGES AHEAD

 

POLITICAL negotiations are gaining momentum between the PPP and other parties after the Core Committee of the ruling party authorized the President and the Prime Minister to take decisions for expanding cabinet and on other key issues. It is likely that the Cabinet expansion is to be made in two phases as negotiations to lure the estranged JUI(F), MQM and may be the PML-Q proceed ahead.


While the PPP has completed more than three years in the Government, it has now to pay more attention not only to the critical issues but also to the problems being faced by the masses in order to go to the people in the next elections with some achievements. That is possible when there is political stability and improvement in the law and order situation. That is only possible when all the stakeholders put in their joint efforts setting aside their political considerations. In our opinion the expansion of the coalition should have higher political objectives to face the present and emerging challenges to the country. We fully agree with Presidential spokesman Mr Farhatullah Babar, who is also a close confidant of President Zardari that the country is facing huge challenges including economic stress, energy crisis, rising inflation and militancy and extremism and equally strong is the Government's resolve to steer the country out of difficulty. In this situation if the PPP succeeds in persuading the three parties to join the coalition, that would further strengthen its position to single-mindedly address the critical issues. There is already concensus among the Government and the opposition for bringing an end to drone attacks, foreign intelligence agencies interference in our internal affairs and to provide relief to the people. We may point out that people have been pushed to the wall by the rising prices, poverty and unemployment and urgent steps are need of the day to bring the situation back to normalcy. The next few days would see hectic behind the scene political negotiations and one hopes that the leadership would realize the gravity of the situation and come to some positive conclusion. So, if the Government succeeds in bringing the JUI, MQM and PML-Q in the Cabinet fold, it would be a major achievement of its policy of reconciliation and in return get unqualified support from most of the political parties represented in the Parliament to implement its policies and confront the challenges the country is faced with.

 

***************************************


PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

THE HOAX OF US BILLIONS

 

WITH the passage of time a myth has been developing that Pakistan's survival is totally dependent on US aid and there is a psychological fear that if this was stopped, country's economy would crumble down. Repeated statements are made that delegations are going and going to US to remove misunderstanding and ensure continuity of aid to keep Pakistan afloat.


But in this perspective the Finance Minister Dr Abdul Hafeez Sheikh has done well to expose this myth by stating that Pakistan has not received tens of billions of dollars as was being propagated in the US and Pakistan. The figures of aid given by the Finance Minister are startling. While the US Congress had appropriated the first tranche of $ 1.5 billion in Kerry-Lugar-Berman Aid to Pakistan in fiscal 2010, just $ 179.5 million of this amount had been disbursed by the end of last year. Though the Minister did not mention it but even the payments that the US is required to make to Pakistan under the coalition support fund and for use of its territory for transportation of goods for its forces in Afghanistan and other services are deliberately delayed under one pretext or the other to pressurize Pakistan. The American media which is never tired of reporting about the American tax payers money being doled out to Pakistan under the so called aid programme and the Congressional leaders frequently demand stopping the assistance if Pakistan fails to meet the American demands, must take notice of the ground realities as mentioned by the Pakistani Finance Minister. It is known to every body in Islamabad that the US Aid has not played any important role in improving economic conditions. The peanut of the aid released goes back to US in the shape of consultancy, equipment and under other wasteful heads. On the other hand Pakistan suffered losses of more than $60 billion by supporting the US war on terror but this is never mentioned by the American media and the Congressional leaders. Now that Hafeez Shaikh has stated the facts, the political leadership in the country must ponder to stand on our own feet. The foreign aid creates sheepish mentality in the receiving countries and donors get their conditionalities accepted by the recipients. The country has the required resources and if we tighten our belt, avoid wasteful spendings and check tax evasion, Pakistan can manage its affairs without foreign aid and that is the honourable path we must follow.

***************************************


PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

PUBLIC OFFICES FOR DUAL NATIONALITY HOLDERS

 

Two private bills have been introduced in the National Assembly seeking to bar Pakistanis with dual nationality or foreign holdings from taking public offices. Being a constitutional amendment, the bill would require two third majority in both the Houses of Parliament for its passage and it appears a very difficult task.


The move must be welcomed by all and sundry and in fact it was rather a belated act on the part of private members to clean the national politics because dual nationality holders have no attachment with Pakistan's green passport and they come to Pakistan just to enjoy with the perks and privileges of the public offices and when removed, they go abroad and enjoy with the money they made in their home country. The track record of Pakistan is that people abroad are summoned to take up high offices in the country. It started from Mohammad Ali Bogra who was serving as Ambassador to the US when recalled to take the office of Prime Minister. The Bills authored by PML-Q's Raza Hayat Hiraj and PML-N's Ms Tasneem Siddiqui seek amendment in Representation of the People Act to not only bar a Pakistani citizen from holding public offices if he is holding citzenship of another country but also those maintaining a foreign bank account, owning property or shares abroad and carrying out business in any organisation based in a foreign country. It is to be seen what fate the Bills would meet because many Pakistani politicians have their bank accounts and properties abroad and in no way they would allow a legislation that would bar them from holding public offices in Pakistan.

 

***************************************


PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

OF SACRED AND OTHER BOVINES!

FRIENDLY FIRE

KHALID SALEEM

 

Like our neighbour to the east, this blessed land too has been taken over by sacred cows. The species may be different but then sacred cows are sacred cows! The thing about sacred cows is that they are untouchable so to speak. Whatever they do, whoever they hurt, they are above censure. But let us talk about the bovine species for a while. The other 'sacred cows' we leave for sometime later.


The bovine species, somehow, keep on thrusting themselves back into the news. This is a trifle surprising since references to cows - sacred or otherwise - have generally a short shelf life; or so one was led to believe. Apparently, this is not so. The newspapers have been inclined towards the bovine species, their peculiar habits for one. Let us take, for instance, the somewhat bizarre claim that cows have what has been graphically described as 'regional accents'.


Not that a cow has a repertoire of bovine notes. It is generally recognized by authorities on the subject that the species has no more than a one-word vocabulary and that too with a single syllable. News emanating from London a good while back, though, had it that cows 'appear to moo in regional accents despite their limited conversational skills'. According to a news report some summers ago in the Daily Mail, herds in the West Country had been heard mooing with a 'distinctive Somerset twang'. No less an authority than Mr. John Wells, professor of phonetics at the University College, London, was quoted as averring, "This phenomenon is well attested in birds. You find distinct chirping accents in the same species around the country. This could also be true of cows. In small populations such as herds you would encounter dialectical variations which are most affected by the immediate peer group".


Going back a wee bit in recent history, one recalls that mad bovines had once made quite a foray into the international news headlines. The mad cow disease that reared its ugly head in the most unlikely places, though, is a subject one would rather not dwell on since the scare it created was hardly something to write home about. The tidings rather worth dwelling on happen to be about the 'mad cow' thing that emanated from Switzerland of all places.


Perhaps a word of explanation here would be in order. Switzerland is a place which one has been brought up to equate with idyllic splendor – a place where people go to lap up all that is good and delectable in nature. Mention, therefore, of such a thing as 'mad cow symptoms' in the same breath as Swiss chocolate and/or cheese cannot but rankle a wee bit. Be that as it may, nature has an uncanny habit of playing the dirtiest of tricks. It appears that things came to such a sorry pass that even Swiss cows failed to pass muster, so to speak. Not too long ago, Agence France Presse, datelined Geneva, had reported authoritatively that Swiss cows - horror of horrors – had "developed a mean streak since being left alone in the wild under a new rearing technique, thus raising the risk of attack for the unsuspecting rambler". Obviously those, who had learnt about the Swiss countryside more from picture postcards and touristic brochures than personal acquaintance, received this disclosure with a rude sense of shock, if not disbelief.


But, to delve a bit deeper into this rather bizarre affair, it would appear that having been bitten by the bug of 'environment friendliness', the Swiss farmers had decided to "let their cows roam freely around the countryside with their calves and a lone bull (sic)". Now, this is where, according to AFP, the nub of the story comes in. A Mr. Philippe Cossy, belonging to the somewhat murky organization named Service for the Prevention of Farm Accidents, had the following to say: "Inevitably the cow rediscovers her basic instincts, which are much akin to wild animals. She rebuilds self-defense mechanisms and becomes more distrustful and aggressive towards others, be they humans or animals". There you have it in a nutshell, as the cliché goes.

By now the reader would, hopefully, be in no doubt about the interest that Mr. Cossy's organization had in this whole murky affair. After all, how can you permit cows – even Swiss cows – to chivvy dreamy-eyed tourists all over the idyllic Swiss countryside? In the year 2001 (the news item revealed), 501 Swiss farm workers had been actually attacked and injured by animals – including cows. Also at risk would be the "million or so ramblers" who, one was informed, flocked to the Swiss countryside every year. The SPAA offered valuable advice to the said ramblers about the psychology of the Swiss cows: "They (the Swiss cows that is!) scare easily. If someone stands directly ahead or behind a cow the risk of being hit is heightened. It is vital that when you are seen by the cow; speak softly to it and avoid running or making sudden movements". A tall order, if ever there was one!

If anything, what can be gleaned out of the aforementioned news item is the fact that the Swiss temperament is not to be taken lightly. In addition to being rather handy with money matters, the Swiss, it would seem, also take their cows very seriously indeed. In any other country, people would have taken such so-called farm accidents in their stride. One would have been extremely surprised if any other nationalities had kicked up a fuss if 501 of their farm workers had been at the receiving end of the hooves of cows - mad or otherwise. Nonetheless, hats off to the meticulous Swiss. Not only did they take notice of the antics of their 'slightly mad cows', but actually also went so far as to set up a 'Service for the Prevention of Farm Accidents'. This must certainly have added to the confidence of all those individuals who plan to be among the million or so ramblers in the Swiss countryside in the coming years.

While on the subject of cows, one is loath to end this piece without mention of "sacred cows". One refers, of course, to the genuine variety that freely roam around the thoroughfares of Indian cities, without let or hindrance - not to be confused with the genre that one finds oozing out of the woodwork in the Land of the Pure. These (sacred) cows, then, that one finds frequenting the streets of the metropolis of New Delhi somehow never appear to be in a frame of mind similar to that of the "Swiss cows let out into the countryside" aforementioned.

Whenever one has had occasion to visit India, one has invariably found the sacred cows peaceful, far from intimidating and, above all, minding their own business. One is left to wonder why? After all, a cow is a cow is a cow. One supposes the contrast may well be due to the marked difference between the Western and Eastern ethos. Does make one wish the human beings would take a leaf out of the way of life of the bovines! There must be a moral in this somewhere, though one is at a loss to pinpoint it.

 

***************************************


PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLES

IQBAL'S HOPES AND DREAMS

JAVED ZIA

 

Allama Muhammad Iqbal was born on November 9, 1877 in Sialkot, in the Punjab province of British India in what is now Pakistan. During the reign of Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan—according to scholar Bruce Lawrence—Iqbal's Brahmin ancestors from Kashmir had converted to Islam. Much later, around the turn of the nineteenth century, as the Kashmir region was coming under Sikh rule, his grandfather's family immigrated to the Punjab. According to scholar Annemarie Schimmel, Iqbal often wrote about his being "a son of Kashmiri-Brahmans but (being) acquainted with the wisdom of Romi and Tabriz.

At the age of four, young Iqbal was sent regularly to a mosque, where he learned how to read the Qu'ran. The following year, and for many years thereafter, Iqbal became a student of Syed Mir Hassan, who was then the head of the Madrassa in Sialkot, and later to become a widely known Muslim scholar. An advocate of European education for the Muslim's of British India—in the tradition of Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan—Hassan convinced Iqbal's father to send him to Sialkot's Scotch Mission College, where Hassan was professor of Arabic. Two years later, in 1895, Iqbal obtained the Faculty of Arts diploma from the college.

Later the same year, Iqbal entered the Government College in Lahore where he studied philosophy, English literature and Arabic and obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree, graduating cum laude. He won a gold medal for placing first in the examination in philosophy. While studying for his masters degree, Iqbal came under the influence of Sir Thomas Arnold, a scholar of Islam and modern philosophy at the college. Arnold exposed the young man to Western culture and ideas, and served as a bridge for Iqbal between the ideas of East and West.

At Sir Thomas's encouragement, Iqbal travelled to Europe and spent many years studying there. He obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree from Trinity College at Cambridge in 1907, while simultaneously studying law at Lincoln's Inn, from where he qualified as a barrister in 1908. In Europe, he started writing his poetry in Persian as well. Throughout his life, Iqbal would prefer writing in Persian as he believed it allowed him to fully express philosophical concepts, and it gave him a wider audience.

It was while in England that he first participated in politics. Following the formation of the All-India Muslim League in 1906, Iqbal was elected to the executive committee of its British chapter in 1908. Together with two other politicians, Syed Hassan Bilgrami and Syed Ameer Ali, Iqbal sat on the subcommittee which drafted the constitution of the League. In 1907, Iqbal travelled to Germany to pursue a doctorate from the Faculty of Philosophy of the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität at Munich.

Upon his return to India in 1908, Iqbal took up an assistant professorship at Government College in Lahore, but for financial reasons he relinquished it within a year to practice law. During this period, Iqbal's personal life was in turmoil. He divorced Karim Bibi in 1916, but provided financial support to her and their children for the rest of his life.

While maintaining his legal practice, Iqbal began concentrating on spiritual and religious subjects, and publishing poetry and literary works. He became active in the Anjuman-e-Himayat-e-Islam, a congress of Muslim intellectuals, writers and poets as well as politicians.

In 1919, he became the general secretary of the organisation. Iqbal's thoughts in his work primarily focus on the spiritual direction and development of human society, centred around experiences from his travels and stays in Western Europe and the Middle East. He was profoundly influenced by Western philosophers such as Friedrich Nietzsche, Henri Bergson and Goethe. He soon became a strong critic of Western society's separation of religion from state and what he perceived as its obsession with materialist pursuits.

While dividing his time between law and poetry, Iqbal had remained active in the Muslim League. He supported Indian involvement in World War I, as well as the Khilafat movement and remained in close touch with Muslim political leaders such as Maulana Mohammad Ali and Muhammad Ali Jinnah. He was a critic of the mainstream Indian National Congress, which he regarded as dominated by Hindus and was disappointed with the League when during the 1920s, it was absorbed in factional divides between the pro-British group led by Sir Muhammad Shafi and the centrist group led by Jinnah.

In November 1926, with the encouragement of friends and supporters, Iqbal contested for a seat in the Punjab Legislative Assembly from the Muslim district of Lahore, and defeated his opponent by a margin of 3,177 votes. He supported the constitutional proposals presented by Jinnah with the aim of guaranteeing Muslim political rights and influence in a coalition with the Congress, and worked with the Aga Khan and other Muslim leaders to mend the factional divisions and achieve unity in the Muslim League.

Allama Muhammad Iqbal was elected president of the Muslim League in 1930 at its session in Allahabad, in the United Provinces as well as for the session in Lahore in 1932. In his presidential address on December 29, 1930, Iqbal outlined a vision of an independent state for Muslim-majority provinces in northwestern India: "I would like to see the Punjab, North-West Frontier Province, Sind and Baluchistan amalgamated into a single state. Self-government within the British Empire, or without the British Empire, the formation of a consolidated Northwest Indian Muslim state appears to me to be the final destiny of the Muslims, at least of Northwest India."

He thus became the first politician to articulate what would become known as the Two-Nation Theory — that Muslims are a distinct nation and thus deserve political independence from other regions and communities of India. However, he would not elucidate or specify if his ideal Islamic state would construe a theocracy, even as he rejected secularism and nationalism. The latter part of Iqbal's life was concentrated on political activity. He would travel across Europe and West Asia to garner political and financial support for the League, and he reiterated his ideas in his 1932 address, and during the Third Round-Table Conference, he opposed the Congress and proposals for transfer of power without considerable autonomy or independence for Muslim provinces. He would serve as president of the Punjab Muslim League, and would deliver speeches and publish articles in an attempt to rally Muslims across India as a single political entity. Iqbal consistently criticised feudal classes in Punjab as well as Muslim politicians averse to the League.

Ideologically separated from Congress Muslim leaders, Iqbal had also been disillusioned with the politicians of the Muslim League owing to the factional conflict that plagued the League in the 1920s. Discontent with factional leaders like Sir Muhammad Shafi and Sir Fazl-ur-Rahman, Iqbal came to believe that only Muhammad Ali Jinnah was a political leader capable of preserving this unity and fulfilling the League's objectives on Muslim political empowerment. Building a strong, personal correspondence with Jinnah, Iqbal along with Moulana Abdur Raheem Dard were influential forces in convincing Jinnah to end his self-imposed exile in London, return to India and take charge of the League. Iqbal firmly believed that Jinnah was the only leader capable of drawing Indian Muslims to the League and maintaining party unity before the British and the Congress.

In 1933, after returning from a trip to Spain and Afghanistan, Iqbal began suffering from a mysterious throat illness. He spent his final years helping Chaudhry Niaz Ali Khan establish the Dar ul Islam Trust Institute at the latter's Jamalpur estate near Pathankot, an institution where studies in classical Islam and contemporary social science would be subsidised, and advocating the demand for an independent Muslim state. Iqbal ceased practising law in 1934 and he was granted pension by the Nawab of Bhopal. After suffering for months from his illness, Iqbal died in Lahore on 21 April 1938. His tomb is located in Hazuri Bagh, the enclosed garden between the entrance of the Badshahi Mosque and the Lahore Fort.

**************************************


PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

JAPAN: ROAD TO RECOVERY & REBIRTH

NAOTO KAN

 

At 14.46 on March 11, Japan was hit by one of the most powerful earthquakes in recorded history. We are now making all-out efforts to restore livelihoods and recover from the series of tragedies that followed the Great East Japan Earthquake. The disaster left more than 28,000 people dead or missing, including foreign citizens.

Since March 11, Japan has been strongly supported by the international community and our friends around the world. On behalf of the Japanese people, I would like to express my sincerest gratitude for the outpouring of support and solidarity we have received from over 130 countries, nearly 40 international organizations, numerous NGOs, and countless individuals from all parts of the world. The Japanese people deeply appreciate the Kizuna (a Japanese word for "bonds of friendship") that has been shown to us by friends around the world. Through this hardship, we have also come to truly understand the meaning of "a friend in need is a friend indeed."

We are thankful to the Pakistani people for supporting Japan at this time of calamity. The Government of Pakistan sent 13.5t of high-energy biscuit, 9t of shelf-life milk pack, and 0.75t of mineral water on March 26 on two C-130 aircrafts. Many people and dignitaries have repeatedly extended us the messages of their solidarity and sympathies. Pakistani nationals, who are living in Japan, provided relief supplies and Pakistani curry to those affected.

That Japan has experienced nuclear accidents at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant whose severity was assessed as most serious based on an international scale is extremely regrettable and something I take it very seriously. Bringing the situation at the plant under control at the earliest possible date is currently my top priority. I have been working at the forefront of efforts to tackle this troubling situation, leading a unified effort by the Government. I have mobilized all available resources to combat the risks posed by the plant, based on three principles: first, give the highest priority to the safety and health of all citizens, in particular those residents living close to the plant; second, conduct thorough risk management; and, third, plan for all possible scenarios so that we are fully prepared to respond to any future situation. For example, we continue to make the utmost efforts to address the issue of outflow of radioactive water into the ocean from the plant. In addition, the Government has taken every possible measure to ensure the safety of all food and other products, based on strict scientific criteria. We have taken highly precautionary measures so that the safety of all Japanese food and products that reach the market has been and will continue to be ensured. In order to assure domestic and foreign consumer confidence in the safety of Japanese food and products, my administration will redouble its efforts to maintain transparency and keep everyone informed of our progress in the complex and evolving circumstances at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant.

I pledge that the Japanese Government will promptly and thoroughly verify the cause of this incident, as well as share information and the lessons learned with the rest of the world in order to prevent such accidents from occurring in the future. Through such a process, we will proactively contribute to global debate to enhance the safety of nuclear power generation. Meanwhile, from a comprehensive energy policy perspective, we must squarely tackle a two-pronged challenge; responding to rising global energy demand and striving to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to combat global warming. Through the "Rebirth of Japan" I would like to present a clear vision to the entire world – that includes the aggressive promotion of clean energy - that may contribute to solving global energy issues.

The Great East Japan Earthquake and the resulting tsunami are the worst natural disasters that Japan has faced since the end of the Second World War. Reconstruction of the devastated Tohoku region will not be easy. However, I believe that this difficult period will provide us with a precious window of opportunity to secure the "Rebirth of Japan." The Government will dedicate itself to demonstrating to the world its ability to establish the most sophisticated reconstruction plans for East Japan, based on three principles: first, create a regional society that is highly resistant to natural disasters; second, establish a social system that allows people to live in harmony with the global environment; and third, build a compassionate society that cares about people, in particular, the vulnerable.

We, the Japanese people, rose from the ashes of the Second World War, using our fundamental strength to secure a remarkable recovery and the country's present prosperity. I have not a single doubt that Japan will overcome this crisis, recover from the aftermath of the disaster, emerge stronger than ever, and establish a more vibrant and better Japan for future generations.

I believe that the best way for Japan to reciprocate the strong Kizuna and cordial friendship extended to us by the international community is to continue our contribution to the development of the international community. To that end, I will work to the best of my ability to realize a "forward-looking" reconstruction that gives people bright hopes for the future. I would wholeheartedly appreciate your continued support and cooperation. ARIGATOU.

—The writer is Prime Minister of Japan

***************************************


PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

SAY FAREWELL TO THE US

ALI SUKHANVER

 

According to a US official in Washington the Central Intelligence Agency CIA has no plans to suspend operations in Pakistan against terror suspects despite objections from leaders in Islamabad. Reported by AFP, Leon Panetta of the CIA told Pakistani intelligence officials last week that he has a duty to prevent attacks on the United States. He said it is the fundamental responsibility of CIA to protect the American people and it will not halt operations that support that objective. The drone attacks in the tribal areas of Pakistan are also a part of this strategy. In the light of the statement made by Leon Panetta it is something very much clear that there would be no change in the US drone strategy in near or far future. After the release of Raymond Davis it was a very common misunderstanding in Pakistan that the USA would be thankful and obliged by this kind favour of letting Raymond go back safe and sound after killing two innocent Pakistanis in Lahore. It was also foolishly expected that US cruel and brutal and selfish policies in Pakistan would turn into a sympathetic and cordial type of relationship but things went altogether opposite to the expectations. The people of Pakistan noticed a vivid increase not only in the number of drone attacks but also in other anti-Pakistan activities of the CIA. On 12th of this April, Leon Panetta and the ISI chief General Pasha at CIA held a meeting at the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. The basic purpose behind this meeting was to put a check on CIA operatives in Pakistan and on the drone attacks but unfortunately the US authorities responded to that meeting in form of two more drone attacks that took lives of six so-called militants in the tribal area of Pakistan. The attacks took place when the ISI Chief was still on his way back to Pakistan.

It is nothing but a grave misunderstanding on the part of the American policy makers that the drones can scare and frighten the Pakistani nation; the fact of the matter is that the drones are strengthening and uniting the nation. 'Pakistan and USA are time-tested friends', from Condoleezza Rice to Hilary Clinton all US hi-ups have always been harping on the same string but the realities on ground are altogether different. The Americans say what they never do. It is the result of this evergreen duplicity that the people of Pakistan have lost all their trust and confidence in the statements and promises made by the US authorities. If they have two options, either to accept the supremacy and hegemony of the Islamic extremists or to believe the American crocodile story of love and affection, they would surely opt for the first one, taking it as the lesser evil. Most of the Pakistanis think that USA is responsible for all economic destabilization, energy crisis and the worst situation of law and order in Pakistan. They rank the USA as the most distrusted and the most doubtful force that is continuously undermining the very foundations of the country. The only aim and object of the USA is to insult, degrade and demoralize the Pakistani nation. The US obstinacy and stubbornness reflected through the statement of Leon Panetta indicates that it is the most appropriate time Pakistan must revise and review its working relationship with the USA.

In the name of the so-called American war on terrorism Pakistan has borne unbearable losses in form of precious lives, property, economy, law and order situation and above all in shape of irreparable psychological traumas. Suicide bombing, kidnapping by foreign-supported terrorists and American drone attacks are the related factors that are adding to the miseries by inflicting deadly losses both against human life and property. But the US policy makers have never recognized any of these sacrifices. The Western media, the Western think tanks and other stakeholders are always harping on the same string ' Do More Do more'. They are always engaged in doing all possible efforts to smear and stain the image of Pakistan as a peaceful and peace-loving country. Their guns are always pointed towards the armed forces and intelligence agencies of Pakistan. Keeping in view the inevitable role of Pakistan, the situation must have been otherwise. If Pakistan and US were really coalition partners in the war on terrorism they must have remained focused on the path of pursuing long-term durable strategic ties for the realization of their collective aims and objectives.

Still there is sufficient time for the USA to reconsider its policies in Pakistan. The drones would one day turn the whole nation into Taliban. It must be kept in mind that all roads leading to the peace and prosperity of this region pass through Pakistan. If USA truly desires for a long lasting peace in the region, it will have to review its policies regarding Pakistan before it is too late. The people of Pakistan are well aware of the fact that they can give the Americans really a never forgettable tough time if they all join hands together against US atrocities keeping aside all their petty differences.

The Americans cannot even breathe for a single moment in Afghanistan and Pakistan if the people of Pakistan draw back all their co-operation graciously bestowed upon them. The only thing the nation needs is a strong determination. Pakistani nation has the best possible skills and abilities required for turning this region into a blazing hell for Uncle Tom's wicked children who are erroneously taking this region as a testing field for their lethal weapons.

—The writer is strategic and defence affairs analyst.

 

***************************************


PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

PANACEA FOR INDONESIA'S TROUBLES

T M LUTHFI YAZID

 

Is there any idea of the rule of law in the Indonesian Constitution? What is the notion of the rule of law in the context of Indonesia? Like a company that has a deed of establishment as the basic foundation to operate the company, the state has its constitution to exercise power.

According to B.O. Nwabueze (1973), a constitution is not only a text of articles, but also a living basic system for the government and the people. To discuss the rule of law in Indonesia, therefore, must refer to the 1945 Constitution because it is the source of power for the government to govern the State and the people.

Since the fall of Suharto's regime in May 1998 Indonesia has entered the Reform Era (Era Reformasi) and there have been four presidents: B.J. Habibie, Gus Dur, Megawati Sukarnoputri and current President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (since 2004). From 1999 to 2002 the Indonesian Constitution of 1945 was amended four times in successive years. Can such constitution support the idea of the rule of law? Has President Yudhoyono maximally supported the notion of the rule of law? The answer is no. Many tragedies of law, black markets of law or legal scandals have occurred in the Yudhoyono era.

Various cases can be mentioned. For example, in recent years some members of parliaments, former Cabinet ministers, governors, polices, judges, prosecutors and public officials have been jailed for involvement in corruption scandals. There are still many cases pending. Therefore, compared to other jurisdictions, Indonesia is still in a high rank of corruption index. For sure, the establishment of the Anti-Corruption Commission (Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi) is quite vital for the purpose of numerous corruption eradications in the country, although this state auxiliary commission is facing various challenges from the cronies of the New Order regime and from those who are mentally corruptive and greedy. Therefore, the authority and power of the Anti- Corruption Commission has to be strengthened. This is absolutely in line with the spirit of the United Nations Anti-Corruption Convention that has been ratified by Indonesia.

Although corruption is prohibited by laws and the Constitution in Indonesia, in reality it still significantly happens. Thus, a constitution without constitutionalism and without sincere support of the people is nonsense. It is like a "paper tiger" in which the constitutional provisions have become inert and impotent. Yet one can see that the countries with constitutions do not automatically guarantee that it will be apt to constitutionalism.

In the Indonesian Constitution, the term of constitutionalism is a synonym of the negara hukum, rechstaat or the law-state. This concept can be defined as a legally accountable state or a state that rules by law and not by power. Government and its power must be limited to enshrine respect of human values and dignity as a central fundamental truth based on the rule of law, so that government exercises its power according to specified rule to obtain justice for all the people irrespective of their different backgrounds of political belief, economic status, religions, tribal affiliation and so on.

Accordingly, the arbitrariness of political power goes against constitutionalism, since constitutionalism recognizes a necessity for the government to put a limitation upon its power. The constitutionalism concept is the antithesis of the arbitrary regime and is opposed to corrupt administration in which the government is conducted not according to predetermined rules but according to despotic principles. In a democratic State, there should be effective legal guarantees of basic rights enforced by an independent and impartial tribunal. In short, constitutionalism has generally been concerned with the procedural ways of limiting government power and how to set up accountability. Hence, constitutions of constitutional governments must contain substantive as well as procedural limitations on governmental authority.

The government must provide a protection of human rights, free speech and freedom of association. Essentially everybody has the right to choose the justice based on equality principle, meaning that everybody should be equal before the law. In conclusion, the implementation of the rule of law is the only panacea, cure or solution for all Indonesia's troubles. I am sure that the rule of law is also a panacea for the world's troubles.

Therefore, the rule of law should be a priority for any countries from Africa, Latin America, China, Japan, Russia, Asia and the Middle East (including Egypt, Libya, Jordan, Tunisia and so on. It is the only way to save Indonesia.

—The writer, an Indonesian lawyer, is currently a professor at the Gakushuin University Faculty of Law. Courtesy: The Japan Times

***************************************

 


******************************************************************************************

THE AUSTRALIYAN

EDITORIAL

CONGRESS FLAWED FROM THE START

INDIGENOUS AUSTRALIANS DID NOT NEED A SUCCESSOR TO ATSIC.

The first agenda item at the inaugural National Congress of Australia's First Peoples should be a call for its own abolition. It is already clear that the body is unnecessary and potentially divisive, and prolonging its life will do nothing to improve the lives of indigenous people. Its elected co-chairman, Les Malezer, wants the body restructured, claiming that the presence of two leaders -- one male, one female -- is as unworkable as having two prime ministers. It augurs badly that Mr Malezer, an opponent of the Northern Territory intervention, wants the body to focus on self-determination and land rights. This agenda is favoured by prosperous urban Aborigines but is irrelevant to the real challenges.

Aboriginal leader and former ALP president Warren Mundine claims that the election of Mr Malezer, a close friend of controversial former ATSIC chief Geoff Clark, will bring the new organisation to ruin. We hope he is right, and the sooner the better.

At this early stage in the struggle to improve health, education, life expectancy, housing and employment in remote communities, another quasi-autonomous, jumped-up body is the last thing that is needed. The architect of the congress, former social justice commissioner Tom Calma, claimed it would put indigenous people "in the driving seat" of policy development. The real difficulty in and around remote settlements in the Territory, the Kimberleys and far north Queensland is not defining the problems or developing polices but generating progress. An advisory body, especially one focused on a "rights" agenda far removed from the families struggling in Third World conditions, is at best an unnecessary indulgence at a time of budget stringency when every dollar is needed to fund real improvements. At worst, the congress could prove a distraction, like its predecessor, ATSIC, abolished by the Howard government in 2005 after a series of scandals.

Mr Malezer's co-chairwoman Jody Broun, the former director-general of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs in NSW, wants the congress to look beyond indigenous issues to broader concerns such as climate change. Perhaps, like Marrickville Council, she might care to solve the crisis in the Middle East while she is at it. The job at hand, however, is to close the gap between indigenous Australians. We know the congress is doomed because we've been down this dead end before.

***************************************


THE AUSTRALIYAN

EDITORIAL

SCIENCE, POLITICS AND CERTAINTY

NEW CHIEF SCIENTIST KNOWS DEBATE IS PART OF THE PROCESS.

After years spent dealing with Canberra as a university vice-chancellor, Ian Chubb knows the difference between politics and policy. Australia's new chief scientist has also learnt when to advise and when to advocate; when to speak out and when to stay silent; when to campaign and when to counsel. These skills are particularly welcome at a time when science is increasingly at the centre of key decisions that politicians must make on issues from climate change to stem cell research.

The intersection between politics and science is always complex: politics demands certainty but science is, by its very nature, contestable. In the climate change debate, some scientists have become advocates for particular positions, painting worse-case scenarios when robust analysis would have been more valuable. Professor Chubb made it clear on ABC TV's 7.30 on Tuesday night that debating and challenging scientists and their work is part of the way that science should inform policy.

The new chief scientist is the first to admit he has not done much science in a while, not since he took up the post of deputy vice-chancellor at Wollongong University in 1986. A neuroscientist, he has spent the past quarter of a century in senior university administration and the education bureaucracy and most recently was vice-chancellor of the Australian National University. He says he is not an expert on climate change but that his job is to know "where those people are, ensuring that they have a platform and knowing where the people are who oppose their views". Indeed, his slight distance from scientific research could be an advantage: a detachment aiding discernment.

Professor Chubb is relatively close to senior members of this government and unlike his predecessor, Penny Sackett, should have little trouble getting face time with Labor if that's what he wants. In the end, as he says, it's the politicians and not the scientists who must grapple with the politics of climate change. He has shown he can find his way around the backrooms and bureaucracy in Canberra and fight his corner when needed. He will do the nation a service if he succeeds in generating a genuine public conversation about science to replace the polarised debate that has dominated in recent years.

***************************************


THE AUSTRALIYAN

EDITORIAL

A PRAYER FOR TREASURER TO LIFT BUDGET FROM ITS KNEES

SWAN NEEDS TO TRIM SPENDING TO CHART A COURSE FOR SURPLUS.

Treasurer Wayne Swan chose his home town of Brisbane to deliver the major pre-budget speech at a time when the Queensland capital is immersed in debate about the management of the Wivenhoe Dam and its role in January's floods. The Treasurer has invoked riverine imagery, warning the next stage of the mining boom won't contain the rivers of revenue gold that flowed during the Howard years. Mr Swan would do well to reflect on dam management's role in flood mitigation because there is an economic lesson in the metaphor -- for all the weather and factors beyond our purview, we need to properly manage those factors we can control.

So the Treasurer is right to point out that reinvestment by mining companies and lagging capital gains in the rest of the economy will limit or delay some of the government's expected taxation revenue, and that the natural disasters in Queensland and Japan will dampen short-term growth. There is nothing a federal Treasurer, even a card-carrying Keynesian one, can do about these factors. Where the Treasurer can influence the course of the economy is through managing his own spending. We have already seen much of the predictable pre-budget softening up about "tough decisions" and The Australian believes Mr Swan needs to follow through on the rhetoric. He needs to trim spending in a wise and meaningful way, leading to more efficient government and more effective use of taxpayers' money.

Welfare reform, for instance, should not be a quick grab for funds but rather a considered curb on spending that also creates increased incentive, integrity and simplicity so that budget improvements, productivity gains and social benefits are locked in place for the long term. Mr Swan is scathing of the previous government, saying it "wasted" the revenues of the boom. His overblown language disguises the real point that some of the necessary spending constraint and welfare and taxation reform was left in the too-hard basket by John Howard and Peter Costello. But they did leave the country debt free, in surplus and with money in the bank. Julia Gillard and Wayne Swan, on the other hand, now need to find a path back to surplus to start repaying debt. First and foremost, the Treasurer needs to deal with the consequences of his own actions. For as long as Mr Swan complains about the challenges of the global financial crisis, the opportunities wasted by the Liberals or this year's natural disasters, he is failing to address the significant amount of borrowed money that has been wasted and continues to be spent.

We cannot recover the billions of dollars squandered on the home-insulation scheme and aspects of the school halls program, but some of that stimulus still is being thrust upon the economy now, nearly two years after the crisis passed and at a time the government argues it needs to cut spending. The NBN, Australia's largest-ever government infrastructure project, is competing with the private sector for labour and resources at a time when the government says it needs to be withdrawing. For Mr Swan this is not an easy set of circumstances to explain. Or to manage. He needs to adopt the advice of the Serenity Prayer by patiently accepting what he cannot change and having the courage to change the things that he can.

***************************************

 


******************************************************************************************

THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

A JOYLESS BOOM

''IT was the best of times, it was the worst of times.'' The first sentence of Charles Dickens's A Tale of Two Cities could just as easily have been the first in Wayne Swan's pre-budget speech titled ''The Budget and a Tale of Two Booms''. The Treasurer wants us all on notice: budget cuts are on their way, and some of them will sting.

The underlying narrative of this budget is, as Swan admits, shaping up as a difficult one for the government to sell. In the short term, revenue is weaker than expected due to high Australian dollar slicing export earnings and sluggish consumer spending undercutting other company profits. Natural disasters have also played havoc with Treasury's forecasts, depressing economic growth in the early months of this year.

Longer term, however, the story is one of strength. Historically high commodity prices will continue to underpin revenue growth. But, Swan is at pains to point out, this mining boom is different to the last. When the last mining boom came rolling into town in the early 2000s, households were still spending merrily and businesses were borrowing freely. Since the global financial crisis, households have gone to ground and companies have found it harder to get the funding needed to expand. Mining remains the only true bright spot for the economy. And mining companies, because they spend a lot of money on capital investments which are tax deductible, have tended to pay less tax per dollar of profit than other industries. So while the last boom produced more than $334 billion in windfall revenue, this time around revenues will be more subdued.

No doubt these forces are at work. But it is also prudent to interpret some of Swan's speech as the usual pre-budget posturing to pave the way for unpopular budget cuts. In reality Swan's budget cuts have much to do with the government's entirely political goal of getting back into surplus by 2012-13. It is true that getting the budget back into surplus is desirable, but it shouldn't come at the expense of good programs, like medical research. A strategy of deep, short-term cuts simply to ensure a return to surplus in 2012-13 also risks weakening non-resource parts of the economy even further.

The government is trying to have it both ways, arguing the need for budget cuts to restrain demand in a resurgent economy, but also arguing we need cuts because weaker revenues are jeopardising its timetable for return to surplus. Swan is right - he's going to have a hard time explaining this one.

 BATTLEFIELD MARRICKVILLE

The short-lived boycott of Israel by Marrickville Council has been an interesting study of how distant foreign policy issues can sometimes intersect with local politics. The council and its mayor, Fiona Byrne, would never have envisaged the attention they ended up getting from what they would have regarded as a worthy but probably futile gesture.

After all, many other councils - especially in the gentrified inner areas of Sydney and Melbourne - have similarly ''warned the Tsar'' by adopting causes in conflict with Canberra's official policy. They have flown the Tibetan or West Papuan flag, hosted East Timorese resistance leaders, damned the Burmese junta. Why not support Palestinians?

The difference is that Israel is a democracy, at least within its pre-1967 borders, and is open to argument; indeed in its domestic politics it's riven by argument. By jailing a former president for rape and putting a recent prime minister on trial for corruption, it has shown a strong ethos of impartial justice. This suggests engagement, not boycotts, is the way to apply pressure about the continued occupation of the West Bank and control of access to Gaza, and the Jewish settlements. We have argued that Israel, propelled by a rightwards drift in its politics and the rise of ultra-orthodox religious groups, is making the goal

of a two-state peace settlement ever more elusive. Formal exclusion could entrench this kind of thinking.

Given the interconnections of the global IT industry, it also emerged that a boycott of every commercial interest linked to Israel could be quite costly to the council budget. Councils have a right to pursue ethical purchasing; they should work out the potential costs first.

But this was not just about Israelis and Palestinians. It was about clobbering the rising electoral power of the Greens on the head. Byrne came very close to unseating the former deputy premier Carmel Tebbutt, the most acceptable face of NSW Labor in what was previously an extremely safe Labor seat. The issue was a convenient one to portray the Greens as wacky zealots likely to steer Australia into causes that offend old friends and wider national interests.

Whatever the merits of this particular exercise, it is equally unrealistic to expect local governments to stick to garbage and potholes, as if this is all residents care about. If war is too important to be left to the generals, foreign policy involves more than foreign ministers and diplomats. If Marrickville wants to take a stand, it must be ready for the flak.

 

***************************************


THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

BOOM NOT QUITE WHAT IT USED TO BE

THE ''two-speed economy'' is not a new notion: for most of the past decade Australia's boom has been led by the resource-rich states of Western Australia and Queensland while the rest of the country lagged behind. The strength of the mineral boom, however, tended to cushion the reality of its uneven benefits, and some of the laggers were not so far behind as others.

Victoria, and Melbourne in particular, experienced strong growth during the same period, so that it often seemed to be more a case of a two-and-a-half or three-speed economy. A mobile labour force took advantage of work opportunities where they arose, unemployment figures fell, and the Reserve Bank kept a watchful eye on inflation while government revenues swelled. The outlook remained bright, even as the rest of the world faltered under the impact of the global financial crisis.

The realities of the two-speed economy, however, may be about to bite. The world's demand for Australia's minerals continues, but Treasurer Wayne Swan has warned that as mining companies reinvest their profits the resources boom will generate less revenue than it did before the financial crisis. Mr Swan was not just engaging in a pre-Budget lowering of expectations: the economy has already begun to slow as anxious households consume less and save more, and the Treasury has substantially scaled down the growth rate it forecast in November, from 3.25 per cent to 2.25 per cent. The high Australian dollar has been at best a mixed blessing, with manufacturing, long in decline, now burdened by yet another obstacle to global competitiveness as its products become more expensive. On top of all this, floods have destroyed crops and essential infrastructure in eastern Australia, especially Queensland, and the devastation caused by Japan's earthquake will disrupt the international economy. If the US loses its AAA credit rating the American recovery could stall, which would also have global consequences.

In two-speed Australia, economic prospects may not be as grim as in the US or Japan, but neither are they as rosy as they were at the outset of the boom. The changed outlook will call for belt-tightening by governments and corporations, which, among other things, is likely to make the new round of wage negotiations tougher. Unions and employers will need to exercise responsibility and restraint in enterprise bargaining. But the case for a rise in the minimum wage remains strong, especially while consumer spending is weak: any increase is likely to be spent, with consequent benefits across the economy.

***************************************


THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

ONE BATTLE HAS BEEN WON. THE WAR CONTINUES

MOKBEL'S EMPIRE HAS GONE. NOT SO DRUG-RELATED CRIME.

IN the words of Tony Mokbel himself, reportedly uttered when he spotted a Purana Taskforce detective among the arresting party at an Athens cafe in June 2007, ''I don't know how you did it, but you've done a brilliant job.'' One can only agree.

The long search for Mokbel - only slightly impeded by the quarry's series of hapless hirsute disguises - his apprehension and, almost a year later, extradition to face a multitude of charges, has finally brought to justice the man who was Australia's most wanted fugitive, with a $1 million bounty on his head. He had fled the country in 2006 during a trial for cocaine trafficking, lying low in Bonnie Doon and Elphinstone, then sailing off into a hoped-for lengthy anonymity by the Aegean. Mokbel's day in court last Monday represented a victory for the criminal justice system, and proves how diligence and intelligence - literally, detective work - can triumph in the end.

What emerged this week, and what can be revealed after the lifting of long-standing suppression orders, was Mokbel's admission that he was a drug baron, Australia's biggest. His empire, known as ''The Company'', grossed an alleged $110 million through the production of illegal drugs between July 2006 and June 2007. As The Age reported yesterday, Mokbel's pleading guilty on Monday to three charges involving drug trafficking and incitement was something of an anti-climax. More unusual was legally being able to see his name in print for the first time in two years. It was certainly not surprising to the police prosecutors, who had amassed a 20-volume evidence brief, containing thousands of telephone intercepts and many statements from Mokbel's former associates.

Perhaps the most telling aspect of the case has been the plea deal reached between the Director of Public Prosecutions, Jeremy Rapke, QC, and Mokbel's defence lawyers. Mokbel pleaded guilty to three offences, and nine other charges arising from police operations dating back 11 years were discontinued. In addition, as can now be reported, Mokbel was acquitted by a jury in 2009 of the 2004 murder of Lewis Moran. The deal may well result in a reduced sentence for Mokbel - perhaps as little as 20 years, instead of life, which is the maximum for trafficking charges. On the positive side, this would save the considerable time and expense of holding several lengthy, complex trials. Also in Mokbel's favour, as The Age's John Silvester reveals today, is his supposed knowledge of a person involved in the 2004 murders of police informer Terence Hodson and his wife, Christine.

Amid the general euphoria of job-well-done by police and end-of-empire for Tony Mokbel, it is important to maintain commonsense and perspective over the continuing existence of drug-related criminal activity in Victoria. The 45-year-old Mokbel, nicknamed ''The General'', might be decommissioned, but there are still any number of ambitious younger commandos with batons (let alone more dangerous substances) in their knapsacks. The suggestion that the demise of Mokbel means the end of drug-related gang wars in this state is fanciful, indeed foolish. Evidence exists to the contrary. For example, on Monday, as Tony Mokbel had his moment of reckoning in the Supreme Court, this newspaper published a report that Yarra City Council has criticised a police proposal to install closed-circuit television cameras in Victoria Street, Richmond, to monitor the frequent drug dealing along the busy shopping strip. At the same time, a Yarra councillor has called for safe injecting rooms near Victoria Street. The illegal-drugs market will continue to operate for as long as there is a demand for it. Only when effective ways of reducing demand can be found can there be any real hope of controlling and restricting insidious methods of supply.



***************************************


******************************************************************************************

THE GUARDIAN

EDITORIAL

SYRIA: STATES OF EMERGENCY

It is tempting to see regional opportunities in Syria's turmoil – but no Arab spring has yet been nurtured by foreign intervention

Weeks of demonstrations in Syria reached a turning point this week. In the country's third city, Homs, a Tahrir-style sit-in was broken up when police fired into the crowd. More than 20 pro-democracy demonstrators have been killed in the town since Monday. But the switch in many minds happened earlier. It was when President Bashar al-Assad announced he would end nearly half a century of emergency rule. Far from being placatory, he patronised. It was all a problem of communication, he explained. There was a conspiracy (the demonstrations), there were reforms, and there were "needs" of the citizens, not only economic ones. He was sure his citizens understood, but how could they appreciate what was going on when the government did not explain to them what was happening?

President Assad's audience understood only too well. Accused by the regime of being Salafist infiltrators, Muslim Brotherhood stooges, saboteurs supported by Lebanon's Saad Hariri and Saudi Arabia's Prince Bandar Bin Sultan, or agents of the Mossad and the CIA, the protesters demanded to be heard as Syrians. Chants for reform gave way to chants for regime change. "From alleyway to alleyway, from house to house, we want to overthrow you, Bashar", mourners chanted at one funeral. Ever since, they have been attempting, at great cost, to recreate a Syrian Tahrir Square, a physical epicentre of revolt in any major city.

The Assad family (there is Bashar's brother Maher al-Assad, commander of the Republican Guard, and his cousin Rami Makhlouf) now find themselves with fewer political levers to pull, although there are plenty of military ones. Interior Ministry statements go unheeded. Protests continued overnight in Zabadani, Jabla and Aleppo. In Homs, the shops stayed closed, a sign that the urban Sunni population is starting to join in. They will not be mollified by sacking the governor in Homs or the chief of security in Banias. What started with a brutal, but routine, local incident, when police beat up and tortured a group of graffiti artists in Deraa, has become a nationwide protest.

It is tempting to see regional opportunities in Syria's turmoil. This is not just paralysing the Arab League, which postponed a summit scheduled for May, but also encouraging the belief that Assad's rejectionist allies, Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas, would stand to lose with his departure. Some may be tempted to conclude that fomenting dissent in Syria is a risk worth taking. This is folly in any part of the Middle East but particularly for a country with Syria's borders. No Arab spring has yet been nurtured by foreign intervention. It could yet be killed off by one.

**************************************


THE GUARDIAN

EDITORIAL

NHS PLANS: IN THE WAITING ROOM

Getting back on track and staying there is going to be incredibly difficult in the absence of any strategy

Likened by its rightwing detractors to a national religion, the debate over the NHS is far from theological for people who are being told to wait for an operation. All the arguments about governance structures, control of purse strings and even the private sector's role pale into insignificance when the waiting lists start to become longer again. The King's Fund yesterday produced a report which interviewed health service finance directors, and crunched the official data on waiting times. It found an upward trend for "all stages of waiting ... [since] June 2010". There is plenty of evidence that managers are embarking on redundancies, closures and rationing that could make things worse.

It is true that the health service was in for a rough ride whoever won last year's election. An unprecedented expenditure squeeze that would lead to rationing and delays was always in prospect. But the coalition has squandered its claim to the argument that there is no alternative to cuts because David Cameron made such a point of promising to protect the service. The coalition's credibility is further undermined by suggesting that the cuts which the public are already witnessing must be an illusion. The claim to be increasing resources in "real terms" relies on a statistical cigarette paper at best, and ignores the raid which the bankrupt care system has been invited to make on the budget. The government has aggravated the consequences of parsimony, first by initiating wild "reforms" of the English service, and then by pressing the pause button when its dubious revolution is already under way.

Andrew Lansley staked everything on his marketopian theories. One of his first acts as health secretary was to instruct his department to stop central management of Labour's waiting guarantees. His assumption was that the rigours of competition would be enough to keep medics on their toes, leaving him free to do away with a tainted target culture. In fact, the eventual commitment to end-to-end treatment within 18 weeks was more supple than earlier strictures that had targeted every waiting list separately, and so perversely encouraged the shuffling of patients between them. By 2010, while the system remained far from perfect in large parts of the country, dangerous waits for things like cardiac care were consigned to the past, and public satisfaction reached a record high . Now the 18-week benchmark is being missed again. Admittedly, not by much , but as Whitehall belatedly scrambles to remind the service that the target remains in its constitution, getting back on track and staying there is going to be incredibly difficult in the absence of any strategy.

Staffed by temporary execs, and in the midst of disbanding themselves, primary care trusts are not going to provide one. Last financial year, some were already arbitrarily refusing operations of extraordinary and documented clinical value, such as knee replacements. This week the Federation of Surgical Speciality Associations warned such stark refusals could spread, while the King's Fund has uncovered plans to "manage demand" through crudely "reducing activity".

Of course, there are areas where resources can and must stretch further to answer growing needs, particularly in respect of long-term conditions such as diabetes. Changes that put power in the hands of the patient could make a real difference, but they will not come about until the government has a coherent plan. Instead, we are at an impasse, with ministers acknowledging that they need to change their plans but giving no sense of how. The outcome will turn on trade-offs and crass party politics – whether it is the coalition's blue or yellow wing that requires placating after the alternative vote referendum is counted. For patients listening to the painfully slow tick of a clock, it is a sick joke indeed.

**************************************


THE GUARDIAN

EDITORIAL

IN PRAISE OF: A LORDS MORATORIUM

Many new peers cannot do their job properly if they are turned into ermine-clad battery hens

Posh club declares itself closed to new members shock! In other circumstances, it would be right to ask why peers are backing a report that says the House of Lords is full. Are their Lordships struggling to find space in the tearoom or short of sunny spots to sip G&Ts on the terrace? But this report, from UCL's Constitution Unit and an all-party array of peers and MPs, makes a serious point. It is a pity that it was dismissed, instantly, by Downing Street yesterday morning. Caught in a sort of half-life before promised reform, the Lords was packed by the last government and is being packed again, only partly in the interests of political balance. In the last year 117 peers have been created, including 39 Labour ones, taking the House to a complement of 792 members. If its membership was proportional to the last general election result, as the government wants, 269 more peers would be needed and the Lords would have 1,061 members. This is absurd. Not only is it expensive – many new peers have been vigorous in their take-up of daily expenses – but they cannot do their job properly if they are turned into ermine-clad battery hens. The report also criticises the way peers are appointed: there is too much patronage and too many former MPs, eased into the upper house after an inglorious Commons career. The answer is not just a smaller chamber – the US Senate manages with 100 members – but also democratic reform. In the meantime, "house full" signs should be hung on the door.

**************************************

 


******************************************************************************************

THE JAPAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

THE LIBYAN 'WEDGE' IN NATO

The desire to "do something" about the situation in Libya drove the United Nations Security Council to authorize use of all possible measures — diplomatic language for military force — to protect civilian populations in that troubled country. The consensus behind that vote quickly evaporated as Russia and China, holders of permanent seats and vetoes on the Security Council and which abstained on the decision, criticized actions to give the measure teeth. That development should not come as a surprise.

But the rise of tensions among Western nations that pushed for action is disheartening. Those divisions dominated the NATO summit held April 15 in Berlin as members sparred over the best response to the stubborn resilience of the government of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.

While most NATO governments agree that Mr. Gadhafi must go — Italy might have different views, given long-standing business ties — key differences reflect divergent assessments of the risks created as Libya unravels. Those divergences have also exposed a fundamental truth for NATO's European members: Despite years of talk about the development of indigenous defense capabilities, they remain unable to act to defend their declared national interests.

It took just two days after the U.N. vote for NATO to impose a "no fly zone" over Libya. The United States commanded operations that included over 100 airstrikes against Libyan targets, and several nations contributed forces. On March 24 — five days after the assault began — NATO agreed to take control of the effort. Actual handover of authority occurred March 31.

The rebel forces have been unable to exploit the opportunity and the ground war has ground down to a weary, bloody stalemate. In some cases, Mr. Gadhafi's forces have retaken the offensive. This has forced NATO leaders to contemplate additional measures to aid the rebels, a step that has raised questions about overstepping the U.N. mandate.

At last week's NATO summit, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov charged that current military strikes "in many cases go beyond the framework set by the Security Council," a charge that was rejected by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who countered that NATO forces acted "in strict conformity with both the spirit and the letter of the U.N. Security Council motion." The problem is that expanded operations will push NATO into more contested territory. In a joint article published in three leading newspapers in their countries, U.S. President Barack Obama, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister David Cameron said a future for Libya with Mr. Gadhafi in power was "impossible." This demand for regime change not only confirms fears of Western intervention that have long animated resistance in China and Moscow, but also has alienated fellow NATO governments.

Germany abstained on the March 17 U.N. vote and has not participated in military action, fearing greater instability in the country. Spain and Italy have supported the no-fly zone, but have drawn the line at ground strikes against Libyan government forces. Resistance to stepping up the air war has been heightened by Mr. Gadhafi's strategy of hiding his military assets among civilian populations, increasing the prospect of civilian casualties.

NATO officials estimate that they need another eight to 10 planes capable of precision bombing; they reportedly asked the U.S. to provide them at last week's NATO summit. French officials say the request was denied, while their U.S. counterparts say there was no official request and therefore no denial.

It is no secret that Washington wants its allies to take the lead in dealing with Libya. The U.S. administration has no desire to get involved in a third war against a Muslim country. More significantly, European nations are more directly affected by the situation in Libya: They have stronger economic ties and will have to deal with the floods of refugees if instability continues. Yet, those governments do not have the military tools needed to deal with this situation. That is the natural result of years of collective decisions among European governments to cut back on military spending and of the assumption that NATO can rely on the U.S. to meet its defense needs.

There is little indication that the U.S. tried to send a message to its partners about the gap between European security ambitions and their capabilities. Those partner governments will have to work to escape the conclusion that they can continue business as usual when it comes to continually shrinking defense budgets. That doesn't mean that the U.S. is not a reliable ally. It does mean that European governments need to understand that they must be prepared to lead — not only by taking command but in taking action — when addressing their national security concerns.

This is not just burden sharing. This is one of the new realities of the post-2008 financial crisis world, a world in which all nations face resource constraints and new forms of cooperation and the search for new efficiencies will become guiding principles of security policy.

 

**************************************


THE JAPAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

GAS: THE RISING STAR OF ENGERY

As many countries become wary of nuclear power following Japan's atomic disaster, they are looking to natural gas as the best alternative for generating electricity.

Gas is the cleanest burning fossil fuel and Japan is already the world's largest importer of it in super-cooled form, as liquefied natural gas. LNG was chosen by Japan to provide gas for home use, industry and power years before last month's earthquake and tsunami turned the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant into a dangerous source of radioactivity and forced it close.

However, since Japan took the decision to make LNG an important part of its energy policy, a revolution in gas production has rapidly gathered momentum. It has greatly increased global gas supplies and driven down the price, even as oil prices have soared.

The revolution began in the United States in the 1990s after energy companies showed that gas trapped in shale rock deep underground could be profitably extracted for the first time. Until then, only conventional gas in large reservoirs of porous rock could be tapped.

The new system devised by U.S. firms involved drilling vertically down into the shale, then extending the well horizontally and pumping in a mixture of water, sand and chemicals under high pressure.

This technology, known as hydraulic fracturing or "fracking," cracks the shale. The fissures are held open by the sand particles, releasing gas to flow up the well.

Today, fracking is used in nine out of 10 wells in the US, which in barely a decade has been transformed from a nation on the verge of becoming a major gas importer into a major gas producer.

Gas is already heating half of America's households. It may soon start replacing coal as the main fuel for generating base-load electricity. By 2035, shale gas is projected to account for 46 percent of U.S. gas production, up from 23 percent in 2010.

Shale gas also has promising prospects elsewhere in the world, although not in Japan. Earlier this month, the U.S. Energy Department released a study of 48 major shale basins in 32 countries.

It concluded that technically recoverable gas in these basins and those in the U.S. amounted to 6,622 trillion cubic feet (TCF), raising global gas reserves by over 40 percent.

The survey did not include offshore seabed reserves, or reserves in Russia and some Middle East countries. Nor did it cover another potentially huge source of unconventional gas, methane trapped in coal seams.

Thanks to newly included reserves from shale and coal beds, the International Energy Agency reckons the world might have twice as much gas than previously thought - enough to last for 250 years at current usage rates.

The U.S. Energy Department study found that countries with large shale resources included Argentina, Canada, Mexico, Australia, South Africa, Libya, Algeria, France, Poland, Brazil, Norway and Chile. But it concluded that the potential shale giant was China, with 1,275 TCF of recoverable gas, far larger than the estimated U.S. reserve of 826 TCF.

Chinese state-owned energy giants are investing billions of dollars in shale gas joint ventures with Western firms in North America. They want to acquire the expertise to develop China's own reserves.

With demand rising fast, China seems set to become heavily dependent on imported gas as well as foreign oil. However, if China could exploit its shale deposits, gas self-sufficiency could be assured and overall energy security improved.

Yet "fracking" is controversial. This follows reports that some U.S. wells have polluted underground and surface water supplies, that some of the chemicals used are toxic, and that some residues forced to the surface are radioactive.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reported in 2004 that "fracking" did not pose a threat to drinking water. But its study did not include shale drilling.

Fracturing shale rock for up to 2 km underground requires about five times more chemical-laden fluids than vertical drilling. So the agency is in the midst of a new study.

The relatively clean reputation of gas among fossil fuels is based on its lower carbon dioxide emissions (CO2) when burned. It emits approximately half the amount of CO2 as coal and about 30 percent that of oil.

However, research published in the U.S. last week contends that so much methane escapes in the production lifetime of a well and pipeline extracting shale gas that it allows more greenhouse emissions into the atmosphere than coal. CO2 and methane, the main component of natural gas, are the two most potent global warming emissions from human activity.

These pollution and global warming allegations are rejected by the gas industry. They are unlikely to deter China and other energy-hungry developing nations from exploiting their shale gas resources, especially where reserves are located in sparsely populated zones.

But in North America, Europe and Australia the pace of development may slow if stronger evidence emerges that unconventional gas production threatens human health and the environment.

Japan will almost certainly be able to import more LNG in future. But its best hope for gas self-sufficiency is in the big reserves of methane hydrates that lie offshore beneath the seabed in the exclusive economic zone claimed by the Japanese government.

Michael Richardson is a visiting senior research fellow at the Institute of South East Asian Studies in Singapore.

 

**************************************


THE JAPAN TIMES

FUKUSHIMA NO. 1 AND DERIVATIVE MELTDOWNS

BY MARK ROE

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Financial commentators have likened Japan's earthquake, tsunami and nuclear catastrophe to derivatives' role in the 2008 financial meltdown. The resemblance is clear enough: Each activity yields big benefits and carries a tiny but explosive risk. But the similarity between the two types of crisis ends where preventing their recurrence begins.

For the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear-power plant, a 1,000-year flood and ordinarily innocuous design defects combined to deprive the reactors of circulating water coolant and cause serious radiation leaks. In financial markets, an unexpected collapse in real-estate securities and design defects in the derivatives and repo markets combined to damage core financial institutions' ability make good on their payment obligations.

While the basic risks originated outside the systems — a tsunami for Fukushima, over-investment in real-estate mortgages for financial institutions — design defects and bad luck meant that the system couldn't contain the damage. In the U.S., AIG, Bear Stearns, and Lehman Brothers — all with large derivatives and/or repo investments — failed, freezing up credit markets for a scary few weeks.

We now understand the Fukushima risks and design defects well. Not so for the derivatives' risks that jeopardized the global economy. For Fukushima, crews are valiantly trying to stop the radiation leakage. But for derivatives, the analogous efforts are misdirected and won't save us from the financial fire next time. We are rebuilding derivatives and related financial structures atop the same, still-active faults.

Financial players use derivatives to transfer risk: One player assumes the risk of, say, euro fluctuation, but doesn't want yen risk, while for another, it's the opposite. So the former promises to deliver euros next June 1, while the latter promises to deliver yen. If one currency declines relative to the other, the loser pays the difference.

Repos are financing transactions. Financial firms sell assets, like Treasury bonds or real-estate securities, for cash, and promise to buy those assets back (i.e., to repurchase them or, for short, to do a "repo"), typically the following day. But, with the cash coming from short-term repos making up much of core financial firms' balance sheets, tremors in financial markets could hit them hard, drying up repo financing for a few, as occurred in 2008. Some, like Bear Stearns, then failed.

Individual derivatives and repo transactions are hardly nefarious. Each alone legitimately transfers risk to those better able to bear it, or backs financial holdings. But, when over-used by systemically vital firms, they can blow up the financial system, owing to its design defects. Even today, about 70 percent of the core U.S. financial firms' liabilities are very short-term loans, like overnight repos.

In the U.S., the main design defects are in bankruptcy law, which exempts derivatives and repos from most regular bankruptcy constraints. For example, investors holding derivatives and repo contracts with a weakened financial institution can grab the firm's assets ahead of — and at the expense of — its regular creditors, possibly sealing its fate, when, with a little extra time, the firm might have survived. Such runs were the ruin of AIG, Bear Stearns, and others during the financial crisis.

Worse still, because derivatives and repo investors jump to the head of the repayment line in so many ways, they have less incentive to foster market discipline by closely monitoring their counterparties' solvency and carefully rationing their exposure to any single counterparty. They typically get repaid, regardless.

True, someone has to come first. Other financial players take on more risk because derivatives and repo players' bankruptcy exemptions put them first. Usually, we would expect the others to have an interest in more market discipline. But the next player in line is too often the U.S. government, as guarantor of too-big-to-fail financial institutions, and it is poorly positioned to regulate these markets on a day-to-day basis. It is not financially nimble; it is often captured by the regulated; and when economic times are good, no official wants to spoil the party.

The U.S. Congress had a chance to fix this design defect in the major financial overhaul that it enacted last summer via the Dodd-Frank bill. But it didn't.

If investors in derivatives, repos, and credit-default swaps lacked favored treatment, they would behave differently. Above all, they would insist more often that their counterparties be well capitalized. They accepted the risk implied by ultra-thin capitalizations when it was mainly U.S. government money on the line; they would be more reluctant to do so if it was mostly their own money that they were wagering.

The public perceives Fukushima-type risks and derivatives risks differently. Many fear nuclear risks, which are vivid, slowing the industry's development amid safety concerns. But the derivatives and repo markets present risks that are poorly understood, difficult to communicate in the media, and hard for politicians to debate and resolve. During a crisis, these markets attract public attention and scorn, but, as the economy steadies, ordinary people lose interest, leaving the financial industry to control its own destiny with legislatures.

For Fukushima-type risks, analysts are already discussing how nuclear plants can be designed and built to contain quake and tsunami risks via passive cooling. It is possible, the thinking now runs, to design and build nuclear plants that can keep the fuel rods cool even if all power is lost.

But little of importance has yet been done to prevent the damage that derivatives and repo bankruptcy priorities could cause in another financial-system meltdown. New rules to require end-users (such as oil companies using derivatives to guard against unexpected oil-price changes) and others to put up good collateral are being developed. But these rules don't address the main problem: the weakened incentives for market discipline for core financial institutions. It's as if we reacted to Fukushima by better handling gas emissions in oil-shale projects.

We should be examining how to make derivatives and repo investors assume the full risk of their decisions when dealing with systemically vital financial institutions. Instead, we survived the financial tsunami of 2008, only to rebuild in the same place, on the main financial fault-lines, using the same flawed design.

Mark Roe is a professor at Harvard Law School. © 2011 Project Syndicate

**************************************


******************************************************************************************

THE JAKARTA POST

EDITORIAL

WHEN PROSECUTION BECOMES PERSECUTION

JULIA SURYAKUSUMA

First we had Ariel "Peterporn", then something even better. Yep, "politico-porn", courtesy of Arifinto, former member of the House of Representatives (DPR).

Huh! Some representation!

Arifinto was the latest person to be involved in a spate of alleged corruption and sex scandals involving Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) lawmakers. His case ended with vows of repentance and his resignation on 12 April 2011, one day after he was caught watching porn on a tablet under a table in the DPR.

Everyone knows sex scandals often lead to the downfall of politicians or public figures. Arifinto's fall was all his own work, but sometimes these scandals can be manufactured to bring prominent people down. It's an old trick, but a very effective one.

And that's what seems to be happening to Anand Krishna. A renowned spiritual leader, head of the Anand Ashram and author of more than 130 books, Anand has been accused of sexual harassment by two former female students.

Early last year, one of them pressed charges against Anand. His supporters have said the women were attention-seekers, and worse, that the sexual harassment case was just an excuse to nail Anand for a bigger "crime": religious difference.

Strangely, this was confirmed by the accuser's lawyer Agung Mattauch himself: "Harassment is just an entry point for a more serious problem, religious blasphemy".

The trial has been ongoing since Aug. 25 last year but so far it's going nowhere. People have been questioning why, since Anand has complied with all the court's conditions.

The accuser claims she was hypnotized and brainwashed by Anand to comply with his every wish, including sexual ones (short of intercourse, she admits).

The accuser also claimed she had repressed the memory of the alleged harassment, and by undergoing hypnotherapy was able to recall the events.

However, there's a problem here, because repressed memory theory is highly controversial, and is now widely discredited as unreliable. Should it be used as evidence in a court case?

The judges, however, have already made remarks suggesting Anand was guilty, even though the trial remains ongoing. Noted human rights lawyer Adnan Buyung Nasution (who's practiced law for 50 years) was aghast.

"This is the first time I have ever seen anything like this… a judge who pronounces a defendant guilty before he delivers the official verdict of court."

It gets worse. Anand was arrested and jailed on March 9. Desperate, he embarked on a hunger strike. After 44 days nothing has been done about this, so he's now starving to death. He may not even make it to the verdict.

In today's Indonesia, where the persecution of religious minorities is fast becoming a spectator sport, many Islamist "hard-liners" dislike Anand and feel threatened by his teachings. After all, he teaches universal love, peace, spiritualism, health and healing — ideas that are the total opposite of their fixation on religious fanaticism, sectarianism, bigotry, hatred and violence.

Anand is also popular and successful. In the last 19 years he's spoken to millions through TV, radio, print media, in-house trainings, and, of course, meetings and courses at his Anand Ashram in Jakarta, and the three other meditation centers in Bogor, Bali and Yogyakarta.

His message of universal love and peace has appealed to many Muslims, especially from the middle and upper c