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Friday, April 22, 2011

EDITORIAL 22.04.11

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month april 22, edition 000813, csollected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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





































































It is a matter of shame that the Supreme Court should be directing the Union Government to release subsidised foodgrains to starving families in the country. The UPA regime, which came to power on — and continues to swear by — the slogan of aam admi ought to have actesd on the matter without any prompting, more so with the onset of summer that brings with it starvation and malnutrition in villages across the country. But then, this Government has all but abandoned the masses, furthering what the Supreme Court has called the "two-India" divide whereby the privileged classes accumulate the benefits of economic growth while the underprivileged masses continue to toil and starve. What is even more disgraceful is that the Government is not willing to acknowledge the intensity of the tragedy; it is instead seeking relief in dressed up figures. For instance, it bases its strategy on a fallacious definition of poverty: Those who earn less than Rs 12 a day in rural areas are considered poor. This is clearly an unrealistic figure, because nearly all of those whose income is even significantly higher than this pittance actually live in gut-wrenching poverty. Yet, since it requires no great effort to rise above the Rs 12-a-day level, we have the Government declaring that merely 36 per cent of the population lives below the poverty line. By resorting to such trickery, the UPA regime is able to claim that seven crore people have been lifted out of poverty during the 11th Five-Year Plan (2007-12). The Government's hocus-pocus, however, does not change the reality: Spending power is not always a true indicator of poverty, though even by this criterion there is unanimity among various States that the poverty levels are much higher than those projected by the Union Government. The question that needs to be asked is: Why are so many families below the poverty line being denied foodgrains when there is no shortage of foodstocks? This has not only worried the Supreme Court but also agitated the minds of those who are concerned with the

Meanwhile, it is clear that the Supreme Court has little faith in the UPA regime addressing the problem, which is why it has bluntly told the latter's counsel that he will have to take the court's "instructions" during the next hearing to ensure proper distribution of foodgrains. It is, after all, not the first time that the Supreme Court has rapped the Union Government on the mismanagement of foodgrains meant for the poor; earlier it suggested to the Government that excess foodgrains rotting in godowns could be given to the poor free of cost. While the Government managed to wriggle out of distributing free food, it has failed to satisfactorily explain why foodstocks are rotting when there are thousands of starving families. One explanation for the repeated failure lies in the Union Government's reluctance to overhaul the defective public distribution system that handles assistance for families below the poverty line. Foodgrains are misappropriated and sold in the open market at a profit while stuff that is rotten or otherwise unfit for consumption is passed on to the poor. All this happens with the connivance of officials who team up with agents to perpetrate the fraud. If they get away with their crime it is largely because of complicity at the highest levels and the absence of an effective mechanism to identify and punish the wrongdoers.







The Endosulfan poisoning in Kerala's northernmost Kasaragod district has acquired the dimensions of a huge tragedy. The pesticide has killed close to 1,000 people and caused dreadful disorders and diseases to at least 10,000 others in that area in the past three decades. Horrified by the suffering of babies born with asymmetrical bodies, stunted brain growth, oversized heads and undersized bodies, twisted limbs, cancers, reproductive problems and other congenital disorders due to pesticide poisoning, women here have begun to terminate their pregnancies in fear of giving birth to such babies. Studies show that a minimum of 10 women from the 11 Endosulfan-hit panchayats are undergoing abortion each month. According to sociologists, this trend is caused by the same fear syndrome that once afflicted the women of Hiroshima and Nagasaki after they saw the ghastly effects of nuclear explosions. Demographists warn that what is being witnessed in Kasaragod district could eventually lead to a severe population imbalance in the region. All available facts assert that the situation will never improve as everything in the nature — body systems of organisms, water, soil, air, etc — have been irreparably polluted with the killer pesticide that was used for more than two decades since 1978 in the name of insect-eradication in the cashew plantations. The situation is not very different in south Karnataka where Endosulfan-induced diseases are spreading fast.

But none of these facts seems to be powerful enough to bend the determination of the UPA regime. As many as 81 countries, including the US, have either banned or decided to ban Endosulfan but the UPA regime does not seem to care. Calls to the Union Government from Kerala and Karnataka to take an anti-Endosulfan stand at the five-day Geneva meet of the Persistent Organic Pollutants' Review Committee of the Stockholm Convention starting Monday have intensified, but the Government has already ruled out this possibility. The UPA is firm that the killer pesticide will not be banned till all States of the Union put forward that demand, though the fact is that no State has ever opposed the proposal for a ban. The Union Government still holds that Endosulfan is harmless if handled with care, which has already been proved to be a lie. India, thus, will be the only country to justify the killer pesticide at the Geneva meet. Critics and the Kerala and Karnataka Governments are convinced that the UPA's inhuman stand is founded on the interests of pesticides manufacturers. It is a matter of immense shame for entire India, the largest democracy, that its Government will be defending a killer pesticide in Geneva when even countries infamous for their fascist regimes have sought a global ban on Endosulfan.









The only way of curbing corruption is to restore the systems that functioned well before the kaaley angrez took over. A showpiece Lok Pal law will be of little use.

My local BSNL office is plastered with posters against corruption which we are exhorted to "fight without fear". Fear of who I wonder except my own interest. If I don't pay something every month to the municipal sweeper who gets a salary as well as overtime to collect domestic garbage, the rubbish will pile high in my house. If money isn't slipped into the drawer that the high court clerk keeps discreetly open, vital documents that must be registered will never be put up to the registrar.

These are two out of many instances of the ground level corruption that clog the streams of daily life and concern me more than the huge scams — Bofors, Tehelka, Commonwealth Games, 2G, Adarsh, to take a few at random — that hit the headlines and drive TV channels to frenzied excitement. That's why I can't bring myself to become too enthusiastic about the prospect of a brand new Lok Pal Bill cleansing the system. Or believe that the "Freedom from Corruption" summit that Transparency International is reportedly organising in New Delhi will achieve more than fiery speeches by prominent social activists.

The complex rules of governance contribute to the abuses I find so difficult to cope with. Palms must be greased at every step. I have been trying unsuccessfully for such a long time to cancel a broadband connection and return a telephone that the temptation to pay an agent to do both is becoming irresistible. Touts flourish in every passport and railway booking office. The recent report of fresh Income Tax scrutiny of property deals may open further scope for bribery. One hears that even the hawkers who did brisk business around Jantar Mantar during the public drama of Mr Bapat Baburao Hazare's fast didn't escape the obligatory baksheesh to the police.

What I cannot decide is whether venality at the top affects conduct all the way down to my humble but not so poor municipal sweeper. Or does the infection spread upwards from the grassroots, ignoring the law of gravity? Perhaps, it's neither. Perhaps greed, dishonesty and the refusal to perform without illegal gratification are manifestations of the national culture. No one batted an eyelid when the Americans complained that the officials sent to collect the computers on which Rajiv Gandhi had set his heart demanded commission payments.

Speed money, said the late Subimal Dutt of the ICS, an early vigilance commissioner, is a way of life. If so, Mr Hazare was wrong in proclaiming that his demonstration marked "the second independence struggle" against "the kaaley angrez who rule us today". For, though many of our politicians and civil servants might affect the high-handedness of their British predecessors, the all-pervasive corruption that is destroying India is not angrezi. It's as desi as Kautilya.

Friends say I feel it more because Kolkata where I live is out of joint with the rest of the country. There may be something in that. A former head of Calcutta Telephones once told me that the difference between this city and Mumbai was that while the Mumbai telephone mistry did the work if you bribed him, his Kolkata equivalent pocketed the money and didn't. But the difference isn't really qualitative. It's just that Kolkata is ahead of the rest of the country, as Bal Gangadhar Tilak famously noted. Moreover, smaller sums have to be doled out in Kolkata than in Mumbai or Delhi.

India may not as yet be Chad or Kyrgyzstan which lead the world in influence peddling, bribery and scandalous business dealings. Nor, perhaps, can any Indian politician of comparable rank be bracketed with Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe who was accused of stealing over $7 million in foreign aid meant for medicines. India is blessed with a Prime Minister of impeccable integrity but one swallow does not a summer make. It's the prevalent culture that matters, not the private ethics of the man at the top.

Walter Lippmann, the American columnist, once lamented that "the breakdown in the constitutional order of things is the cause of the precipitate and catastrophic decline of Western society". That "decline" — if such it could be called — was only relative to the peak from which the great European empires commanded mankind. In India's case, there was no peak, there is only the gutter.

Better organised countries also encounter difficulty in keeping the system clean, as highlighted by Transparency International's finding two years ago that even Japan and Canada have below-par enforcement standards vis-à-vis accepted G7 guidelines for bribes from foreign businesses. Each country claimed only one prosecution against more than 40 in Germany, 19 in France and 16 in Switzerland.

Mr Hazare may not know that British Indian rulers like Robert Clive and Warren Hastings were also impeached in a process that is unthinkable in independent India. Some prosecutions have been initiated after inordinate delays caused as much by lethargy as deliberate obstructiveness, but they tend to fizzle out. Convictions are rare. But as a special CBI judge, Mr VK Maheshwari, said when sentencing Sukh Ram, the former Union Communications Minister, to jail for criminal misappropriation, "if public servants are corrupt, the whole structure of the society would get upset and Government policies, howsoever beneficial it (sic) may be, would be adversely affected". He thought venal politicians ("a menace to the society") infect the entire system and called political corruption "the worst form as its consequences are far-reaching".

All this is true. But I doubt if the sweeper, the court clerk, the postman, the telephone mistry and all the other low-level functionaries who demand bribes to deliver ever heard of Sukh Ram's misdeeds. If they did, they probably blame him only for being foolish enough to get caught! Those who vitiate daily life do not consciously follow political and bureaucratic precedents. They obey an animal instinct that is not checked by discipline or any fear of detection and punishment. They themselves probably have to pay bribes for whatever paltry amenities they enjoy, and recoup the money from those they serve. Police corruption is integral to this vicious cycle.

The only way of curbing instinct is to restore the systems (police, courts, administration) that functioned reasonably well before the kaaley angrez took over. A whirlwind campaign resulting in a showpiece law prescribing punishment for top offenders will not produce systemic change.






The Tamil Nadu Congress president's decision to expel dissidents for working against the party during the recent Assembly election has only further deepened rifts within the organization

Although polling in Tamil Nadu has been completed peacefully, the Congress is feeling the heat of internal squabbles. Barely had the din of election subsided when internal acrimony and groupism in the party came out in the open after Tamil Nadu Congress Committee president KV Thangkabalu unilaterally expelled 19 members for alleged anti-party activities on April 13. Out of these 19, seven are Youth Congress office-bearers. Since then dissidents are up in arms against Mr Thangkabalu. They are burning his effigies and holding protests across the State.

Mr Thangkabalu's action has not only fuelled dissidence but acted as a catalyst to unite different factions within the party including those led by former TNCC chief EVKS Elangovan and senior Congress leaders GK Vasan and Karti Chidambaram. Their one-point agenda appears to be removing Mr Thangkabalu from his post. The State Youth Congress president M Yuvaraj and Mr Elangovan have already written letters to the central leadership complaining about the high-handed behaviour of Mr Thangkabalu.

The anger against the TNCC president has been brewing for a while. There was widespread discontent over the distribution of tickets as many believed that undeserving candidates were given nomination. Even six Congress MPs from the State complained about the selection process and refused to campaign for certain candidates. The list of candidates had to be changed ultimately to pacify them.

Another contentious issue is Mr Thangkabalu's nomination. The TNCC chief managed to get a ticket for his wife, Ms Jayanthi Thangkabalu, from the prestigious Mylapore constituency. This caused heartburn for the sitting MLA and film actor S Ve Shekhar who had won the seat in 2006 as an AIADMK candidate but later moved to Congress. Further, many were upset with Mr Thangkabalu's decision to file nomination papers as a dummy for his wife. While Ms Jayanthi Thangkabalu's papers were rejected, Mr Thangkabalu's papers got accepted. Hence, accusing Mr Thangkabalu of securing a back-door entry to contest the polls, dissidents have intensified the campaign seeking his ouster. Naturally, the expelled members, including former Deputy Mayor of Chennai Corporation Karate R Thiagarajan, who was aspiring to contest from the coveted Mylapore constituency, have questioned his arbitrary action.

Taking note of the crisis, Congress president Sonia Gandhi and AICC general secretary (in-charge of Youth Congress) Rahul Gandhi have held one round of consultation with senior Tamil Nadu leaders like Mr Vasan and Union Minister for Home Affairs P Chidambaram and heard their complaints. Mr Chidambaram's son Karti Chidambaram, who is becoming an important player in Tamil Nadu politics, had briefed his father about how the TNCC president had no mandate to dismiss members.

The imbroglio should worry the Congress central leadership as the party is expected to do well in the Assembly election. There are talks of the Congress joining the Government if the DMK-Congress coalition wins the election.

Even during the campaign, the Congress insiders were worried that squabbling within the party could derail the DMK's plan of retaining power. There were reasons to worry as the Congress and the AIADMK were locked in straight contests in 42 seats. Mr Thangkabalu himself is on a sticky wicket in Mylapore as there are rumours of suspected sabotage in his constituency by followers of Mr R Thiagarajan, Mr Shekhar and Mr Vasan. Mr Thangkabalu smelt the rat, was enraged and decided to expel the dissidents.

The Tamil Nadu Congress is facing such indiscipline and factionalism because there is no strong leader of the stature of C Rajagopalachari or K Kamaraj. After the Congress lost the Assembly election in 1967 to the DMK, the central leadership stopped promoting a strong leader in the State as it started depending on alliance with either the DMK or the AIADMK. Absence of a strong leader led to factionalism. As a result, today there are as many leaders as there are groups and no two leaders see eye to eye on any issue. Further, running the party without being in power is a problem in itself. Leaders like Mr P Chidambaram are confined to national level politics with little time to spare for State politics.

It has become imperative that Congress promotes leadership at the State level. It should find a young charismatic leader from the several aspiring Youth Congress leaders and give him the charge to build a strong organisation. Attracting the young generation is of utmost importance to build up a cadre base at the grassroots level.

Most important, to make the State unit a cohesive whole groupism should be discouraged. The central leadership must send a strong message to local leaders that indiscipline will not be tolerated.







Externally-funded NGOs are setting the agenda for social activism

The term 'civil society', ubiquitous today in the media and in NGOs' discourse, and especially in the context of the anti-corruption campaign, identified with Anna Hazare and some others — ironically, targeted for corrupt or underhand dealings themselves — has old origins. The idea was debated by classical Western thinkers and ideologues, from Plato to Marx, until it was appropriated by contemporary power cabals. The stupendous growth of the civil society movement is ascribed to the wide-scale emergence of non-governmental organisations throughout the world in the latter half of the 20th Century, as a mechanism for change, development and reform, parallel or supplementary to the services provided by the political and administrative apparatus of the state. However, sceptics question the very premise of parallel governance and policy-making by people and agencies, without public accountability, seeing in the exercise a hidden plan by amorphous forces to sabotage the state and eventually take over the functions of Government.

External funding and pressure for such interventions are particularly suspect. The nationalist media's castigation of rights activist Binayak Sen, convicted for sedition by a lower court as well as High Court in Chhattisgarh, though given bail by the Supreme Court, hinges on the fear that the Naxalite sympathiser, like others of his ilk — Kobad Ghandy, for instance — is acting to weaken and destablise India at the behest of an alien force. The European Union's excessive interest in Binayak Sen's well being and in securing his freedom indicates that the fear is not unfounded. Similarly, Booker Prize winning writer and activist Arundhati Roy, who, despite seceding from India, still stubbornly continues to stay on our hospitable soil, has invited flak both for opposing our nuclear weapons policy and for supporting Kashmiri insurgents. They are all educated individuals, with international exposure and presumably have strong First World contacts. The fact that 22 Nobel laureates have supported Binayak Sen but not others, who are languishing in jail for anti-national activities, is revealing enough.

India, as per an official study, has the largest number of NGOs, about 3.3 million till 2009. The number must have swelled since then, with the real figure far exceeding the official estimate, which only counted bodies registered under the Societies Registration Act, 1860 and some state acts. The study avers that Maharashtra leads with 4.8 lakh NGOs. Other States with a high NGO presence are Andhra Pradesh (4.6 lakh), Uttar Pradesh (4.3 lakh), Kerala (3.3 lakh), Karnataka (1.9 lakh), Gujarat (1.7 lakh), West Bengal (1.7 lakh), Tamil Nadu (1.4 lakh), Odisha (1.3 lakh) and Rajasthan (1 lakh). These 10 apparently account for over 80 per cent of registrations. The Government is the biggest donor, with `18,000 crore being allotted for the social sector in the XI Five Year Plan. Foreign contributions come second, with an estimated `9,700 crore being raised in 2007-08. But NGO sources reveal that annual funding varies between `40,000 crore and `80,000 crore.

Funds are channeled into a wide range of causes and activities: Social welfare, rural development, human rights, communal amity, gender and ecological issues, religious evangelism and so on. To dismiss all NGOs and their work as suspect would be unfair. Genuine ones can be trusted to keep a check on those politicos and bureaucrats, who care neither for people or ecology, in their evil pursuit of power and pelf. Religious bodies such as Ramakrishna Mission and Bharat Sewa Sangh, numerous trusts and societies, founded by spiritual savants, and in receipt of foreign funds, are also non-profit organisations, dedicated to welfare work. However, unraveling the source of the support and funds extended to overtly political civil society representatives and organisations can open up a Pandora's box. It is indeed significant that investigating agencies assiduously refrain from doing so.

The dissolution of the Soviet Union serves as an edifying example. Russia, with 2,77,000 NGOs, perhaps has the second largest number of NGOs. Creating the open society that preceded the break up — indicated by the terms 'glasnost' and 'perestroika', which were bandied about by thousands of NGOs and rights activists as frequently as the 'anti-corruption' and 'people first' refrains are uttered here by supposed do-gooders — was the job of civil society representatives. They were reported to have received munificent funds from western foundations, endowments and agencies. Once the USSR disintegrated, as did the Communist bloc in Eastern Europe, the free market extended to these erstwhile closed economies. It was a major victory for the forces, pushing globalisation; the one world order, subscribing to a soulless utilitarian worldview.

Commentators in the US have begun to ask whether the same formula for subversion is being applied to their country. Cliff Kincaid, in 'Atheist Soros Funds Catholic Group', wonders whether billionaire investor George Soros, prominent member of the pro-globalisation cabal, is pouring huge funds into the Catholic church in order to mislead the middle of the road Catholics that have determined the last 13 presidential elections. He describes Mr Soros as supporting drug legalisation; rights of sex workers and felons; euthanasia; radical feminism; abortion and homosexual rights. It is all geared towards creating an 'open society'. Mr Soros's Open Society Institute reportedly channels billions of dollars into NGOs across the world. There are other rich international funding sources.

The civil society lament everywhere is so similar that the driving motivation also cannot but be the same: That of subverting and fragmenting sovereign nation states in order to create a vast free market, governed by financiers, banks, corporates and their stooges. And this would eventually translate into unlimited profit and power.






Time has come for development of a typology of regional poverty to prepare an index of resource allocation. Based on appropriate research, the Government can then decide on the products of intervention

There is something about the investment climate in infrastructure which makes it bewilderingly complex. There are two types of infrastructure: The hard infrastructure and the soft infrastructure. The obvious components of hard infrastructure are the roads, ports, communication lines, power and more. In the hard infrastructure, often investments are required in sanitation programmes. These may not be as high-sounding as building of highways but are perhaps more important. In the soft infrastructure, the list is equally daunting and inter alia includes investments and items such as financial literacy.

Meanwhile, half-informed interventions, which when not quite successful, do try people's patience and hurt the credibility of interventions. The attempt to use banks for all types of non-banking services especially in rural areas is a case in point.

Getting back to the hard infrastructure, the total sanitation programme started as far back as 1985. However, a recent study carried out by the Planning Commission shows that out of 162 gram panchayats surveyed only six had achieved 100 per cent sanitation.

There are other horrors lurking on the horizon. Talk of gender ratio is a good example. It focuses attention on the frightful prospect of increasing gaps between the number of boys and girls. Compared to developed countries, our maternal mortality rate is higher by 50 per cent. There are certain positive expectations, too. According to an economic forecast, in GDP terms, India will rank fourth from the top among 205 countries by 2020.

The obvious linkage between infrastructure building and employment generation has yet to be worked out in a project mode. India plans to invest $9 billion to improve airports, $12 billion to modernise ports and $130 in the power sector. This also includes investment in training and development.

The small and medium enterprise sector is poised to provide an additional 200 million jobs by 2020. The panchayati raj institutions are also in the process of being strengthened. There is an increased allocation as per the recommendation of the 13th Finance Commission. And IT enablement is happening through Electric Power Research Institute.

The Provision of Urban Amenities in Rural Areas scheme has been revised and is being implemented again. Now, under the scheme `10 billion will be spent on seven identified amenities.

It is a positive sign that the focus is now shifting to knowledge development and skill development. Out of India's one billion population, 30 per cent are living in poverty. With 300 million people officially living below the poverty line, it means approximately 65-70 million households are reeling from poverty. These people are really non-performing assets. Skill formation alone can alter them into productive assets. Talking of soft infrastructure, it is imperative that attention be paid to make people exercise political rights beyond casting votes.

Given the trends, one wonders whether the huge industry that has sprouted in the name of poverty elimination is not developing vested interests. One billion rupees is being sanctioned every year for eradication of poverty. In order to fulfil the objective, affirmative schemes — be it NREGS, Indira Awas Yojana, ICDS and HRM or whatever else — needs to be run like a tight ship. Money simply cannot be wasted through these programmes. Even if one simply issued a cheque and sent it to 65 million rural households on a daily basis, it would come to `70-80 per day. With books dressed up what is being invested appears spent on paper, but ground reality shows things are going horribly wrong in practice. Therefore, one has to ask why is the Government continuing with the projects.

When ideas run dry, a chant is raised for innovation. But innovation at a grassroots level has to be enabled differently than in an atmosphere of literacy and organisational structure. Some interesting lessons can be learnt from multi-nationals — how they practice open innovation in the case of penetrating foreign markets with different cultures other than where their corporate office is located.

Take for example the open innovation approach as is being followed in HP Lab. In the early years of last decade, this model emerged on the assumption that the boundaries of a firm are not porous and whatever research and development happen, all research projects are sourced from within the organisation and go out of this funnel. A few projects make it to the market place.

Applying this to social engineering of poverty removal, the time has come for development of a typology of regional poverty. An index is needed on the resource allocation to each one of the typologies. After identifying scientifically, appropriate R&D would be needed to decide what products of intervention would work in which region.







It is difficult to separate the recent focus on corruption in government from the need for electoral reforms. If those occupying the top echelons of Indian politics are corrupt, the body politic is bound to be rotten. Leading the public campaign for a tougher Lokpal Bill, social activist Anna Hazare emphasised this point. While a committee has been formed to draft a better Lokpal Bill, electoral reforms need to be on the agenda as well.

We must not shirk even from debating the drawbacks of the first-past-the-post system of election, and whether something else should take its place. First-past-the-post leads to the fragmentation of the electorate and allows candidates securing a minority percentage of votes to enter government. Instead of being representative it turns elections into a game of psephology, incentivising money and muscle power to squeeze out votes. Due to lack of choice, the electorate is forced to compromise on the quality of election candidates.

In order to ensure integrity and increase choice for voters, it is imperative to enhance the provisions of the 'no vote' option in election rules. Clause 49(O) of the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961, gives voters the right to exercise their franchise and yet not vote for any of the candidates on the ballot list. However, not only is awareness regarding the provision low, no-votes do not impact the overall outcome of the election. Besides, those wishing to exercise clause 49(O) have to declare their intention to the presiding officer of the polling station. This goes against the very spirit of a secret ballot.

To strengthen the provision the rules could stipulate that in the event the number of no-votes amounted to 50% or more of the total votes cast, election to that particular constituency would be cancelled and fresh elections held with the earlier slate of candidates debarred from contesting. This could make political parties accountable and force them to field candidates with clean records. Another good idea is raising the cap on election expenses from the current Rs 25 lakh for Lok Sabha candidate and Rs 10 lakh for assembly candidate and enhancing scrutiny of election accounts. This will help curb the flow of black money into election campaigns.

Comprehensive reforms also demand expediting criminal cases against sitting legislators through fast-track courts. Empowering the electorate through an option to recall elected representatives and moving towards a system of proportional representation - where legislators are elected on the basis of percentage of votes won in a grouping of constituencies - are provisions worth exploring. The electoral process is the foundation of a democracy. Strengthening it is the key to enhancing the quality of governance.







Although it's Easter, Barack Obama's sent India a bitter pill to swallow instead of a chocolate egg. Commenting on how expensive medical care in America's become, the US president said he'd prefer it if Americans didn't travel to India or Mexico for 'cheap' healthcare, receiving this at home instead. Not usually known for cheap talk, Obama's remarks have left many apoplectic. Union health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad leads a pack of outraged medicos with his purported response, "We do not make profits, so the very word cheap is a cheap word."

And why does Obama think we're such cheapskates anyway? Aside from high-quality medical aid, we can also provide patients with superb Indian food, thorough food poisoning and fiery encounters with surly nurses, guaranteed to get tired hearts pumping double-quick and rosy flushes back on wan-looking cheeks. But don't think we're just cheap and cheerful; we know a bit about class as well. As soon as your bypass is done or your kidney replaced, we can whip you off to see the Taj Mahal by moonlight, the Gateway of India in the rain or, if you visit our high-end boutiques, robbery by daylight. The last should be preferable to robbery by doctors and drug manufacturers, which is what you get if you're in America (even Obama hasn't been able to change this). And here's another 'return' gift,
Delhi patients - not only will your aches be sorted at a fraction of the time and money you'd spend abroad, but you could also go back with a far better immune system, having survived the 'superbug' allegedly making the capital's rounds. Maybe we should ignore his cheap shot and gift Obama an executive health check. Then he'll see what he's missing.








The disdain with which leading lights of the anti-corruption movement - Mallika Sarabhai, Medha Patkar, Kavita Srivastava et al - are publicly threatening to dislodge Anna Hazare from the leadership role because he praised Narendra Modi's rural development work in Gujarat indicates that the poor man was only being used as a convenient symbol that can be discarded as arbitrarily as he was chosen to lead the 'movement'.

Human rights activists can retain their credibility only as long as they remain steadfastly non-partisan. To the person killed, it matters little whether the murderous mob was shouting 'Lal Salaam', 'Har Har Mahadev' or 'National Unity' as did the mobs that massacred over 10,000 Sikhs in north India following Indira Gandhi's assassination. However, the secular brigade shows a consistent soft corner for those who kill under the Maoist or communist banner as well as those who verbally profess secularism.

Narendra Modi's acts of commission and omission during the 2002 riots deserve the strongest of condemnations. Those crimes need to be impartially investigated and the guilty punished. Just as we are proud that our democratic system ensured a fair trial even for a publicly identified ISI-associated terrorist like Kasab, so also we should let the courts take the Gujarat trials to their logical conclusions.

Those who ask for Modi's head would do well to remember that hordes of Congressmen in Gujarat gleefully joined the BJP and RSS goons who went around massacring innocent people.

The overall track record of the Congress in this matter is no better, if not much worse, than that of the BJP. In addition to the 1984 massacre of Sikhs in north India, it masterminded numerous other riots through the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. None of the killers of politically engineered riots in Meerut, Malliana, Bhiwandi, Bhagalpur, Hyderabad, Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Surat and scores of others were ever punished. The Congress also injected terrorism into Punjab by its covert support of Bhindranwale's Khalistani brigades in order to wrest control of the SGPC that presides over well-endowed gurdwaras. It did incalculable harm to the Sri Lankan Tamils by creating a Frankenstein's monster like the LTTE. The secessionist movement in Kashmir owes its origins and draws sustenance from the Congress party's penchant for rigging elections to install puppet chief ministers.

And yet, even those of us who genuinely want to see the guilty among Congress leaders pay for their crimes do recognise that there is a lot more to this premier national party than a legacy of mayhem and massacres. There are times when the Congress party has actually lived up to the highest values of Indian democracy and some of our best contemporary politicians have emerged from the Congress fold.

Due to their ideological predilections and cosy relationship with the Congress high command, most of those attacking Hazare have a history of acting as the fighting arm of the Congress against Modi and the BJP. But to declare Hazare a political untouchable because he is not as ideologically committed to their brand of secularism is to display deadly arrogance. One earns the moral right to criticise only when one has the moral courage to acknowledge the positive aspects or good deeds of those we condemn for specific evil actions. One should be able to condemn Modi for his role in the 2002 massacre and point to his many other blind spots and lapses, without feeling the need to deny his positive role in Gujarat leading the country in many vital areas such as assured power supply to all villages, measures for bringing down the maternal mortality rate by providing financial and other support for safe deliveries to poor women, and a 9.8% growth rate in agriculture while the rest of the country remains stuck at 2-3% growth. It is one of the few states where farmers at large are not at war with industry, where delivery mechanisms for government services have improved dramatically.

The manner in which Maulana Ghulam Mohammad Vastanvi, the vice-chancellor of Darul Uloom of Deoband, was humiliated and asked to resign for stating that the development agenda of Modi is benefiting Muslims in equal measure shows that the 'secular' gang has acquired a vested interest in promoting a siege mentality among Muslims. The man they condemn as the 'maut ka saudagar' seems to have recognised the folly of promoting communal polarisation. He has not let another riot take place in Gujarat, a state which witnessed numerous caste and communal riots under Congress rule. In recent years, hundreds of Muslims have won municipal elections on BJP tickets. Democracy with its one-person, one-vote principle has tamed Narendra Modi. But those who don't need to get endorsement for their political posturing from citizens on whose behalf they speak, are not amenable to such self-correcting mechanisms.

The task of cleansing our polity of crime and corruption is not a battle between demons and angels. It requires taking the entire spectrum of political opinion on board including those who support Maoists or vote for Modi. Such a task cannot be done by those who harbour blind prejudice, and partisan agendas. It is best done by people of compassion, and humility; people who remain fair and non-partisan even when dealing with those they hate.

(The writer is professor, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi)






The last time adventure sports enthusiast Richard Meredith drove through India was during a journey from Pakistan to Bangladesh six years ago. Meredith is now planning another expedition, from the south to the north of India with co-driver and former IAF pilot Sanjiv Dewan, to raise a voice for tiger conservation. Meredith tells Faizal Khan why the tiger needs as much freedom in the forests as motorists on roads:

How is passion for the road going to make a difference in tiger conservation?

It is the freedom of travel that will make the difference. In India, a major amount of work going on today in improving infrastructure is in the road sector. What it means is that people can go faster and further than ever before. They have more freedom. The tiger also needs more freedom to roam about in its habitat. But the tiger is having less freedom than the man in the car. It is a terrible irony.


What is the relevance of an expedition like yours when there are several public campaigns today on tiger conservation?
It is a huge issue that needs campaigns from many, many more people. Though the authorities and governments have been speaking about the need to preserve tigers, unfortunately their number is going down. Figures say just 3,200 tigers are left in the world, the majority of them in India. Ordinary people haven't been able to speak loud in one voice on this issue. We believe that in India it is a national responsibility for the people to do something about it. We also believe now is the time for the people to demand more efforts. There are millions of people in India who love tigers and if we all speak in one voice, we are sure this time something will be done.

What are the main aspects of the road journey campaign?

We are going to start from Periyar Tiger Reserve in Kerala in November and visit 11 tiger sanctuaries in India in a 45-day road journey before ending in Jim Corbett National Park in Uttarakhand. Hopefully by then, we will have millions of supporters and signatures. We will carry a torch, like in the Olympics, for the tigers as a beacon of life. We will present our campaign result in New Delhi and petition high government officials. Ordinary individuals should lend a hand now, just to make sure.

How could you relate to a public campaign as an adventure sports enthusiast?

The reason why the number of tigers is diminishing is poaching. We have to increase surveillance. We can learn a lesson from Russia. They have formed a tiger watch in areas where a dead tiger has been found. We can protect female tigers, which provide the future. New ideas will emerge when you talk to people, instead of talking only to experts. A road journey through villages is better to understand the power of the people. In an expedition, people will notice you. They will follow you and talk to you.

How optimistic are you about the success of your campaign?

Just like Shere Khan in the Jungle Book. We know there is no way he would give up his life without a battle. We want to do the same for tigers. India is the most important place for tigers in the world. They are fewer than before, nevertheless more are living here than anywhere else. It is a huge responsibility for a nation to ensure their numbers grow and not diminish. We want to help as well as succeed.








Recently I was introduced to a fascinating new word: unfriend. The word, a verb, comes from the social networking site called Facebook and it means turning a Facebook 'friend' - or someone you keep in touch with through the site - into an 'unfriend', someone whom you find so utterly objectionable that you no longer wish to have anything to do with the person. Being computer illiterate I don't do Facebook (or Twitter, or YouTube, or any of those other e-things) and I'd never come across the term 'unfriend' before. But the moment I heard it, it struck me as being a word particularly apt for our times.

Unfriend. The 'un' prefix gives it a unilateralism that brooks no argument or compromise. An 'unfriend' sounds like those 'un-persons' of the Soviet bloc in the days of Stalinism, people deemed to be so beyond any hope of political redemption that their names were deleted from all official records and their faces removed from group photographs. Soviet un-persons were like human black holes; they were literally sucked out of existence. An un-person was not someone who'd once been a person and was no longer such (i.e., someone who'd once been alive and was now dead); an un-person was a no-one who'd never existed. Similarly, an unfriend suggests not just someone who was once your friend but is no longer so - is now in fact your foe, as opposed to friend - but is someone who for you has no existence whatsoever, neither as friend nor foe.

We tend to think in pairs of opposites, with each side of the pair reaffirming the existence of the other. So yin reaffirms its opposite of yang. Light reaffirms dark, and friend reaffirms foe, and vice versa. Your foe, or your enemy, reaffirms your existence - often more than your friends do - even as you reaffirm the existence of your adversary.

A prime example of an interdependent pair of foes is provided by
Pakistan and India. Pakistan needs to have India as its adversary, because if it didn't it would lose its own identity which is premised on the fact that it is 'not-India'. Likewise, India needs Pakistan as its arch opponent. Because if we didn't have Pakistan who would we accuse of cross-border terrorism (as distinct from home-grown terrorism represented by Maoists and Abhinav Bharat), play cricket against, and wrangle with over Kashmir? If Pakistan didn't have India and India didn't have Pakistan, whom would Afridi have cussed after the World Cup, and whom would Indian fans have gloated over after beating Sri Lanka in the finals?

Of course it was Sri Lanka we beat to take the World Cup. But gloat over Sri Lanka? Where's the fun in that? No, instead we'll gloat over Pakistan, which has always been our favourite scape-gloat.

A nation is known by the enemies it keeps. So too are people. Those whom we oppose, and who oppose us in turn, help us to identify us to ourselves, even more so perhaps than our allies might do. There's no getting away from them; we need our enemies, as much as they need us. Reliable enemies - like India and Pakistan - are hard to find and it would be not just foolish but detrimental to self-preservation to unfriend our best foes.

So whom should we unfriend? Whom should I unfriend? Who is so undesirable in every way, so detrimental to my existence from day to day? The answer to that in 2011 Anna Domini is obvious: the scamsters and swindlers who've pushed this country into the abyss of moral bankruptcy. Yep. I can safely unfriend the corrupt. Press the 'Delete' button on them. Whom to start with? Who do I know firsthand, and not through hearsay or media reports to be involved in graft, who's certainly given bribes though he mightn't have received any? Delete the person? Unfriend him? Done. Deleted.

Yikes. I think i've just unfriended myself.









There can no longer be any doubt on the matter. Kashmiris are determined to have a decisive say in their future that that future is democratic going by the massive turnout in the third phase of the panchayat polls in the state. This has been in defiance of threats from hardliners to stay away from the polls.

While it is never a good idea to predict that the corner has been turned in the volatile state, there have been several indicators in recent times that the people in whose name everyone seems to speak when it comes to Kashmir have given a clear signal that they want normalcy and a stake in the vast and growing Indian economy.

A significant factor is that those who have been propagating a union with Pakistan are no longer voluble. This is clearly motivated by realism that such a proposition, given the state that Pakistan is in, is not feasible, indeed it is counterproductive.

The proposals put forward by the three-member interlocutor team holds out promise if they are fine-tuned to some extent. The interlocutors have not been able to get the hardliners on board. However, they have signalled a willingness to incorporate the four points put forward by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and the five points outlined by hardline Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani.

The dialogue process is far from complete without the involvement of the hardliners but the team has done well to engage civil society and its representatives in its considerations.

Gestures like renaming the governor and chief minister may sound facile on the surface but they will go a long way towards assuring the Kashmiris that their grievances, howsoever slight, are being taken seriously by the government. The pivotal point that the interlocutors have made is that of stepping up confidence-building measures and getting away from the image of the Indian State being represented by a soldier.

Of course, a continued dialogue with Pakistan has to be part of the agenda but the test will lie in how much political autonomy the government is willing to cede to the state.

The changing demographics in the state should make it incumbent on the team to take into account the aspirations of a young and restless population, one which does not subscribe to the shibboleths of the past. What must be highlighted is the benefits of being part of the Indian economic juggernaut, something which the interlocutors have not done enough.

The panchayat polls are clear indication that there is hope for a peaceful solution to this intractable problem. The government must grasp the nettle, even as it offers the olive branch through the good offices of the interlocutors.





Few will disagree that US President Barack Obama on a public platform is as much performance art as it is politics. But unlike many a consummate artist, Mr Obama doesn't seem to believe in varying his tropes too often. Answering a question from the audience on affordable healthcare while at a community college in Virginia, he said that he wouldn't like his countrymen to travel to countries like India and Mexico for 'cheaper' treatment.

Rather, he would want them to get healthcare "right here in the US that's high quality".

Mr Obama's comment has elicited its usual share of indignant response here in our country, with the Union health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad reportedly saying that "the very word cheap is a cheap word". But we would rather not dwell on such hair-splitting arguments on semantics when Mr Obama's fixation on certain analogies and images makes for much more interesting discussions.

In fact, we would like to hark back to his vintage election campaign in the run-up to his winning the presidency, when he repeatedly denounced outsourcing, the 'shipping of jobs to India and China', as responsible for rising unemployment across the US. This is not to forget that he had come up with as dire a phrase as an 'education arms race' with India and China while opposing an effort by the Republicans to enable cuts in the education budget.

All of which might make one wonder whether India and China are merely a bee in Mr Obama's bonnet or actual big, brawny wolves prowling at the US's doorstep. Maybe one needs to understanding and appreciate the difficulties of a man who assumed office with his country engaged in multiple wars, that champion of bipartisan politics who could never convince a single Republican of the merit of his healthcare reform bill.

As in a fairytale, so in life, the only way to assuage troubled and disaffected souls seems to be by pointing at the wolf at the door.






After more than a decade without any worthwhile investment for developing airports' infrastructure, India's aviation sector is on the move again. More than five years ago, a bold policy decision was taken by the government to encourage private investment in the sector along the public-private partnership model (PPP).

This opened the gates for attracting private entrepreneurs to invest in airports and airline infrastructure.

The ministry of civil aviation has estimated that domestic traffic in India by 2020 could be of the order of 160 million passengers with international traffic likely to exceed 50 million. India's aircraft requirement by 2020 is estimated to be 1,000-odd aircraft in a mix, depending on the traffic circuits and economic development of various regions.

The investment projected in airports in the period is of the order $30 billion (Rs 1.35 lakh crore) and investment in aircraft procurement about $90 billion (about Rs 4 lakh crore). Considering such heavy investments, the government decided to induct private equity in the development of the aviation sector, which, till then, had been financed only through the government's budgetary support.

As a result of the government's policy to bring private capital for the development of airport infrastructure, Delhi and Mumbai airports have completed their first phase of development with private investment of about Rs 20,000 crore and need investment of a similar order for the next phase of development.

As of now, Mumbai International Airport is already saturated with no possibility of expansion due to land constraints. A greenfield airport (a new airport that's built from scratch in a new location) in Navi Mumbai has been approved. This will need an additional investment of Rs 11,250 crore.

The two greenfield airports in Bangalore and Hyderabad, developed recently by private groups with an investment of about Rs 15,000 crore, have started operating. In addition, a bigger new international airport for Chennai is being developed at about Rs 10,000 crore to meet the air transport needs of Tamil Nadu for the next 20 years.

With such mind-boggling investments made in airport infrastructure, there is a need for a rigorous regime to ensure that optimum investments are made to provide a host of services to airlines and passengers at a reasonable cost. As airport services fall under the category of a monopolistic regime, most airports in the world where private equity is infused for development and management have been provided an independent economic regulatory mechanism.

India's civil aviation ministry has also placed a similar mechanism in the form of the Airports Economic Regulatory Authority (AERA).

So far, however, it has not shown signs of safeguarding the interests of airport users. When the cost of the development of Delhi Airport escalated from Rs 5,500 crore to about Rs 11,000 crore, no serious consultation seemed to have been made between developers and users before revising the cost of the project.

The AERA should have asked for a revised economic model from airport operators and made it available to airport users. It seems operators justified the higher cost of the project by appointing consultants after the project cost had escalated.

Greenfield airports today are the movers and shapers of a region's economy. So it's important that such airports make maximum use of local materials and surroundings to reduce the recurring cost of energy and reduce the lifecycle cost of the project. In addition, the real value of such airports lies in their ability to enhance the economic value of a region and act as catalysts for economic cooperation.

(HS Bhatia is former board member, International Airports Authority of India. The views expressed by the author are personal.)





Oh to be in Mumbai, now that summer is here. This is the song on the lips of all those who once lived here but now reside somewhere else, for while the summer brings heat and humidity it also brings that most famous visitor to Mumbai — the Alphonso.

The Alphonso, or hapoos as it is locally called, is universally called the 'King of Mangoes' and anyone who has tasted it knows that this is not a hyperbolic tag-line invented by some smart alec from the advertising industry. This is the absolute truth.

So devoted are Mumbaikars to this fruit that they shed their reputed cosmopolitanism and switch to a jingoistic mode. Nothing — not Marine Drive, Bollywood or even Sachin Tendulkar — can evoke such hyper-chauvinism in a Mumbaiwallah (and he/she may have left the city years ago) as the Alphonso.

No one from the city will even countenance the possibility that other varieties of mango — safeda, langda, chausa and several other strange sounding names — come even close to the Alphonso in taste, texture and smooth elegance.

The 'payri' is considered acceptable, but only to make 'aamrus', a puree that is often eaten as part of the meal. Nevertheless, it cannot hope to aspire to a higher ranking and must know its place. The rest, of course, simply do not matter.

The Alphonso, probably the only mango in the country with a proper name, has the ability to bring people together. Families sit together and eat it with the requisite respect, in silence and stopping only to pick up another succulent slice. But it can also divide. I know of non-resident Mumbaikars married into other cities who have fought bitterly with their loved ones on this issue come summer.

A friend from Mumbai, whose Delhi-bred husband insisted she eat only the local variety, was contemplating filing a complaint about mental cruelty and incompatibility. It was only when a relative air-dashed from Mumbai with the requisite supplies of Alphonso that peace returned.

Indeed, flights out of Mumbai during summer are full of boxes of Alphonso being carried by friends and families. Luggage carousels in Delhi groan under the familiar yellow and red cartons that spread such a lovely aroma that the travails of just having hovered over the airport for half an hour are soon forgotten.

When former US President George Bush made a friendly gesture by allowing mangoes to be imported into the US, it was the Alphonso that was sent.

Every April families go into a huddle to get their hands on the best Alphonsos and call up their regular suppliers. The first flush is usually expensive but prices settle down soon enough and then boxes upon boxes arrive in the house, all timed for ripening at scheduled intervals.

The season is a short one after all and no one wants to be caught short.

What is it about this noble fruit that makes it so sought after? Why do Mumbaikars, normally such a chilled-out lot and open to new ideas and influences, sneer at all other varieties and are ready to pick up a fight? I can go on and on about how wonderful it tastes, but frankly I cannot bring myself to get into an argument.

The Alphonso is the Alphonso — that is it.

A simple statement of this fact on my Facebook page recently evoked thunderous reactions from my so-called friends, from the incredulous ('You can't be serious') to the hysterical ('langda, langda, langda'). One or two even threatened to unfriend me. But as Gandhiji taught all of us, the path to truth may be a thorny one, but you cannot waver.

So here it is, said baldly and truthfully once again — the Alphonso is the best mango in the universe.

(Sidharth Bhatia is a Mumbai-based writer. The views expressed by the author are personal)





'Do you know how elections are run in this country? Liquor for the father, cloth for the mother and food for the baby.' 

"What is not corrupt in this country? India's central vice is corruption; the centrality of corruption is election corruption; and the centrality of election corruption is the business houses."

The above quotations certainly sound like Anna Hazare, the new apostle from Ralegan Siddhi, only they're from an earlier generation when another anti-corruption crusader, a certain TN Seshan was being feted across the country as the great middle class hope.

Remember Seshan? The garrulous chief election commissioner (CEC) whose 'war' against corruption inspired fear among politicians and awe among the middle classes in the mid-1990s. Seshan's efforts did see a reduction in overt election expenses, but within a few months of retiring as CEC, he attempted to beat the netas by joining them.

In 1997, he lost the presidential elections as a Shiv Sena candidate while in 1999, he lost by over 1.8 lakh votes as the Congress-backed candidate against LK Advani in Gandhinagar. Twice hurt, Seshan eventually retired to a quieter life in Chennai, embraced by Rotary clubs, but forgotten by the vast multitude of citizens.

Will Hazare end up as the Seshan of our generation — celebrated today, gone tomorrow? There are important differences between Seshan and Hazare. The former earned his authority from the office he held: as CEC, Seshan was able to revive a dormant institutional post, give it a bite that it had lacked for decades.

Hazare, by contrast, holds no official position but is a bit of a travelling fakir, who can move easily from one issue to another with his disparate bandwagon of activists.

Driven by ego, Seshan forgot that once he stepped down from his office, the power too would go. Hazare has no such fears. Indeed, he derives his stature from being outside the political system, from being seen as a freelance Gandhian, always ready to inject a certain moral outrage towards a corrupted state machinery through personal example.

Seshan had, after all, been a civil servant for much of his life, he was in that sense a representative of the State. Hazare is the army driver who turned village sevak, someone who has always been completely outside the charmed power elite.

Both Seshan and Hazare have derived their legitimacy from the cheering middle classes, but with one big difference. In the 90s, the Indian middle class appeared to be completely impotent in the face of political venality. Today, it's found a new weapon in round the clock television news. Hazare's 'revolution' fired the imagination of the middle classes because the TV cameras brought it instantaneously into the homes of millions of Indians.

When Seshan was taking on the netas, there wasn't a single private TV news channel in the country. Now, when Hazare decided to go on a fast unto death at Jantar Mantar, it became a 'made-for-TV' moment, artfully choreographed between the World Cup and Indian Premier League so as to gain maximum eyeballs.

In a country with over a 100 million cable and satellite homes, Hazare became an instant national figure in a manner that Seshan took years to achieve.

And yet, there are worrying similarities too. Like Seshan, Hazare is also a bit of an authoritarian figure who believes that Gandhian values must be combined with a certain Shivaji-like aggression. Hazare's 'model village' in Ralegan Siddhi is based on a rejection of any dissent, or alternative viewpoints, and a certain element of coercion, with alcoholics, for example, being publicly flogged.

The anti-democratic streak has also seen many of his close aides even part company with him over the years.

Hazare hasn't always been discriminatory about the people around him, some of whom have tried to manipulate his simple-mindedness. He almost paid a heavy price for this in 2005 when the Justice Sawant commission report concluded: "The expenditure of Rs 2.20 lakh from the funds of the Hind Swaraj Trust for the birthday celebrations of Shri Hazare was clearly illegal and amounted to a corrupt practice." That he still managed to survive the indictment is a testimony to the credibility he had earned from decades of working for a better society.

There are obvious dangers when the hopes of an entire movement are reposed in an individual, someone who admits to being no Mahatma. Unfortunately, middle-class activism hasn't matured enough to develop the momentum and self-belief to go beyond searching for demi-gods who will slay the political demons of our time.

In the Seshan era there were anti-corruption signature campaigns and seminars. Today we have candlelight marches and social media networks that attempt to compensate for a more meaningful engagement with public life. The rage may be real, the desire for change may be well-intentioned, but can it really transform society unless it goes beyond the clever soundbite, or the 'mera neta chor hai' slogan?

The real success of a 'peoples movement' in the war against corruption will come when it doesn't stop with a Lokpal or an Anna Hazare. The challenge is to throw up Hazare-like figures and collective groups like Bangalore's Janagraha in every mohalla in this country. We need organised local communities who will hold their elected representatives accountable at all levels, from the Gram Sabha to Parliament.

Rather than deify Hazare, let's imbibe the spirit of sacrifice and voluntary service that is the mark of his work. The message must matter more than the individual if Hazare is not to end up as just another transient middle-class icon.

(Rajdeep Sardesai is Editor-in-Chief, IBN 18 Network. 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






Justice A.P. Shah, who retired as chief justice of the Delhi high court last year, recently presented a detailed analysis of the Jan Lokpal bill draft that "civil society" activists want as a template for the legislation to be tabled in Parliament. Were this maximalist demand to be accepted, and were it to be passed into law, he said it would create "a gigantic institution that draws its powers from a statute that is based on questionable principles." Shah, whose paper on the subject was excerpted on the op-ed page this week, was basing his critique on the bill's failure to secure the safeguards of appeal and protection of privacy and reputation that citizens enjoy — to take just one instance, through the separation of investigation and prosecution functions that would collapse in the proposed architecture of the new anti-corruption body.

These are notes of caution that should deeply concern us because the principles that Shah, whose landmark rulings struck a blow for individual freedoms, upholds are pre-requisites for the civil liberties that Indians have fought so long and so hard to secure. And the point bears reiteration because a strange war cry can be heard in some quarters that to question the Jan Lokpal bill, clause by clause, is to be automatically complicit in the perpetuation of corrupt practices. It is in order to ask what the sequencing should be in cleansing our system. Should anti-corruption procedures be the end that justify the means, no matter how severely they undercut the basic provisions of our constitutional democracy? Or should

our constitutional democracy be strengthened, a process that cannot but proceed without fortifying mechanisms of accountability and transparency? The question is important, because as our columnist, Justice Mukul Mudgal, points out: "The checks and balances in a functioning and dynamic democracy cannot be rigidly demarcated but have to change occasionally to restore the effectuation of the legislative mandate which is the bulwark of a constitutional democracy." This balance, in the pursuit of integrity, is attained by adherence to the constitutional framework of separation of powers and checks and balances so that there is no over-reach.

Fidelity to the constitutional framework is not an academic pursuit for its own sake: it is essential to guarantee our basic liberties, liberties that allow each one of us to be free individuals and to maintain the right to demand integrity from our legislatures and administrations. These are liberties this newspaper has consistently upheld, and always will.






Spain's Data Protection Agency has ordered Google to remove links about people who want certain damaging references obliterated from the Internet. Google has appealed the order, but the European Commission is contemplating an even more ambitious law that formally enshrines the "right to be forgotten". France has already tried to enact such a law.

Is this "right to be forgotten" a first shot at giving people greater control over their own digital trails, or is it censorship camouflaged as privacy concerns, as Google would argue? If the question is about giving people greater control over their own information, there's little to argue with. If you post pictures, you should have the right to permanently remove them. Most discussions of the future of the Web dwell upon the question of how personal information will be used by the companies they are submitted to, how long data can be retained, whether they can be shared with third parties, etc. However, if these pictures leak into other forums, they present a more complicated case. And if it is a question of information that someone else posts about you, then demanding control over the delete button is extremely tricky, and could militate against the very freedom that makes the Web what it is. For instance, what if a restaurant or a product wants to zap all unfavourable reviews?

Yet, all but free speech absolutists would agree that there's an unprecedented amount of personal information online, and very little checks on how that information is deployed, or how it escalates.

Standard defamation and libel laws don't adequately cover questions of reputation, humiliation and privacy on the Web. Until it's possible to design regulation that addresses both concerns, by giving people the right to contextualise or qualify information rather than deleting it, we will simply have to stumble on with imperfect solutions.






The deputy chairman of the Planning Commission, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, said on Wednesday that another member of the commission, economist Abhijit Sen, had seen data from the 2009-10 round of the National Sample Survey Organisation and estimated that the number of Indians living in poverty has declined to around 32 per cent. The NSSO conducts annual, ongoing surveys of prices and production; every five years it conducts a larger, "thick" survey that also analyses employment and poverty. The last such, from 2004-05, threw up a poverty rate in excess of 37 per cent; if Sen is right, it has declined five percentage points in as many years.

Any economist worth his salt can niggle at the numbers. The decline could be more marked, or not as stark, depending on what additional indicators you take of poverty, if you trust people's memories of their income and expenditure, which definition of poverty you take. Quibbling about such matters keeps economists in business. There are also, in this case, political overtones. After all, the UPA puts poverty reduction front-and-centre of its economic rhetoric. And the continuing power of the anti-growth, anti-free-market forces should never be underestimated, inside or outside the Congress; for them, too, these numbers will matter. And numbers matter for the interminable debates about the PDS, and such like.

But our politics, and our economic policy discussions, should move on from sterile debates about the exact number of poor we have. Whatever the number, it is too large. And whatever the number, our policies should be crafted to target the poor more carefully. There is cross-party consensus on growth-with-welfarism; but that requires us to look for better solutions when it comes to delivering welfare solutions to the poor. The NREGA, for example, is a programme that uses self-selection to work for it; the numbers become irrelevant. For other schemes, many are excluded because they cannot get hold of the paperwork necessary to have the state to notice them. We are moving towards transfers, targeting, and better selection. The debates of the past should matter less.








Our Constitution is a complex and comprehensive document that elaborately sets out the checks and balances for the exercise of the three limbs of governance — Parliament, the government and the judiciary.

The Constitution was framed after elaborate discussions by eminent lawyers and public figures and took into account constitutional developments in various functioning democracies in the world. Consequently, the Constitution of India has ascribed separate and distinctive roles to the three facets of democracy. The legislature, that is Parliament, enacts legislation and oversees the functioning of the government and implementation of legislation through various parliamentary subcommittees. The executive, that is the government, is required to carry the legislative will of Parliament by giving practical effect to such legislation. The judiciary interprets the Constitution and the laws and ensures the organs of

the state function within their demarcated spheres.

In recent times, the media has also stepped onto the centrestage. While the media is not delineated in the constitutional scheme, due to the advent of advanced technology it has come to occupy a pivotal position in moulding public opinion. Its follow-up to reporting and what is called the espousal of a cause have often been criticised as a departure from the traditional, non-partisan role ascribed to and hitherto followed by the media. However, for the healthy functioning of democracy, an active media, in spite of some excesses and undue intrusions, is far more essential than a passive one.

The most debated issue in all democracies, however, has indeed been the stand-off between the judiciary and the executive. Recently, the CVC controversy and other issues of public interest had many observers criticising the so-called overreach of the judiciary. However, the aftermath of the judgment of the Supreme Court in the CVC case has nevertheless resulted in establishing a significant advancement in the development of our constitutional law by the enunciation of the principle of institutional integrity. This, in times to come, is going to reflect upon many more public institutions and will eventually pave the way for streamlining of appointment processes and producing better incumbents of high public offices, including the judiciary. For far too long, some of the important public positions have been usurped by occupants who may nominally be qualified, but essentially are unfit to hold such office, and are in such a position solely due to their proximity to those in power.

Nevertheless, the principle of separation of powers between the organs of the state requires a delicate balancing of the functioning of the three pillars of democracy. In the guise of public interest, the judiciary may face the spotlight due to what is perceived as its overreach into the domains of the executive and the legislature. Invariably, this has arisen when one wing of constitutional democracy is grossly negligent in performing, or does not perform, the responsibilities assigned to it under the Constitution. Thus the non-enforcement or partial enforcement of environmental laws led to the intervention of the judiciary in prodding the executive to give effect to the legislative intent for a cleaner environment. Similarly, forgotten sections of society such as prisoners, bonded labourers and casual labourers, who had the legislative mandate in their favour, have benefited as the court by its judicial activism has compelled the government to strictly ensure the performance of its public and statutory functions.

The checks and balances in a functioning and dynamic democracy cannot be rigidly demarcated but have to change occasionally to restore the effectuation of the legislative mandate which is the bulwark of a constitutional democracy.

Noteworthy legislation that benefited the entire citizenry, namely the Right to Information Act and the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, have indeed been strengthened by judicial intervention. The judges of the high courts and the SC after some debate eventually declared their assets — the example has, however, not been emulated by the executive. Even parliamentarians, at the time of elections, are required to disclose their assets.

A commonly perceived difficulty in the field of public interest litigation is the establishment and functioning of non-statutory but quasi permanent committees by the court on issues such as environment and encroachments. Since no appeal lies against the findings of such committees, they tend to acquire absolute powers, being the direct link between the court and the affected parties. A review of the functioning of such committees, many of which are manned by persons of unimpeachable integrity, is nevertheless needed as absolute power tends to have an adverse effect. The cleaning of the environment indeed is a daunting task. The court cannot function without the work done by the committees and the amicus who are eminent counsel who voluntarily devote their time without any financial rewards or expectations. Nevertheless, some kind of systemic review has become essential so as not to affect the delicate balance of powers.

Another issue which has not received attention is the overreach of the executive consequent to the position of law settled by the SC in the A.K. Roy case. Thus Parliament may pass a significant legislation but the law laid down by A.K. Roy nevertheless permits the government to nullify the legislation either by simply not notifying it or by not framing rules under any such legislation to effectively render it stillborn. Many worthwhile legislative measures such as the amendments to the Industrial Disputes Act and the Rent Control Act have remained dormant as they have not been notified for extraneous and irrelevant considerations. The SC may consider whether the time has come to specify that all legislative enactments must be notified and made functional within a reasonable time not exceeding six months.

The SC needs to have a re-look at this position of law as a new House may not have the zeal to pursue a legislation enacted by the previous one. For an effective and balanced functioning of a successful and vibrant democracy it is thus absolutely essential that the delicate balance between the three pillars of democracy is maintained and any shift in the balance is transient and not permanent.

The writer is a former chief justice of the high court of Punjab & Haryana







Responsibility to Protect (R2P) is an emerging norm in international law. UN Security Council Resolution No 1973 of March 17 authorised, on humanitarian grounds, action under Chapter VII of the UN Charter for the protection of civilians. This resolution on Libya has given legitimacy to the R2P norm.

Equating the Libyan security forces' attack on the civilian population to "crimes against humanity", the resolution authorised member states to act "nationally or through regional organisations and associations... to take all necessary measures... to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack" while excluding occupation of any part of Libya.

Following the resolution — passed by 10-0, with abstentions of India, Brazil, Germany, Russia and China — NATO forces launched strikes against Libyan forces, in which, ironically, many civilians have been killed. The Arab League supported a no-fly zone but has since developed cold feet in view of the killings of the civilians. What began as a mission to protect civilians from government forces has in reality become a mission for regime change in Libya.

The supporters of military intervention in Libya justify it on humanitarian grounds and hold it entirely legal in view of the UNSC resolution and the support from the Arab League. The critics say the resolution did not explicitly authorise military action and that the Arab League's support was only for a no-fly zone. It has also been pointed out that NATO's intervention in Libya is a case of the West's double standards. Intervention has been ruled out in Bahrain and Yemen whose rulers are friends of the US.

The international humanitarian law has evolved since the mid-1990s when several interventions were made in Somalia, Bosnia and other places. The UNSC resolution shows that there is a grudging acceptance of the controversial doctrine of R2P. It has been in the making for some years now. NATO's military intervention in Kosovo in 1999 on grounds of genocide was highly controversial. Two years later, in 2001, R2P was mentioned by an International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty led by Gareth Evans. It argued that the international community had a moral duty to intervene to avert or halt atrocities against innocent civilians anywhere in the world. In 2004, the UN secretary-general's high-level panel endorsed the doctrine of R2P, calling it an "emerging norm" in international relations. In 2005, at the 60th session of the General Assembly, 191 heads of state and government representatives unanimously endorsed R2P.

The problem with R2P is that it pits the principle of non-intervention and inviolability of state sovereignty against the responsibility to protect. R2P implies that state sovereignty is not absolute and can be violated under certain conditions. In the absence of a common understanding of what these conditions are and how the responsibility to protect should be implemented, there is potential for gross misuse.

Further, in the current international order, the decisions are taken not so much to protect principles as for reasons of politics. The UNSC decisions reflect realpolitik. Some UNSC members are not even democracies and their own record on human rights protection is suspect. Unambiguous guidelines for the use of R2P, including military intervention as last resort, do not exist. Interventions are likely to be decided on a case-by-case basis and in an ad hoc and arbitrary manner. Another crucial question is who will enforce the decision to intervene. The UN has no capacity of its own to intervene. Should it depend solely upon regional organisations such as NATO to intervene?

It would be interesting to recall that India has itself intervened in the past in its national interest, for instance in East Pakistan in 1971 where the Pakistani army was carrying out genocide and millions of refugees had fled to India.

Indian military intervention, inter alia, stopped the genocide. The US had strongly opposed Indian intervention at that time.

India's abstention on the Libyan resolution was on pragmatic grounds and not in opposition to the R2P doctrine per se. Genocide or war crimes have not been established in Libya. The explanation of the Indian vote makes it clear that India was worried that the resolution was based on very little clear information, including a lack of certainty regarding who was going to enforce the measures. In India's view, the reasons for military intervention had not been convincingly established.

In the Libyan case, politics and principle have clashed. There is need for further debate on what R2P means for international law and how it should be implemented. Frequent use of military interventions in the name of R2P might destabilise the international system and do more harm than good. The ground rules for intervention must be clearly spelt out and accepted by the widest possible consensus.

The writer, a former joint secretary at the National Security Council Secretariat, is at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, Delhi







For the first time in Indian law-making, civil society representatives have found a prominent role in the process. The joint committee set up to draft the Lokpal bill is an all-new mechanism, a kind of joint venture between representatives of the Union government and civil society.

Governance in India is carried on on the basis of a written Constitution that assigns the responsibility of law-making to Parliament and state legislature. Under this constitutional arrangement, a bill is drafted by the government and brought before the legislature, which discusses it in detail and approves it or rejects it or amends it. A particular legislation becomes necessary when society feels the need for it. An alert society exerts pressure on the government and legislators to respond to pressing issues. In fact there are three constitutional authorities which are involved in the enactment of a law — the government drafts the bill, the Parliament passes it and the president assents to it. This is the law-making process that we in this country are familiar with.

Constituting a joint committee of government and civil society is an entirely untested act, and may have unintended consequences, and the statements from civil society members and the media convey the impression that Parliament should enact the Lokpal bill as per the timetable set by them. This raises big questions about the position of Parliament, the supreme legislative body in which the sovereignty of the people is vested. Its exclusive powers to regulate its own working or set its own timetable cannot submit to the wishes of individuals, no matter how eminent they are.

Apart from the fact that such demands are untenable in terms of the Constitution and the rules of the Houses, they raise questions about the status and relevance of this institution and of the peoples' faith in it. It would be a sad day for Indian democracy if Parliament is seen to be dictated to or threatened by social activists, the desirability of their goals notwithstanding.

Civil society in India is vibrant and alert. Anna Hazare's fast and the government's quick response have changed the paradigm in respect of legislative process. Suddenly, established procedures and processes are being turned upside down. The rules relating to the various stages of a bill make adequate provisions for civil society to react and respond. After the introduction of a bill, it is referred to a committee consisting of members of both Houses for detailed examination. The committee invites suggestions and inputs from the public. It is usually at this stage that civil society interacts with Parliament. These suggestions are incorporated in the report, later placed in the House. The bill can be amended by the Houses in the light of suggestions from members of the public. If the bill is referred to the select committee of both Houses on which the government is also represented, the bill is amended by the committee itself and brought back to the House for final consideration in the amended form. The crucial point being, this long-established system provides enough space for civil society to react and respond to a particular legislative measure.

Civil society, besides, is an amorphous entity and does not have a uniform view on serious issues. Who can reasonably represent civil society? There have already been discordant voices, questioning the way the Lokpal bill has been handled by sections of civil society and the government. Clearly, there are different viewpoints within civil society itself, on the bill's content and the methods adopted to compel the government to take a decision. If a draft presented by one set of social activists is opposed by another set of activists, the whole idea of involving civil society members in the process of drafting the bill becomes unworkable from a practical point of view. As many have pointed out, the basic draft of the Jan Lokpal bill reflects a lack of understanding of the functioning of the government.

Consulting different sections of civil society at an informal level before an important legislative proposal is finalised is a democratic act, and such initiatives from the government should be welcomed. This practice exists today — for example, the finance minister holds regular consultations with business representatives and other interest groups before he finalises his budget proposals. This is an informal consultation process. However, if a committee is formally constituted with these business representatives and others as members to finalise the budget proposals, will the finance minister ever successfully prepare the budget?

Drafting government bills is the government's prerogative. Law-making is Parliament's business. Its systems are designed and structured to enable it to work without any outside interference, but at the same time it can elicit the views of the society at an appropriate stage before it finalises its view on a given legislative proposal. The Constitution of India does not envisage any formal mechanism which involves civil society at the drafting stage of a legislative proposal. In a representative democracy, the role of people's representatives cannot be usurped by people (or a group). The people have delegated their sovereignty to the representative body, namely, Parliament. Civil society can function as a watchdog but cannot become an active participant in law-making. Parliament is the pivot of our political system, and all those who believe in democracy should preserve its integrity and majesty. In our zeal to correct the wrongs, we must not attempt to making the institution irrelevant.

The writer is former secretary general of the Lok Sabha







If the Sorbonne didn't stand at the heart of the Left Bank as a ready reference to trouble, you might believe the sanitisation of Paris's radical half was complete. The national debate over a controversial law finally implemented finds no ingress into the insulated comedy of routine at the quintessential café on Boulevard St Germain, once the argumentative soul of Paris.

On Monday, April 11 — the day the veil law came into force — a protest was organised in front of the Notre Dame cathedral, between Paris's ancient squabbling halves. The two women detained didn't make history as the first arrested under the law, since the arrests were only for "participation in an unauthorised protest". But a little later, the same day, a young woman was caught while shopping with her face covered and penalised 150 euros.

The police aren't looking for every headscarf, just the burqa and the niqab that conceal the face. Any woman, French citizen or not, spotted in public with her face covered can be asked to pay a fine or register for citizenship classes. Anybody found forcing her to wear the veil faces a stiffer penalty and possible time in jail. The Act Prohibiting the Concealing of the Face in Public (passed on October 11, 2010) came into force after a six-month reprieve to launch a public awareness campaign. Its stated purpose is to promote a "model for citizen's integration" that reconciles public order and gender equality.

The discourse the veil has engendered is unsurprising since France is home to West Europe's largest Muslim population — six million. But how many women actually wear a veil? Those opposed to both the ban and the veil say it's very few. The government believes that figure is bigger — almost 2,000. And what about the streets of Paris?

Reaching Paris a couple of days before April 11, I didn't see a single woman with a veil — before or after. But I did spot many headscarves. With the veil story absent from Blvd St Germain, one afternoon, I caught up with two students at Place de la Sorbonne. With my imposition explained, Alexis, cryptic and cautious, summed up: "Most people support the law. I don't. It's just an item of clothing, and whether or not ostentatious, it's individual choice." His American girlfriend "Mary", on the contrary, was militant: "It's offensive. A veil makes you the odd one out. Would you want that?" What if somebody indeed does? "I don't buy that bull****. Look at the overwhelming support for the law!" How overwhelming? By then, Alexis and Mary were heading towards the musician under the Place St Michel fountain. I would get my answer a little later. For the moment, Sorbonne (or its vicinity) hadn't lived up to its reputation of 1968 (or even 2006).

For Rachid and Fayçal, shop assistants from the 18th

Arrondissement — with its large North African population — checking out tourists at

St Michel, the ban is a "manufactured" issue: "Crime in the banlieues? That's unemployment. They won't give us decent jobs. We don't care about this law because ban or no ban it's not going make any difference to our lives."

The law stands on three pillars: first, liberty and gender equality. Concealing the face cuts women off from the socialising that allows them to relate to other citizens, "placing them in a situation of exclusion and inferiority... solely because of their gender". This violates the gender equality guaranteed by the French constitution. Second, public security. Long before the law, this necessitated a ban on concealing the face in exam halls, poll booths, courts, airports, and so on. Third, public order. Beyond security, public order is also the "rules of sociability, social intercourse and interaction which characterise the spirit of the republican social pact."

Concealing one's face affects the rights of those who will encounter that appearance in public.

"Laïcité" runs deep and long. Since the early 20th century, the French government has been bothered by religious ostentation in public, although the current problem dates 15 to 20 years. The government, and society, has little room for manoeuvre. Allowing the veil to stick around could negate the idea of France. Or is it simply the Sarkozy presidency shifting further right due to the threat from Marine le Pen's National Front? "That's what the Socialists would say. Everybody forgets the whole plan goes much, much further back, fundamentally concerning all French citizens," said a government officer (not from Claude Gueant's Interior Ministry that may soon ban public street prayer).

Gabrielle, lawyer and feminist, illustrated the pro-ban perspective: if one goes to southern France, one finds men in swimming trunks but the women covered up. "Is this hideousness individual choice? If you leave it to choice, it's the men who decide. That's what happens in Britain. The British multicultural model was praised when we had our riots in 2005. Not any more. Such punishment on women doesn't square with French values. Some amount of integration helps immigrants' children mix in society. That's why immigrants are taught French! The veil is an enormous problem for integration. As a woman, I don't believe any woman would choose it. This is the position of most thinking women in France."

"Laïcité" banned any conspicuous religious marker from French public schools. Tiny crucifixes are fine, not a large cross. An important fact usually overlooked is that the veil ban is not based as much on "secularism"

as on the idea of ensuring unhindered social intercourse. The French Council of the Muslim Faith declared its provisions "general" and not aimed at Islam. The law refers to neither any religion nor any particular garment. It is still left to the European Court of Human Rights to decide whether the French law passes that test. On my last night in Paris, I finally spotted a North African family on the fork of Blvd St Germain and Blvd Raspail — the arteries of today's über posh Left Bank. All three women wore headscarves, but certainly no veil.

The writer was in Paris at the invitation of the French ministry of foreign and European affairs, which bore the expense of the visit






The so-called BRICS group of nations held their third summit meeting in Hainan, China, last week, promoting themselves as the key "emerging nations" to challenge the dominance of the West. Coined by Goldman Sachs to indicate the four leading emerging markets on the international investment scene, "BRICS" (adding South Africa) has acquired a political dimension.

For sure, the original four have made huge advances in the past 20 years. But the concept was not invented by Goldman Sachs but by President Sukarno of Indonesia a half century earlier when he coined the term the "New Emerging Forces." Significantly, Indonesia was not even present in Hainan, despite its progress since 1963.

So are these current "emerging nations" a real gang of five, or just a list of nations with no common agenda other than a shared resentment of the US?

The most obvious common denominator of four of the member countries is they are major suppliers of commodities to the fifth — China. All see China as a huge and growing market for their coal, iron ore, gas, soybeans, etc. All recognise Chinese demand has been the driver of the commodity boom of the past seven years, from which they have benefited enormously. Being part of the group makes good business sense — it's a handy forum for pleading for more investment from Beijing and more exports to China, and provides opportunities for Brazil and South Africa to raise their international profiles. China's role establishes it as the undisputed leader of these "emerging forces." However, the others might do well to pause to consider the nature of their relationship with China.

For Russia, there is the poignant realisation that a former superpower now plays second fiddle to China in an "emerging" group. Despite the boom in commodity prices, China enjoys trade surpluses with all of them except Brazil. India is embarrassed it mainly sells iron ore to China while seeing Chinese goods make huge inroads into India's markets. India's trade deficit with China is $25 billion annually.

The five BRICS make common cause complaining about the volatility of commodity and currency markets and the perils of too-open capital markets. That seems fair enough, until one notes that Brazil, India and South Africa have suffered from undervaluation of the Chinese currency, while their own currencies have been appreciating.

The political goal of appearing united prevents these countries from being outspoken on currency issues. A proposal to settle bilateral trade in their own currencies rather than in US dollars is mostly illusory. The complaints about speculative activity in commodity markets are at odds with the fact that China has some of the world's most active and volatile commodity markets.

Inclusion of South Africa in the group is unlikely to add to its influence. This addition has been seen as a diplomatic coup for China, which wanted an African member — just as Sukarno wanted Egypt in his Asia-Africa-Latin America grouping. But South Africa has a fraction of the economic weight of the other members, and its presence has been duly noted by excluded countries like Indonesia, Turkey, South Korea or Mexico.

The truth is the interests of "emerging forces" are more comprehensively represented by their members in the Group of 20 than by the BRICS. This was a summit meeting the emerging world does not need.PHILIP BOWRING






One of the people I've enormously admired in recent years is Greg Mortenson. He's a former mountain climber who, after a failed effort to climb the K2, began building schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

In person, Greg is modest, passionate and disorganised. Once he showed up half-an-hour late for a speech, clumping along with just one shoe — and then kept his audience spellbound with his tale of building peace through schools.

Greg has spent time traipsing through Afghanistan and Pakistan, constructing schools in impossible places, and he works himself half to death. Instead of driving around in a white SUV with a security detail, he wears local clothes and takes battered local cars to blend in. He justly berates himself for spending too much time on the road and not enough with his wife, Tara Bishop, and their children, Amira and Khyber.

I've counted Greg as a friend, had his family over at my house for lunch and extolled him in my column. He gave a blurb for my book, Half the Sky, and I read his Three Cups of Tea to my daughter. It's indisputable Greg has educated thousands of children.

And now his life's work is tottering after a 60 Minutes exposé and an online booklet by Jon Krakauer, a onetime supporter. Greg is accused of many offences: misstating how he got started building schools; lying about a dramatic kidnapping; exaggerating how many schools he has built and operates; and using his charity, the Central Asia Institute, "as his personal ATM." The attorney general of Montana, where his charity is based, has opened an inquiry.

I don't know what to make of these accusations. Part of me wishes all this journalistic energy had been directed instead to ferret out abuses by politicians who allocate government resources to campaign donors rather than to the neediest among us, but that's not a real answer. The critics have raised serious questions that deserve better answers: we need to hold school-builders accountable as well as fat cats.

My inclination is to reserve judgment until we know more, for disorganisation may explain more faults than dishonesty. I am troubled only 41 per cent of the money raised in 2009 went to build schools, and Greg is more of a founding visionary than the disciplined CEO necessary to run a $20 million-a-year charity. On the other hand, I'm willing to give some benefit of the doubt to a man who has risked his life on behalf of some of the world's most voiceless people.

I've visited some of Greg's schools in Afghanistan, and what I saw worked. Girls in his schools were thrilled to be getting an education. Women were learning vocational skills. Those schools felt like some of the happiest places in Afghanistan.

I also believe that Greg was profoundly right about some big things.

He was right about the need for American outreach in the Muslim world. He was right that building schools tends to promote stability more than dropping bombs. He was right about the transformative power of education, especially girls' education. He was right about the need to listen to local people — yes, over cup after cup after cup of tea — rather than just issue instructions.

I worry that scandals like this — or like the disputes about microfinance in India and Bangladesh — will leave Americans disillusioned and cynical. And it's true that in their struggle to raise money, aid groups sometimes oversell how easy it is to get results. Helping people is more difficult than it seems, and no group of people bicker among themselves more viciously than humanitarians.

After my wife and I wrote Half the Sky, we decided not to start our own foundation or aid organisation but simply to use our book and website to point readers to other aid groups — partly because giving away money effectively is such difficult and uncertain work.

The furore over Greg's work breaks my heart. And the greatest loss will be felt not by those of us whose hero is discredited, nor even by Greg himself, but by countless children in Afghanistan who now won't get an education after all. But let's not forget that even if all the allegations turn out to be true, Greg has still built more schools and transformed more children's lives than you or I ever will.

As we sift the truth of these allegations, let's not allow this uproar to obscure that larger message of the possibility of change. Greg's books may or may not have been fictionalised, but there's nothing imaginary about the way some of his American donors and Afghan villagers were able to put aside their differences and prejudices and cooperate to build schools — and a better world. NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF







Pragmatic would be a good way to describe the new State Bank of India (SBI) chief, Pratip Chaudhuri. Instead of being stubborn and trying to convince the regulator that teaser home loans aren't really all that risky, Chaudhuri has decided there's little point in wasting time and capital. So, SBI has gone back to the basics—linking home loans to the bank's rate of 8.5% and sweetening the deal by doing away with pre-payment penalties, and levying a processing charge only when the loan is finally approved. Chaudhuri has taken up the challenge saying the customer isn't going to be paying more than he was and if he's getting a better deal elsewhere, good for him. The bank seems to have done the math and figured out that the impact on the spreads would be pretty much neutral. Now it's a question of getting the volumes; again, SBI has done its homework and come up with a competitive offering. SBI's base rate, today, is among the lowest in the banking space since ICICI Bank has pegged it at 8.75%, while Punjab National Bank prices its loans at a minimum of 9.5%.

So, assuming the credit assessment of the customer is uniform, SBI's loans will be the cheapest when linked to the base rate. The bank's rates are better than those offered by HDFC, which was fiercely critical of SBI's efforts in the home loan market. While HDFC charges the customer 9.75% for loans up to R30 lakh, SBI will charge 9.5%; for loans between R30 lakh and R70 lakh, SBI's loans will be 25 basis points cheaper, at 9.75%. Of course, it's not enough to just have an attractive product, the packaging and marketing are equally important. SBI should cash in on the tremendous response that the teaser loans got; they helped the bank access loans worth R37,000 crore, giving it a share in the home loan market of 18%. The bank has much greater visibility today; thanks to the advertising campaigns initiated by the former chairman OP Bhatt, it is technologically better equipped and, of course, its reach is enviable. So, it should be able to hold on to its market share, adding another 4-5 lakh home loan accounts in the next couple of years like it has since the teasers were launched in 2009. Indeed, Chaudhuri has done the right thing by calling for a truce with the regulator; like he says, one cannot be in a perpetual state of conflict. SBI may have to set aside a sum of R587 crore on the existing teaser loan portfolio if RBI insists on the 2% provisioning norm rather than the 0.4% that the bank is going by. But in the long run that shouldn't matter. Nothing like scoring a few brownie points to start an innings.





Isro hadn't been getting good press lately, what with the S-Band spectrum deal between its commercial arm Antrix and private firm Devas Multimedia creating a lot of controversy, which continues even though the PM has scrapped the deal itself. Before this, it made news for even more daunting reasons. Last Christmas day, a geosynchronous satellite launch vehicle (GSLV) burst into flames within seconds of launch, alongside its payload. So the "grand success" of this Wednesday, as Isro chairman K Radhakrishnan termed it, was all the more welcome. And it was grand indeed. A polar satellite launch vehicle put three satellites into orbit with clockwork precision. One of these was from Singapore, another was Indian and the third was Indo-Russian. This is reflective of how Isro has been able to turn indigenous (advanced) technology into a globally competitive (and commercially successful) operation. And given the growing demand for satellite interventions in communication, weather forecasting, resource management, healthcare, etc, given that the global satellite launch market is surely set to grow, Isro fortunes are looking up once again. This doesn't, of course, mean that there is room for complacency. There are obviously problems with the GSLV (which launches bigger satellites) that need sorting out. Competition from China, Japan, the US and the like is not likely to ease up either. On the flip side, the Indo-US nuclear deal should give Isro access to dual-use technologies that could complement and augment our space programme's competitiveness.

There are two broad categories of applications that Isro pursues. The first, and more traditional, category relates to national development straightforwardly. Consider the (Indian) Resourcesat 2 that was placed into orbit on Wednesday, which is intended to eventually replace Resourcesat 1. Data from this satellite will help monitor the country's resources, helping scientists figure out crop yields before harvest, snow covers over our mountains, changes in the faces of our glaciers and cities, and so on. As for the second category, perhaps Isro's biggest triumph took place when lunar spacecraft Chandrayaan 1 beamed down confirmation that there was water on the moon's surface. Here, the national development connection is indirect, but no less powerful for that. Let's underline that in both cases, Isro's discoveries are being delivered at a fraction of Western costs. The organisation's intermittent failures make its triumphs seem even brighter. Because it held on to ambitions and visions through the lows, which is the only way for a space programme to go forward.








The modernisation dilemma that the Indian army faces is that the budgetary support available for modernisation is grossly inadequate. It can undertake substantive modernisation only by simultaneously effecting large-scale downsizing, so as to save on personnel costs—the largest chunk of the army's annual budget. However, it would not be prudent to downsize as the army's operational commitments on border management and internal security duties require manpower-heavy infantry battalions. In his Budget speech on February 28, 2011, Pranab Mukherjee set aside Rs 1,64,425 crore ($36 billion) for defence during the next financial year (FY 2011-12). This is less than 2% of the country's GDP, despite recommendations of successive standing committees on defence in India's Parliament that it should be at least 3% if the emerging threats and challenges are to successfully countered.

In the defence budget for 2011-12, an amount of R69,199 crore (42% of the budget) has been allotted on the capital account for the acquisition of modern weapon systems. The major weapons systems to be acquired on priority include 126 multi-mission, medium-range combat aircraft, C-17 Globemaster heavy lift transport aircraft, 197 light helicopters and 145 ultra-light howitzers. It is well known that India plans to spend approximately $100 billion over 10 years on defence modernisation. The army's share of the defence budget is R83,415 crore (51%). Of this, R64,252 crore (77%) is on account of revenue expenditure (pay and allowances, rations, fuel, ammunition, etc) and only R19,163 crore (23%) is available on the capital expenditure account for modernisation schemes.

The indigenously developed Arjun main battle tank (MBT) has entered serial production to equip two regiments. Meanwhile, 310 T-90S MBTs had to be imported from Russia. In December 2007, a contract was signed for an additional 347 T-90 tanks to be assembled in India. A programme has been launched to modernise the T-72 M1 Ajeya MBTs that have been the mainstay of the army's Strike Corps since the 1980s. The programme seeks to upgrade the night fighting capabilities and fire control system of the tank, among other modifications. The BMP-1 and the BMP-2 infantry combat vehicles, which have been the mainstay of the mechanised infantry battalions for long, are now ageing and replacements need to be found soon. The replacement vehicles must be capable of being deployed for internal security duties and counter-insurgency operations as well, in addition to their primary role in conventional conflict.

During the Kargil conflict of 1999, artillery firepower had undeniably paved the way for victory. Yet modernisation of the artillery continues to flounder. The last major acquisition was that of about 400 pieces of 39-calibre 155 mm FH-77B howitzers from Bofors of Sweden in the mid-1980s. New tenders have been floated for 155 mm/39-calibre light weight howitzers for the mountains and 155 mm/52-calibre long-range howitzers for the plains, as well as for self-propelled guns for the desert terrain. However, it will take almost five years more for the first of the new guns to enter service. The MoD is in the process of acquiring 145 pieces of 155 mm/39-calibre M777 howitzers for the mountains through the foreign military sales (FMS) route from the US in a government-to-government deal. The artillery also needs large quantities of precision-guided munitions for more accurate targeting in future battles.

A contract for the acquisition of two regiments of the 12-tube, 300 mm Smerch multi-barrel rocket launcher system with 90-km range was signed with Russia's Rosoboronexport in early-2006. The BrahMos supersonic cruise missile (Mach 2.8 to 3.0), with a precision strike capability, very high kill energy and maximum range of 290 km, was inducted into the army in July 2007. The indigenously designed and manufactured Pinaka multi-barrel rocket system is likely to enter service in the near future. It is also time to now consider the induction of unmanned combat air vehicles armed with air-to-surface missiles into service for air-to-ground precision attacks.

The Corps of Army Air Defence also holds the vintage L-70 40 mm AD gun system, the four-barrelled ZSU-23-4 Shilka (SP) AD gun system, the SAM-6 (Kvadrat) and the SAM-8 OSA-AK. All of these need to be urgently replaced by more responsive modern AD systems that are capable of defeating current and future threats. The Akash surface-to-air missile has not yet fully met the army's qualitative requirements. The short-range and medium-range SAM acquisition programmes are embroiled in red tape.

The modernisation plans of India's cutting-edge infantry battalions, which are aimed at enhancing their capability for surveillance and target acquisition at night and boosting their firepower for precise retaliation against infiltrating columns and terrorists holed up in built-up areas, are moving forward, but at a snail's pace. These include plans to acquire hand-held battlefield surveillance radars, and hand-held thermal imaging devices for observation at night. Stand-alone infra-red, seismic and acoustic sensors need to be acquired in large numbers to enable infantrymen to dominate the LoC with Pakistan and detect infiltration of Pakistan-sponsored terrorists. Similarly, the operational capabilities of army aviation, engineers, signal communications, reconnaissance, surveillance & target acquisition branches and command & control systems need to be substantially enhanced so that the overall combat potential of the army can be improved by an order of magnitude.

In view of the continuing territorial disputes with China and Pakistan and the emerging threats and challenges on the strategic horizon, especially on the maritime security front, India is consistently failing to develop the capabilities that its armed forces will need in the 2020-25 timeframe. The country needs to spend much more on defence if another military debacle like that of 1962 is to be avoided. This is one field in which complacency costs lives and imposes unacceptable burdens during crisis situations.

The author is director, Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS), New Delhi





The growth of the commodity futures markets has been quite amazing in the last few years. Forward Markets Commission (FMC) data shows that volumes have been around Rs 120 lakh crore in FY11, which is almost 1.5 times India's GDP at current market prices. Does this mean that commodity futures trading has finally arrived?

Let's go back to the basics. When futures trading were revived in 2003, the idea was to bring in a price discovery mechanism that would finally help the farmers get higher prices for their produce. But for these prices to be determined, we needed to have active trading to generate the requisite liquidity. Therefore, we required the arbitrager, investor and speculator to take contrary positions.

The market has been mired in controversy as every bout of inflation has been associated with futures trading. The conundrum is that futures prices are supposed to tell us what lies ahead, in case the market is efficient. However, when futures prices of, say, tur or urad or wheat indicated a crop failure, these price signals were taken to be proof of futures' role in fuelling inflation, leading to a ban. The banning of futures products and their subsequent reintroduction has not really helped as traders are wary of future bans. It is not surprising that contracts in wheat and sugar, which were extremely robust before the ban, are quite muted after their reintroduction.

The question now is, how can we evaluate the market as it stands today? The first is that the share of farm products in total volume traded has come down to a low of 12.2% in FY11. These are the only products where price discovery takes place within the country and hence add value to the pricing system. The canvas is limited with noteworthy volumes in soybean, soy oil, mustard and chana, and some of the spices during the season besides guar, which is traded more as a proxy for weather.

The second issue is whether the farmers are gaining from such trading. The answer is yes and no. No, because they do not trade. Yes, because the price information is available to a large cross-section of the community, thanks to the development role taken on by the FMC and the exchanges in price dissemination. The Indore oilseeds mandi or the Delhi chana markets commence daily trade based on the National Commodity & Derivatives Exchange (NCDEX) futures prices. Therefore, futures prices do get used in the spot market.

The third is whether there has been any use of futures trading in metals and energy, which constitute around 88% of volumes, especially when there is virtually no price discovery taking place in India and where deliveries are non-existent. Crude prices are determined on the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX) or Intercontinental Exchange (ICE), bullion on the Commodities Exchange (COMEX) and copper on the London Metal Exchange (LME). The answer is that these commodities have now become alternative investment classes and offer opportunities to investors. While there is no direct value for the economy, investors can diversify their portfolio as these commodities do not have a relationship with stocks or interest rates. Regulation must change so that the retail investor can harness these benefits through commodity funds where the mutual fund can invest in these products. Currently, regulatory overlap does not permit such an option.

The fourth is whether the market needs multiple exchanges when most of the terms of operation are fixed by FMC. Today, FMC data shows that there are 21 operating exchanges. However, the Multi Commodity Exchange of India (MCX) has a market share of over 80% and NCDEX a little over 10%. The National Multi Commodity Exchange of India (NMCE) is the third while the Indian Commodity Exchange (ICEX), the Ahmedabad Commodity Exchange (ACE) and the National Board of Trade (NBOT) are players around the fringe. The broader issue is what is being done to revive the age-old exchanges. While two of the new exchanges are operating and one more is on the anvil, will these exchanges really survive? This is important because anecdotal experience shows that liquidity gravitates towards an exchange and then gets stuck to it. Moving liquidity away is a challenge and exchanges are natural monopolies. This being the case with a firm demarcation between the original electronic exchanges (besides NBOT, which has its own loyal members), there is a need to reconsider making the system well knit. In the stock market, only two exchanges dominate, and a similar picture appears to have emerged here. The FMC needs to work towards consolidation or enabling measures like market-making to ensure that they survive.

So what does this all mean? It is hard to think of futures trading changing the architecture of farming in the context of what has transpired in the last few years. Trading in farm futures will continue to remain on the periphery as it can no longer be pursued as a goal by exchanges that have to return a profit to their shareholders. It will evolve to be analogous to the equity market as a platform for investors who look at non-farm products. Here, it will be a challenge to the FMC to get in end-user and retail participants so that a wider audience can draw benefits from this investment alternative. Along the way, the market, too, will attain more respectability.

—The author is chief economist, CARE Ratings. These are his personal views







"I have no desire whatsoever to conceal from this court the fact that to preach disaffection towards the existing system of Government has almost become a passion with me," declared Mahatma Gandhi in 1922, while pleading guilty to sedition as charged. "Affection cannot be manufactured or regulated by law," he went on to say memorably, describing Section 124A as the "prince among the political sections of the Indian Penal Code designed to suppress liberty of the citizen." The case, which related to two articles penned in Young India, ended with a reluctant judge, bound by the letter of the law, sentencing the Mahatma to six years in prison; in the same breath, he noted that no one would be "better pleased" were the man he sentenced released earlier. If Gandhi thought it was a "privilege" to be charged under Section 124A, it was because "some of the most loved of India's patriots have been convicted under it" — most famously, Bal Gangadhar Tilak who, when prosecuted for his speeches and writings twice, asked each time whether he was guilty of committing sedition against the British government or against the people of the country. That this is an archaic colonial-era law that has no place in any democracy that values freedom of expression was recognised by no less than Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, who told Parliament in 1951 that he found Section 124A "highly objectionable and obnoxious." "The sooner we got rid of it the better," was his opinion of the broad and inexact provision that punishes those who, by use of words, signs or visible representation, "bring into hatred or contempt" or "excite disaffection" towards the government with a maximum of life imprisonment.

This raises the obvious question: why does the provision still remain in our statute books? And just as pertinently: why is it used to threaten and prosecute our thinkers and social activists because of an opinion they express or an ideology they may have some sympathy with? The conviction by a Sessions Court of civil rights activist Binayak Sen under Section 124A for his alleged links with a Maoist ideologue, and the sedition case registered against writer Arundhati Roy over a speech she made in Kashmir, are just two high-profile cases of the outrageous misuse of the law. Ms Roy is right in saying that "little pinholes of light" have emerged from the recent Supreme Court order granting bail to Binayak Sen, in which it said "no case of sedition has been made out" and where it drew a distinction between merely sympathising with a movement and committing an offence under Section 124A. Within hours of the order, Law Minister Veerappa Moily declared there was a need to review the sedition law and that the Law Commission of India would be asked to take a fresh look at it. While this is a positive development, the important thing is to scrap Section 124A — and quickly.

A climate in which it is permissible to express political dissent and question —– even savage — government policy is integral to the idea of free expression. The Supreme Court may have upheld the constitutional validity of Section 124A in Kedar Nath Singh vs. State of Bihar (1962), but made it more than clear that sedition does not apply to mere "criticism of government action, however strongly worded." The operation of the provision, the five-member bench ruled, would be limited to cases where what is said or spoken incites violence and public disorder — a line of thought that broadly conforms to John Stuart Mill's famous 'harm principle,' which suggests that the only justification for curbing a person's expression against his will is to prevent him from causing harm to others. Unfortunately, our prosecuting authorities and the lower judiciary have failed to understand that the scope of the sedition law is severely limited. Otherwise, a magistrate would not have ordered a sedition case against Ms Roy for saying, at a seminar, that Kashmir's status was not settled despite accession to India. And a sessions court would not have held that possessing Maoist literature, as Binayak Sen was charged with having, would constitute a ground for treating the person as a subversive. As the Supreme Court sarcastically observed, "If a copy of Gandhi's autobiography were found in somebody's place, can he be called a Gandhian?"

Section 124A was not a part of the original Indian Penal Code 1860. It was introduced 10 years later and then amended in 1898 to include seditious libel (bringing the government into hatred or contempt). It is distressing that we are slapping sedition cases on people when the offence has been rendered obsolete in many countries, either through a formal scrapping of the sedition law or by rendering it virtually toothless because of judicial rulings. Over the years, the United States has had a slew of laws making it an offence to bring its government into hatred or contempt. Some like the Sedition Act of 1918 have been repealed; others like the Smith Act, which was enacted in 1940, have been made a dead letter thanks to Supreme Court intervention. The last completed trial in a case of sedition (a common law offence) in Britain dates back to 1947. Even so, the British government thought it fit to abolish the offences of sedition and seditious libel in early 2010. One of the reasons cited for scrapping these offences — obsolete though they had become — was that their formal existence in Britain was used by other countries to justify their retention and use them to suppress political dissent. There is no place in a democracy for a law that conflates disaffection with disloyalty and regards trenchant criticism as a form of treason. What was once an instrument by British colonialism to suppress the freedom struggle cannot be retained by the state to silence the voices of its own people. It's time Section 124A was sent to where it really belongs — to the scrapheap of repealed laws.







The national capital is an excessively pampered city. Mindboggling amounts of money have been poured into it for improving infrastructure. This exercise has undeniably yielded dividends. Supreme among the additions to the average citizen's comfort is the metro built by Sridharan who, incidentally, is a phenomenon of sorts. The swanky new airport Terminal 3 is also something to crow about. Thanks to a judicial fiat a few years ago and the mandatory use of CNG for public transport buses, the quality of air has also improved. There is a constant attempt to beautify the city that has made Delhi really attractive. On the whole, it has become a more agreeable city than many others in the country to live in and raise a family.

It is an irony and tragedy, therefore, that Delhi is now polluted by the machinations of a small number in the polity who are hell-bent bent on destroying our faith in civilised living. This group of influential people with a somewhat shady past is scared of the critical mass that social activist Anna Hazare has picked up during the past few weeks. It would somehow like to derail his movement to promote ethics in public life.

Dismaying are the events of the past few days surrounding the circulation of a mysterious CD that contains scurrilous material against a few who are associated with Mr. Hazare. There are conflicting views on the genuineness of the CD. I wouldn't like to pronounce my views on this contentious matter. Let us wait for the opinion of a credible and reputed expert. The unfortunate feeling that has been generated is that there is possibly now an orchestrated endeavour to damn everybody who desires to inject some ethics into public life.

The vital questions that legitimately arise are: Has the battle between good and bad been again lost? Can we remain silent at the insidious adventures of some unscrupulous elements who are trying to scare away public-spirited men and women? These are the issues that are uppermost in the minds of a large number of people, who recently started looking upon Anna as a messiah, much to the discomfort of some inside the establishment and many outside.

I am no friends of the controversial personalities now being assailed for the alleged slander of a judge. I barely know them. I am, however, appalled by rumours that they are being targeted because of their closeness to Anna Hazare. Another rumour doing the rounds is that this is a masked operation aimed at persuading a senior judge to recuse himself from hearing a sensitive case. Both conjectures, irrespective of whether they have a basis or not, speak volumes of the quality of public life in the country.

No institution and no public official now seem exempt from calumny at the hands of those who themselves are unabashed violators of law. In such a miasmic atmosphere, the trend of good people shunning public office is likely to become stronger by the day. This development can be reversed only with the help of persons with a strong will and fire in the belly. It is nearly certain that it is not enough to be clean. It seems equally important to have the guts to hit back at detractors with a dubious agenda. Nothing else is likely to work in defusing persons with a questionable agenda, whose main strength is the sly support received from those who are close to power centres.

A somewhat specious argument, put forth by a few vested interests, runs along these lines. How can Anna Hazare and company stifle discussion on the format and future of the anti-corruption campaign? This is with a view to damning them as anti-democratic and fascist. Nothing can be farther from truth. The impression sought to be circulated is that the crusade against lack of integrity in high places is a brand new development and that a lot of time and opportunity need to be given to lawmakers to ponder over the subject and come to deliberate and calculated conclusions on how corruption should be fought through a foolproof law. This stand borders on the ridiculous considering that the proposed law has been debated for more than four decades.

If Mr. Hazare sounds impatient, and possibly irascible, it is because he is convinced he has waited long enough to see his lifetime objective fulfilled. It is not the ranting of a selfish old man who aims at self-glorification and is itching to embarrass the establishment. What his critics are trying to propagate, with unmistakable dishonest intentions, is that he is being exploited by vainglorious egotistic individuals who have jumped on the Hazare bandwagon just to settle scores with their adversaries.

I feel it is dangerous to ignore this ill-advised and vengeful group as inconsequential. We know that untruth repeated ad nauseam comes to be looked upon as the gospel. It is my experience that in modern India it is not enough for you to have a decades-long track record of honesty and goodness. In the past, an unsullied reputation for integrity and desire to help the common man stood by you when brickbats were thrown at you. The present situation is so ugly that every time somebody challenges your honesty of purpose and unwillingness to bend to those in power, you will have to prove that you have nothing to hide from society. There cannot be a worse time in Indian history for good people in public life. This is why I am worried about the future of the Hazare movement. If good people in massive numbers do not now come out boldly to express their solidarity with him, he will become just a footprint in the sands of time.

Mr. Hazare has announced that he will abide by the wishes of Parliament when it comes to passing a Lokpal law. He is being clever and correct so that he can carry all MPs with him. I, however, perceive a slight contradiction here. Mr. Hazare knows that across the political spectrum there is absolutely no will to install an omnipotent Lokpal who will fear no one. This absence of consensus on the subject among people who matter when it comes to law-making is the bane of the system. To expect Parliament to agree upon a strong ombudsman is a pipe dream. Hence, when Mr. Hazare says he will go by the wishes of our legislators, he is being unrealistic.

But then, does he have options? This is a real catch-22 situation. He has to carry Parliament with him. At the same time, he knows he will have no staunch backers on that forum for an effective Lokpal. Does this mean he should desist from asking for the moon and settle for mother earth? Not at all. Whatever he chooses to do, it is for the common man to continue to exert pressure on the polity for framing the most practical yet deterrent law. The media's role in maintaining public focus is crucial. Nothing else will help.

(Dr. R.K. Raghavan is a former CBI Director.)







CHENNAI: Policies and politics, views and vignettes, of governments, parties and individual politicians are not the only fodder for the cables that are routinely sent to Washington by the diplomats of the United States. Their fine-tuned eyes and ears scan much more. One example is Bollywood — the Mumbai-centred Hindi film industry — which they have looked at as thoroughly and professionally as any other issue that matters to U.S. interests. After detailed discussions with film industry experts and reviewing the often modest revenues and low profitability levels of the industry, diplomats concluded that the impact of Bollywood, which is "touted as one of the largest film industries in the world, is more cultural than economic."

Two detailed cables sent on February 11, 2010 ( 248355 and 248356: unclassified) from the U.S. Consulate in Mumbai, accessed by The Hindu through WikiLeaks, documented the unsustainable levels of compensation that are routinely paid to Bollywood stars, briefly discussed the underworld connections involved, outlined the emerging global aspirations of Indian film companies and analysed the failure of some Hollywood-Bollywood joint productions. The cables also spotlighted how the Indian film world was divided on what Hollywood can bring to their table.

Though Hindi films are produced in large numbers every year, according to G.K. Desai, a film producer, only one in every 10 productions turned out to be successful. In the assessment of Siddharth Roy Kapur, the CEO of UTV Motion Pictures, the situation was even worse. He said that "only five percent of Hindi movies released in 2009 made a profit."

The diplomats were told by industry sources that despite such sustained losses, people continued to make films "because of the attraction and glamour" the field offered.

The cable noted that, according to Aashish Singh, vice-president of Yash Raj Films (YRF) Studios, a production company based in Mumbai, one of the reasons for the "little fortune" in Hindi films was the high production costs. Actors, Mr. Kapur pointed out, command fees that amount to as high as 50 per cent of the total budget for a film. Unless the compensation levels get realistic and production costs come down by some 40 per cent, the business will not be sustainable in the long term, Akshaye Widhani, vice-president of YRF held. However, many of them were aware that such reductions will not happen easily. This prompted Mr. Widhani to admit that till "one of the major production studios fails or declares bankruptcy," actors may not get realistic with their compensation packages.

If lack of lines of credit was a problem till 2000, in more recent times it was the oversupply of money that affected film production in India, noted the cable. According to Jehil Thakkar, Head of Media and Entertainment for KPMG, until 2000 the industry did not have access to legitimate commercial financing. "As a consequence, films were financed by ad hoc collections of investors, many of whom were from the construction and trade industries, who charged interest rates as high as 60-100 percent. The industry also welcomed funds from gangsters and politicians, looking for ways to launder their ill-gotten gains."

The U.S. diplomat was told that the situation had changed after the government made it possible for the industry to access formal credit, but the multiple avenues and sources of financing that opened up also caused problems.

Industry professionals complained that "there is too much money and too many people chasing [a] limited amount of talent." This, in turn, created "a 'price bubble' and 'unrealistic expect ations'."

Citing Mr. Thakkar, the cable noted that India had just 12 screens per million people while the U.S. had 117 screens per million. This gap, it observed, indicated the room for growth that was available. Officials at Anil Ambani's Reliance Big Pictures — which is described by one of the cables as "the most aggressive Indian player in Hollywood" — thought that the best way to go forward is to corporatise the Indian film industry and go global. However, Jawahar Sharma, COO, was candid enough to admit that their own global ventures had less to do with any strategic considerations.

Joint productions

Hollywood studios, which are "amongst the highest revenue earners in the world," were attracted by the growth potential of the Indian film industry and made forays into Bollywood. Unfortunately, the cable documented, all the joint Hollywood-Bollywood productions released thus far have failed at the box office, signalling that "a successful entry into Bollywood is not easy."

According to the film professionals who are quoted, one of the difficulties faced by Hollywood film-makers is Bollywood's attitude. Mr. Kapur told the diplomat that Indian film production studios viewed "Hollywood as a competitor."

"It is difficult to convince the large Indian film companies to partner with Hollywood," said Blaise Fernandes, managing director of Warner Brothers India.

This was partly due to the fact that even well known companies like YRF Studios thought Hollywood studios had little to offer them other than finance. As a result, "they [the Indian film companies] would seek collaboration to de-risk the film project by jointly investing in its production, or to re-make Hollywood movies in Hindi," noted the cable, citing Indian producers. However, a few others held a different opinion. Hollywood, they observed, had a range of things to offer including its script libraries, valuable production talent, and an international marketing and distribution network.

One cable ( 248355), after reviewing the opinions and information that were collected, concluded that "U.S. studios have to still find a good working model for partnering with Bollywood." However, it was optimistic that U.S. companies can still "achieve success in this unpredictable market where even the best Bollywood studios and stars have been known to falter." In order to get there, the cable advised, the U.S. studios "have to diversify the production pipeline to include a mix of small, medium and big-budget films by renowned and new talent for mainstream and world cinema audiences."

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







CHENNAI: Bollywood accounts for only about 200 of the 1,000 films that are annually produced in India, but "in terms of reach and revenue, as well as its stable of nationally-recognized stars, Bollywood films dominate the industry," one of the U.S. Consulate cables ( 248356: unclassified) noted. Despite its dominance and popularity, the consensus among industry experts was that "South Indian cinema — Tamil, Malayalam, Telugu, and Kannada language films — perform better at the box office [than Bollywood films], with four of every ten films becoming profitable."

The cable said that "contrary to popular belief many in the industry admit that the South Indian film industry is better developed than the better known Hindi language film industry. According to G.K. Desai, a Bollywood film producer, the southern film industry is more organised than Bollywood." In fact, a UTV executive "admitted that the technical talent and the quality of South Indian films is far superior to Bollywood films."

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







CHENNAI: Muhammad Yunus, the Nobel Peace Prize winner known in particular for his microfinance initiatives in Bangladesh, appeared to have been aware of the risks and consequences of a move he made to enter the country's politics. He told Henry Jardine, the U.S. Consul General in Kolkata, that he was aware of the "potentially bruising response" it would provoke from the 'two ladies' [Sheikh Hasina, the current Prime Minister, and Khaleda Zia, former Prime Minister] and other established political figures."

A cable ( 96421: unclassified) sent on February 13, 2007 from the U.S. Consulate in Kolkata documented in detail the conversation between Mr. Jardine and Mr. Yunus when the latter visited Kolkata to participate in certain programmes. During a conversation over lunch, which was hosted by the Calcutta Chamber of Commerce (CCC), Mr. Jardine enquired about Mr. Yunus's political plans.

To enable real change

Hearing of Mr. Yunus's strong interest to join the political fray, Mr. Manoj Mohanka, president of the CCC, raised some questions about the "messy world" of Bangladesh politics and the "likelihood of Yunus's reputation being tarnished." Mr. Yunus responded by saying that "he understood the dangers," but "felt that responsible people had to step into the political field to make a real change in Bangladesh, which was wracked by corruption and poor governance."

When Mr. Jardine raised questions about rising levels of fundamentalism, Mr. Yunus explained that "Muslim fundamentalists are a fringe not accepted by the Bangladeshi mainstream."

The Consul General, however, pointed out that "even the Awami League [the political party led by Sheikh Hasina], which had been the primary advocate of a socialist, secular nation, had signed an agreement with fundamentalist group Bangladesh Khelafat Majlish (BKM)" to "recognize fatwas issued by Imams and block the introduction of laws contrary to sharia law." Mr. Yunus criticised the agreement as "a reflection of the AL's [Awami League] moral bankruptcy and was based on pure political calculus to garner a few additional votes and another example of the need for a new political party." Mr. Yunus was receptive to the idea of Bangladesh expanding economic relations with India. However, he was concerned "that often it became a divisive political issue, with Bangladeshi politicians stoking resentment against India for political gain." He was also quick to point out that all was not well with the Government of India too, "particularly the significant non-tariff barriers that restricted Bangladeshi goods from reaching Indian markets."

Opening of ports

His plans, as he narrated them to the U.S. diplomat, included the opening of the Chittagong port to regional trade with India, Burma, Bhutan and China, and "the possibility of financing a new 'mega-port' project in Chittagong to meet the regional demand" through the Grameen Bank. Mr. Yunus founded the Grameen Bank in 1976 to help millions of poor Bangladeshis through microcredit lending. He and the Grameen Bank were awarded the Nobel Peace Price in 2006 in recognition of the services.

After documenting Mr.Yunus's views, the cable concluded that he was "a person of great moral stature and strong organizational skills" and that his candidacy "could offer a possible out from the present Hasina-Zia zero-sum game that cripples Bangladesh's democratic process."

In March 2011, the Central Bank of Bangladesh removed Mr. Yunus as the Managing Director of Grameen Bank, holding that he was 70 years old, well past retirement age. His appeals against the order were rejected by the courts, including finally by the Supreme Court.

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





CHENNAI: Like many, if not most, diplomatic states, the Vatican may be tailoring its message to suit its audience, cables accessed by The Hindu through WikiLeaks show.

In 2002, a Vatican representative told a U.S. diplomat that Catholicism in India was growing. But in 2006, a statement, written in response to a slew of anti-conversion laws in different Indian States and released on an official Church website in India, argued that the Catholic community in India was small and not conversion-oriented.

In a July 24, 2002 meeting, Archbishop Antonio Veglio, Secretary of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, told the U.S. Acting Deputy Chief of Mission, George Frowick, that of the 22 non-Roman Christian Rites in his charge, the vast majority faced threats to their stability. Only two — the Greek Rite Church in Ukraine and Keralite Catholic churches in India — appeared to be secure, according to an account of what the Archbishop said, as provided in the cable ( 3387: confidential, dated July 26, 2002).

"The Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara Churches are reputed to have a 2,000-year presence in Southern India," the cable states. According to Archbishop Veglio, these churches originated "from the visit of Saint Tomas the Apostle."

Unlike their counterparts in "the Middle East," "Ethiopia/Eritrea," and "formerly communist Europe" excluding the Greek Rite Church in Ukraine, "the Indian Eastern Catholic Churches centered on the state of Kerala" are described in the cable as '"lively' and 'growing'."

Characterised as "islands of growth," the Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara Eastern Rite Churches were described by Archbishop Veglio as "vigorous and growing, despite hindrances." The hindrances included anti-conversion bills such as those backed by the Hindu nationalist political party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the cable says.

Monsignor Francis Chullikatt, "a Kerala native heading off to become the papal nuncio in Baghdad," termed such legislation "poorly conceived." He emphasised "the need to preserve religious freedom in India," "noting at the same time that the Catholic Church should be distinguished from various evangelical groups in India." He claimed that such groups did not "respect traditional Indian culture in the way the Church does" ( 65975: confidential, dated May 31, 2006).

Anti-conversion bills

Cardinal Ivan Dias wrote protesting against a rash of anti-conversion bills being introduced in Indian States. His statement, of May 23, 2006, was released on the official website of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India.

Just three days earlier, on May 20, Cardinal Dias was appointed to "a senior position in Rome," to serve as the "head of the Congregation for Evangelization," according to the cable.

Monsignor Bernardito Auza, point man for South Asia in the Holy See's Secretariat of State, said that Cardinal Dias's appointment "coincided" with the anti-conversion excitement in India "purely by accident," the cable says.

The statement was written on Cardinal Dias's "own initiative," and not "coordinated with Rome," according to Monsignor Auza, the cable says. However, it "accurately reflected the Vatican's views."

"Christians are responsible for large shares of primary education, community health care, and literacy programs throughout India," Cardinal Dias wrote, according to the cable. "A great many Indians of all faiths value and patronize these highly-regarded Catholic institutions, but are never asked to convert."

"No forced conversion by the Catholic Church in India has ever been documented, despite various allegations," the cable quotes Cardinal Dias as saying in his statement. Thus, "Christians in India are only 2.3 percent of the total population, and of these 1.8 percent are Catholics," Cardinal Dias claimed, according to the cable.

"After two millenia the Indian Christian community remains small," the cable quotes Cardinal Dias's statement as saying, contrasting with Archbishop Veglio's earlier declarations of growth.

"These churches are thriving even as Christians suffer persecution in Hindu-Nationalist parts of India," Archbishop Veglio told Mr. Frowick in 2002 ( 3387: confidential, dated July 26, 2002).

Commenting on the situation, U.S. State Department Charge d'Affaires Christopher Sandrolini and U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See L. Francis Rooney III, said that "the Church — both in Rome and elsewhere — will increasingly shed its traditional preference for quiet diplomacy when it comes to issues it deems vital for its own survival, particularly religious freedom" ( 65975: confidential, dated May 31, 2006).

According to the cable, Mr. Sandrolini and Mr. Rooney "judge that the Holy See and the Church in India and elsewhere will not back down on issues it sees as fundamental to religious freedom, and to its security and survival."

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





LONDON: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's public apology for the 1984 anti-Sikh riots is hailed in an American diplomatic cable as a "singular act of political courage'' and an "almost Gandhian moment of moral clarity in India's long march to religious harmony."

The violence in northern India, primarily in Delhi, targeting members of the Sikh community broke out following Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's assassination on October 31, 1984.

Writing on August 12, 2005 ( 38469: unclassified), Robert O'Blake, Deputy Chief of Mission at the American Embassy in New Delhi, noted that Dr. Singh had done "what no Indian leader in 20 years has been willing to do."

"The PM's singular act of political courage stands in exquisite contrast to the opportunism and hatred directed by senior GOI officials against Sikhs in 1984. The PM's act of statesmanship will raise his already strong reputation as a representative of the nation's highest Gandhian ideals," he said, adding that the apology "pre-empted BJP's efforts to capitalize on the (Nanavati Commission) report, which named two high-profile Congress leaders as conspirators in the riots."

The cable, accessed by The Hindu through WikiLeaks, said the Congress party's "swift action'' against Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Kumar in the wake of the commission's report "raised questions about the fate of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi if a similar commission investigating the 2002 Gujarat riots finds his government at fault.''

In his apology in Parliament on August 12, 2005, Dr. Manmohan Singh said: "I have no hesitation in apologizing to the Sikh community. I apologize not only to the Sikh community, but to the whole Indian nation because what took place in 1984 is the negation of the concept of nationhood enshrined in our Constitution."

The cable, describing the riots as "one of the saddest and darkest moments in recent Indian history," said: "The PM apology and forced resignation of a minister with long ties to the Gandhi family has surprised Indians who only expected the worst of their politicians. The PM's singular act of political courage will be long-remembered as a momentous — almost Gandhian — moment of moral clarity in India's long march to religious harmony."

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






It is not a realistic expectation that the Lokpal Bill that the joint committee of government ministers and members of civil society — handpicked by the Anna Hazare group — has been tasked to present to the Monsoon Session of Parliament can put an end to corruption in our society. Nevertheless, the proposed legislation answers to the country's aspirations. The idea was around for about four decades. Successive attempts to get a Lokpal law through Parliament have come to nought as ruling parties at the Centre at various times fell at hurdles set up to negate those efforts. The issue could be revived recently only in the wake of the high-velocity Jantar Mantar campaign, which crucially relied for its success on the backdrop of a series of corruption scandals that rocked the nation, deeply embarrassing the ruling coalition and the political class as a whole. If the panel set up to frame the bill works diligently, it is not unlikely that it can produce a document worthy of being discussed by Parliament. For reference, there already exists an earlier version of the bill that got stuck at a parliamentary standing committee.

It will be a pity if the joint panel's deliberations are in any way permitted to be impeded by the unseemly controversies surrounding some civil society nominees on the committee. Effectively speaking, the body only has some two months in which to accomplish its task. That time is probably not enough. Framing bills is a complex exercise, not least one whose aim is to establish a new institution to deal with corruption in high places, and to bring about transparency in governance in order to minimise the scope for corrupt practices. Nevertheless, key government figures, including the Prime Minister, have declared that it is their intention to present the proposed Lokpal Bill to Parliament in the Monsoon Session. All the more, then, it's in the UPA government's interest that the panel is not sidetracked by controversies involving civil society representatives, and successfully completes the task at hand. Matters such as the CD dispute, and the presumption of nepotism that arises from the nomination of the father-son duo of Shanti Bhushan and Prashant Bhushan to the committee, are relevant questions for the courts and society at large to deal with. But we should display the wisdom to compartmentalise the larger purpose from the issues that may come to dog individuals associated with it.

It needs to be understood that fingers will be pointing at the government if the proposed bill is not ready in time — even conceding that the coercive timetable imposed on the panel by the Hazare group is arbitrary, and speaks of insensitivity to the complexity of the exercise undertaken. This might be the case even if delays are attributable to the status of civil society representatives on the panel. In this age of the Internet and social networking, it is not difficult to mount virtually any kind of online campaign.

If the panel engaged in hammering out provisions of the bill does not want to be misunderstood, it could start by not taking unduly long breaks between sessions. After its inaugural meeting on April 16, the next session has been scheduled for May 2. A sense of urgency could have been imparted to the proceedings if the gap were shorter. In some cases, appearance is of no less value than substance. The committee should also be pragmatic and invite suggestions from the general public as well as interested organisations even as its deliberations are on. For one, this would help save time. All in all, the start has not been particularly auspicious. It is necessary to take this on board.







Sometime in the late-1970s, I read a tribute to one of the iconic Communist intellectuals of West Bengal — an academic who shaped many impressionable minds during his long tenure at Kolkata's Presidency College. As evidence of his determined attachment to the then undivided Communist Party, the article narrated an anecdote dating back to the late-1940s centred on P.C. Joshi, a former party general secretary.
Joshi, it is now recognised, was one of the most innovative Communist leaders. A cerebral man, he carefully targeted bright young men and women, particularly from elite families, for conversion to the cause. His success was most marked during 1942-47 when the Congress leaders were in jail and when the Soviet Union was in the forefront of the anti-fascist war. Many of those who embraced Communism as the only alternative to barbarism regarded Joshi as their mentor.

Shortly after Independence, thanks to an abrupt change in Moscow, the Communist Party of India was compelled to disavow the "united front" approach and jump into a silly and abortive insurrection against the government of Jawaharlal Nehru. In a proverbial palace coup, Joshi was summarily removed from his post, expelled from the party and replaced by B.T. Ranadive. He became a "non-person".

It was during this period that a harried Joshi dropped into the home of the venerable professor who he presumably viewed as a friend and comrade. It is a commentary on the human priorities of the party that Joshi was brusquely told that he wasn't welcome any longer.

In the demonology of Communists, "revisionists" and deserters have occupied a special place. Some of the choicest and most colourful polemical invectives have been reserved for those who deviated from the "party line" and were turfed out for "anti-party" activities. To the faithful, hateful outpourings against former comrades reinforced the party as the living God; to the heretic, dissociation from the church involved mental agony and the loss of a social support system.

Six decades of living in an argumentative democracy hasn't really changed the Communist repudiation of humanity and the worship of the party as the epitome of "scientific" evolution. The world is replete with Reds of different shades who can no longer maintain a civil relationship with their former political associates. No wonder former Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee lamented that his abrupt expulsion from the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) was one of the most unhappiest episodes of his life. In his imagined world, there was no meaningful life outside the party.

It is in the context of the troubled relationship of Communist parties with ex-comrades that the decision to invite Mr Chatterjee to speak at a public meeting in support of the West Bengal CPI(M)'s rising star Gautam Deb acquires significance. It is not that Mr Chatterjee is a resident in Mr Deb's constituency or that a local committee has extended the invitation without any application of mind. The fact is that Mr Chatterjee's inclusion in the CPI(M) has been publicly endorsed — albeit as a purely one-time, election-centric issue — by Politburo members such as Sitaram Yechury and Biman Bose. The former Speaker hasn't been rehabilitated; his existence has been acknowledged by the party.

The cautious re-embracing of a heretic has followed two paths. Firstly, it is being suggested that a desperate Left Front facing the prospect of ignominious defeat needs to garner all the support it can muster. Since Mr Chatterjee has moved on from being a comrade to "eminent citizen", he can, arguably, play the same role as those artists and intellectuals who have flocked to support Mamata Banerjee. Secondly, it is being argued that the invitation to Mr Chatterjee is the Bengal CPI(M)'s way of snubbing general secretary Prakash Karat whose stubborn "anti-imperialism" forced the withdrawal of support to the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) in 2008 and facilitated the anti-Left mahajot in West Bengal.

Both explanations are valid, but there appears to be another dimension. The CPI(M), it would seem, is reconciled to defeat in West Bengal on May 13. It hasn't abandoned the fight but it is realistically battling to ensure that the Left Front tally doesn't fall below 100 seats. What worries the CPI(M) is not merely the loss of power after 34 years of pampered existence. Equally important is their concern for the physical safety of their cadres.
The fear isn't exaggerated. For three decades the CPI(M) has attempted to exercise total control of both the state and society. This has led to institutionalised intolerance and the perpetuation of a million petty tyrannies. There is huge, pent-up anger against the "cadres" who walked with a swagger, ensured the harassment and social humiliation of all those who dared disagree and probably enriched themselves through petty corruption. If the party loses on May 13, not even the best-intentioned government will be able to stop the wave of recriminations against local tyrants.

The CPI(M) knows that it cannot tame a Mamata who has fought an often-lonely but always unrelenting war against it. Its best hope lies in souring the awkward relationship between the Congress and the Trinamul Congress. This can best be done at the national level by pandering to the likely disquiet in the Congress over two issues.

First, there is certain to be a lot of heartburn at the Congress being an infant partner in the Mamata-led alliance. Secondly, for Congressmen who have no stake in West Bengal, the defeat of the Left in West Bengal and possibly Kerala could signal the emergence of political bipolarity — a possible straight fight between the UPA and the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in the next general election. This, in turn, would involve other anti-Congress parties such as All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, Telugu Desam and Biju Janata Dal moving away from the Left and re-establishing a relationship with the NDA.

The Congress has no real stakes in a Banerjee-led Bengal, and neither has the CPI(M). The CPI(M)'s cautious re-recognition of Mr Chatterjee as a Bengali notable isn't guided by a new spirit of enlightenment; it is dictated entirely by the need to re-establish a bridgehead into the Congress.

Swapan Dasgupta is a senior journalist






One of the intriguing themes the Anna Hazare's fast threw up was the question of memory, particularly the memory of nationalism. As one activist explained, he had read about Rajguru and Bhagat Singh while studying for his exam. But it was only now they rang true. It struck me how distant the national movement was and how simplified and even ridiculous it had become.

One of the things that destroyed nationalism was the arrival of the nation state. The nation state abbreviated the complexity of nationalism by defining the permissible options. It even ordained the permissible options. Its tutorial college mind loved oppositions between Nehru and Gandhi or between Gandhi and the Left. But deep down nationalism had a sense of civilisational gossip which the nation state did not. Worse, the Partition and the holocaust that followed, hollowed the nation state and its history. We were now a nation contra Pakistan.
Nationalism lives now only as a fragment. Yet nationalism as an imagination did not merely create imagined communities as the glibness of Benedict Anderson proclaimed. Our nationalism also dealt with the inventiveness and imagination of communities.

Just consider a single issue — science and technology. Let me describe the variety of debates that took place. Our nationalism was unique because it was always open to the dissenting British imagination. We saw the West as plural and saw some of these Wests as part of us. Our nationalism allowed for the other side of the Raj, a place for dissenters like Patrick Geddes, Alfred Wallace, C.F Andrews, Annie Beasant who helped shape a different West in India. India was not anti-West, it was anti-colonial.

Consider one paradigmatic figure — Captain Srinivas Murthi. He was an authority on traditional medicine, head of the Adyar Library, secretary to the committee that debated the future of indigenous medicine in 1923.

He also translated Merchant of Venice into Telugu and was John Barrymore's doctor when the actor became an alcoholic. He warned about the dangers of nuclear energy in the 1920s and stressed the importance of mothers feeding their babies. He was a cosmopolitan.
Rabindranath Tagore was another such cosmopolitan. A cosmopolitan does not deny his identity. He only refuses to make a fetish of it. Tagore built Santiniketan as a university to dialogue with the Western University. He was sceptical of nationalism and yet felt we must be open to the West. Tagore was not an internationalist; he was a cosmopolitan seeking unities beyond the national. Tagore, along with Patrick Geddes, created a summer school for science in Darjeeling. He even attempted a textbook on science.
What I want to emphasise is that nationalism before the nation state guaranteed pluralism, demanded the availability of eccentricity. The question I then wish to ask is how did this forest of imaginations turn into a flat land called the nation state? Where have all the memories gone?
I want to suggest nationalism had both an imagination and an imaginary. An imagination is a standard list of possibilities.
An imaginary is a horizon that adds the impossible, the improbable and the probable to the possible. Our nationalisms were a collection of possibilities. Our nation state was an acceptance that the amnesia had begun.
In fact, I want to argue that the nation state as a law and order theory of memory destroyed the future and uprooted memories that could have been the beginning of other possibilities. Communalism is an erasure of memory or a heightening of the artificiality of some memories against others. It is this selective memory of the nation state that makes it genocidal. What begins as amnesia culminates as erasure or genocide.
Consider just the idea of citizenship. The idea of citizenship has no place for the tribe, the nomad, for marginal groups of various kinds. Citizenship becomes an authoritarian stencil that erases people who do not fit a standard pattern. Secession, protest and rebellion have to be seen as mnemonic devices reminding the nation state of the worlds it has forgotten.
It is the simplified time of the nation state that creates a form of authoritarianism. I am not saying memory is all about erasure. Memory is also about forgetting. Indian democracy could allow Laldenga to be yesterday's insurgent and then, chief minister of Mizoram. But the memories of today do not know how to forgive. Forgiveness remembers before it claims to forget. Forgiveness never defies justice. It only asks for more than justice.
If you look at the recent adjectives that define us, we tend to associate India with the new, with youth, with innovation. I am not making an argument for tradition but I want to point out that these are signals of erasure. Innovation also creates obsolescence, progress demands amnesia. What we need is a language that allows for a sense of mnemonics, a vocabulary of plurality, heritage, myth, diversity that sees truth as plural and demands that memory need not be one sided.
There are other forms of erasure present in development. Remember mining is a way of erasing memory. It erases the memory of a landscape. It denies that nature can renew itself. When you strip-mine an ecology, you destroy its ability to remember, to renew itself. Sustainability can never be complete without a theory of remembering.
This leads me to my last point. The Indian state as a knowledge system emphasises history, information and science as the three primary modes of learning. But this makes a new generation illiterate or at least one sided in terms of learning. Information is disembedded memory.
It carries no meta-narrative or contexts. History as written memory has little sense of the oral or of myth. Our science follows codes of linearity and progress that has little place for defeated knowledge. The tragedy of the nation state and its sense of history and science is its sense of memory. It is flawed and simplistic. Our sense of civilisation, our world of folklore, our multiplicity of dialects as alternative memories must invent a way out of this impasse.

Shiv Visvanathan is a social scientist






The story so far: In 2008, an Indian living in Sweden comes to New Delhi on a visit. He falls sick and has to undergo surgery. On returning to Sweden he falls sick again and has to be hospitalised. Tests reveal that he has a urinary tract infection caused by a fairly common bacterium. So doctors give him antibiotics — drugs that cure by killing bacteria. But when infection persists the doctors discover that that common bacterium has the ability to resist even a strong antibiotic — or what they call the "last resort" antibiotics. They name the enzyme or the gene that makes the bacteria resistant to a range of antibiotics NDM-1 (New Delhi Metallo-Beta-Lactamase) after the place where the man had picked up the infection.

A few months later hospitals in the UK report similar cases of patients who were not responding to strong antibiotics. Most of the patients had either travelled to India for medical treatment or had family members who had visited India frequently. Then the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention reports three cases of NDM-1. All three had visited India for medical care.

Last month the journal Lancet Infectious Diseases published a paper that NDM-1 had also been found in people who had never left the UK. The authors say they had found NDM-1 in Delhi's drinking water. The resistance to antibiotics, they say, is picked up in the community and then brought to the hospital.
So we have two problems here: one, bacterial resistance. Some bacterial samples, in fact, do not react to any antibiotics. And two, the bug is spreading to other parts of the world. There's a third thing that is happening here: the gene in the bacteria is spreading its tentacles and there's a danger of it making some other strains of bacteria, too, immune to antibiotics.

Bacteria is a cell. Like all cells it contains deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), and genes are segments of DNA. Bacteria reproduce by dividing and multiplying. If they kept on going through the process of simple division and multiplication then the NDM-1 gene would be confined to just one strain of bacteria. But bacteria can also share genes with other strains of bacteria — it can mix and match. It will then take its immunity to other disease-causing bacteria and make them, too, resistant to antibiotics.

As things stand today, scientists tell us that NDM-1 is not a pandemic like bird flu or swine flu. The number of cases is still small, but it is growing. The authors of the Lancet study say that "The potential of NDM-1 to be a worldwide public health problem is great, and coordinated international surveillance is needed". The magazine Scientific American says in an article that in countries like India, dense population and poor sanitation combined with excessive use of antibiotics "may fuel these resistance bugs" which can then "spread worldwide just by plane and by transfer of population". As the bug spreads, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has issued a warning to governments that they should be taking this new arrival seriously.
And how do we in India react? We don't raise issues of public health and hygiene (the resistant gene was detected in public water supply — places where local people get their water for drinking, cooking and bathing — and seepage water samples), or that we have become used to popping in antibiotics for even simple ailments (India is said to have a high rate of antibiotic use) and that we can pick up these medicines at most drug stores without a doctor's prescription. We call it a conspiracy.

When the French realised that they were consuming more antibiotics than any other country in Europe, the government launched a campaign with the slogan, "Antibiotics are not automatic". According to WHO, a media campaign in Belgium resulted in a 36 per cent reduction in antibiotic prescriptions over an eight-year period.
Scientists today are talking about the dangers of spread of multi-drug-resistant bacteria. On blogs and websites you come across articles about the end of antibiotics. In an article in the Guardian, health editor and columnist Sarah Boseley says: "Once, scientists hailed the end of infectious diseases. Now, the post-antibiotic apocalypse is within sight". Lancet, however, is more optimistic: it warns of dangers but says that "the post-antibiotic era is not yet upon us".

But we in India get jingoistic. We say the nomenclature is an attempt to tarnish our image. (I wonder if Germany protested when the contagious infection Rubella was given the name German measles). Then comes the proverbial "foreign hand": we see in it a conspiracy by multinational pharmaceutical companies to destroy our medical tourism.

I can understand flag-waving by people who have nothing to do with science, but why shouldn't our scientific community speak the truth? Especially when some prestigious Indian institutes were associated with the study? The Indian Council of Medical Research went to the extent of dismissing the British study as "unscientific".

houldn't they at least tell us what is "unscientific" about the study?

Professor Tim Walsh, one of the authors of the NDM-1 study, warns us, "We have a bleak window of maybe 10 years, where we are going to have to use the antibiotics we have very wisely, but also grapple with the reality that we have nothing to treat these infections with". In our denial we may have already wasted three years.

Shekhar Bhatia can be contacted at







A devout Muslim, Ittehadu'l-Muslimeen supreme and the former Chairman of Hurriyat (M) faction, Maulana Abbas Ansari could not say no to an unexpected guest landing at his residence one fine morning. His faction is a component of the Hurriyat (M) conglomerate. Stung by the audacity of the Mualana, the Hurriyat (M) chief Mirwaiz wasted no time in suspending the group from the conglomerate. This is nothing new or surprising for organizations where dictatorial style of functioning spews arbitrary decisions even on crucial matters. The soft-spoken Maulana tried to shield himself by saying that he had not invited the interlocutors but since they appeared from blue, he could not say no to them. That is the logic he thinks will wriggle him out of a deepening controversy. But can a responsible and formally accredited team on an assignment from the Home Ministry of talking to Kashmiri separatists, dare to enter a Kashmiri dissident leader's house without prior information and without some basic groundwork done for the event? To say the least, it indicates yet another fissure in the Hurriyat structure, the first one happened with Ali Shah Geelani chartering his separate path. The fissure has come about after the New Delhi appointed team of interlocutors returned to the valley for the seventh time to resume their interaction with various segments of Kashmir society. Hurriyat's inflexible stance in regard to participation in elections, panchayati elations and all other related democratic processes in the state including interface with the interlocutors has, at the end of the day, brought it more criticism on national, regional and international levels. Observers and Kashmir watchers had been feeling for some time that by adopting a rigid posture in regard to talks with the interlocutors the Hurriyat was not serving well the cause it stood for. Knowledgeable circles know that Ittehadu'l-Muslimeen led by Abbas Ansari, and mostly of Shia community, does not necessarily represents only a section of Kashmir Shia community. It sees Hurriyat's obstinacy only detrimental to the interests of people. However, the point to be made is that the Hurriyat (M) is not prepared to allow freedom of views and expression to its affiliates. This is going to make it vulnerable to further fissures. Maulavi Abbas' justification of talking to the interlocutors may be a façade and something for public consumption, the fact is that the Hurriyat (M) is raven within on conflicting views on the question of talks with interlocutors. In the process they get sidelined and for their own faults






Social activist Anna Hazare's anti-corruption campaign is bound to have its reverberations in many states in due course of time. The hurdles being created at the very outset of the formation of drafting committee indicates the impending quantum of obstructions that will come up in days ahead. Notwithstanding the reluctance of certain political groupings, anti-corruption movement will gain momentum just because it touches the skin of the masses of people in the country. Interestingly, our State seems to have taken things in their stride. Kashmir Revolutionary Group (KRG) has been formed in the valley to initiate state level anti-corruption campaign after getting the clue from the 'India versus corruption' move by Anna Hazare. But it has to be remembered that KRG's initiative has a different background because of its linkage to political dispensation of the State. KRG, a youth non-profit organization held its first conference in Srinagar in which religious divines (ulema), intellectuals, philanthropists, social workers, youth representatives and prominent civil society members took part. Leading ulema from different parts of the valley were the main spirit behind the move. The mission of the group is to make an all out campaign against corruption that has infected all aspects of life in Kashmir. The learned ulema said that it was a shame that despite a Muslim majority state Kashmir should have become the most corrupted state in the country. They said that a stage had come when people have begun to take corruption as irreversible part of life style, and this is most unfortunate.
It is a matter of great satisfaction that there is acute realization among the Kashmiri youth about a lethal social evil called corruption eating into the vitals of society. A revolutionary social movement was much needed and it has come even if belatedly. Obviously people will attach great importance to the mission unfolded by the Kashmir Revolutionary Group. For quite some time, it was being felt in social circles that there are symptoms of polarization of Kashmir society on the basis of rich and poor. The rich were becoming richer while the poorer people were groaning under the weight of skyrocketing prices of necessaries of life. Corruption has been a major bane of Kashmiri society's progress and prosperity. Notwithstanding several laws in force to curb and contain corruption and bribery at various levels in the administrative structure of the state, corruption has been rising at a rapid pace so much so that it has filtered down from the highest echelons of administration down to the lowest. Bribery is not only rampant but is carried out openly and without slightest hindrance or qualms of conscience. The ulema have taken upon themselves the onus of amending the morals of the public, something that falls within the ambit of their professional service. They have taken the right decision of sparing Friday congregational prayer days for the Friday Imams to deliver sermons directed at eradicating the social evil of corruption in life and work of members of society. Hopefully the civil society will welcome this much needed step. Speaker after speaker at the conference drew support and evidence from scriptures in rallying people against the evil. Such deliberations and exercises are bound to make right impact on civil society and a spirit of reformation must find reverberation among the larger sections of people. India is a country where religion has always played crucial and corrective role in giving proper direction to the people. Since we are wedded to democratic ways of life, nobody would recommend tyrannical laws and discipline to purify society of evils. We have to adopt Gandhian ways of non-violence. Our problem is that our institutions have not come up to our expectation in stemming the rot called corruption. The massive civil movement expected to be generated through the initiative of Kashmir Revolutionary Group will be a redeeming factor. All conscientious citizens are enjoined by moral authority to lend their unstinted support to this movement so that we live in a society cleaned of corrupt practices.








That a protester against the proposed nuclear power plant in Jaitapur should have been shot dead by the police is beyond sickening. From all accounts the dead man was just an ordinary fisherman who had come home with his catch and joined the crowd of protesters more as a bystander than a participant. So for Tabrez Tehekar to be dead is one of life's more meaningless tragedies. But, there are more important issues that arise out of local anger in Jaitapur that unfortunately remain outside the discourse on nuclear power that has become more fervent since the meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant. It was caused, and this is important to remember, by the combined forces of one of the severest earthquakes in recorded history and a terrible tsunami.
There were protests in Jaitapur even before Fukushima became the worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl. The protesters were ordinary fisher folk who came into the streets in large numbers because they believed that the proposed nuclear power plant would destroy their livelihood and the pristine quality of their simple coastal villages. Instead of addressing their fears through public hearings the Chief Minister of Maharashtra appeared to believe it was more important to persuade our hyper-activist Environment Minister, Jairam Ramesh, that the nuclear power plant must not be stopped for environmental reasons. Since Prithviraj Chavan became chief minister he has had so many meetings with the Environment Minister that pictures of the two together have become a regular feature in Mumbai's newspapers. If he has made as strenuous efforts to persuade the people of Jaitapur of the importance of the power station they have remained secret.
So people in the affected villages are justified when they point out that they have a right to be heard. They are wrong when they say that they will not allow the nuclear power plant to come up at any cost. If the proposed 9,900 Megawatt plant gets built in Jaitapur it will have the capacity to provide electricity to around 10 million homes. This may barely make a dent in a country in which 40 percent of the population still lacks access to electricity but it will make a huge difference to India's target of generating 20,000 MW of nuclear energy by 2020.

It is one of the ironies of our environmentally conscious times that nuclear energy is one of the most environmentally friendly sources of energy on the planet. Unless there is a disaster or recklessly inefficient safety standards there is no damage to the environment of the kind that occurs from emissions every time we build a gas or coal based power plant.

France gets nearly eighty percent of its power from nuclear sources and there has never been an accident. Europe accounts for 34% of the world's nuclear power and the United States for 27% of it and the only major disaster has been Chernobyl. Japan gets more than 20% of its power from nuclear plants. When seen against these figures it becomes clear that nuclear accidents have been few and far between. It is worth remembering that nobody has so far died of radiation poisoning from the Fukushima nuclear plant not even the fifty workers who risked their lives to the ultimate degree in trying to save the plant from meltdown.
So when dubious environmentalists and myopic political parties mislead innocent people into believing that a nuclear plant in their vicinity means certain disaster they not only play a dangerous game but actively harm the interests of their states. If the agitation in Jaitapur continues unabated there is every likelihood that a wily political leader like Narendra Modi will persuade the builders of the nuclear plant to take it to Gujarat. This would cause incalculable losses to Maharashtra where other than Mumbai nearly every town and village in the state is forced to suffer 'load-shedding' for some hours a day. As someone who spends a considerable amount of my time in a Maharashtrian village by the sea I can confirm that power is in such short supply that only those with backup generators can be assured of guaranteed power 24 hours a day.
This makes the agitation in Jaitapur, led by the Shiv Sena and the BJP, seem not just unwise but very much against the interests of Maharashtra. Instead of inciting ordinary people to take to the streets to protest against nuclear power they should be demanding that the government organize public hearings at which every last detail of the benefits and dangers of nuclear power can be fully explained.
It is Maharashtra's tragedy that its political leaders have chosen instead to concentrate their energies on rabblerousing of such a destructive kind that local people resorted to vandalizing a police station to make their point. But, this still does not explain why a simple fisherman needed to die for the police to bring the violent mob under control. The Government of Maharashtra has handled the situation in Jaitapur so incompetently that it has put itself in the position of losing the case for the nuclear power plant altogether. With passions riding so high there is little likelihood that the Chief Minister with his lack of political experience and his backroom boy approach to handling political situations will now be in a position to organize the public hearings that are so important if the people of Jaitapur are to learn that nuclear power is not the demon that it has been made out to be by environmentalists with very dubious credentials.
If they had any real concern for the environment they would be campaigning for nuclear power and not against it because they would know that it causes the least amount of environmental damage if there are proper safeguards. Those who believe that forty percent of Indians can be supplied their energy needs through alternative sources, like solar, need to have their heads examined. Minimal research on Google will prove that much as we would like alternative sources to meet our needs we are a long, long way from this dream coming true. Not just India, the whole world is.







India is, with all intents and purposes a vibrant and a vigorous democracy. To ensure its sustenance and strengthening, it is imperative that steps are initiated in the right earnest for speedy electoral reforms which are undoubtedly needed now more than any time before. If we delve deep into many causes of various aspects of rampant corruption and associated facets thereof, eating into the vitals of our functioning of institutions, electoral system in the present form is largely responsible. Those to whom democracy is sacrosanct and realized as hard won after getting freedom from foreign yoke and those who sincerely believe to have corruption effectively controlled, they should raise the voice for bringing in massive electoral reforms before it is too late. If a struggle in peaceful ways becomes a prerequisite, it would be a small price for a big gain with intent to cleanse the system.

Representation of peoples' Act needs to be suitably amended to empower the Election Commission to question the party and the candidates on their election expenses and on any violation to take strict action to the extent of even deregistration of the party. There should be total ban on donations accepted by political parties from the business class for the reason that any business house is thus investing these donations to get heavy returns which motivates the government and administrative machinery to indulge in corruption. There could be allocation of public fund to be distributed by the Election Commission to the political parties as per the strength and the status of the concerned political party. The expenditure limit for a candidate for the Lok Sabha election is Rs. 25 lacs but hardly is this limit adhered to. There should be auditing of the accounts of the political parties and a limit fixed on the extent of the expenditures incurred by the candidates. A candidate should be asked to disclose all his assets for the information of the general public and the voter should also not vote for a candidate with a dubious record of moral turpitude, acts for fraud, dishonesty, non performance and the one who has appeared as being inaccessible to people. An age limit should be fixed for candidates contesting elections. When bureaucrats and other government officials retire at the age of 60, why should a politician's career start after 60? A candidate with a positive vote should be considered as a winner and if negative votes outnumber the positive ones, fresh elections with a new candidate should be held. Democratization of the inner working of the political parties is important to minimize chances of nepotism and promoting of only kiths and kin of the party leaders, as such leaders run their parties as personal fiefdoms.

Day in and day out, we are seeing the trend of enticing the voter or group of voters as we recently came across quite disturbing reports from a few places of bribing of voters in Tamil Nadu. Many voters there reported massive corruption in the form of cash for votes. If we say that cash per vote scam exploded in Tamil Nadu , it won't be an exaggeration of disturbing facts and even an amount of Rs. 5 crores was seized there which was meant to be distributed for "buying "votes. The amount reportedly was neatly stacked in 100 rupee notes. Political parties and even independent candidates were found promising freebies galore starting from laptops to live sheep. It is hard to believe the truth that the ruling party distributed tens of thousands of colour TVs after 2006 elections costing hundreds of crores of rupees. This massive amount was funded from state exchequer and not from the party funds, creating a freebie's race, setting a very bad precedent and posing a danger to the functioning of the real and clean democracy. Since they were distributed before the elections, it is no violation of law in the eyes of the existing system. This is a brazen bribe which was reportedly offered despite the warning by the Election Commission and this all happened even when the country battles multiple scandals and scams which keep on surfacing one after the other. It, however, disturbed many and in this very state in Tiruchi , a few days back a rally was taken out against cash for vote , the placards reading, "I am proud to be a voter ". It becomes imperative, therefore, that voter awareness rallies are taken out to highlight the power of vote and to sensitize people to the importance of exercising their franchise and to underline the importance of elections.
Elections are an important and a cardinal feature of democracy. Its importance should be made known right from the school text books and curriculum up to the higher levels of education and trainings so that a citizen evaluates the importance of the vote and the elections. It should be made mandatory to vote especially the educated class has a special responsibility. Expressing concern that the educated citizens were not taking any notable part in the election process , Union Law Minister M.Veerapa Moily lamented that persons with criminal background were entering the fray to contest elections whereas honest persons did stay away. He was speaking on electoral reforms in a seminar organized at Chandigarh a few weeks back. Moily said that curbing corruption in electoral process is the first priority and that law ought to be amended to bring transparency in the process. Moily further assured that the government was considering suitable changes in the law including anti defection law. Elections remain, therefore, a critical structure of the governance in the country since the first general election in 1951. Money power muscle slowly but progressively seeped into the Indian electoral process. It is a stark fact that 1/4th of the Parliament comprises of members faced with criminal charges of serious nature. It has also been observed that there has been large scale abuse of the system and gradual decline in values resulting in the process becoming a mockery of the very spirit of representing and protecting the "Aam Aadmi ".
Time has come when in the interests of the country , each political party pays a serious attention towards the need for a paradigm shift in electoral arena. Election Commission has been doing a commendable job especially since the period when T.N.Seshan was at the helm and the commission despite its limitations, statutory and administrative, appears to fight a rearguard battle to combat the various unfair means adopted to conduct elections. The civil servants have in all sincerity to co-operate as they play a pivotal role in the entire election supervising machinery. During election time, they have a clear cut constitutional and administrative mandate to exercise vast powers. They can effectively take on the twin faced demon of corruption and crime which appears to have overtaken the electoral process. They should be over board and not have any partisan approach during the conducting of the elections which goes towards favouring one at the cost of the other. Subservience to any political master for individual rise and shine or adhering to a particular political ideology are the root causes of ineffective administrative will to fight unfair means in the system. Fingers are raised in many cases of convulsive politics, scams and scandals against which by all means the civil servants were expected to be the forces of a bulwark. If we do not understand the need to bite the bullet now and go in for the required electoral reforms, we cannot win the fight against the causes of corruption in our country.








Looking back on 41 successful years of Earth day one can see how a local movement in USA has become a huge international movement. Since its inception, Earth Day has been a rallying call for environment stewards around the world to actively promote and educate their fellow citizens on the environment.
On 22nd day of April every year, Earth Day is celebrated throughout the world to generate awareness among the civil society for environment conservation and sustainable development. Earth Day was started in the year 1970 by a US senator Gaylord Nelson. This was the period when lot of industrial growth was happening in USA and air and water pollution was reported from everywhere. This compelled the senator to start the campaign in USA to protect the environment and compel the law makers to legislate the policy for the same. In 1970 about 20 million Americans took part in rallies in all the states and along the coastline for a healthy and sustainable environment. Earth Day 1970, achieved a rare political alignment where Republicans, Democrats, rich and poor, big company owners and the labourers came together for a common cause. First Earth Day led to the creation of United State's Environmental Protection Agency. Denis Hayes who was the coordinator of Earth Day in 1990 took up this campaign beyond the boundaries of USA and made it a global campaign. In 1990, about 200 million people in 144 countries participated. This campaign gave a good boost for international efforts to carry forward the environmental issues which ultimately resulted into the United Nations Earth Summit in 1992 at Rio in Brazil. In 2000, the Earth Day network focused on Global Warming and clean Energy. In 2010, Earth Day celebrated its 40th anniversary and India became one of the biggest partners in this international effort to protect the environment. Earth Day network established itself as a powerful focal point around which people and common citizen could demonstrate their commitment to save Earth.
Building on the success of Earth Day 2010 in India and the massive participation of civil society, Earth day network has established its permanent India office at Kolkata. In 2010, Earth Day Network became a partner with World Wide Fund for Nature India and in 2011, EDN has now become a national programme in partnership with Ministry of Environment and Forests, GEF Small Grants Programme and CEE Paryavaran Mitra project. This project was launched by former President of India Dr. A.P.J.Abdul Kalam as its first Paryavarn Ambassdor in the year 2009 with the objective to create in the first phase about two crore Paryavarn Mitra (Friends of the Environment) from 200000 schools. The objective is to involve students in class rooms, in eco-clubs, families, neighbourhood communities and residential colonies/ cities in action oriented activities and execute innovative creative projects under five themes of Water conservation, Waste Management, Energy conservation, Biodiversity, Culture and Heritage. These activities shall have to be carried out by students in homes and communities.

In Jammu and Kashmir all 5500 National Green Corps Eco-Club schools and environmental NGOs are participating in this campaign. Electronic and print media shall also be participating in the campaign by carrying out interviews and panel discussions by the experts. At several places rallies and workshops shall be held.

Earth Day Network's message for 2011 is "A Billion Acts of Green". These green acts will be counted towards our ultimate goal of amassing one billion actions in advance of the Global Earth Summit which is being held at Rio in 2012. This campaign is the largest environmental service campaign in the world and will help in further reductions in carbon emissions and sustainability advancements around the world.
Government of India in order to protect environment of the country has enacted its own Environment Protection Act, Prevention of Air and Water Pollution Act. In addition, to protect its Forests, Wildlife and Biodiversity it also has enacted Forest, Wildlife and Biodiversity Conservation acts. To make the society aware of several issues related to environment the government has also launched several Environment Education, Awareness and Training programmes in all the states. In schools and colleges environment education has become the compulsory subject.

Jammu and Kashmir State is ecologically very fragile landscape. The government in order to fulfill its commitment as a constitutional obligation towards its citizens for safe environment, on the eve of 41st Earth Day should resolve to enact State Environmental Policy. In this effort, all ruling and opposition legislators should support the government for a common cause.

Let all of us join Earth Day campaign to make Earth green, pollution free and environmentally safe.
(The author is Chairperson World Wide Fund for Nature India and former Chairman State PCB).










THE cloud of suspicion that has gathered over the co-chairman of the Lokpal Bill drafting committee, Mr Shanti Bhushan, first on the basis of a controversial CD that he claims was doctored to defame him and then on two allegedly-dubious land allotments to him and his younger son Jayant Bhushan in U.P. has somewhat dented the credibility of social activist Anna Hazare's campaign against corruption at least for now. Even granting that there are powerful forces working to malign the civil society campaign that led to the constitution of a joint committee on the Lokpal bill of ministers and civil society representatives, and that Mr Shanti Bhushan's principal adversary Amar Singh, formerly of the Samajwadi Party, is no knight in shining armour, there is no denying that the seeds of doubt have been sown in the public mind. Well-intentioned as Anna Hazare is, he needed to ensure that all five civil society representatives on the joint panel were not only completely above board but were also seen to be so.


While the first allegation of a conversation between Mr Shanti Bhushan and Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav in which the former was purported to have told Mr Yadav that his son Prashant Bhushan (who is also on the drafting panel) could fix a judge for Rs 4 crore did not apparently cut much ice, the second one falls in a different category. Though denying any wrong-doing, Mr Shanti Bhushan has acknowledged that the allotment letters for two U.P. government plots of 10,000 square metres each were given to the Bhushans without an auction or a draw of lots on payment of 10 per cent of the price of Rs 3.5 crore. That these plots were under-priced in relation to their market value is a matter of debate now and the whole issue needs to be examined thoroughly post-haste.


It would be a tragedy indeed if the process of drafting the Lokpal bill is hampered or derailed as a result of these controversies. The people of this country are watching zealously. Anna Hazare's movement for reform in the system must be taken to its logical conclusion, come what may and any proven misconduct or impropriety must be sternly dealt with, regardless of whether the wrong-doer is a government representative or a civil society one.









IN the normal course, the launch of the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) on Wednesday should have been a routine affair, considering that 16 other launches before it had been successful. In fact, only the first launch before that – way back in 1993 – was a failure and since then PSLV had become the workhorse of ISRO. What made every scientist watch the launch with bated breath was the fact that the last two launches of the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) last year were failures and had anything gone wrong with the PSLV as well, it would have meant a serious loss of face. However, nothing of that sort happened and the PSLV put three satellites in orbit in a copybook fashion, with Director of the Liquid Propulsions Systems of ISRO S. Ramakrishnan describing the success as a "sweet seventeen" (referring to the 17th successful launch).


This morale-booster will hopefully help ISRO headed by K. Radhakrishnan in removing the glitches in the GSLV – which can carry much heavier payloads into the orbit. In the GSLV, the top two stages of the PSLV have been replaced with a cryogenic stage and the latter's six solid-propellant strap-ons have been replaced with four Vikas-engine based ones. What must be remembered is that the first two launches of the Augmented Satellite Launch Vehicle (ASLV) in late 1980s were also failures, but contributed considerably to the success of the PSLV which followed.


The PSLV will provide vital information about the natural resources, the state of snowcap and glaciers, changes in coastal areas and water bodies, among other inputs. It is a "global mission" indeed, considering that the remote-sensing images of the Resourcesat-2 satellite that it has put in orbit would be used by countries across the world. The PSLV is now the most reliable and cost-effective rocket in the world. Three more launches of it are scheduled this year, to be followed by a launch of the GSLV.











Pakistan Army Chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani perhaps thinks that a few sops from him will make the people of Balochistan forget the injustice done to them by Islamabad for a long period. That is why, as part of his new strategy, he has come out with certain measures to reduce the presence of the Pakistan Army in the restive province. He announced recently that the plan to set up four new cantonments in Balochistan would not be implemented. To ease he unemployment situation, there is a plan to recruit over 5000 young men in the armed forces. Besides this, the Frontier Corps, a paramilitary force, will replace the army units deployed to maintain law and order in Sui and Gwadar, the two most sensitive towns of Balochistan. General Kayana also promised to establish a few more technical institutions besides the one he inaugurated in the port city of Gwadar.


All these measures, however, are unlikely to help win over the Balochs, who refuse to take seriously any promise by the Pakistan establishment owing to a long history of denial and suppression of their urges. They distrust the Frontier Corps as much as they do the Army. It is the Frontier Corps which has been actively involved in the operations against Baloch nationalists and is mainly responsible for a large number of cases of disappearance of Baloch political activists.


The people of Balochistan need a firm promise that they will never be exploited by Islamabad, and a mechanism must be put in place to implement such a pledge. They have a long list of grievances, which include the neglect of Balochistan by Islamabad in different areas of activity, and the use of the province's natural resources for the development of other provinces, mainly Punjab. They have been dealt with mercilessly whenever they raised their voice against the denial of justice to them. They hate the Punjabi-dominated Pakistan Army more than any other institution because it has never shown concern towards their plight. General Kayani will have to go deeper into the Baloch issue if he is serious about establishing peace in the largest and resource-rich province of Pakistan.









Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Kazakhstan is a reminder of how high India's stakes are in Central Asia for its foreign policy priorities. While Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev needed legitimacy for his re-election victory that has been criticised in the western capitals, for New Delhi there are real issues in that part of the world that concern its national security and economic growth. Not surprisingly, the two main areas that were given serious consideration were the civilian nuclear cooperation pact and the situation in Afghanistan. New Delhi and Astana signed a civil nuclear cooperation agreement, which provides a legal framework for cooperation in this field, including fuel supply, joint mining of uranium, reactor safety mechanisms and construction and operation of nuclear power plants. Mr Nazarbayev also affirmed that his nation was on course to fulfil its commitment of supplying 2100 tonnes of uranium to India by 2014. On Afghanistan, the two sides agreed that "it was essential that renewed efforts were made to sufficiently build up the capacity of the Afghan National Security Forces".


President Nazarbayev won his nation's overwhelming approval in the presidential election held in early April with more than 95.5 per cent of the ballots cast, but lost the vote of confidence he sought from the world community. The 70-year-old leader, who has been President for 20 years, won another five-year term — with a voter turnout of 90 per cent — after elections held two years ahead of time to lengthen his time in office. The elections were widely considered a sham as an absence of opposition candidates and a vibrant political discourse had resulted in a non-competitive environment.


Mr Nazarbayev has ruled since 1989, when Kazakhstan was part of the Soviet Union and he was its party secretary. He is the country's only directly elected official. His domination has been so complete that no serious political competition has emerged and so adroit that much of the population reveres him. Kazakhs credit him with keeping their country protected from the turmoil that has roiled other Central Asian nations such as Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. Tajikistan endured a costly civil war, and Uzbekistan, where the President is as long serving but far more ruthless, has suffered civil strife.


Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Astana gave Mr Nazarbayev a much needed opportunity to showcase his international acceptability as the leader of a strategically vital state in Central Asia. Major powers have competed for influence in Central Asia since the 19th century and that "Great Game" seems to be back with a bang. The importance of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) that has evolved into a forum for discussion on regional security and economic issues cannot be overstated in this context. It has become even more important post–September 11, 2001, because growing ethnic nationalism and Islamic fundamentalism is a major cause of concern for Russia, China and Central Asian states.


Russia and China have been successful in using the strong aversion of the United States to terrorism after September 11 for their own ends to tackle Islamic insurgency within their territories. In the post–9/11 environment, the SCO serves as a means to keep control of Central Asia and limit US influence in the region. In fact, the SCO denounced the misuse of anti-terror war to target any country and threw its weight behind the UN in an attempt to show its disagreement with the US-led war in Iraq.


India's growing interests in Central Asia are well-recognised. There is a growing convergence between the US and Indian interests, especially their reluctance to see the region fall under the exclusive influence of Russia or China. India was worried in the 1990s when Russian influence in Central Asia weakened substantially with a commensurate rise in Chinese influence. This negatively impacted upon Indian threat perceptions which stabilised only after the growing US presence in the region since 2001.


India views itself as a stabiliser and security provider in Central Asia and with its growing economic clout, an attractive economic power for the region. India's interest in securing reliable energy supplies and trade through Central Asia remains substantial. There is a seamless logical web from the objective of ensuring Central Asian stability and India's voice there to the conclusion that India must also ensure reliable energy access to oil and gas sources originating in Central Asia.


The requirements of energy security also postulate a continuing positive relationship with Moscow and friendly ties with all the Central Asian states. India must create firm ties among the energy exporting states of Central Asia, particularly Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and, if possible, Turkmenistan. It should be no surprise then that India's ties with the regional states are growing. Moreover, the imperatives of getting Afghanistan right are stronger than ever today when the situation is rapidly deteriorating.


India had opened its air base in Ayni, Tajikistan, in 2002 to guard against growing instability in the region though nothing much has happened on that front for long. India's ties with regional states are growing and moderate Islam of the region makes it imperative for India to engage the region more substantively. Other powers, barring China, have recognised this reality and have sought to harness India towards achieving common goals. Russia, for example, supports Indian membership in the SCO and has talked about the possibility of India participating in the Collective Security Treaty Organization.


A great power competition in Central Asia will make it harder for India to pursue its interests in the region. As such, it becomes imperative for Indian diplomacy to work towards major power cooperation to bring some measure of stability to Afghanistan as well as the larger Central Asian region. The Prime Minister has made a good start by visiting Kazakhstan, but the region should not now slip off India's radar.


The writer teaches at King's College, London.









HIS demeanor and emphatic, measured speech have not changed a whit since I first and last met him in 1989. The men I once commanded were from the Pune-Sattara-Ratnagiri region and in moments of informal interaction they would often talk of Anna "Sahib" who had led his village from dire poverty to assured prosperity.


Traditionally, soldiers reserve the "Sahib" appellation for their officers and JCOs only; so who was Anna? Well, he was one of the several thousand vehicle drivers of the Indian army. During the 1965 Indo-Pak war he had a close call with death. His was one of the 15-odd lorries ferrying ammunition in the Amritsar sector when this convoy was strafed by PAF Saber-jets.


All the lorries exploded, except Naik Anna Hazare's. When he regained composure, he had a divine vision; "Bhagwan boley too ja, apney gaon ki seva kar". And over the next two decades, village Raleagan Siddhi became the beneficiary of "faith moving mountains".


Short of outright deifying him, his ideas and guidance were accepted by Raleagan citizens as "Dharma". The women of the village emerged unconditionally empowered and enjoyed vis-à-vis their menfolk the Orwellian status: "All animals are equal but some are more equal than the others!" No more pregnancies after the second child and freedom to acquire skills both in aid of the community and their households.


Land holdings were miniscule but the collective agricultural output increased phenomenally because rain-fed cultivation was replaced by assured, well-water irrigation. Consumption of alcohol was ruthlessly rooted out and with the combined, energized labour force, open wells were dug and a water-usage roster was drawn for each family based on their acreage under tillage.


Every house became a brick and concrete structure with piped drinking water and cooking gas from two community sized, bio-gas plants, at fixed times. Community toilets were clustered around the bio-gas plants, the human faces supplementing its "gobar" feed-stock. Kitchen waste was dumped into community compost-pits.


Anna Sahib was able to convince the Houses of Tata and Kirloskar of the viability of his mission and obtain interest-free loans as also irrigation lift-pumps and diesel generators at concessional rates. Loan instalments were honoured post the Kharif and Rabbi harvests; the last being in 1986 !


Onions and pulses were the main cash crops. In 1986, the produce earned close to a whopping 2.5 lakh rupees. A Cooperative Gramin Bank was created and staffed exclusively by the Raleagan women. Each family had fixed deposits of five to thirty thousand rupees by 1989.


I cannot recall how the school was funded but free and compulsory education was provided to each child up to matriculation. At least two able-bodied youth enrolled in the Army each year.


I shared this experience with the late General B C Joshi and suggested that the Army ran an orientation course, for soldiers about to retire under Anna Hazare's aegis. The General visited Raleagan and launched the initiative with the hope that many more soldiers would replicate the Raleagan template in their villages.









TWO aspects in China's National Defence – 2010, a white paper issued by its state information machinery on March 31 2011, attract attention. The first is the emphasis it lays on exploitation of the information spectrum or "informationalisation" as the paper calls it, in the pursuit of military objectives. The other aspect is the chapter devoted to "military confidence building" that details its military-diplomatic engagement with other countries, many of which lie beyond its immediate neigbourhood.


Like most government documents meant for the public domain, the paper reiterates much of what is already known, but nonetheless offers a glimpse into the policy, doctrinal approach and emerging trends in the world's second largest war machine and what many experts say poses the biggest challenge not only for India, but also for many other countries. The paper emphasizes the Chinese military's rapid transformation into a lean, agile and integrated force, moving away from its earlier focus on quantity and manpower to technology, quality and efficiency capable to providing a long reach in a short time.


Information, particularly real-time information, is the key to empowerment, dominance and success, both in war and peace. It involves not only one's ability to communicate effectively vertically and laterally across military echelons as well as other vital institutions, but also security of information and communication networks while at the same time possessing adequate capability to penetrate, manipulate and demolish the adversary's information structure so as to cripple his functioning. A large chunk of the information structure, interlinking a host of agencies upon which the day-to-day functioning of the nation depends lies in the realm of cyberspace, which remains highly vulnerable as some recent incidents in peacetime have revealed. Military and strategic networks are also not immune.


Engaging in military confidence building, which includes strategic consultation and dialogues in the field of security, border area confidence building measures, cooperation on maritime security, regional security cooperation in the Asia-Pacific theatre and military exchanges with other countries indicates China's growing confidence and influence in geopolitics and its desire to expand its footprint on the global security scenario. China has established mechanisms for strategic consultations with 22 countries, some of which do not see eyeball to eyeball with India on several issues.


Security Situation and National Defence Policy


The international situation, the paper states, is currently undergoing profound and complex changes, with the progress toward economic globalisation, informationisation of society and a multi-polar world is irreversible. The current trend toward peace, development and cooperation is irresistible, but international strategic competition and contradictions are intensifying, global challenges are becoming more prominent, and security threats are becoming increasingly integrated, complex and volatile.


The world on the whole remains peaceful and stable, but deep-seated contradictions and structural problems behind the international financial crisis have not been resolved. Economic recovery remains fragile and imbalanced. Security threats posed by global challenges as terrorism, economic insecurity, climate change, nuclear proliferation, insecurity of information, natural disasters, public health concerns, and transnational crime are on the rise. Traditional security concerns blend with non-traditional ones and domestic concerns interact with international security ones, making it hard for traditional security approaches and mechanisms to respond effectively to the various security issues.


Though generally stable, Asia-Pacific security is becoming more intricate and volatile with regional pressure points dragging on without any solutions. There is tension on the Korean Peninsula. The situation in Afghanistan remains serious. Political turbulence persists in some countries. Ethnic and religious discords are evident. Disputes over territorial and maritime rights flare up occasionally. And terrorist, separatist and extremist activities run amok. Profound changes are taking shape in the Asia-Pacific strategic landscape.


China, the paper states, is in a critical phase of the building of a moderately prosperous society, and is confronted by more diverse and complex security challenges. It has vast territories and territorial seas, thereby facing heavy demands in safeguarding national security. It implements the military strategy of active defense, adheres to the principles of independence and self-defense, strengthens the construction of its armed forces and that of its border, territorial sea and territorial air defenses, and enhances national strategic capabilities.


Stating that the two sides of the Taiwan Strait are destined to "ultimate reunification", the paper adds that China's national defence is also tasked to oppose and contain the separatist forces for "Taiwan independence," crack down on separatist forces for "East Turkistan independence" and "Tibet independence".


Modernisation of the People's Liberation Army


To meet the new and changing needs of national security, the PLA, according to the paper, accentuates modernisation from a higher platform. It strengthens the building of a new type of combat capability to win local wars in conditions of informationisation, strengthens the composite development of mechanisation and informationisation with the latter as the leading factor for raising its fighting capabilities and enhancing fire power, mobility, protection and support.


In line with the strategic requirements of mobile operations and tri-dimensional offense and defence, the Chinese army has emphasised the development of new types of combat forces, optimised organisation and structure, strengthened military training in conditions of informationisation, accelerated digitised upgrading and retrofitting of weaponry, deployed new weapon platforms, and significantly boosted capabilities in long-distance maneuvers and integrated assaults. Artillery and armoured components are developing precision operations capability with integrated reconnaissance, control, strike and assessment elements. Other arms and services are being upgraded into multi-functional support forces for use in war, peace and military operations other than war.


The Navy endeavors to accelerate the modernisation of integrated combat forces, enhance capabilities in strategic deterrence and counterattack, conducting operations in distant waters and in countering non-traditional threats. The air force, the paper claims, is working to ensure a combat force structure that focuses on air strikes, air and missile defence, and strategic projection, to improve leadership and command system and build up an informationised, networked base support system. It conducts training on confrontation between systems in complex electromagnetic environments and different tactical contexts.


The Second Artillery Force, PLA's strategic missile component, strives to improve its capabilities in rapid reaction, penetration, precision strike, damage infliction, protection, and survivability, while steadily enhancing its capabilities in strategic deterrence and defensive operations.


Informationisation, Joint Operations and Manpower


Information warfare and joint operations are the current buzzwords in military affairs globally. In this context the paper states that the PLA's fighting capabilities in conditions of informationisation have increased and significant progress has been made in building information systems for reconnaissance and intelligence, command and control, and battlefield environment awareness. Information systems have been widely applied in logistics and equipment support. A preliminary level has been achieved in interoperability among command and control systems, combat forces, and support systems, making intelligence distribution, command and guidance more efficient and rapid.


The paper adds that the PLA takes joint operation systems as the focal point of its modernisation and preparations for military struggle, and strives to enhance fighting capabilities based on information systems. It has improved joint support mechanisms, enhanced IT-based integrated support, and established a basic integrated support system linking strategic, operational and tactical levels.


While the complement of new-mode and high-caliber military personnel who can meet the needs of informationisation has been steadily enlarged, the PLA is also laying stress on the training of commanding officers for joint operations and high-level experts in technological innovation. Under its strategic project for talented individuals, it cultivates a contingent of commanding officers, staff officers, scientists, technical experts and non-commissioned officers as joint operation commanders, informationisation professionals and experts in operating and maintaining new types of equipment.


The PLA is improving the quality and optimising the composition of weaponry and equipment. While already planning the development of future weapons and equipment, it is using advanced and mature technologies to retrofit existing systems to upgrade their comprehensive performance. It is strengthening logistics systems and revamping capabilities in managing, maintaining and supporting equipment by applying modern management techniques, integrating systems and outsourcing services. Plans for wartime troop mobilisation have been improved and the reserve force has been strengthened.


The Implications


While underscoring the fact that China's armed forces are on a major modernisation drive and revamping their organisational structure to meet its perceived national security interests, the paper harps that China's defence policy is defensive in nature. It will never seek hegemony, nor will it adopt the approach of military expansion nor or in the future, no matter how its economy develops. In a self-complimentary mode, the paper claims that strengthened coordination and cooperation with major traditional powers and emerging countries, reinforced good-neighborly friendship and practical cooperation with neighboring countries, and extended mutually benefiting cooperation with other developing countries. It further states that China will hold high the banner of peace, development, cooperation and endeavor to foster, together with other countries, an international security environment of peace, stability, equality, mutual trust, cooperation.


For India, which does not feature in the part concerning regional security cooperation but gets a passing reference in sections devoted border area meets, security dialogues and military exchanges, China's claims on peaceful co-existence and mutual trust would sound hollow. Chinese claims on Indian territory in Arunachal Pradesh and Ladakh are provocative, border disputes remain unsolved, military incursions continue and the Sino-Pakistan strategic collusion in military and nuclear fields is a cause for concern.



As China marches ahead in its ability to project force beyond its borders to protect its interests and, in its apparent keenness to employ military might to support politico-diplomatic maneuvers and economic initiatives, it poses a huge challenge for stakeholders in the global power play arena, particularly the Asia-Pacific region. India has a mammoth task at hand on the political, diplomatic, economic and military fronts if it is to rise to the occasion and secure its interests. Though the paper is devoid of specifics about military strength and weapons and reveals little of strategic or tactical significance, its the intents and not the contents that matter. India will have to watch and analyze the Dragon's moves very carefully. Working towards expanding its global footprint while hemming in India, there is little doubt that China will become more assertive and tougher to deal with in future.









On Tuesday, protesters from Vasai did the unthinkable: marching to south Mumbai from Vasai, they diverted onto the Bandra Worli Sea Link, otherwise closed to pedestrians, and so stormed a cars-only citadel.


The police were unable to stop them. Questions were later raised (including in this newspaper) about this act of "illegality", but the comment from independent MLA Vivek Pandit, who led the march, provides another perspective. "Why should the sea link be only for rich people and their cars?" he asked, calling the sea link a rich people's bastion.


The next day, another report in this newspaper showed how the slums removed not long ago from Chowpatty beach had come up there again. That report quotes a slum dweller asking, "Where will poor people like us go? We work here and do odd jobs. We also give regular hafta to the police."


The two reports, and the matters to which they relate, are separated by huge gaps in time and purpose. The sea link breach was momentary; not so the beach slums. The first was purely symbolic; the second is a matter of survival. Both are bound by this: they speak of a city that is unconcerned about its poor.


The sea link's project proponents (MSRDC) did not heed the warnings of its own consultants, W S Atkins, who, in a commissioned report, pointed out that the link would increase traffic, not reduce it; and that increased congestion would be seen at Haji Ali, Peddar Road, Tardeo, Nana Chowk, Worli Naka and points beyond in each direction. MSRDC rubbished all this, claiming congestion, noise and pollution would decrease and travel time would improve with the sea link.


Now, faced with the snarls at Haji Ali and elsewhere, everyone is scrambling to find solutions. Who has benefited from this? Of Mumbai's commuters, 88 per cent use public transport. Less than 7 per cent use private transport, and taxis account for another 5 per cent. So this iconic structure (which MSRDC now wants to 'copyright') services only about a tenth of the city's commuters. Pandit is not completely off the mark.

The slums-on-open-spaces problem is more complex, but the Chowpatty slum dwellers' voice cannot be silenced like this. They work here. They need to live close by. Granted, this cannot be on the city's notoriously scarce open spaces. These are needed not for the rich (who have their private estates and club memberships) but even more essentially for the poor. But are the poor not entitled to housing they can afford? Isn't this what people want?


As the statutorily-mandated revision of Mumbai's development plan gets under way, a survey by the Urban Design Research Institute and students of the Rachna Sansad architecture school shows us the needs, hopes, desires and aspirations of the city's people.


Compiling data from a wide cross-section of over 1,000 Mumbaikars, the study addressed issues of health, transport, open spaces, environment, water, housing and education and more. The results counter everything our "planners" claim. Sixty-five per cent said their top priority was affordable housing; 32 per cent had no toilets at home; 27 per cent had no access to public toilets. Translation: a quarter of this city does not have access to basic sanitation.


Another study by the National Institute of Industrial Engineering and the Indira Gandhi Institute for Development Research examined environmental amenities in Mumbai in relation to real estate prices. They found that people are willing to pay a premium to be near a park or a lake; do not want to be near slums; want noise-free neighbourhoods.


These studies point to something our city planners have always ignored: the people of this city and their demand for a better civic environment. Nobody in his right mind wants a slum, not even the person who is forced to live in it. Our slum solution — toss them out, hand the land over to developers and hope for the best — is criminal and is social injustice of the worst kind. Our planning norms and laws encourage shiny buildings and mammoth bridges, but make no provision for affordable housing.


The trouble is with the flawed nature of our planning process. In the current model, a few omniscient and non-representative planners get to decide what's good for the city. Then they 'invite' public 'suggestions and objections' when the city's goose is pretty much already cooked. The result is always a plan that is exclusionary: it ignores the poor and the weak and makes no effective provision for their housing or transport.
    From London to Miami, the process is exactly the reverse: first try and ascertain the needs of citizens, and then develop the plan. The UDRI initiative deserves greater respect from the government for it restores the city's people to the planning process. Who we are is defined by the kind of city we make for ourselves. Is Mumbai over the next 20 years to be a city that cares for its own or the private playground of millionaires? Our development plan must attempt the engineering of social justice, not the engineering of monuments and icons.



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Even as the Planning Commission says that India's desire to hit double-digit economic growth is being constrained, among other things, by the inability of the farm sector to grow at an annual average rate of 4 per cent a year, largely semi-arid Gujarat, with poor agro-ecological endowments, has reported an average growth rate of close to 9 per cent per annum over the past decade. Gujarat's agricultural performance this past decade has turned out to be as impressive as its performance on the industrial front. What are the secrets of Chief Minister Narendra Modi's "Gujarat model of farm development"? The twin mantras that seem to have spurred agricultural growth in this drought-prone state are improved diffusion of technology and better utilisation of water, both achieved through extensive and concerted extension services and the pooling of individual, community and official initiatives. These seem to have been followed by essential support services that provide inputs, credit, power and marketing facilities.

Other states, like Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and Assam, have also performed fairly well on the farm front, but they have a long way to go before they can match Gujarat. The original Green Revolution states in the north-west, on the other hand, have begun to lag behind on agricultural growth owing to laxity in developmental efforts and inadequate attention being paid to the over-exploitation of natural resources, including groundwater. West Bengal, which had a record of good performance in agricultural development, has slipped and is among the poorly performing states, with agricultural growth going down from over 5 per cent in the early 1990s to under 2 per cent in recent years.


The new and innovative approach that Gujarat adopted to rejuvenate its virtually defunct farm extension system involves bringing farm scientists and service providers on the same platform and taking them to the farmer's doorstep, rather than the other way round. For this, Krishi Raths (mobile agricultural units), carrying experts and service providers, traverse the state during month-long Krishi Mahotsavas (farm fairs) organised every year to take care of all needs of the farmers. Soil health checks are carried out to counsel farmers on the right kind of crop to grow and the precise amount of inputs to use to optimise farm production with minimum cost. Given the scarcity of water in Gujarat, several unconventional initiatives have been taken to ensure its judicious and sustainable use. Stress on water conservation, through rainwater harvesting, and on expanding area under irrigation, to enhance crop productivity, has helped. Apart from digging ponds on individual farms, bori-bandhs (sandbag dams) and concrete check dams are being constructed at appropriate sites in watersheds to hold water in the natural depressions so that part of it percolates down to recharge the groundwater aquifer and the rest could be used for irrigation. And most importantly, dedicated feeder lines have been put up for assured power supply to the farm sector at fixed hours under the Jyotigram scheme. This has encouraged farmers to reduce wasteful use of pump sets and excessive use of groundwater. Consequently, Gujarat's farmers seem to be making better use of scarce water. Clearly, there is much that farmers from the rest of India can learn to improve productivity, output and incomes. If India follows Gujarat, 10 per cent growth should be possible!







The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has been recanting past doctrines ever since the trans-Atlantic financial crisis dissolved the "Washington consensus". In a recent report, the IMF has given up an old shibboleth on cross-border capital flows. With emerging markets and developed ones worried about "hot money" flows and their impact on exchange rates, inflation and asset bubbles, the IMF's neo-conservatism has found new converts. The document has understandably created fissures in the international community, with developing countries feeling the document has not gone far enough in attempting to control capital flows. Developed countries, on the other hand, have been hinting at the dangers of setting a precedent in curbing the free flow of capital. While the truth may lie somewhere in between, the immediate responsibility for restoring a semblance of order in the international financial system rests squarely with the developed economies. As just one example, the recently concluded quantitative easing (QE2) programme in the US lowered the domestic interest rate to virtually zero, raised commodity prices worldwide and led to outflows of capital, seeking better returns. While QE2 was an attempt to jump-start a sluggish US economy, the negative spillovers are being felt the world over. Other developed economies have also contributed to this problem, albeit not to the same extent as the US.

The IMF has been at great pains to emphasise the non-binding nature of the document. In theory, capital controls would work best for countries whose currencies are not undervalued, economies are overheating and where the scope for fiscal policy is limited. As a corollary, countries without these problems would be ill-advised to restrict the flow of capital into their respective economies. This clearly delineated advice would have limited applicability given that most countries would have some combination of these conditions, which would lead them to adopt country-specific measures. China, for example, has a starkly undervalued currency and follows tight fiscal policy, but has been recently grappling with overheating. Yet China has been arguing vociferously for curbs on capital flows, to prevent upward pressures being exerted on the renminbi. Brazil and South Korea have already put a control regime in place to deter hot money inflows.


 India's stance on capital inflows has hardened over the years. Recent statements from the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) have been more direct in expressing concern on the deleterious impact of such flows. The RBI should know. The sterilisation of hot money from 2004 to 2007 to prevent rupee appreciation led to interest payments of approximately Rs 60,000 crore a year! The furore over portfolio investments should not be allowed to derail the effort to make India an attractive destination for foreign direct investment (FDI). FDI is more stable, and brings with it a basket of benefits such as advanced technology, access to export markets and exposure to international best practices. An indiscriminate assault on "foreign" capital would result in throwing the baby out with the bathwater!







Does economics influence the course of politics or is it politics that determines the direction of economics? Economists and political scientists keep on asking the question but have yet to find a satisfactory answer. The explosion on the streets of West Asia and North Africa (WANA) is the latest event where such questions have been raised. When Mohammed Bouazizi, a 26-year-old Tunisian fruit vendor, set himself on fire after having been slapped by a policewoman, he must have known that he was making a political statement. However, nobody thought that this one act would lead to the demise of the long-enduring regime of President Ben Ali and would spread to other WANA countries that had been weighed down by ossified regimes for decades. The Tunisian president lasted for ten days; his Egyptian counterpart resisted longer but had to leave after 18 days of protests on the streets of Cairo.

In both cases, however, the main reason for the success of the street was economics. Both Tunisia and Egypt were doing well in terms of growth but the fruit of growth were being picked by a very narrow segment of the population. Closed political systems and constrained media provided no outlets to the anguished masses, who saw little improvement in their own circumstances while the rich were living extremely well and were accumulating large amounts of assets both inside and outside the countries. But the fruit-seller's self-immolation gave them courage and brought down two regimes. And more will most certainly depart.


Similar frustration is building up in Pakistan. The economy is under stress; inflation is eroding the real incomes of all but the rich; there are stories of rampant corruption at all levels of the government; there is growing anger at the way the country's sovereignty is being disregarded by the United States through the use of drones to attack the tribal areas. This leads to many questions concerning the interplay between economics and politics. Why is the economy performing so poorly while other South Asian nations continue to move ahead at respectable speeds? Could this be because of political uncertainty that discourages investments by both internal and external economic actors? Is the political system under stress because of the poor performance of the economy? Will the street explode as in WANA and in Pakistan in the past?

In Pakistan's case, it is easier to answer some of these questions. The political system has not yet been able to find a way to reconcile the different economic interests of the various parties that are competing for the same political space. Unless that can be done, the country will not be able to find a solution to its most pressing economic problems. The state does not have the resources to provide some of the basic services that only it can deliver to the poor and the not so well-to-do. The tax-to-GDP ratio has declined to well below 10 per cent, one of the lowest in the developing world. At that level, once the government has paid for defence and serviced the increasing amounts of national debt, not much is left for social services. The quality of both public education and public health has deteriorated to such an extent that the poor are opting out of the public system and are looking to the private sector for relief. But the small amount they can spend on these services means that even private suppliers don't provide adequate services. The well-to-do have far better access to quality education, health care and security services. They have managed to create islands of prosperity and good life in the midst of growing misery and despair.

There is no other way out of this quandary than for the government to increase its resource base. But the tax system is proving hard to reform. The various constituencies that support different political parties are not prepared to see an erosion of the incomes of their base that would inevitably result in the short term with higher taxes. The ruling Pakistan Peoples Party has a strong base of support in rural Sindh and does not want agricultural incomes to be taxed. The Karachi-based Muttahida Quami Movement does not want urban services to be taxed. The Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), which governs Punjab and is the largest opposition party, does not want the documentation of the merchant class, which has successfully resisted it. Without documentation, it cannot be brought into the tax net. Politics, in other words, is pulling down the economy. And it is only politics that will bring about an improvement in the economy.

There have been similar periods of frustration among the masses in the past. Each time, it led to explosions on the streets that eventually resulted in regime change. Pakistan has had its WANA moments in its turbulent history. This time around, the political system is open enough and the media free enough to allow people to voice their opinion. The promise of another election in less than two years means that people can go to the ballot box to bring about a regime change. The military will not be called to throw out non-performing regimes as it did four times in the past. An open political system supported by free media instills patience even when the level of frustration is very high. It appears that the country will have to struggle for a while to find a political solution to the many economic problems it currently confronts.

The writer is former finance minister of Pakistan







India's free trade agreement (FTA) with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), which kicked off in January 2010, is perhaps the country's most important trade agreement because it is integral to its "look east" policy of integration with Asia. The 10-member Asean's combined GDP of $1.5 trillion is not very different from that of India's GDP of $1.2 trillion. An FTA, thus, is bound to open up a substantial market for our goods. India, too, can benefit from services trade with Asean. Greater engagement with this grouping will spur the globalising drive of India Inc eastwards as it forms partnerships, alliances and joint ventures to leverage the bustling business prosperity of this region.

However, despite evidence that this FTA might result in a boom in bilateral trade that can easily touch $70 billion by 2012, up from $50 billion in 2010, such local stakeholders as farmers in states like Kerala and India Inc are far from gung-ho about this agreement. Indian industry nurtures a deep-seated ambivalence over the benefits of such bilaterals due to the persisting domestic handicap of inverted duty structures. This contributes to a skewed pattern of trade tilted against India. Presumably, the only ones who remain enthusiastic are bureaucrats and politicians — especially the so-called reformers in their midst, who are susceptible to the need to show that India has arrived on the world stage!


Professor Jagdish Bhagwati of Columbia University and other economists specialising in trade are also extremely sceptical that such FTAs have anything to do with free trade. Far from it, they form an unruly mass of crisscrossing strings, that he called a "spaghetti bowl", that hampers rather than facilitates free trade for those left out. Such FTAs entail different rules of origin and preferences that benefit only member countries. Whether the trade creation for such member countries is welfare-enhancing for their stakeholders like farmers and local industries is also far from certain. Such agreements are at best a second-best option to a multilateral WTO deal that wraps up the Doha Round.

Even if such agreements are second-best options, India is unlikely to derive much benefit if there is a persisting sense of ambivalence among stakeholders regarding the potential gains. Closer economic engagement with Asean is simply not on without a greater degree of self-confidence on the part of India Inc. If India desires to be part of the broader Asian community, a degree of openness is necessarily called for. Is India Inc ready for a greater degree of openness? After having experienced decades of tariff protection, it is certainly not easy to be prepared for accelerated reductions in import duties. But being defensive about one's market is hardly the best way to gain from two-way trade.

Considering its nascent stage – the agreement is not fully in place as only eight of the ten members have ratified it. Vietnam and Cambodia are expected to do so in the near future – it is hardly surprising that there are no detailed impact assessments of this agreement by think-tanks and researchers. A good report is the recent Deloitte-FICCI white paper on "India Asean Free Trade Agreement: Implications for India's Economy" that argues that the success of the FTA is "critically dependent on the existence of good institutions in the country and an efficient regulatory environment such that they act as true enablers for the benefits to flow through and disperse throughout the economy."

On the goods front, this agreement will benefit Asean more than India although it will provide greater competitive advantage to several of our industries like chemicals, pharmaceuticals, textiles and handicrafts, according to Deloitte. Extending the FTA to services is, therefore, critical for India if it has to leverage its full potentiality. To be sure, negotiations between India and Asean have been facing problems on services, especially over the issue of movement of natural persons. India, however, is unfazed by these setbacks as it has concluded a comprehensive economic cooperation agreement (CECAs) with Malaysia, like it has with Singapore. CECAs with Thailand and Indonesia are also on the anvil. India certainly can benefit from greater services trade with such important Asean members.

This FTA, thus, is likely to be our most ambitious trade agreement. But so long as we have a defensive mindset in trading off long-term benefits with short-term costs, we wouldn't be able to leverage its full potential. Indian business must be ready for a greater degree of openness to benefit from trade agreements and take proactive measures to form alliances with the Bhumiputras in Malaysia and local non-Chinese businessmen in, say, Indonesia. This should not be difficult in principle as doing business in Asean is hardly different from India. In this connection, an extremely positive development is that the Indian government is thinking of appointing a dedicated ambassador to Asean who will be based in Jakarta. This should help in giving more attention to a crucial building-block of India's drive to integrate with Asia.

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A recent vacation in Himachal Pradesh introduced me to the prosperity of the state. All the three sectors – industry, agriculture and services (tourism) – seem to be doing well. There are few signs of poverty and every sign of buoyant consumerism. The traffic of trucks along the main highways is strong and the car population is dense. One particular model that seems popular is the Nano — red, silver and yellow. The smallness of the car is perfectly suited for the hills, some owners said, because it is easy to park, convenient to negotiate bends, economical to run and fun to race on narrow roads.

Till a few months ago, it looked as if Tata Motors had got the Nano script all wrong. There were incidents of the car catching fire. Many who had booked the car in April 2009 lost patience and cancelled their bookings. Word-of-mouth publicity, which can make or break any new product in India, did not favour the Nano. Sales began to fall after peaking at 9,000 in July last year. The lowest point came in November when the company sold only 509 pieces.


Since then, the numbers have recovered gradually. Tata Motors sold 5,784 Nanos in December, 6,703 in January, 8,262 in February and 8,707 in March. In the whole of 2011, the company sold 70,432 Nanos, way below the Indigo (87,925) and the Indica (97,845). But if the March numbers are anything to go by, the pecking order could look very different in the current financial year — while Tata Motors sold 8,707 Nanos, it sold 7,197 Indigos and 6,937 Indicas. There is, however, a caveat. The Indica did below potential in 2010-11 because there was no BS-IV variant of the old Indica; now that it has been introduced, Indica numbers could rise and provide a challenge to the Nano. But few doubt that the Nano will soon become what it was always meant to be — the most popular car from the Tata Motors stables.

This turnaround in the car's fortune hasn't happened on its own; Tata Motors has done some serious course-correction in the last few months. When the Nano was launched in 2009, Tata Motors was blasé about the marketing bit. The campaign for any new product has to do two things — inform about the new product and outline its features. The Nano had generated so much publicity that all the marketing team had to do was highlight its features. There was excessive reliance on the Internet for marketing; conventional marketing tools were jettisoned.

What the company didn't realise was that the market for the Nano could be away from the Internet crowd, in small towns and villages — like those along the highway through Himachal Pradesh. The challenge was to reach the car to these markets. Tata Motors has, thus, set up Nano access points through its dealers. These are like extension counters — low-cost showrooms where anybody can see the car, test-drive it and also book it. So far, 219 such points have been set up, and more could follow in the days to come. The company says the experiment has worked well, though it is not known how much it contributes to the car's sales. (Some volumes have also come from the display at the Big Bazaar stores.)

Sale, in the automobile market, is just half the job. Tata Motors needs to provide buyers inexpensive spares and convenient service options. This is not something the access points can do. The purpose will get defeated if the buyer has to drive 50 km to get his car serviced or minor faults repaired. Tata Motors seems to be aware that this could be an issue, given the brisk sales of the Nano in smaller markets. It now wants to do what it did for the Ace — its small truck. Apart from the dealership network for commercial vehicles, the company has set up 600 exclusive dealerships for the Ace. The strategy will be replicated for the Nano. This, it believes, will make spares and service easily available to the buyers.

The other issue Tata Motors had overlooked was that the booking route gave it no knowledge of the buyers' profile. Once open sales were started in August last year (the company began with Kerala around Onam and spread to all other states over the next six months), it realised that many of the buyers did not get a salary cheque at the end of the month — traders, self-employed, farmers, entrepreneurs et cetera. The assessment of their risks was not something banks and car-finance companies wanted to do. Tata Motors then brought in its finance arm, Tata Motors Finance, to help this category of buyers. It, the company claims, now finances a large chunk of the Nanos sold.

The Nano is no longer the Rs 1-lakh car it was supposed to be, though it is still the cheapest thing on four wheels. For prospective buyers, it's still a deeply thought out decision. To bring down the cost of ownership, Tata Motors has introduced warranty of four years on parts. It has, at times, also thrown in freebies like Tanishq gift vouchers and accessories with the car.

With the current volumes, the Nano plant at Sanand in Gujarat is running way below capacity (250,000 per annum). The next challenge for Tata Motors will be to take the numbers to that level.







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.








The special CBI court trying the 2G scam has sent five high-powered corporate executives to join nearly three lakh others who languish in Indian jails without having been convicted of a crime. The elite would, perhaps, now wake up to the horror of incarcerating citizens, often for years on end, without first having found them guilty of any crime. This mocks the promise to hold all accused innocent till proven guilty. Violation of abstruse principle translates, in the lived world of human beings, into loss and pain, wasted youth, broken families and untold suffering made worse, often, by eventual acquittal after years decaying in jail. This violates all human rights and must end. And that calls for systemic reform. Before the present corporate five joined the brotherhood of pre-trial and under-trial detainees, it already included, thanks to the 2G scam, former eminences such as a minister of the Union, his special assistant and a secretary to the government, apart from a couple of corporate chieftains who normally travel in their private jets. Of the three contingencies that justify pre-trial detention — recurrence of crime, flight and tampering of the evidence — the CBI has cited the latter two, and the court has concurred. Which seems strange. Can these people flee their corporate empires or the country? What evidence will they tamper with that they could not all these days since investigation into the scam was launched? More plausibly, the court would appear to have gone along with the popular sentiment that celebrates the pre-trial jailing of high-profile accused on the assumption that this is the only punishment they are ever likely to get.

This assumption must be undermined. Prosecutions must proceed fast and reach fruition. The guilty must be punished. For that, we need to appoint thousands more judges at the district level, give them physical and computing infrastructure, overhaul legal procedure to ensure continuous hearing of cases without adjournment and swift completion of appeals. With a . 12 lakh crore budget, no one can complain of a scarcity of funds. Only the political will is lacking.









The robust 37.5% growth of India's exports in 2010-11 is extremely encouraging. That the surge is despite the strengthening of the rupee against the greenback is a clear sign that exports have ceased to ride on cheap currency. The rupee, which traded at an average of . 45.57 to a dollar last fiscal year, appreciated the most between September and mid-October last year. Yet, exports touched $245.9 billion, surpassing the initial target of $200 billion. Exporters should henceforth stop expecting sops to protect them against a rupee rising just against the greenback. Broader, trade weighted effective exchange rate movements were far less adverse than what the rupee-dollar exchange rate movement suggested. The focus of export promotion policy should move from sops to better infrastructure and slashing transaction costs. A flexible rupee exchange rate has helped boost exports both in terms of volume and quality. The structural shift in exports is reflected in the rising share of high value products in the export basket. Engineering exports have the largest share, followed by petroleum products and gems and jewellery. The latest data show that engineering exports rose by an impressive 85% to top $60 billion, while petroleum product exports grew by over 50% to top $43 billion. This is a sea change from the days when India's exports were dominated by textiles. The strong growth was also driven by higher exports to new markets including Latin America and Africa. Clearly, the commerce ministry's strategy to diversify the destination of India's exports has yielded dividends. Economic recovery and hence demand is still uncertain in Europe, though the US shows signs of recovery. However, emerging markets are posting strong growth. Renewed focus on both non-traditional and emerging markets can help India achieve the export target of $450 billion by 2013-14.

Strong exports and a slower rise in imports help contain the trade and current account deficits within manageable limits. The current account deficit will be below the 2.8% of GDP level now deemed prudent by the PM's economic advisory council.






The Emperor of All Maladies needs an author for the Indian avatar. The American scourge has come up against a doughty crusader in the form of the brilliant and articulate Dr Siddhartha Mukherjee — who is also engaged in finding ways to defeat the malady even as he has notched up a Pulitzer prize for writing its 'biography'. A C-word in India needs a similarly fearless gladiator, but unfortunately most people are content to chronicle, not combat. Mukherjee's C-word and India's C-world have much in common, though the first has six letters and the second has 10. His book, therefore, is a ready reckoner for anyone who wants an insight into the current Indian contagion. Both are diseases of the modern world, becoming more prevalent, widespread and seemingly invincible as 'civil' society progresses, and in both cases, to borrow a quote by medical historian C E Rosenberg in Mukherjee's book, "the disease does not exist until we have agreed that it does — by perceiving, naming, and responding to it." More ominously, both Cs tend to increase rapidly and exponentially, subverting the normal regeneration process (hyperplasia in medicalspeak), as tainted cells replicate themselves endlessly. Worse still, only the fittest and smartest of these noxious elements survive to further sap the body (public), by constantly evolving to evade the methods used against them. Legislative moves in the US proved to be half-hearted at times when it came to providing an infrastructure to battle the disease, as Mukherjee has traced so meticulously. The individual, combined and coordinated efforts of many medical warriors worldwide — along with a concerted awareness campaign — has conquered at least some forms of cancer. Will an Indian author ditto that when it comes to eradicating corruption too?





It is passenger operation which helps people at large connect with Indian Railways (IR) and its pervasive ubiquity. Trains like the Himsagar, with its 75-hour 3,745-km long journey from Jammu to Kanyakumari, or the Dwarka, hurtling along a 3,296-km stretch from Guwahati to Okha, testify to what Paul Theroux perceived as "the railway possessed India and made her hugeness graspable".

And yet, passenger services have generally been viewed by IR management largely as social service obligation. Passenger business have inflicted an annual loss of over . 20,000 crore. Earnings of . 23,488 crore from passenger traffic in 2009-10 accounted for only 27% of IR's gross revenues; freight earnings of . 58,502 crore contributed 65%. Passenger business worldwide accounted for 57%, and freight 43% of the $313 billion global rail market (in 2005). Not that railway passenger business is inherently loss-making. On IR, it is the ordinary second-class segment that is the major culprit; upper classes (AC I, II, III, chair car, first) account for only 1% of total number of rail passengers, 6% of passenger kilometres, yet 24% of passenger revenues, and more than pay for themselves.

With inexplicable obduracy, IR prices its services irrationally low, besides being riddled with a myriad unwarranted concessions and free passes. The second class mail/express fare was 23.1 paise/per km in 2000-01; it remained stubbornly stuck at 23.2 paise even in 2008-09. The ordinary second-class fare, largely responsible for lossmaking, has remained untenably low at 14.9 paise/per km, and suburban travel still lower, at 12.9 paise/ per km. The fare on state road transport services in 2008-09 averaged 48.37 paise/per km.
While about 10 million passengers in India travel by air in a month, IR transports twice as many in a day. Even so, IR accounts for a meagre 12% of India's total passenger traffic, roads carrying over 87%. Cost-effective rail travel demand, far outstripping supply, will further grow substantially in view of the country's declining agriculture sector driving migration from rural areas for an integrated national labour market. The urban population is projected to rise from current 286 million to 575 million by 2030, keeping the foot-loose population on the move. Also, the spectre of climate change favour IR to reposition rail travel in preference to car and airlines.

For IR, therefore, it can no longer be business-as-usual. Considering historical growth rates and crippling capacity constraints, RITES' projection of 7,189 million inter-city passengers by 2025-26 against 2,835 million passengers in 2007-08 is too conservative. If GDP grows 8% or more, annual demand for transport generally rises 10-12%, implying the number of originating non-suburban rail passengers exceeding 12,000 million by 2025. IR has its task laid out: (i) its capacity to expand exponentially, for garnering at least a 25% share of total passenger traffic; (ii) its passenger and freight businesses be segregated; (iii) fares to rationally reconcile affordability by the bottom of the pyramid with viability of the organisation; and (iv) intra-urban and other stopping commuter services be hived off and managed multi-modally by an autonomous corporate body. As Railway Fare and Freight Committee, 1993 had advised, IR should run long-distance trains with limited number of halts, with roadways providing connecting bus services. The total daily average of 11,765 passenger trains in 2009-10 include 4,075 short-distance non-suburban services, which must be drastically curtailed and reorganised. They incur heavy losses and erode route capacity.


Demand for premium services is highly income-elastic and grows faster than the overall demand. To analyse the underlying dynamics of travel behaviour, IR needs to: (a) substantially upgrade and expand long-distance (over 1,000 km) trains, aiming at 200 km/h operation on post-dedicated freight corridor mixed traffic routes, by thus achieving to complete the 1,500-km Delhi-Mumbai and Delhi-Kolkata journeys, for example, within 12 hours; (b) operate daylight Shatabdi-type fast services, that covers distances up to, say, 500 km within 200 minutes; and (c) expand and accelerate overnight medium-distance (500-1,000 km) trains like the many popular services IR operates in this segment. There is a need to really move fast forward towards selected high speed (over 250 km/h) corridors, aiming at four of them to be functional by 2020. Simultaneously, a whole panoply of state-of-the-art maintenance and operational facilities, especially 8-10 "world class" stations, would be an integral part of passenger business development, also a new, comprehensive approach for hassle-free ticketing and reservation, safety and security, hygiene and reliability.

IR has had a commendable track record of many an initiative and improvisation; it needs to do a lot more and leap-frog for a place along with its peers in a new league of advanced systems. China Railways (CR) separated passenger and freight businesses, raised passenger fares by 75% between 1994 and 1998, effectively discouraged short-distance passengers, reduced travel time, increasing service speeds and reducing train stops. CR is wellpoised to complete an astounding 16,000-km network of 350 km/h passenger dedicated lines by 2020. IR's annual humdrum rail budgets come and go, perfunctory improvements in passenger services are attempted for status quo to pretty much prevail — no audacious decisions, no break-throughs, no giant leaps forward are visible.









China goes out of its way to project that its peaceful rise is not a threat to any other country and that it is far from becoming a great power — indeed that it is not even interested in any great power status. To be taken with a pinch of salt, this theme was articulated by its foreign policy team at a Wilton Park conference in England.
Already the world's second biggest economy, trends point to China overtaking the EU in 2025 and the US in 2026, becoming the world's economic superpower. Power is shifting from the West to East, with China, the rising star. Coping with a not peacefully rising China will be both a threat and challenge for the future. The accretion of wealth followed by power has never been achieved so fast by any country as China. The Chinese line at the conference was different: there would be no shift in power and the talk of G2 (US and China) is not real as China is only a developing country. Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao frequently says 'we are a third world country. The trillions in foreign exchange reserves are not China's money, it belongs to others. China does not have the means and skills to exercise power; it will not be great power in 100 years.' This was the self-deprecatory account of China's non-rise.

This China, a reluctant debutante to power, is designed to "safeguard peaceful rise and convey China is not a threat". But this does not gel with its new-found assertiveness, activism, even arrogance, in dealing with other countries including US and India.

Current tensions with India have their roots in New Delhi's nuclear tests in 1998 when a secret letter by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to President Bill Clinton which was leaked by the Americans, Vajpayee attributed the nuclear tests to a perceived threat from China. The Chinese never forgave India for wagging a finger at them. External affairs minister Jaswant Singh had to travel to Beijing at the height of the Kargil war with Pakistan in 1999 to 'untie the knot tied by India' in naming China as the reason for its nuclear tests. It was not until Singh had stated that China was not a threat to India, was the matter partially resolved. Since then, the Chinese have gradually raised the stakes for India. China's nuclear nexus with Pakistan is legend. When questioned its policymakers inform Indians that 'whatever happened was before China had signed the NPT. It has stopped now. But if anything has happened since then, we're sorry for it'.

US defence secretary Robert Gates visited China recently to revive military-to-military relations frozen after US sale of arms to Taiwan. The Chinese, whose economic dependence on US markets is unprecedented, were more conciliatory with Gates than Singh and let him off with a warning 'not to do it again'. Gates' visit coincided with the surprise flight test of the Chinese stealth fighter, a secret which President Hu Jintao confided to Gates the PLA had kept to itself. China's military modernisation and assertive behaviour in South China Sea and forays into the Indian Ocean — two Chinese frigates crossed the Suez Canal for the first time after the Libyan uprising — is a portent of the times to come.

The January 2010 summit between Presidents Hu Jintao and Barack Obama was described as a meeting between a still dominant but fading superpower facing a new and ambitious rival with suspicion on both sides. China's economy continued to grow at 10.3% in 2010. It has spent $100 billion in aid to developing countries during the past few years, exceeding the aid given by the World Bank.

So, why have the Chinese ignored the advice of Deng Xiaoping in 1991 to 'hide your strength and bide your time'? The Chinese are redefining their interests and trying to change the rules of engagement but insisting it will be peaceful. Carnegie Endowment's Ashley Tellis calls this a shift from strategic passivity to strategic activism and is tied to China's geopolitical and economic success. For the ordinary Chinese, life is getting better with increased press freedom and opportunities for travel. Political freedom, though, is a far cry. But who can say, after the wave of Jasmine Revolutions?

China's prosperity boat will be rocked if the growth rate drops below 4%, or ironically, when the per capita income touches $8,000, the well-being level from which people seek political freedom. Till then, barring any turbulence in the three Ts — Taiwan, Tibet and Terrorism — China's likely not-so-peaceful rise will be accompanied by calibrated assertiveness and coercion coupled with choreographed self-denigration and diffidence to great power.







There is some interesting debate on the recent Sebi mandate to Vedanta-Cairn to repudiate a call/put/pre-emptive rights in their share purchase agreement. Sebi's stand is both interesting and dangerous. However, Sebi is mainly the messenger of an archaic law. And the message deserves to be shot. Luckily, Sebi owns the handgun that is capable of quickly shooting down this quixotic law. The problem arises out of a section of the Securities Contracts (Regulation) Act, 1956 which enables the government, Sebi or the RBI to ban certain contracts in securities. In a different philosophical era, the government, suspicious of the evils of speculation banned all such forwards and options contracts in securities by a circular of 1969. The circular was drafted in the double negative and thus exceedingly broad, i.e. it banned all contracts which were not spot delivery contracts.

Thus, anything which was not a spot delivery contract, where securities and cash were exchanged on the date of the agreement to purchase, would be illegal. This 1969 law was replaced by a Sebi circular of 2000 continuing the ban. In theory, the ban applied all these years to even nonspeculative rights between shareholders, i.e., right to buy securities in the future or forward contracts or even an option to buy in the future. The width of the prohibition has been clarified by a 1997 Supreme Court ruling, which found certain contracts in an unlisted public limited company to be illegal because they were forward contracts. Many law firms have given opinions in the past saying such rights were legal, based on their understanding of what a forward contract is or what a non-spot contract is. The party seems to have ended with the Sebi mandate to Cairn-Vedanta to delete such a right from its agreement. There are indications that Sebi will prohibit such clauses in other agreements in the future, though it is not clear if it will take enforcement action against signatories to such contracts.
While the law is reasonably clear in its prohibition, and deliciously vague in its exemptions, its late application raises questions about the desirability of such a law. While the prohibition is overly broad, there are exemptions provided in the Act, by cases and by a circular. Of non-spot transactions, the Act exempts exchange-traded derivatives obviously, as also convertibles and warrants. Cases have interpreted the law to exclude private limited company from the purview of the Act, and thus the prohibition applies to not only listed companies but also to unlisted public companies. Why a ban on unlisted securities contracts is useful is anyone's guess. Finally, a 1961 circular exempts certain types of pre-emption rights heavily qualified with vague language as to its applicability. The short opinion thus is that the law is not merely silly but also very dangerous. The rationale for not continuing with the law in today's economy is clear. First, speculation is no longer a dirty word, and nearly all economists today would agree that speculators not only provide liquidity and price discovery in the market, but often offer trades on the other side of hedgers. In other words, if speculation was to be banned, traders who want to hedge their trades would be worse off and frequently be left without the ability to hedge their risk. Second, most trades in the secondary market (particularly exchange-traded futures) can be categorised as speculative. Why ban one type of speculative contracts and not others? Assuming that on-exchange speculative transactions are more desirable for some reason, shareholder contracts are not even speculative in nature, they allocate real world rights wholly devoid of a speculative nature based on commercial underlying and consideration. The width of the prohibition on non-spot or forward trades makes such non-speculative contracts illegal. This is really unintended and if implemented, would literally render millions of investment agreements, private equity deals, joint venture agreements and other commercial contracts partially illegal.
Luckily for us, the answer to this law of unintended consequences is not to go through the long route of parliamentary approval. If Sebi chooses to reverse this law, it can do so at short notice as a delegatee of the power by Parliament. Since there is only a Sebi law in the way by way of its circular of 2000, Sebi is empowered to rescind it. At the very least, Sebi needs to exclude nonspeculative forwards, call/ put options, buy-backs, right of first refusal, pre-emption rights in commercial agreements from the scope of the prohibition. Ideally, Sebi should completely withdraw the circular which just belongs to an age when we followed a suspicious thinking about speculators and the very evil dark-glasses-wearing-gold-smugglers.

(The author is the founder of Finsec Law Advisors)








The country's largest bank has taken a wise decision to give up the teaser loan scheme and use the provisioning funds more productively.

With the State Bank of India bowing to persistent pressure from the Reserve Bank of India to stop "teaser" home loan rates, a major policy difference between the country's largest bank and the regulator has, for the moment at least, been resolved. The new Chairman of SBI, Mr Pratip Chaudhari, has defended his decision to acquiesce to the RBI, offering the view that his decision both addressed the regulator's concerns and would not in any way "subtract value" for the customer. Under the new dispensation, a floating rate home loan product kicks in from May 1, in which customers will get a spread above 8.5 per cent. Not before long, new borrowers would have forgotten the idea of teaser rates at or around the base rate, though the scheme will continue for existing customers. But what will remain is the aftertaste of a policy instrument that has been a bone of contention between the RBI and the country's largest bank, with a basic difference in perception of risks, both for customers who may default when teaser loans move into higher floating rates and for banks that may end up with defaults by customers unable to repay high-cost debt.

The SBI introduced the discounted, or teaser, rate of around 8 per cent in January 2009, and was followed by other housing finance companies. The RBI felt that it was a 'marketing gimmick'. Once the housing finance companies had adopted the scheme of luring new customers with easy rates, banks followed suit to stay in competition and the RBI was left biting its fingernails in apprehension of possible defaults at a time when it was raising its own key rates. Persuasion and disapproval worked with some banks, which abandoned the discounted rates; the SBI, however, stuck on with the conviction that its appraisals of customers' capacity to repay, even in a rising interest rate regime, differentiated them from the sub-prime kind of borrowers in the US and their attendant risks.

The RBI was not persuaded and, in its second quarter review last November, while raising its key rates once again, introduced higher asset provisioning of 2 per cent for teaser rate loans, against 0.4 per cent for normal floating rate loans. Mr O.P. Bhatt, who had pioneered the scheme, held his ground. For his successor, the issue was plain; stay with the scheme and set aside Rs 587 crore for provisioning. Mr Chaudhari chose to exercise the prudence the RBI had insisted upon and use that money productively: the SBI will be none the worse for that decision.






The proposed law to have at least one woman on a company's board is welcome. Such representation is not just politically correct, but will also help more equitable decision-making.

Advocates of female representation argue that gender disparity is a global problem, encompassing both the so-called developed Western world as well as developing and emerging economies.

Women's space in corporate governance has been the focus of many research studies and a crucial agenda for many activist groups. For instance, the European Women's Professional Network, a non-profit organisation founded in 2002 with over 3,500 corporate members and entrepreneurs, commissions a bi-annual study on gender diversity known as Board Women Monitor.

Further, in the wake of the worldwide financial crisis the board's accountability has become a subject of public scrutiny.

There is a compelling necessity to demonstrate that captains of industry are taking the right decisions to create sustainable business success and that the stakeholders' interests are well protected. The linkage between composition of the board and good performance is also stressed.


Why are board structure and functioning so important? The answer lies in findings of research studies which empirically prove the linkage between governance and performance. In 1994 Magginson et al found that the involvement of private investors in a firm's ownership structure critically impacted a firm's operating and financial performance.

In 1997, the Conference Board of Canada demonstrated a strong relationship between high governance index scores and revenue growth and recognition as leader in the sector. Governance indices include board's activism, independence and style of functioning. In 1998 Millstein and Mac Avoy established a statistically significant correlation between an active, independent board and superior corporate performance.

Various research findings, notable among them being the reports of McKinsey and the conference Board of Canada, emphasise that inclusion of women in the Board is not just the right thing, but the 'bright' thing.

The study organised by the California Public Employee Retirement System, concluded that companies with a high ratio of diverse board seats exceeded the average returns to the Dow Jones and NASDAQ indices over a five-year period. A general consensus which emerges from reams of research papers on the subject is that companies can ignore the importance of gender diversity only at their peril.

It is accepted that diversity does change the functioning and deliberative style of the board in clear and consistent ways. Let us not confuse this with rather frivolous comments such as 'the presence of women makes men behave in a more decorous and focused manner'. The stress is on perceptions and depth of analysis. Further, diversity is an enabling factor for board unity.

The research findings indicate that organisations whose boards had two or more women had a better score in regard to accountability practices and review of non-financial performance measures.

The outcome was improved sales growth, long-run profitability and leading position in the industry.


With gender diversity in board claiming accolades, one would expect a reasonable level of representation for the fair sex. But the reality is otherwise. Women hold only about 15 per cent of Fortune 500 board seats. European Professional Women's Network's Board Monitor for 2010 has found that of a total of 4,875 board seats women occupied only 571, which works out to 11.7 per cent.

There is, however, a 21 per cent jump from the figure of 2008.

Asian women contribute only 1.8 per cent of board seats, though the figure for China is around 5 per cent. In Australia women directors fill about 9 per cent of the board seats. In Britain where women's share is 12.5 per cent, there are 18 companies among the top 100 with no female directors.

A review of the Indian scenario would be useful. The total number of board seats in the 3,197 companies listed at the national level stock exchanges and 432 companies listed at regional level is 21,550.

Since multiple directorship for the same individual is allowed, 16,001 individuals occupy these posts .Of these, only 850 are women, say 5.3 per cent, filling up 1,025 directorships.

There are 2,830 listed companies with no women directors and 799 companies have at least one woman director.

Out of 30 Sensex companies, women constitute only 4.8 per cent. In terms of actual number there are only 16 women directors out of a total strength of 335. However it is gratifying to note that half the Sensex companies had at least one woman director.

Further, representation of women in, BSE-100 and BSE -500 companies is more or less similar to the general pattern with a figure of 5.4 per cent and 5.2 per cent, respectively. Boards of public sector undertakings have a slightly higher representation with a figure of 6.2 per cent.

There are 7,588 independent directors, of whom only 237 are women, which works out to 3.1 per cent only.

Against this backdrop, the recent announcement by the Ministry of Corporate Affairs to introduce a legislation to have at least one woman on the board, where the board consists of five or more directors, is a welcome move.

Countries like Norway, Spain and Netherlands already have quota legislation. France is closer to enacting such a law.

In the UK, though no law is contemplated, government's acceptance of the recommendations of a commission headed by Lord Mervyn Davies, a former trade minister, implies that women may make up at least 25 per cent of boards of bigger companies by 2015.

A proactive government, willing to accept the beneficial impact of gender diversity and bold enough to enact an appropriate legislation, is the need of the hour.

But, as Lord Davies observes, this requires a radical change in mindset.

If those at the helm of affairs realise that this is not about promoting equal opportunities, but ushering in improved business performance and boosting revenues and profits, then there can be no second choice! Will that happen?

(The author is former Financial Commissioner, Railways.






Fertiliser makers can recover their excise payouts through the subsidy system, but that negates the purpose of imposing a levy.

Marking a reversal of decades of policy, fertiliser is no longer exempt from excise duty (ED).

The Budget for 2011-12 has levied ED at 1 per cent on 130 items (including fertilisers), hitherto exempt from ED but attracting VAT. This is a precursor to GST, aimed at expanding tax coverage. However, these items will not be eligible for CENVAT credit.

In case a manufacturer wishes to avail CENVAT, he will have to pay ED at 5 per cent.

In a recent letter addressed by Revenue Secretary to his counterpart in the Department of Fertilisers (DoF), the former has opined that the impact of the 1 per cent levy is small, at Rs 2.65 to Rs 5.37 per bag of 50 kg and, therefore, unlikely to pose a heavy burden. This is a mistaken notion.


For those who avail of the 5 per cent ED option, the impact will be five times more and, therefore, cannot be dismissed as insignificant. Further, under the GST regime, CGST (to replace ED) would be 10 per cent, the rate at which all central levies will converge.

We are thus talking of an impact of Rs 27-Rs 54 per bag. On a total production of around 20 million tonnes, on urea alone, this works out to around Rs 1,100 crore per annum. It is, therefore, necessary to carefully analyse as to how this will be absorbed by the system.

Under the Fertiliser Control Order (FCO), GoI controls MRP (maximum retail price) of urea. This price is 'uniform' for all farmers. For DAP/complex fertilisers, producers are free to fix MRP; these fertilisers have been decontrolled in 1992 and the position continues till date.

How does Government fix MRP of urea? Over the last three and a half decades or so, it has set the selling price at a low level — unrelated to the cost of supply which is invariably higher on account of rising cost of feedstock and other inputs. The excess of cost of supply over the low MRP is reimbursed to manufacturers as subsidy. But, for this arrangement, which is unique to fertilisers, fertiliser production would have been unviable. The critical point is any factor that affects the cost of supplying urea is not considered relevant for fixing MRP. ED is one such factor. Hence, the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) will not agree to revising the MRP to reflect the ED.


The Government cannot afford to allow even a small increase in MRP. A hike of 10 per cent in MRP of urea in 2010 was effected after a long gap of eight years (last hike was in 2002).

Will it permit the duty effect, that may go up to 5 per cent now or 10 per cent next year, to be passed on to the farmer? While formulating their proposals, mandarins in MoF seem to have missed another key aspect of pricing urea under the FCO.

While MRP is meant to be 'uniform' for all farmers, on the ground there will be two sets of prices, depending on the applicable duty — 1 per cent or 5 per cent.

Manufacturers cannot increase MRP on their own. Any such attempt will amount to violation of FCO. Producers of DAP/complex fertilisers 'technically' can increase MRP. However, even here, the government can control 'informally', especially when the impact is significant.


Producers could get higher ED-induced cost reimbursed through higher subsidy payments under NPS (new pricing scheme) for urea and NBS (nutrient-based scheme) for DAP/complex fertilisers. But this defies logic. If money collected from ED has to be returned, why levy it in the very first place?

The Government recognised this as far back as June 1980 when it abolished ED on all fertilisers. By the same logic, all finished fertiliser products were exempt from customs duty (CD).

Imported raw materials and intermediates used in producing fertilisers, namely, rock phosphate, sulphur and ammonia, were exempt from CD until 1998-99. The CD on imported phosphoric acid was removed in August 1992 when even fertiliser project imports were exempt from CD.

On other inputs — naphtha, fuel oil, LSHS, gas — used in the production of fertilisers, the government either charged 'nil' ED or a concessional rate as on naphtha.

In the 1997-98 Budget, ED on naphtha was eliminated. For fuel oil, the duty was lowered.

Hence, the government has consistently followed a policy of avoiding any 'artificial' increase in subsidy on fertilisers (first collect revenue by levying duty and then return by way of higher subsidy, MRP remaining unchanged). There is no reason to turn the clock back.

If 'food' can be exempt from ED/GST, there is no reason why fertiliser should also not be given the same treatment.

(The author is Executive Director, CropLife India, New Delhi. The views expressed are personal.)






In today's world, ruled by brain and mind, words from the heart can be risky. Better plastic than risk; so, most people leash in the obvious and voice the politically correct. Needless to say, politics is full of politically correct statements skirting the obvious and diving headlong into the dustbin of forgettable utterances. Once in a while, the human being breaks through like a cathartic release of heart over mind and the obvious gets firmly enshrined.

A baby, an old man

Both Mr Rahul Gandhi and Mr V. S. Achuthanandan said the obvious recently. Neither can be faulted for what they quipped — that one would be 93 years old if he completed another tenure as chief minister; the other, ostensibly as inheritor in these times of make-and-break-by-media images, reminds us of an untested, well-fed baby. I recall Mr Achuthanandan from one evening long ago, soon after he became Chief Minister. On holiday in Thiruvananthapuram, I had dropped in at the Bata showroom opposite the State secretariat. Looking up from a sandal I was inspecting, I was amazed to see the chief minister five feet away, a solitary policeman by his side for security and a shop assistant quizzing him of his need. He had casually walked in from the road like any of us.

My first reaction was to compare the scene with the money and power that typically characterised Congress regimes. This was quite a contrast. Under pressure, Mr Achuthanandan has since betrayed complex shades to his personality. But I suspect he is right when he talks of being tested in life and politics, which was the defence he adopted against the jibe at his age. Still, isn't one of life's tests, knowing how long to stay and when to leave?

With its working population largely out of the State, Kerala has for years been lost to a brand of young that has seen little and a brand of old that has seen a lot. It is a pincer grip on society spawning a vicious cycle of world explained by the old and explained world inherited by the young. Breaking free requires imagination and straight speaking that is neither Marx nor Manmohan nor Ayodhya in content. In the state of banks and remittance money, you need someone who will tell people why they are insecure despite well being as key to addressing Kerala's obsession with insecurity. Can somebody 93 years do that? I wonder.

Daily deceit breached

Can an Amul Baby — or as some have pointed out, Farex Baby — do it? If inheritance, being well looked after and being securely protected are its hallmarks, then a chunk of our politicians are Farex babies. They are merchants of security with no prior taste of the insecurity, senior citizens showcase as test. With rising prosperity, a number of them have also begun looking like veritable Farex babies on the many posters, advertising political and personal health, that greet us on the road. When was the last time an Indian politician was tested for his convictions and not sycophancy? When was the last time a young Indian politician stood up for what he/she believes in? Mr Achuthanandan may be old but he got the metaphor correct, bang on.

So while the aides on either side scurry to restore political appropriateness and, more important, diligently cultivated political images, we should probably celebrate the fragment of honesty that slipped through the daily deceit. One is a baby; the other is an old man — no disputing that.



                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




It is not a realistic expectation that the Lokpal Bill that the joint committee of government ministers and members of civil society — handpicked by the Anna Hazare group — has been tasked to present to the Monsoon Session of Parliament can put an end to corruption in our society. Nevertheless, the proposed legislation answers to the country's aspirations. The idea was around for about four decades. Successive attempts to get a Lokpal law through Parliament have come to nought as ruling parties at the Centre at various times fell at hurdles set up to negate those efforts. The issue could be revived recently only in the wake of the high-velocity Jantar Mantar campaign, which crucially relied for its success on the backdrop of a series of corruption scandals that rocked the nation, deeply embarrassing the ruling coalition and the political class as a whole. If the panel set up to frame the bill works diligently, it is not unlikely that it can produce a document worthy of being discussed by Parliament. For reference, there already exists an earlier version of the bill that got stuck at a parliamentary standing committee. It will be a pity if the joint panel's deliberations are in any way permitted to be impeded by the unseemly controversies surrounding some civil society nominees on the committee. Effectively speaking, the body only has some two months in which to accomplish its task. That time is probably not enough. Framing bills is a complex exercise, not least one whose aim is to establish a new institution to deal with corruption in high places, and to bring about transparency in governance in order to minimise the scope for corrupt practices. Nevertheless, key government figures, including the Prime Minister, have declared that it is their intention to present the proposed Lokpal Bill to Parliament in the Monsoon Session. All the more, then, it's in the UPA government's interest that the panel is not sidetracked by controversies involving civil society representatives, and successfully completes the task at hand. Matters such as the CD dispute, and the presumption of nepotism that arises from the nomination of the father-son duo of Shanti Bhushan and Prashant Bhushan to the committee, are relevant questions for the courts and society at large to deal with. But we should display the wisdom to compartmentalise the larger purpose from the issues that may come to dog individuals associated with it. It needs to be understood that fingers will be pointing at the government if the proposed bill is not ready in time — even conceding that the coercive timetable imposed on the panel by the Hazare group is arbitrary, and speaks of insensitivity to the complexity of the exercise undertaken. This might be the case even if delays are attributable to the status of civil society representatives on the panel. In this age of the Internet and social networking, it is not difficult to mount virtually any kind of online campaign. If the panel engaged in hammering out provisions of the bill does not want to be misunderstood, it could start by not taking unduly long breaks between sessions. After its inaugural meeting on April 16, the next session has been scheduled for May 2. A sense of urgency could have been imparted to the proceedings if the gap were shorter. In some cases, appearance is of no less value than substance. The committee should also be pragmatic and invite suggestions from the general public as well as interested organisations even as its deliberations are on.






Sometime in the late-1970s, I read a tribute to one of the iconic Communist intellectuals of West Bengal — an academic who shaped many impressionable minds during his long tenure at Kolkata's Presidency College. As evidence of his determined attachment to the then undivided Communist Party, the article narrated an anecdote dating back to the late-1940s centred on P.C. Joshi, a former party general secretary. Joshi, it is now recognised, was one of the most innovative Communist leaders. A cerebral man, he carefully targeted bright young men and women, particularly from elite families, for conversion to the cause. His success was most marked during 1942-47 when the Congress leaders were in jail and when the Soviet Union was in the forefront of the anti-fascist war. Many of those who embraced Communism as the only alternative to barbarism regarded Joshi as their mentor. Shortly after Independence, thanks to an abrupt change in Moscow, the Communist Party of India was compelled to disavow the "united front" approach and jump into a silly and abortive insurrection against the government of Jawaharlal Nehru. In a proverbial palace coup, Joshi was summarily removed from his post, expelled from the party and replaced by B.T. Ranadive. He became a "non-person". It was during this period that a harried Joshi dropped into the home of the venerable professor who he presumably viewed as a friend and comrade. It is a commentary on the human priorities of the party that Joshi was brusquely told that he wasn't welcome any longer. In the demonology of Communists, "revisionists" and deserters have occupied a special place. Some of the choicest and most colourful polemical invectives have been reserved for those who deviated from the "party line" and were turfed out for "anti-party" activities. To the faithful, hateful outpourings against former comrades reinforced the party as the living God; to the heretic, dissociation from the church involved mental agony and the loss of a social support system. Six decades of living in an argumentative democracy hasn't really changed the Communist repudiation of humanity and the worship of the party as the epitome of "scientific" evolution. The world is replete with Reds of different shades who can no longer maintain a civil relationship with their former political associates. No wonder former the Lok Sabha Speaker, Mr Somnath Chatterjee, lamented that his abrupt expulsion from the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPM) was one of the most unhappiest episodes of his life. In his imagined world, there was no meaningful life outside the party. It is in the context of the troubled relationship of Communist parties with ex-comrades that the decision to invite Mr Chatterjee to speak at a public meeting in support of the West Bengal (CPM)'s rising star, Mr Gautam Deb, acquires significance. It is not that Mr Chatterjee is a resident in Mr Deb's constituency or that a local committee has extended the invitation without any application of mind. The fact is that Mr Chatterjee's inclusion in the (CPM) has been publicly endorsed — albeit as a purely one-time, election-centric issue — by Politburo members such as Sitaram Yechury and Biman Bose. The former Speaker hasn't been rehabilitated; his existence has been acknowledged by the party. The cautious re-embracing of a heretic has followed two paths. Firstly, it is being suggested that a desperate Left Front facing the prospect of ignominious defeat needs to garner all the support it can muster. Since Mr Chatterjee has moved on from being a comrade to "eminent citizen", he can, arguably, play the same role as those artists and intellectuals who have flocked to support Mamata Banerjee. Secondly, it is being argued that the invitation to Mr Chatterjee is the Bengal (CPM)'s way of snubbing general secretary Prakash Karat whose stubborn "anti-imperialism" forced the withdrawal of support to the United Progressive Alliance in 2008 and facilitated the anti-Left mahajot in West Bengal. Both explanations are valid, but there appears to be another dimension. The (CPM), it would seem, is reconciled to defeat in West Bengal on May 13. It hasn't abandoned the fight but it is realistically battling to ensure that the Left Front tally doesn't fall below 100 seats. What worries the (CPM) is not merely the loss of power after 34 years of pampered existence. Equally important is their concern for the physical safety of their cadres. The fear isn't exaggerated. For three decades the (CPM) has attempted to exercise total control of both the state and society. This has led to institutionalised intolerance and the perpetuation of a million petty tyrannies. There is huge, pent-up anger against the "cadres" who walked with a swagger, ensured the harassment and social humiliation of all those who dared disagree and probably enriched themselves through petty corruption. If the party loses on May 13, not even the best-intentioned government will be able to stop the wave of recriminations against local tyrants. The (CPM) knows that it cannot tame a Mamata who has fought an often-lonely but always unrelenting war against it. Its best hope lies in souring the awkward relationship between the Congress and the Trinamul Congress. This can best be done at the national level by pandering to the likely disquiet in the Congress over two issues. First, there is certain to be a lot of heartburn at the Congress being an infant partner in the Mamata-led alliance. Secondly, for Congressmen who have no stake in West Bengal, the defeat of the Left in West Bengal and possibly Kerala could signal the emergence of political bipolarity — a possible straight fight between the UPA and the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in the next general election. This, in turn, would involve other anti-Congress parties such as All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, Telugu Desam and Biju Janata Dal moving away from the Left and re-establishing a relationship with the NDA. The Congress has no real stakes in a Banerjee-led Bengal, and neither has the (CPM). The (CPM)'s cautious re-recognition of Mr Chatterjee as a Bengali notable isn't guided by a new spirit of enlightenment; it is dictated entirely by the need to re-establish a bridgehead into the Congress. * Swapan Dasgupta is a senior journalist







It's easy to look at big names like Warren E. Buffett, and big companies like Ernst and Young, and be judgemental. Of course they overlooked ethical lapses. Why wouldn't they? That's business. Regulators, prosecutors and journalists tend to focus on corruption caused by wilful actions or ignorance. But in our research, and in the work of other scholars who study the psychology of behavioural 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 organisational 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 behaviour 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 behaviours 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 behaviour 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 recognise 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. Rather than making a conscious decision to favour their clients, the auditors incorporated information about the company in a biased way — with the sellers' auditors providing estimates that were 30 per cent higher, on average, than the estimates of auditors who served buyers. 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 behaviour represents "wilful 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 behaviour 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 behaviour. 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.







One of the intriguing themes the Anna Hazare's fast threw up was the question of memory, particularly the memory of nationalism. As one activist explained, he had read about Rajguru and Bhagat Singh while studying for his exam. But it was only now they rang true. It struck me how distant the national movement was and how simplified and even ridiculous it had become. One of the things that destroyed nationalism was the arrival of the nation state. The nation state abbreviated the complexity of nationalism by defining the permissible options. It even ordained the permissible options. Its tutorial college mind loved oppositions between Nehru and Gandhi or between Gandhi and the Left. But deep down nationalism had a sense of civilisational gossip which the nation state did not. Worse, the Partition and the holocaust that followed, hollowed the nation state and its history. We were now a nation contra Pakistan. Nationalism lives now only as a fragment. Yet nationalism as an imagination did not merely create imagined communities as the glibness of Benedict Anderson proclaimed. Our nationalism also dealt with the inventiveness and imagination of communities. Just consider a single issue — science and technology. Let me describe the variety of debates that took place. Our nationalism was unique because it was always open to the dissenting British imagination. We saw the West as plural and saw some of these Wests as part of us. Our nationalism allowed for the other side of the Raj, a place for dissenters like Patrick Geddes, Alfred Wallace, C.F Andrews, Annie Beasant who helped shape a different West in India. India was not anti-West, it was anti-colonial. Consider one paradigmatic figure — Captain Srinivas Murthi. He was an authority on traditional medicine, head of the Adyar Library, secretary to the committee that debated the future of indigenous medicine in 1923. He also translated Merchant of Venice into Telugu and was John Barrymore's doctor when the actor became an alcoholic. He warned about the dangers of nuclear energy in the 1920s and stressed the importance of mothers feeding their babies. He was a cosmopolitan. Rabindranath Tagore was another such cosmopolitan. A cosmopolitan does not deny his identity. He only refuses to make a fetish of it. Tagore built Santiniketan as a university to dialogue with the Western University. He was sceptical of nationalism and yet felt we must be open to the West. Tagore was not an internationalist; he was a cosmopolitan seeking unities beyond the national. Tagore, along with Patrick Geddes, created a summer school for science in Darjeeling. He even attempted a textbook on science. What I want to emphasise is that nationalism before the nation state guaranteed pluralism, demanded the availability of eccentricity. The question I then wish to ask is how did this forest of imaginations turn into a flat land called the nation state? Where have all the memories gone? I want to suggest nationalism had both an imagination and an imaginary. An imagination is a standard list of possibilities. An imaginary is a horizon that adds the impossible, the improbable and the probable to the possible. Our nationalisms were a collection of possibilities. Our nation state was an acceptance that the amnesia had begun. In fact, I want to argue that the nation state as a law and order theory of memory destroyed the future and uprooted memories that could have been the beginning of other possibilities. Communalism is an erasure of memory or a heightening of the artificiality of some memories against others. It is this selective memory of the nation state that makes it genocidal. What begins as amnesia culminates as erasure or genocide. Consider just the idea of citizenship. The idea of citizenship has no place for the tribe, the nomad, for marginal groups of various kinds. Citizenship becomes an authoritarian stencil that erases people who do not fit a standard pattern. Secession, protest and rebellion have to be seen as mnemonic devices reminding the nation state of the worlds it has forgotten. It is the simplified time of the nation state that creates a form of authoritarianism. I am not saying memory is all about erasure. Memory is also about forgetting. Indian democracy could allow Laldenga to be yesterday's insurgent and then, chief minister of Mizoram. But the memories of today do not know how to forgive. Forgiveness remembers before it claims to forget. Forgiveness never defies justice. It only asks for more than justice. If you look at the recent adjectives that define us, we tend to associate India with the new, with youth, with innovation. I am not making an argument for tradition but I want to point out that these are signals of erasure. Innovation also creates obsolescence, progress demands amnesia. What we need is a language that allows for a sense of mnemonics, a vocabulary of plurality, heritage, myth, diversity that sees truth as plural and demands that memory need not be one sided. There are other forms of erasure present in development. Remember mining is a way of erasing memory. It erases the memory of a landscape. It denies that nature can renew itself. When you strip-mine an ecology, you destroy its ability to remember, to renew itself. Sustainability can never be complete without a theory of remembering. This leads me to my last point. The Indian state as a knowledge system emphasises history, information and science as the three primary modes of learning. But this makes a new generation illiterate or at least one sided in terms of learning. Information is disembedded memory. It carries no meta-narrative or contexts. History as written memory has little sense of the oral or of myth. Our science follows codes of linearity and progress that has little place for defeated knowledge. The tragedy of the nation state and its sense of history and science is its sense of memory. It is flawed and simplistic. Our sense of civilisation, our world of folklore, our multiplicity of dialects as alternative memories must invent a way out of this impasse. * Shiv Visvanathan is a social scientist







"We wish you a 'Happy Good Friday'!" was the greeting of a Doordarshan newsreader on Good Friday some years ago, which drew protests from Indian Christians. Understandably, Christians felt hurt since Good Friday commemorates the death of Jesus. Doordarshan duly apologised for its faux pas. While it's odd to wish "happy memories" on a death anniversary, Christians believe that there's something infinitely "special" about Jesus' death. Hence, let's reflect on what's good about the Good Friday of Jesus' passion and death. "Passion" comes from the Latin word patior, meaning, to suffer or to endure. Jesus' passion is the consequence of his love and compassion. Etymologically, "compassion" means "to suffer with". Its Greek synonym, splagchitznomai, suggests a deep emotion as if one's insides are being churned. This was Jesus' attitude when he responded to those suffering. Jesus was uncompromising in fighting evil and injustice. He proclaimed the parenthood of God and equality of all human beings. He challenged all man-made divisions of high-low, saint-sinner, pure-impure and especially cared for the poor, sick and suffering. He criticised legalistic and ritualistic religion, always stressing love as the root and rationale of religion. For Jesus, love was not some romantic sentiment, but a commitment to serve and sacrifice. Jesus' love for others was boundless. "No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends", he said, knowing that his actions were creating opposition from the religious and political authorities who sought to silence him. Despite their threats, Jesus didn't retrace his steps but died on the Cross, thereby showing solidarity with those who suffer. — Francis Gonsalves is the principal of the Vidyajyoti College of Theology, Delhi. He is involved in interfaith dialogue and peoples' initiatives for fostering justice, harmony and peace. He can be contacted at









THAT Adhir Chowdhury, MP from Behrampore and spokesman of the Congress dissidents, can yet genuflect before Sonia Gandhi illustrates that the culture of fawning courtiers survives. And the sycophancy persists in a party that is corrupt to the bone at the national level and a relative non-entity ~ a couple of notches higher than the BJP ~ in West Bengal. Ergo, the party president's spirited performance on Wednesday chimed oddly with the overwhelming disgrace that now plagues the Congress at the Centre. For all the advance blowing of the trumpet, current indications suggest that the Sonia-Manmohan-Mamata joint rally is unlikely to materialise. Arguably, it may have foundered on the rock of resentment over seat-sharing arrangements and the consequent candidature of Independents. The points highlighted in Sonia's critique of the Bengal Left are well-taken. In parallel, must it be stressed that just as the Left Front has "defrauded" the people, so too has the ruling party that dominates the national government. The Centre's fraudulence is embedded in a series of scams that were sought to be covered up till the Supreme Court cracked the whip. And famously with the words, "What the hell is going on in this country?" As this newspaper has had occasion to emphasise, the party has installed the most corrupt government in free India. Sonia has urged the people not to trust the Left Front any more. Equally, she ought to be thankful for minor mercies; her party-led UPA-II still has another three years before the next Lok Sabha election is due. Trust in the national dispensation has been lost already. In the event of parliamentary elections this summer, the Congress denouement might not have been dissimilar from that of the CPI-M in Bengal; the only difference is that nationally there isn't a credible opposition in place. People's contempt is the common strand that now binds the two parties, for all the criticism that was heard at Salar on Wednesday.
Shrewdly enough, the Congress president skirted the rift in the alliance lute, notably her party MP's effective rejection of the seat-sharing formula and the fielding of Independents against official Trinamul nominees. Not that a split in the vote will cause a psephological swing; Trinamul, it must be conceded, is fairly well-entrenched. Obviously, Sonia was anxious to avoid the embarrassment of touching on the alliance that has been crafted on the terms of Trinamul.  Her points of criticism of the Left are seemingly valid, but her words ring hollow in the dismal context of a corrupt and bumbling national government.



HAVING succeeded to the extent humanly possible in reducing money and muscle power in the just concluded election to the Tamil Nadu Assembly, the Election Commission should ensure data recorded in Electronic Voting Machines on 13 April remains untampered until 13 May, the day of counting. Of late, elections in Tamil Nadu have been confounding pollsters. And the reasons are not psephological. They are the result of widespread electoral malpractices. The EC's proposal to mix EVMs during the counting so that no one can tell which polling station used a particular EVM is a double-edged weapon. It makes fraud-prone EVMs even more non-transparent. It encourages potential fraudsters to undertake subversive activities with no fear of detection. The EC had a point when it explained that it is not constituency machines that are proposed to be mixed but polling station machines within a constituency. And that too not across the board, but selectively where post-poll violence is foreseen. During the 13 April election in Tamil Nadu, there were people who wanted to register 'no choice' but were threatened by thugs belonging to one party or other. There were cases of forcible payment of bribe money where those who refused to accept cash were threatened with physical harm if they dared to vote for any candidate other than the bribe-giver.

While the EC was fully alive to the abuse of money power in the election, it showed an almost god-like faith in the infallibility of the EVMs. With traditional rigging of elections becoming passé, new sophisticated electronic rigging has become the order of the day. Though the EC stoutly denies the vulnerability of the EVMs, candidates, parties and voters must maintain a watchful eye over the machines stored in safe rooms across the State. Three-layered security has been provided for the strong rooms ~ the first layer by the Central paramilitary forces, the second and third layers by the Tamil Nadu special police and the armed reserve police respectively. The State Electricity Board has been asked to provide uninterrupted power supply to the strong rooms and the district collectors and SPs are being held responsible for the physical safety of the EVMs. Candidates are also allowed to post representatives on a rotational basis to keep watch. The EC's decision to introduce a voter verified paper audit trail for transparency and verifiability by attaching a small printer to the EVMs in future elections is a welcome step. But as long as the microprocessor is made abroad and installation of the embedded programme is also carried out abroad, elections will lack the transparency provided in our Constitution.



A MOCKERY has been made of the term "military efficiency" by the continuing controversy over the date of birth of General VK Singh, the Chief of the Army Staff. What is of little relevance is whether he was born in 1950 or 1951, but when he will lay down office: a difference of one year will throw the chain of succession into chaos. Particularly since it was widely assumed that he would be retiring in May 2012, and obviously those in the running to succeed him would have begun formulating their own "battle plans" ~ it would have been unprofessional for them not to have done so. And that is why the defence ministry must take an immediate call. A lack of clarity on an issue that is critical to the smooth transition of authority will only trigger speculation, raise or dash hopes, lead to lobbying, or worse. All of which must enfeeble the organisation. It would also impact on the rest of Gen Singh's tenure, regardless of how long it has to run. Regretfully the MoD tends to duck taking such hard decisions, the more it dithers the more will the army suffer. Given the indifference of the minister/ministry to what constitutes the military ethos, the Chief would do well to take the initiative in sorting out a mess that ought not to have persisted so long. The General commands much respect, it would be tragic if his reputation gets sullied at the climax of an illustrious career. In fact the picture ought to have been clarified before he assumed his high office.

  The military has ever made much of its "system" being so much more dynamic than the file-bound civil service, so it defies explanation (at least to a layman's thinking) why a discrepancy in the records of different Army branches has not been rectified for so long. It would also arouse the layman's curiosity as to why an RTI application should re-ignite the controversy: this newspaper holds the Chief in such high esteem that it will not delve into discussing possible "motivation". Yet there can be no avoiding the conclusion that something is close to rotting in the Army's own bureaucracy. Or not "recognising" that the rot could spread to other elements of the fighting machine. Some would insist that much evidence of decay is already perceptible.








MILAN, 21 APRIL: Archaeologists have discovered an ancient Roman mausoleum under an illegal toxic waste dump near Naples.


The sprawling 2nd-century AD tomb, complete with stucco work and decorations, was found under nearly 60 tonnes of refuse illicitly piled up in 17th-century ruins at Pozzuoli, site of the ancient Roman seaside town of Puteolanum.

Police with diggers cleared away the top level of garbage and unearthed an underground tunnel leading into the mausoleum which archaeologists described as "of extraordinary interest".

The owner of the site and the man who leased it from him are being investigated for crimes against the environment and Italy's cultural heritage, the news agency Ansa reported yesterday.

"Once again we see an illegal and uncivil act of huge proportions from the point of view of the environment and our cultural history," said Michele Buonomo, president of the Legambiente environmental pressure group. "The operation is testimony to the neglect and abandonment of our patrimony."

In recent years unsightly garbage has even appeared around the world-famous site of Pompei. Pozzuoli is a pretty fishing port whose Latin name meant "malodorous" because of the presence of sulphur vapours.

michael day /the independent

'UK Worried Over IndiansWith TB'

press trust of india

LONDON, 21 APRIL: Current checks at British airports are failing to detect the latent form of tuberculosis, particularly in immigrants arriving from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, according to a new study conducted by the Imperial College, London.
Professor Ajit Lalvani, Director of the Tuberculosis Research Unit at Imperial College, who led the study, said, "Our findings indicate that immigrants arriving in the UK from countries with high burdens of TB have a high prevalence of latent tuberculosis infection, which is strongly associated with tuberculosis incidence in their country of origin."
He added, "UK national guidance for which groups to screen has hitherto missed most immigrants with latent infection. We've shown that by changing the threshold for screening, and including immigrants from the Indian subcontinent, we could pick up 92 per cent of imported latent TB."
The study has been published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases.
The investigators found that a fifth of recent immigrants from the Indian subcontinent and almost 30 per cent from Sub-Saharan Africa are carriers of latent TB and that national screening policy, which does not include immigrants from the Indian subcontinent, has been missing 70 per cent of imported latent TB.







TO substantially remove corruption from India's political system calls for such drastic reform as would usher a full-blown cultural revolution. To achieve the reform of a sick political system requires an approach no different from bringing about the recovery of a sick patient. The first step is to make a proper diagnosis of the sick patient's system. The second step is to discover the flaw in the system. The third step is to prescribe a medicine to cure the flaw. The final step is to administer the medicine to achieve the patient's full recovery.
In the midst of the clamour surrounding the Lokpal Bill has the nation made a proper diagnosis of the problem? Clearly it has not. For starters a proper diagnosis must insist upon the truth. Otherwise the correct medicine cannot be prescribed. India is like the proverbial ostrich with its head stuck in the sand refusing to see the truth. I recently wrote a short piece criticizing Anna Hazare for questioning the integrity of all critics expressing reservations about the Lokpal Bill. In it I made an indirect allusion to his misdemeanour of diverting money from a trust fund for his birthday celebration. He made a mistake. All humans make mistakes. He apologized for his error. Nothing, therefore, should be held against him. But should he criticize the integrity of those who differ from him? An irate letter criticized me for refusing to separate the wheat from the chaff. He wrote that Hazare misused a mere Rs 2 lakh  while corrupt politicians are looting billions. Good point. But who are these corrupt politicians? Are they not the ones with whom Anna Hazare is collaborating to draft his Lokpal Bill?
That brings us to the first harsh truth in our diagnosis. All politicians ranting against corruption are probably tainted because the system can only operate through corruption. Hazare exchanged letters with Sonia Gandhi who is credited with being the biggest political patron of the Lokpal Bill. Mrs. Gandhi wrote to Hazare: "You should have no doubt of my commitment in the fight for probity in public life."

In pursuance of that commitment should not Mrs Gandhi demand a retraction and apology from author Yevgenia Albats, former member of the Soviet government's official KGB Commission, who in her book furnished details, citing files, related to the money paid by the KGB to her family? Should she not sue Schweitzer Illustrate, the reputed Swiss journal, which alleged that she operated a secret bank account of over $2 billion? Should not the Indian government seek explanation and apology from the Russian government for its assertion through an official spokesman reported in The Hindu confirming that the Soviet government paid money to Mrs. Gandhi's family in order to protect its foreign policy? 

Repeated requests to Mrs. Gandhi to refute these allegations have resulted only in deafening silence. If Mrs. Gandhi and Anna Hazare genuinely seek an end to corruption they must confront the truth. Then alone might we proceed with a successful fight against corruption.

Let us hypothetically assume that the allegations against Mrs Gandhi are valid. How would that help us get at the root of corruption? First of all, we would have to recognize that Mrs. Gandhi did not initiate corruption but inherited it. She did not seek KGB money but was voluntarily paid by the Soviets because she belonged to the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty that rules India. How might it be said that she inherited corruption? Quite simply we should recall that Pandit Nehru himself clandestinely received money from the Soviet Union purportedly as royalty for his books which he deposited in the foreign Bank of China concealing it from the Income Tax Department. This fact came to light after the 1962 hostilities with China when the Bank of China in Kolkata was seized by the government. The scale of corruption may have grown exponentially, but its seeds were sown in the halcyon days of early independence.

The truth we must accept is that the entire political class containing many honourable people is corrupt because the system is corrupt and permissive beyond measure disallowing honest functioning.
Very recently Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee accused the Trinamul Congress of using black money in the ensuing assembly elections. This was laughable! Had he said that Mamata Banerjee was buying voters with cash as has been done in Tamil Nadu he might have been heard with some attention. But using black money in elections? Is CPI-M using white money? Is any single party in any election anywhere in the country using white money in elections? Do donations to political parties come through cheques? Get real Mr Bhattacharjee! Only the late Chandrashekhar in a rare moment of candour admitted once that all elections were fought with black money. But he did precious little to rectify that. One doubts if he wanted to rectify that.

These days all manner of charges are being levelled against certain members of the Lokpal Drafting Committee. But who among the VIPs is not tainted? Is not President Pratibha Patil tainted for having been allowed to contest for the President's post despite an ongoing CBI inquiry against her for misusing her office as Governor to protect her relatives charged with murder? Having become President the CBI probe was aborted. Is not Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh tainted for having filed a false affidavit that he was a permanent resident of Assam in order to be elected to the Rajya Sabha from that state? One can go on. The point is that unless we recognize that the malaise of corruption and impropriety has gone so far beyond normalcy that indulging in name calling is futile. In differing degrees we are all corrupt. If we don't practice corruption we indirectly abet it. The system is corrupt. So let's consider the system.                   

Our system is corrupt because the checks and balances contained in the Constitution have been upset by ignoring its provisions. Establishing a Lokpal will offer no solution. It will merely compound the confusion. Why will Lokpal function any better than the Central Vigilance Commissioner? The solution lies in what the Constitution has explicitly written. It has given us a President elected indirectly by the entire nation, empowered to protect all laws and the Constitution, to monitor and guide the functioning of the Union Cabinet, and to proffer advice to either or both Houses of Parliament. If it is preferable for the President to be elected directly by the people, that can be done. By an amendment that does not violate the basic structure of the Constitution the change can be effected. Only a President acting as the super Ombudsman of the nation, elected by the people, offers a realistic hope for a systemic change without a Constitutional change to curb corruption and restore governance. The proposed Lokpal is a non-starter.

If and when such revolutionary reform does occur in India we would have to offer an amnesty scheme that allows the guilty politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen to retain only a fraction of their illegally earned wealth and deposit the rest with the State. They should be allowed to keep their identities secret if they willingly cooperate. If they do not comply they might be severely prosecuted. This would be the only realistic solution. With zero tolerance after a cut-off date they would reform themselves. We would have to give opportunity to the guilty to be reformed because while they corrupted the system, it is equally true that the system corrupted them. 

(The writer is a veteran journalist  and cartoonist






If there are still any citizens interested in protecting human liberty, let them study the conspiracy laws of the United States ~ Clarence Darrow (The Story of My Life, 1932 )

Dr Binayak Sen's quest for justice has exposed some vulnerable spots of our legal system. It has highlighted the need to seriously think about certain penal law provisions that impose restrictions on much-cherished civil liberties. Right-thinking citizens of this country were relieved when Dr Sen, a human rights activist and an alleged Naxalite sympathiser, was granted unconditional bail by the Supreme Court. But the question is, how much longer will this draconian law pertaining to sedition be retained by democratic India? Soon after Dr Sen was granted bail, Union law minister Mr Veerappa Moily reacting on the expected lines. He emphasised on the need for revisiting the country's sedition laws and said that very soon, he would request the Law Commission of India to study the matter and make suitable recommendations. He even went so far as to say that had the Chhattisgarh government applied the law objectively, the "situation" could have been avoided.
The concern about sedition laws is not new. In early 1950s, the Supreme Court  ruled that an offence would be regarded as sedition only when violence was resorted to or public order disturbed. With the Supreme Court laying down a clear interpretation of sedition laws, civil society's concerns were somewhat assuaged. But the law remains a powerful weapon in the hands of the establishment to suppress dissent at will. Many freedom fighters, including Mahatama Gandhi, were sent to prison for committing treason during British rule. In those days, many imperialists would  angrily describe Gandhi as a man "seditious in aim and in practice". Winston Churchill once referred to Gandhi as: "The seditious Middle Temple lawyer." Things have not changed much despite more than six decades of Independence ~ sedition remains an ugly word even today.

But why only sedition ? Criminal conspiracy laws (Sections 120 B and  121 A of the Indian Penal code of 1860) which, hand in glove with sedition laws, suppressed nationalist feelings during British rule, still arouse as much trepidation as they used to do before Independence. Sadly, these laws are used to this day to silence legitimate public grievances. Together with sedition laws, criminal conspiracy laws were inherited by our republic and have been retained in the statute books in a form unadulterated since colonial times. No wonder, we have witnessed miscarriage of justice in good many cases. The criminal conspiracy laws afford a vague definition of an offender who might attract the relevant provisions for prosecution and have blurred the distinction between a genuine sympathiser and a person who maintains close association with criminals in abetting a crime. If sedition is the king of all crimes, criminal conspiracy is "the darling of the modern prosecutor's nursery". It makes commission of an act an offence even before it has been committed as the essence of the offence lies in the agreement to commit it. As such, a person charged with criminal conspiracy can be convicted merely for his thoughts! Also, a person charged with criminal conspiracy may be convicted of it even if he has not agreed to commit a criminal offence. An agreement to do a civil wrong will also attract the provisions of criminal conspiracy laws ~ another relic of our colonial days. That is why it is also known as "inchoate offence". Criminal conspiracy laws were invoked in the 19th century to suppress trade union-related activities. This gave criminal law a long reach and enabled prosecutors to punish even those who had committed an illegal act but not necessarily one that is criminal.

Though attempts at reforms had been made in the past, a lot still needs to be done. Stranger than the provisions of the criminal conspiracy laws are the ways in which an act of criminal conspiracy can be proved. Section 10 of the Indian Evidence Act says that if a reasonable ground exists for believing that an accused person was involved in conspiracy to commit a crime, he can be charged for the acts committed by others even if he is ignorant of their acts and identity and also for those acts which had been committed even before he had joined the conspiracy or after he no longer had anything to do with it. Dr Sen has been found guilty of committing criminal conspiracy but his conviction is mainly based on his purported association with alleged Naxalites Narayan Sanyal and Pijush Guha. One more disturbing feature of the criminal conspiracy laws is that it gives the prosecution procedural advantages over the accused persons. This is unfair and runs contrary to the basic principles of criminal jurisprudence. Also, criminal conspiracy laws allow joint trial of the co-accused which allows the confession of one co-accused to be used against another. Needless to say, that such provisions violate our democratic principles.

With Dr Sen's conviction and his subsequent enlargement on bail, the debate on sedition laws has revived. But it is important to take a hard look at criminal conspiracy laws as well because their amorphous nature is a more potent enemy of democracy.


 The writer is Associate Professor at the law school of Banaras Hindu University






At first glance, the headline seemed like an April Fools' joke, or possibly something cooked up by The Onion ~ the famous American news parody organisation. "China Bans Time Travel" was how some of the more cheeky news editors chose to phrase their headlines last week, but on closer inspection, it was revealed that, of course, the world's most populous nation had not banned something that doesn't currently exist. The real story was that the People's Republic of China (PRC) issued regulations "discouraging" television shows from using time travel as a plot device in dramas.

CNN's Business Blog reported last week that guidelines issued on 31 March by China's State Administration of Radio Film and Television have put time travel on a list of plot lines that are strongly discouraged. The CNN report says the Chinese film administration condemned "fantasy, time-travel, random compilations of mythical stories and bizarre plots" as well as other listed undesirable story lines for "propagating feudal superstitions".
To some, these new regulations from Beijing are merely the latest in a string of censorship moves. Some may accept that the Chinese authorities simply grew tired of some of the more absurd television shows being produced and acted to limit the perceived damage to society. But China didn't really restrict absurdity, otherwise it would have had to ban popular historical Kung Fu dramas where ancient warriors fly though the air and perform impossible martial arts stunts. "Time-travel dramas are becoming a hot theme for TV and films," Fox News reported the Chinese regulators as saying that the "content and the exaggerated performance style are questionable".

Some aren't buying China's explanation for its decision to "discourage" such shows. After all, this is a nation that has a long track record of attempting to control the actions, words and even thoughts of its people. China is officially an atheist state that has used propaganda, laws and authoritarian practices to discourage religion and superstition. Reincarnation was on the list of newly discouraged plotlines, but if China was truly worried about the public promotion of "superstitious" doctrines, why did authorities officially help choose the reincarnation of the 6th "Living Buddha" Dezhub in Tibet's Lhasa last year? In accordance with China's "Regulation on Reincarnation of Living Buddha in Tibetan Buddhism," issued by the State Administration for Religious Affairs, four-year-old Losang Doje was selected with the blessing of Beijing in July of 2010.

China's worries about time travel shows may have little to do with absurdity or superstitions and much to do with politics. Dramas that deal with the "glorious" days of yore might cast an unfavourable light on present rulers, some argue. That might be true, but again, China hasn't restricted historical dramas, only those that allow the past to be tinkered with. Time travel has been a plot device in many classic science fiction works for centuries; it's hard to imagine the genre without it. But what time travel plotlines allow is not a comparison to the present, but a thought exercise in historical revision ~ a kind of "what if?" game. This game is what China likely truly fears.

Taiwan might be said to exist inside a "parallel universe"; another famous science-fiction device. This nation is not recognised by any world power and despite being a functional democratic state, is told by much of the world that it is a renegade Chinese province. As China opens up to the world and allows it's citizens to travel to formerly forbidden destinations such as Taiwan, it is inevitable that some Chinese people will begin asking why a place such as Taiwan ~ which shares a Chinese heritage and culture with the mainland — was able to evolve into a democracy while freedom is denied back home. Some may begin to wonder what history might have been like if the Chinese Communist Party had not grabbed a monopoly on power in 1949 ~ and such thoughts frequently lead to ideas about changing the future. Could the efforts to limit fantasy and time travel in television dramas be an attempt to control the imagination of the ever-more sophisticated and affluent Chinese people? One thing is sure, China's Communist Party authorities don't want to encourage too much reflection on its more than 60 year-rule.

the china post/ann





Sentence Of Four Years

Mr AW Watson, Additional District and Sessions Judge, Alipore, delivered judgment on Saturday in what is known as the Alipore Supplementary bomb case, sentencing the accused to four years' hard labour.
In his judgment His Honour said: The prisoner, Harish Chundra Ghose, who is 23 years of age, has pleaded guilty to the charges which have been framed against him under Section 121A, 123 and 124A, IPC ~ in other words, (1) to having, during the twelve months preceding the 5th May 1908, been a member of what is now known as the Manicktolla gang of conspirators, and with having in such capacity conspired with 16 persons and others to overthrow the Government of His Majesty, (2) to having unlawfully concealed from the authorities the existence of this conspiracy, with the knowledge that such concealment would facilitate its objects and (3) to having, in pursuance of the avowed objects of the said conspiracy, printed and published a seditious article in a paper known as the Yugantar, with a view to excite feelings of disaffection towards the Government. The judge then dealt with the facts of the case, and in reviewing the evidence observed: In the first place I find that accused's connection with the Yugantar would seem to have continued for about two years, and not for only two and half months, as he says in his written statement, and it was during this period of two years that the Yugantar's malevolent activity was at its height. That paper was, as has been found by the Chief Justice, a limb of the conspiracy.






Superheroes have not completely vanished, but the Supreme Court has rejected the role of super legislature — for itself as well as for any other court in the land. The clarity of its declaration, as direct and defined as the Chief Justice of India's recent warning against the judiciary's "overreach" that he mentioned as part of his personal opinion, is a timely counterpoint to the tendency of citizens to turn to the courts as governments increasingly seem to be failing them. From history to religion, from the environment to nutrition, there is no sphere of life that the courts are not invited to enter, usually through public interest litigations and those often from concerned citizens. The rescue myths this conjures up are not particularly healthy for the inner balance of the democratic edifice. So the Supreme Court's remarks are especially welcome. No court can interfere with the government's right to frame policy. Unless a government's decision violates the Constitution no court should put itself in the position of an appellate authority that judges the wisdom of the government's policy or legislation.

These remarks came in the context of the quashing of a Himachal Pradesh High Court order that had, in turn, quashed the state government's decision to frame guidelines on education policy. The Supreme Court reportedly said that the state knows best how to develop its human resources according to need and opportunity. It should not be treated as if it were unaware of the relevant issues. But the paternalistic role that the Supreme Court denies the judiciary is pervasive in India, and is tied in with forms of institutional power. The state government's policy that had caused such an upheaval was simply the decision to stop private educational institutes from teaching art and craft, library science and physical training. Apparently, these subjects are no longer needed today. The state's point sounds a little strained, although it certainly has the right to call this a policy guideline. Obviously, non-government institutes are not to be allowed autonomy even in the details of their curricula. The principle the Supreme Court mentions is clear enough, the problem is with the realities. Even without being a super legislature, for example, the Supreme Court finds it necessary to direct governments regarding distribution of stored grain to the poor. Does the government have a food policy or not?






It has now been proved that women always play to the gallery. The Badminton World Federation has made it mandatory for women shuttlers to wear skirts in order to 'glamorize' the sport. It is understandable that with this rule, which will come into effect from May 1, the glamour quotient of women's badminton would be pushed up in sync with the ladies' skirts as they deliver the shots. After all, it has been 56 years since Marilyn Monroe had her skirt blown upwards by an obliging draught, and people will surely flock in larger numbers to badminton courts if they can have the pleasure of getting the forbidden peek every now and then. So the "distinctive image" that the BWF is aiming to create for badminton by introducing the new rule involves women players being prim and proper in skirts, which, paradoxically, are intended to produce the opposite reaction in the audience. Given this clever plan, the BWF seems all set to realize its noble ambition of boosting sponsorship income and increasing media coverage of badminton.

While there cannot be any argument against the attractions of glamour, one also wonders here what sports are all about. The Indian Premier League has convinced people that sweating cheerleaders make perfect companions to sweating cricketers. Yet nobody seemed to miss the lovely ladies during the world cup matches. So will people be entertained enough if, say, Saina Nehwal plays miserably in skirts in place of her trademark shorts, and loses the game? It is natural for women players to feel uncomfortable in flapping skirts and this might well affect their performance. And then there is the all-important question of choice that is raked up whenever rules are imposed. By making it obligatory for women shuttlers to wear skirts, the BWF is not being very different from the Taliban who would have their women covered up from head to toe. No wonder then that Sudha Sundararaman, the general-secretary of the All India Democratic Women's Association, has criticized the BWF's plan by saying that it is "reflective of a reactionary and patriarchal mindset". At this point, there is a desperate need for some gesture towards equality that will set the records straight again. What about men playing badminton in skirts? Such a move will surely attract more viewers, perhaps even more than the BWF can begin to imagine.





If he were all by himself, the well-meaning, if somewhat confused as well as loquacious, Gandhian might have been more effectively tackled. But a different situation emerged with this wild rush on the part of stalwarts of India Incorporated and the film industry, undoubtedly the real cognoscenti of goings-on in the dark world of corruption. To avoid any embarrassing development in the awkward election season, the prime minister had to sign a post-dated cheque. What would happen once the polls in the five states were safely over is a bridge which will be crossed only on arrival.

Meanwhile, please, please, do not run away with the impression that the regime in New Delhi is unconcerned with regard to the matter. No question corruption is eating into the vitals of the nation; ministers shaping economic policy have asked their pet backroom boys to come up with ideas about how to get rid of the scourge. The backroom boys are burning midnight oil in search of the right medicine. One of them — a very high ranking flunkey — has a brainwave. He has hit upon a stratagem to weed out, once and for all, corruption from the country: let bribe-giving be made legal so that offering inducement to someone to render an undue favour ceases to be a punishable offence; hey presto, corruption will disappear, the nation will regain its moral stature.

The senior government functionary has made this suggestion in a public forum; it has been taken note of in the media. No, he is not being frivolous; nor is he off his rocker. He is obviously a votary of the free market and must have arrived where he has after arguing it out in his mind — most probably in the following manner. An individual or a corporate body in a free market milieu should have the prerogative to maximize profit. To further this overriding goal, the individual or corporate organization directly may need to secure a government contract. If bribing this or that politician or civil servant is the easiest way to swing the contract, he/she or it must be allowed to go ahead; issues of ethics must not intrude, nor should the government act as spoilsport. The corporate world in particular should have the freedom to dangle a bribe if that would hasten the completion of a project and thereby speed up economic activity. To consider bribe-giving as a crime, therefore, goes ill with the principles of the free market. True, the authorities could have a problem. The general public might not quite comprehend the organic relationship between profit maximization and gross domestic product growth or between bribe-giving and profit maximization. Given society's primeval prejudice against bribery, it might be politically unwise to give blanket clearance to bribery. Well, in that eventuality, the government has still a way out. While it decriminalizes bribe-giving, it might retain the interdict on bribe-taking. Let civil servants and others in key positions in public institutions, including banks and insurance companies, be made to keep away from accepting bribes; the market for bribery will then cease to exist since the demand for bribes will dry up, society will automatically be free of corruption.

Breathtaking logic; there are a couple of thorny issues though. First, will it not be equally felicitous if, instead of attacking the problem on the demand side, the law comes down heavily on acts of bribe-giving, so that the supply side of the market for bribery disappears? Along with bribe-giving, the taking of bribes, too, is in any case at present a criminal offence. That has not inconvenienced the acceptors of bribes. If those who receive illegal gratification have no fear of god now, how will things change under the dispensation proposed by the eminent bureaucrat? It can, of course, be maintained that once investigating officers are relieved of the burden of tracking down bribe-givers, there will be more time and resources at their disposal for identifying and prosecuting habitual bribe-takers. Consider, however, the instance of a corporate body which currently engages a whole army of lawyers, accountants and fixers to ensure that their various bribe-giving activities escape the eye of the law. If offering bribes becomes an honest, legally permissible enterprise, the corporation will make a great saving of money and other resources. It will nevertheless still need to land luscious contracts by suborning individuals who distribute contracts or award permits and licences. The risk involved in accepting illegal gratification will now be somewhat greater than before for those who are targeted for seduction. The demand price of a standard bribe will, in the circumstances, tend to move up. The corporate entity will however experience no special difficulty. Despite the stiffening of the demand price, the resources it will have saved on account of lawyers, auditors, fixers, et al previously engaged for covering up its bribe-giving ventures can now be deployed to offer extra inducements to bribe-takers. The business of bribery, instead of shrinking, would, for all one can surmise, actually prosper further.

Bribe-givers and bribe-takers in any event together constitute a gigantic concordium. They are two ends of the same transaction, and share a common vested interest. Why not recognize another harsh reality too? Bribery will refuse to die out in a climate where freedom of the market is held sacrosanct. Investigating officers at different levels are themselves increasingly succumbing to the charm of the practitioners of the open art of bribe-giving. And it is not just investigating officers; zealots determined to corrupt society are buying up ministers, civil servants, police personnel, lawyers, accountants, economists, journalists, writers, even some members of the judiciary.

Even if the issue of ethics is kept aside, the brainwave of the high dignitary is therefore grossly unrealistic and might, in fact, provide a further boost to the corrupting forces in society. Even so, it is interesting to take note of the frightening fuzziness in the general environment that encourages functionaries occupying important positions in government to broach ideas of such an absurdly outrageous nature. Cynicism is the reigning king. Money-making through means fair or what was considered even till the other day as foul is now being taken for granted and regarded as the quintessence of existence. In this malign — or is it benign — climate, a tolerant view of hitherto taboo acts has slunk into the core of public policy; if a little greasing of some palms enables a tycoon or a corporate body to add to his/her or its earnings, why should the government demur? — it should rather extend a helping hand, look the other way when the ceremony of palm-greasing is taking place or, better still, decriminalize what has been till now a cognizable criminal offence. No stigma, the hint is being dropped, must attach to bribe-giving if it is for the noble cause of profit maximization on the part of an individual or a corporate body; don't you know, such practices accelerate the rate of growth of the gross domestic product?

Once the moral shackle is removed, the consequences can indeed be bizarre. For if bribery is going to be no longer illegal, and bribe-givers are showered with accolades for their efforts towards raising the rate of GDP growth higher and higher, other pressure groups are soon bound to appear on the scene, arguments may even be stretched to extraordinarily monstrous lengths. A rapist, it could even be suggested, should go scot free, the onus would be shifted to the victim who was careless enough to get violated. A murderer might remain a free bird; he was merely out on a lark, the murdered individual had no business to get killed. The fake pilots who have been for years endangering the lives of thousands of passengers would continue to enjoy high living while the petty official in the directorate general of civil aviation who issued licences to them for a consideration would languish in prison.

Adam Smith, whose tract, An Enquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, is the bible of freebooters and votaries of unbridled money-spinners, was the professor of moral philosophy at the University of Edinburgh. He must be quaking in his grave.





Driving to work this morning, being blocked by illegally parked government cars with red lights atop them and 'CD' cars breaking all road rules because their desi drivers feel they too have diplomatic immunity, I groaned with pain and deep shame, thinking of the horrors of facing yet another day in 'privileged' Delhi. This political-babu capital epitomizes all that is wrong with India — the crude manner of a contemptuous bureaucracy, guilty of mal-practice and now running for cover; a greedy and exploitative political class that has collectively reduced parliamentary debate to a crass exchange of unabashed rubbish, breaking all norms of civilized debate on national issues that affect a billion people, often indulging in unacceptable personal assaults; the illegitimate use of 'power' where cash or kind could either assist in the violation of a regulation or even be demanded to ensure that legitimate processes happen. Complete corrosion is what confronts ordinary Indians.

The arrogance of those who are responsible points to a breakdown of civil society as defined in a civilized world. These are the individuals who could have begun the cleansing, restructuring, reform, call it what you may, but consciously refrained from leading the initiative to overhaul a corrupt system. It was easier for them to keep the status quo and rake in the personal 'rewards'. It would be a salutary exercise to find out how many bureaucrats paid, from their earnings and legitimate private savings accounts, for their children to be educated abroad. How come there was no 'scrutiny', the kind citizens are harassed with unless of course they can afford to 'pay off' the inspectors? There are many who do not want to pay a bribe or who do not possess the 'black money' to pay. For them, life in India is becoming impossible.

Sad truth

Stealing electricity starts from the top. A government housing that has one kilowatt allocated to it 'steals' from the pole to run more air conditioners. Private citizens who pay in full for their consumption of electricity are denied their right because junction boxes blow up regularly due to illegal overload. Small wonder that every single 'civil' service is in a shoddy state, mismanaged and corrupt.

The saddest part is that every politician and babu knows the truth. Their denial is a conscious decision to break the morale and dignity of an entire people. This is far worse than monetary corruption. Indians have been shamed by those mandated to deliver basic goods and services to the nation. We all know that the corporate world identifies critical individuals to be put on the boards of their companies, only to ensure that they can 'curry favour' when the need arises. Corporate largesse has been flowing unabated through the lanes of government for decades. It was just too comfortable for all the three beneficiaries — the corporates for their clearances, many defeating existing laws, the babus and the politicians for remuneration that enriched their life on earth — who went on to become a content 'club' guarded by a security apparatus that gave it a profound sense of importance.

It is time the corporate world leads a satyagraha against the demand of favours. Honchos from that realm should sit in dharna outside the Prime Minister's Office and refuse to succumb to political and administrative pressures. They must come clean and put the blame squarely on a government mechanism that encourages corruption. Why do they not lead the anti-corruption drive? Why is it always left to the underdog and the NGOs who are, at the best of times, treated with contempt? Why do the privileged beneficiaries of a corrupt system remain silent?







The successful launch of the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) which put three satellites into orbit from Sriharikota on Wednesday should restore the confidence of the nation and the Indian Space Research Organisation  (ISRO). Two recent consecutive failures of the Geo-Synchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) were a setback and had raised troubling questions. ISRO had also come under a cloud arising from the controversy over its deal to provide S-band spectrum to a private company, though this had nothing to do with its technological expertise. But the mood has lifted with the perfect launch of the PSLV and the exhilaration among the scientific community after the launch was proof of that.

The PSLV has been ISRO's most reliable work horse, as it had failed only once in its 18 launches so far. But the GSLV failures had introduced a note of caution and Wednesday's PSLV flight, which was to take place earlier this year, had been postponed for more technical checks. In the event everything worked to perfection. The PSLV has till now launched 21 Indian-made satellites and 26 foreign-made satellites. The 1206-kg Resourcesat-2 is ISRO's own remote sensing satellite equipped to collect data from all over the world. It will help to create a map of natural resources and its images will be very useful in areas like agriculture and environment. The second satellite, Youthsat, is an Indo-Russian venture and will be used for meterological studies. The third satellite is from Singapore and it is meant for remote sensing. ISRO is back on track with more PSLV flights planned for this year. The task for it now is to rectify the problems in the GSLV. It has reportedly identified the reasons for the failure of the GSLV flight last December and should soon be able to launch it. Mastering of the cryogenic technology will be the key to it.

The success of the GSLV is vital for the Chandrayan-II project which is under way. It is scheduled for 2013-14. ISRO is also planning a joint moon mission, in collaboration with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) of the US. The project, called Moonrise mission, is planned for 2016 and will be a symbol of collaboration between the two space agencies. In spite of glitches and setbacks at different stages for many reasons, it has come back successfully every time and proved its mettle.







Ever since the IT bellwether Infosys Technologies Ltd (Infy) announced that its head of Human Resources T V Mohandas Pai will soon quit the board and the company to pursue his own plans, the company has been embroiled in a controversy, mostly created by Pai himself. He spoke to several publications and television channels about his departure and in some interviews his observations about Infy's policies can be considered as very critical of the company's management. It is unfortunate to see that Infosys, which has not only been a pioneer in setting the highest standards of corporate transparency and financial disclosures for many years and has provided one of the best returns on investors' money, is in the centre of the media focus for wrong reasons. But there are some fundamental issues. First of all, Pai being one of the top four key executives of the company, is governed by the code of conduct applicable to all senior executives of all listed companies, which is not to express divergent views or criticise policies of the company because such acts can damage the shareholder value and make the clients nervous.

Pai's observation that Infosys was in danger of losing its growth momentum as competition is overtaking it, may have some merit considering the company's relative slower growth in margins in the last couple of quarters. While Infy still gets the highest price premium among the IT stocks, Rs 27,501 crore ($6 billion), the company's 21 per cent annual growth in revenue on a huge base is by no means a small achievement. Yes, the competition is catching up with Infy, but the vastly untapped global IT outsourcing market will continue to offer big growth opportunities to the top five Indian IT companies for many more years.

Though Pai has clearly said that he never had any ambition to grab the top job in the company, his observation that old timers should step aside to make room for a new generation, merits attention. Many believe that like a family run company where the promoter and his close relatives always occupy key positions, the founder promoters at Infy should not have an automatic claim for top positions. Whether an inside talent or an outside professional, the best man should run the company to maximise the value for all stakeholders.







Despite the possibility of innovations originating abroad, the advantages of the US and Silicon Valley remain considerable.
Wounds inflicted on the US economy by the Great Recession will require more time to heal. The economic recovery underway has been feeble and stuttering, and employment growth is anemic at best. At the same time the emerging economies, led by China and India, have continued their explosive growth with barely a pause. All this has fuelled concerns about future US competitiveness, the nation's standard of living and its sources of job creation.

Many of these concerns owe their origin to the phenomenon of off-shoring, which started with the relocation abroad of factories and manufacturing jobs. US-based multinationals transferred production from the US to East Asia, then imported much of the output of these foreign investment projects. There was impeccable business logic behind the idea, as long as the production costs were significantly lower and the quality acceptable.

Next came a wave of off-shoring of services jobs from the US, due to a confluence of technological and institutional factors, including rapid development of the internet, the opening up of English-speaking economies such as India and, of course, the large wage differences between American workers and those in developing countries. Accounting, payroll and indeed any activity that was internet-enabled could in principle be carried out from afar. Many policy-makers assured the agitated that there was little to worry about: The job loss was temporary, they said, and only low-end services and software jobs were migrating, leaving high-paying innovative activity and R&D jobs anchored in the United States.

Now the inexorable tide of off-shoring has engulfed R&D and innovation as well.

While there is an ongoing debate about the impact of off-shoring on jobs in the US, there is a fairly broad consensus that the only sustainable path for continued growth in jobs and living standards is through innovation. Innovation would raise living standards, not only through continued increases in productivity, but also through the creation of new goods, which could be sold to the rest of the world. Innovation is supposed to lead to the creation of high-paying jobs and to confer significant benefits on both firms and employees, at least temporarily, until the monopoly is dissipated or production moves abroad and the cycle repeats itself. Consumers also would benefit, both from the value generated by the new goods or services and from their exchange for imported goods on favourable terms.

Given the central importance of innovation in today's environment, concerns are being raised about job creation in the US and the implications of rising productivity and technological innovation in other countries. How widespread is this phenomenon of globalisation of innovation? Could the Next Big Thing originate abroad, especially in emerging economies, and, if it did, what would be the implications for American leadership in high-tech industries and for US economic prospects more broadly?

Indigenous innovation

The list of major US firms with research centres in Bangalore, Beijing, Shanghai and other locations in emerging economies reads like a Who's Who of the Fortune 500. Heads of these centres have gone on the record saying that the potential size of these markets, their rapid advance to the technological frontier and, in many cases, their capacity to be early adopters of new technology make it imperative that western firms base considerable innovative resources in emerging economies. These activities indirectly give a huge boost to purely indigenous innovation efforts as well.

Despite the possibility of the next big wave of innovations originating abroad, the location-specific advantages of the US and Silicon Valley remain considerable. Given the vast support structure of innovation in place there — the venture capitalists, lawyers, accountants and investment bankers — as well as the universities and other expertise available, many of those foreign firms would likely base significant operations in the US. After all, the US is still the largest market, as well as a springboard for launching products worldwide. Silicon Valley and other technology hotspots in the country could still reap significant economic benefits, including well-paying jobs, from innovation occurring abroad.

Still, other countries are developing this soft infrastructure and will be in a better position in the future to appropriate most of the economic gains from innovation.

The crucial issue, therefore, is how the US can boost domestic R&D and innovative activity. There is no law in nature, science or economics that dictates that transformative discoveries and inventions automatically follow from large amounts of money thrown into the effort.

Perhaps innovation develops in punctuated equilibria, in fits and starts, and the US could be in a stage of temporary stasis. Or the slowdown may be a result of the preponderant share of services in the economies of developed countries. Productivity growth in many services activities is problematic. Most past breakthroughs have involved tangible goods, and even services provision and delivery is ultimately manufacturing-dependent.

While the question of where the next wave of high-paying jobs is going to come from is particularly acute for developed countries, it is a global issue. Indeed, rapid manufacturing-productivity growth in places such as China and the increase in services sectors have resulted in stagnation in manufacturing employment there.

(The writer is an economist at the University of California/Berkeley)






The word 'market', demonised for decades in official Cuban circle has reappeared.

The plans and agreements approved at the recently-concluded sixth congress of the Cuban Communist Party has left people with a wide range of reactions, from hope, to scepticism, to fear, satisfaction, the sense that old ideological principles have been renounced or that such certainties are no more than window dressing. But the congress left no one with a feeling of indifference. Cuba's magnetism —sometimes morbid, sometimes admiring — prevents that from happening.

Although the news was not surprising, there was much discussion about the resignation from Cuban Communist Party leadership of Fidel Castro, the historic leader who for more than 45 years guided the destiny of Cuba and has now decided to be a simple activist of the party — though we all know that he will be anything but 'simple.' More surprising and moving (politically and even humanly speaking) was the proposal of the president and now new first secretary of the republic, Raul Castro, to reduce to two five-year terms the time that the future premier can stay in power, something unheard of in the ruling apparatus of a socialist country, where the upper reaches of power often stay in office until they die. How these changes will be implemented remains to be seen.

Exhausted model

In contrast, everyone expected the proposal of a broad overhaul of the obviously exhausted Cuban economic model. The new plan will try various alternatives like foreign investment, work, taxation, and private production, decentralisation of the government, the elimination of bureaucratic red tape, and cuts in government subsidies. All of these measures will introduce the element of market competition desperately needed in a country weakened by an interminable economic crisis, rock bottom production, and a society deformed by the way goods and services are provided.

The word 'market', demonised for decades in official Cuban circle has reappeared, though there was another word that was reintroduced and mentioned more times: 'change'. How radical and profound will the changes be? Will they affect the economic and social essence of the system, including those that are political? This too remains to be seen, but there can be no doubt that change has arrived and more is coming, not always desired (by certain elements of the government leadership) but always inevitable, since many have already occurred in our society and others are being imposed by time itself and the reality of Cuba and the planet.

However, there has been too little, if any, talk of other profound transformations that will or should accompany the economic, social, and even political changes that have been proposed or approved so far. I am referring to changes that may be subtle but are indispensable and no less necessary, among which we should remember urgent changes needed in the top-down, fundamentalist orthodoxy, based on exclusion, which, fuelled for years, managed to convert into a suspect, if not an enemy, anyone who dissented from official positions and tried to think with his own head as opposed to a logic based on 'the moment', 'the situation of the country', of 'top-down orientation'.

Too many years of political verticality, of an excessively powerful bureaucracy, of considering as an enemy anyone who doesn't think the same way —these are burdens that the newly approved plan for the future must eliminate if Cuban society is to regenerate itself, more vital and audacious. The same is true of the tendency to stigmatise nonconformists, as was done all too frequently by that backwards and reactionary bureaucracy, which was responsible not only for innumerable economic disasters (for which no one paid the price, or if there was any accountability maybe some involved lost certain privileges). But the worst part of this practice was the removal from society of a culture of dialogue and the expression of nonconformist ideas natural elements of social diversity.

Today the necessity to allow in the new and different and heterodox is recognised even by government and party leadership: Raul Castro himself sees that "the first thing to change in the Communist Party is the mentality, which is what we will pay the higher cost for because it has been tied for years to obsolete criteria".

Only in this way can there be real change in Cuba, not only by decree but also by consensus, not only imposed from the top but percolating up from every corner of the country.









Does the desperate quest for pain killers indicate the loss of our ability to bear pain?
Medicalised health care promises alleviation of suffering which includes pain, impairment and decline. Pain perceived as curable, becomes intolerable thus demanding drugs, hospital services and impersonal medical care. Otherwise, virtues such as patience, courage and resignation are sought. Religious rationale such as Karma, Kismet and a backlash of sin also offer succour and consolation.

Charles Richet, a century ago, in his 'Standard Dictionary of Physiology,' defined pain as a useful physiological sensation that made people turn away from danger. Every abuse is immediately followed by pain as punishment, which is clearly superior in intensity to the pleasure that abuse produced.

Ivan Illich, in his essay 'Limits to Medicine,' says that pain promotes a deep sense of loneliness where only questions exist. What is wrong? How much longer? Why must I suffer? Why does this kind of evil exist? And why does it strike just me?

Does the desperate quest for pain killers indicate the loss of humanity's ability to bear pain or the will to heal when damaged? Why is the anguish so severe that it saps the vitality of inner resources and energy? Why does pain make affable people irritable and ill mannered? Michael Grossman explains the change in behaviour using an economic model. Since pain and suffering affect health, which is a durable capital stock used to produce an output called 'healthy time', routines and schedules are forcibly altered.

Healthy time as a consumer commodity enters directly into the individual's utility function: people usually would rather be healthy than sick. It also enters the market as an investment commodity. It determines the amount of time an individual can spend on work and on play, on earning and on recreation. It can be thus viewed as a decisive indicator of his value to the community as a producer.

As a friend, recouping from a brief illness, summarised, "I don't have the time to fall sick nor the money to die well in a multi speciality hospital!" So, let us first make some time for health.









Poor Benjamin Netanyahu. The prime minister was so busy on the seder night with the story of the exodus from Egypt - you know, "from slavery to freedom," and he had to eat all that gefilte fish, and soup, and meat and vegetables - that he didn't manage to get outside and exchange even a word or two with the dejected couple who sat all those hours on the dusty sidewalk next to his castle.

The only ones who did make it out to them were some nervous and solemn-faced security guards, extremely concerned about the tremendous security risk posed by those two naive citizens who refuse to return home - where they could drown their sorrows and not disturb the peace of the king and queen.

That image of Aviva and Noam Shalit sitting on the pavement with their feet in the road, outside the cold and isolated prime minister's residence, was heartrending. It symbolized everything: Inside they were celebrating and outside they were mourning. Inside they were busy plotting PR spins and appointing mediators who have no authority, and outside they were busy confronting the cruel fate of their son, the soldier, whom the Israel Defense Forces and the government have abandoned.

I am sorry, Aviva and Noam Shalit, it is true that you have touched our hearts, but that is simply not enough. You are too reserved. Too refined. Too naive. You believe the prime minister is "doing everything" possible to free your son Gilad from that hell, but the cruel truth is that he's doing everything possible to achieve quiet.

He wants you to be quiet, he wants a quiet in the strikes, quiet from the coalition, and quiet in the diplomatic arena. That is the sort of quiet that will enable him to continue to rule; and an exchange deal with Hamas is exactly the opposite of quiet. It's one massive headache. It opens the door to accusations and risks. And that is what he absolutely hates.

The two sides had already reached a logical agreement during former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's term, according to which Hamas was supposed to get several hundred regular prisoners and another 450 "heavy" prisoners. But at the last minute, Olmert pulled out of the deal due to some marginal clauses. He, too, wanted quiet.

After he resigned and Netanyahu rose to power, the new prime minister began discussing one of his favorite topics - terror and its dangers. To his way of thinking, freeing terrorists means more attacks. Three former heads of the Shin Bet security service actually declared that "Israel is strong enough, both from an intelligence perspective and a military perspective, to deal with murderers who decide to return to their bad habits" - but what do they know?

Netanyahu is not prepared to sign a prisoner swap deal because he is unable to make any kind of decision on any issue. He is a master of putting decisions off. But it must be understood that if an exchange deal is not put into effect very soon, Gilad Shalit will also disappear the way that Ron Arad did, and his fate will haunt us forever.

There will be assemblies and demonstrations, there will be campaigns, and his disappearance will erode our strength. Now, too, Israel is being weakened by dealing with Shalit every single day - much more so than it would be weakened by the release of hundreds of terrorists who do not pose any strategic threat.

Abandoning Shalit also deals a fatal blow to our social endurance and to the principle of mutual responsibility. Because if we are not prepared to take risks to save one of our soldiers, that means that man is wolf to man and that there is no solidarity. That is why the Shalits must change their tactics. They have to put an end to the quiet Netanyahu is enjoying. They have to make so much noise that he'll feel it is endangering his position even more than freeing terrorists would.

The Shalit family can no longer go on being nice, decent and reliable. They have to wage a personal war against the prime minister. They must no longer meet with him, since every meeting (all of which are always photographed ) just becomes part of a well-oiled public relations machine. They must also deny hypocritical ministers, who know how to express sympathy with grief-stricken faces and nothing more, entry to their protest tent.

Aviva and Noam Shalit have to speak up and share what is in their hearts, without worrying about being politically correct. They have to be much more militant. They must organize mass protests and bring the country to a standstill. They must not give Netanyahu one moment of quiet. It is only when the quiet disappears that he will be forced to carry out the swap that has been shelved for years now.

Only then will Netanyahu be able to explain to his children the true meaning of the story of the Haggadah: leaving slavery for freedom.







Let us imagine Meretz founder Shulamit Aloni as prime minister of Israel. An impish fantasy for some of us. In that case, would it be reasonable to imagine Shas launching a campaign under the slogan "Only the daring will win," calling upon Aloni to gather her courage and transform Israel into a theocracy under rabbinical law? Not really.

And is it possible that in their "Zurich initiative," the leaders of the settlers would submit to Aloni a practical and detailed plan for building 500,000 apartments in the Israeli colony in the territories, with the aim of perpetuating it? This too is not really likely. And not only in Israel. Is it possible to imagine the American right in a campaign advising President Barack Obama to gather his courage and revoke medical insurance legislation or submitting a detailed plan to him for a sweeping prohibition on abortions in the United States? Did the left in the U.S. ever suggest to President George W. Bush a plan for making the country a welfare state and did it bother to urge Nixon to embrace the peace organizations during the Vietnam War?

Even as rhetorical questions, these things look imaginary. And this, strangely and exceptionally, is exactly how the non-right in Israel has been operating for years now. In all the established democracies there is the simple awareness that the role of the alternative is to be an alternative. It has to challenge the regime and its values. Not give advice to the ruler but instead display determination to replace him. The alternative's role is to delegitimize the regime, its ways and its values, and to try to obtain a majority for a different set of values.

Only in non-democratic countries does the head of state derive his power from being perceived as impossible to replace and it seem possible only to advise him. This is the way things have looked in the Arab countries until recently. These simple things are clear to everyone in democratic systems. To everyone, that is, except the non-right in Israel. Only these people - from within what they perceive as good intentions and "responsibility" - look like eunuchs scurrying in an attempt to give advice "from within" to a regime that has chosen the opposite path.

It is not possible to understand the messianic, racist and anti-democratic right's move from the margins to dominance in the government without considering the flaccidity of the non-right in Israel and its choice of political conduct, for which there is no parallel. This strange stance has built up the power of the right in many dimensions. First of all, this depicts it as a "regime," for which there is no substitute, and all that remains is for the advisors/eunuchs to fight for closeness to its ear. Secondly, this enables the extreme rightist ruler to move towards the "center" in the public's perception. This is how Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's success came about. He is the leader of a radical and multi-faceted rightist outlook, from the incitement demonstrations before the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin to the intentional damage inflicted on the Oslo agreements and democracy - an outlook that should be locating him in a place similar to that of a politician from the fringes of the American right, beyond Sarah Palin. His image, however, has become that of someone located close to the center. Someone who will soon decide between advice from National Union MK Michael Ben Ari and advice from the 'Geneva Peace Initiative'.

There is nothing that distances the public more from the alternative than arrogance. The politically mistaken path also radiates tremendous arrogance. As though there were an "objectively" correct path, which the right and its voters in their stupidity are not managing to understand. If only we explain it well - to the appropriate person - and market a precise plan that is worthwhile to everyone, then those who are having difficulty will understand.

But having Israel return to its Declaration of Independence and establish a democratic and egalitarian state within the 1967 borders is not good for everyone. The racist and messianic world is not going to enjoy this change. Its values are the opposite.

Avoidance of the battle over values at this time is tantamount to an existential scandal. The Palestinians are getting close to a declaration of independence. Israel, with its Declaration of Independence, should be the first to support this.

It is not by mistake that Netanyahu is leading the country to the lepers' corner where South Africa used to be. For precisely the same racist values, the Declaration of Independence is being trampled in the Knesset. It's not advice whispered into the prime minister's ear that Israel needs - but rather a clear alternative that will supplant him for the sake of a democratic Israel.







This Sunday is the 96th memorial day for the 1.5 million Armenians whose blood was spilled. When it comes to the holocaust of others, Israel, too, is in denial. True, Turkey today is an ally that has violated the alliance, so we have vented our righteous anger at it, but still we haven't changed our policy.

It's a that's still looking for the hands that perpetrated it. But not only in relations between countries is nothing new. Just between us, it's business as usual in the educational world, too. Since the last attempt 10 years ago to teach a unit on the issue, the horrors of genocide in general have been totally removed from the curriculum. The Open University is today the sole institution in Israel that holds a course on "Forgetting and Denying" - 700 students are keen to find out what the system is trying to hide.

There is a heavy price to pay for denial. This month, figures were published on the opinions of our country's young people; figures that have revolted us. Some 60 percent believe that a strong leader is more important than the rule of law and that a Jewish state is preferable to a democratic state. About half the respondents would like to see Arabs prevented from being elected to the Knesset. They also object to having Arab neighbors and do not believe in coexistence. That's the fruit of the labor of the local version of the madrassa. Should we train up a child in the way he should go, or the way we should go?

So meet our children and pupils; they're getting uglier just as the Education Ministry is investing most of its spiritual and material resources in "strengthening Jewish and Zionist values." The focus is so strong on "Israeli culture and heritage" that education about democracy, civics and coexistence has been dropped from the new work plan that was recently sent to the schools. Only half the Jewish and democratic state has been left, but without both parts the whole cannot exist. If it's not democratic, it will simply not exist.

That's what happens when someone's whole world is focused on Kiryat Arba, which is Hebron; when we wallow only in our own dust. If we extricated ourselves for a moment from the mental and cultural ghetto, if we opened up a little window to the values of democracy, peace, tolerance and pluralism - to getting to know the other and accepting him - the face of the generation would be less canine and more human.

What's the good of increasing by 2 percent the number of high-school students who are entitled to a matriculation certificate if the Jewish mind of the citizen that results is brainwashed with racist and anti-democratic views? A good Jew, when he is in his tent or outside, has to be a humane person - that's a precondition, unless one believes that the two are mutually exclusive and on a collision course. To be a Jew, it's enough to be born to the right mother; the effort is totally up to her with or without an epidural. To be a humane person, a personal contribution is required.

And no one is a human being without recognizing that the other is also one, and that it is important to get to know him, both his shortcomings and hopes. No one is born a murderer and no one is destined to be murdered, and no nation has a monopoly on suffering and mourning. The warning sign before a holocaust, genocide, politicide, ethnocide or ethnic cleansing is the same everywhere and at all times. True, learned research distinguishes between each, but the victims don't care about the minute distinctions.

Israel is the last country that can allow itself to be in denial - that's a breach that attracts murderers, and here they come. And if the people in the President's Residence, the Prime Minister's Office and the Foreign Ministry still refuse to understand, then the Education Ministry has to explain it to them; that's its job. It's not enough to have more matriculation certificates piling up on the desk for the minister and the director general to sign if these are certificates of a calamitous failure.






Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz added this week to the superficial and irresponsible statements by his cabinet colleagues when he shot from the hip with a threat to shut down Israel Railways. He would do so, he said, if the company did not submit a plan to change its structure within four months. Katz also quoted his ministry's director general, Maj. Gen. (res. ) Dan Harel, who said that if the army had a unit with the same level of maintenance and safety, it would be shut down.

The threats by the minister and the director general come against the backdrop of train accidents and safety deficiencies that have cost lives and damaged a great deal of property - and these officials are directly responsible. An investigative report by the Hebrew edition of TheMarker published yesterday also detailed the deplorable inefficiency in the way the company is run. There is no doubt that Israel Railways needs an urgent shake-up organizationally and safety-wise. But shooting from the hip and empty threats to shut the company down are not the way.

Israel Railways is not a unit of the Israel Defense Forces, nor is it a firm that can be shut down with the wave of a ministerial declaration. People who need the trains deserve safe and efficient service - and the transportation minister must ensure that they get it. If he cannot do so, he is not doing his job properly and must bear the consequences.

Last summer, Katz crudely intervened in the appointment of the Israel Railways CEO; he worked to disqualify the leading candidate for the post, Oren Most, using methods that raised many questions. That has been the gist of his intervention at the failing enterprise under his aegis. Now he is threatening to shut it down, something that has already led to counter-threats of a strike by Israel Railways' powerful workers committee.

It is incumbent on cabinet ministers, including transportation ministers, to efficiently lead their ministries and bear responsibility for what goes on in them. Israel Railways is an essential part of our economic infrastructure, and the threat to shut it down is not serious. There are no "alternative solutions" for the people who take some 30 million train trips each year.

So Katz should leave his threats aside and start working to implement extensive reforms at Israel Railways, including replacing the current poor management. He should do so without damaging a service that is essential to its customers - civilians and soldiers alike. But he doesn't use this service.








"We learn from history that we do not learn from history," said the German philosopher Georg Hegel. With intellectual honesty, and before I began preaching morals to others, I asked myself: Do I learn from history? Myself replied to me with frankness, that I do not learn even from my own experience.

Myself reminded me, to my embarrassment, of the nights when I stuff more and more into my stomach, as if it was my last meal. The price is heavy but at the first opportunity I forget the suffering of my body and soul and go back to my bad habits. Myself had brilliant insight and said: "The head knows it is not right, but try and convince the urge that you must not attack a tray of stuffed grape leaves flavored with juicy lamb chops."

So if we want to be precise, our learned Mr. Hegel, the problem is how to convince the urge to learn from experience.

Take, for example, the government's policy toward Lebanon. It has not been a long time since the joke went round that a group of scouts would suffice to overpower the Lebanese army. And then in the last war Hezbollah's Hassan Nassrallah translated his threats to attack Haifa into acts. Today they explain to us that Hezbollah's missiles can reach Tel Aviv, and "the urge" continues with its threats.

That is also true of Gaza. After the urge gained control of the decision-making monopoly, the way is now open for more Operation Cast Leads. And so, after the urge dictated a few more rounds in which it promised to "destroy the terror infrastructure," the assessments today are that the missiles from Gaza will reach south Tel Aviv.

The story about the urge is an ancient one. On the eve of the 1956 war against Egypt, after it had dared to take the Suez Canal back into its own hands, Clementine Churchill complained that Israel was not being invited to the conference of the countries that used the canal. Her husband, Winston, explained that they were afraid that they "would not be able to control it." And he was right.

Since then, the French and the British have folded up their colonialist flags and shut themselves off from the rest of the world. The French withdrew from Algeria, which they very much liked at the time. Today, for your own safety, don't ask a Frenchman if he misses Algeria. Also don't ask a similar question of an American about Vietnam. But in Israel people fell in love with occupations and since then, the urge is in high spirits, war campaign after war campaign. The names change but it is the same urge.

Go and explain to the urge that the classic era of conquests is over, that a sugar-filled bottle of Coke functions better than a nuclear battery; that Google is more effective than the Sixth Fleet; that the heroes of Hollywood have conquered every living room, and without firing a shot.

When Hegel's "ratio" was in the ascendancy, Albert Einstein, Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, and Baruch Spinoza became famous. Today, in the era of the urge, the current stars are Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Deputy Prime Minister Eli Yishai, and the man who walks with the low chair. Israel is not alone.

To conclude, since it is the Passover holiday, we will not abandon the readers with feelings of misery and instead will end with a joke from Nazareth, about a fisherman who was fishing for enjoyment as well as for his living, under a tree on the shores of the Galilee.

An energetic young man asked him: "Why don't you buy a rowboat?" "Nu?" said the fisherman. "Then you could catch more fish." "Nu?" "You could buy a ship with your earnings." "Nu?" "You could bring workers and be rich." "Nu?" "And then you could enjoy life." "How?" "For example, you could sit on the shore of the lake and fish for your enjoyment." The old fisherman replied: "I don't have to. I'm already doing that."

Perhaps this joke represses the urge for ambitiousness. But nevertheless we learn something from it - really, why should the circle be extended if in the end we sit on the same shore?

We have to hurry before the Sea of Galilee gets any smaller.







First, Happy Passover to you, Sara and the kids. I am sure we agree that Israel and the West need to end our enslavement to carbon sources of energy. It is bad for the environment, and plagues our national security, by fueling enemies of democracy.

I have been one of those activists - along with David Rosenblatt of New Jersey and Ed Hofland of Kibbutz Ketura - fighting for nearly five years to bring commercial-scale solar power to Israel. It has been a long, costly and difficult journey, with countless governmental zig-zags that undermine international investor confidence in the Israeli economy.

I want to propose a deal, here in this column: If you and your government can finally agree on a solar policy that promotes energy independence, investor confidence, long-term strategic planning, jobs and Israeli technology - then you are invited to join National Infrastructures Minister Uzi Landau at the ribbon-cutting launching the country's first commercial solar field, at Kibbutz Ketura.

Saul Singer, co-author with Dan Senor of "Start-Up Nation," says that Israel needs "a sensible policy toward renewable energy. The goal should not be a 'good enough' policy, but one that will make us proud as the Start-Up Nation and will meet the expectation that the world has for us - given our abundance of both technology and bright sunshine. Our goal should be not just to meet international standards but to exceed them in a way that makes sense for the economy and for the future of the local industry."

Meeting these correct solar goals for the country is no easy task. Yet you and your cabinet are scheduled to vote after Passover on a motion that will either kill the solar industry or set it free to provide for Israel's needs. Up for decision is the Treasury's demand to reverse the a government committee's earlier decision to proceed with development of larger, 500-megawatt solar fields and to give the mandate to the Infrastructure Ministry and the regulator to continue to create caps and tariffs for solar power, with the goal of meeting the government's target of having 10 percent of electricity generated by renewables by 2020.

The devil is in the details, and hopefully reason and shared national and economic interests will win the day so that Treasury will back down - or lose the vote - and allow the solar program to continue. Even if the solar program continues, however, it needs to improve considerably to help make Israel a world leader and meet some of our geo-strategic goals intended to end the era of oil.

To produce the right policy, both the industry and you will have to be honest and demonstrate courage. The industry, particularly the rooftop solar installation companies that enjoy the highest tariff, has been greedy. Yes, all those launching the first solar endeavors took on enormous risk, and that risk should be rewarded. But at this point the industry can live with being squeezed a bit on the next solar programs, as long as the returns are still good enough to attract investment and debt for the installations. So we in the industry need to call an end to the greed.

Conversely, it is time for the government to cease speaking with multiple voices, and to stop changing policies after enormous investments have been made based on existing regulations and government decisions. Every step has been a battle, every solar cap another war. The government resolution promoting the Negev as a renewable energy zone (#4450 ) mandates a 5 percent renewables target by 2014 and a target of 10 percent by 2020, or roughly 4000 solar megawatts. These modest goals cannot be met in the current uncertain regulatory and political atmosphere that exists on your watch.

If the solar industry and government can work together under your leadership, finally, then we can together accelerate both the introduction of new Israeli technologies and advance grid parity - that is, the day when the cost of producing a solar kilowatt will be the same as producing a kilowatt from oil, gas or coal. According to the U.S. Department of Energy and other experts, this will happen around 2015 in most of the world.

If Israel can model policies to advance grid parity, we can be a shining light to other economies, particularly ones still using oil for power production. Cyprus, for example, produces 97 percent of its electricity with oil, with more than half the countries on the planet using oil for base-load and back-up generation capacity.

A Netanyahu Solar Covenant would recognize that Israel has a strategic interest in putting an end to use of oil not only in transportation, but also in power production. The best way to bring that about is to adopt sensible solar policies that lead through example and advance grid parity. How to do that?

• First: Remove the caps - the limits - on solar power production until the government goal of 4000 megawatts is achieved.

• Second: Squeeze down the tariffs - the payment - on solar power generation each time a major milestone of production is met (for example, every 500 MW ), until grid parity is achieved. As technology costs come down, so should the tariff.

• Third: Divide up tracks and tariff pricing for the solar program between rooftops, medium fields and large fields. Do not mix rooftops and fields in the same programs since their cost structures and deployment times are different.

• Fourth: Create tax benefits on solar power production so that we producers can live on lower and lower tariffs.

• Fifth: Provide $1 billion in loan guarantees to local solar developers who use Israeli emerging technologies. Failure to do so means that it will be five to seven years before such Israeli technologies can be introduced into the market in a major way. Loan guarantees would mean cutting that waiting period to three years.

• Sixth: Raise the government goal from 10 percent renewables by 2020 to 20 percent, with an interim goal of 10 percent by 2014, but mandate that the additional 10 percent must incorporate a minimum Israeli hardware component so that the majority of solar investments in the Israeli power sector stay in the local economy.

Our tradition reminds us that freedom from Egypt needs to be accompanied by the responsibility of covenant, which originated at Sinai. The first Israeli solar field launches on Shavuot, which is when the government and its prime minister should announce from the desert a solar covenant to end the tyranny of oil in global power production. Let me know if we can expect you, Sara and the kids.

Yosef Abramowitz is president of the international board of the Arava Power Company; he can be followed on twitter @ KaptainSunshine. This is the third in a series on green energy.







Last month, the Israel Democracy Institute's Forum for Political Reform went public with a set of recommendations for improving Israel's system of governance. Some of the proposals, albeit a minority of them, are well taken. But the Forum's fundamental recommendation - to reject movement toward a quasi-presidential system - ignores the most important criterion for improving democratic governance: namely, the nature of the challenges facing Israel.

No single form of democratic governance fits all circumstances. Rather, adjustment to the specific realities of each country is essential. For this reason, comparative study of regimes can only be superficial if it doesn't include examination of the societies that they serve, and evaluation of the regimes' capacity to cope with the main challenges they face. For instance, in terms of abstract constitutional law and political science, the constitution of the Weimar Republic was well crafted, but because it ignored the real challenges facing Germany after its defeat in World War I, it paved the way for the Nazi regime. Another example, of much pertinence for Israel, is the quasi-presidential regime instituted by Charles de Gaulle in 1958, which was essential for enabling him in 1962 to resolve the Algerian problem.

Therefore, the Forum (and all other groups considering reform of the Israeli regime ) should have based its recommendations, first, on an examination of the challenges facing Israel. Because this was not done, and despite the quality of the Forum's makeup, its rejection of a quasi-presidential option is wrong. Consequently many others of its recommendations as well are inadequate, if not liable to cause more harm than good if implemented.

One of the working papers prepared under the auspices of the Israel Democracy Institute, "No to a Presidential Regime in Israel!" - one that most likely influenced the Forum in its deliberations - well illustrates the sources of the failure. It states (in my translation ): "A presidential regime is a regime of decisions and not compromises, and therefore it will harm minorities and aggravate disagreements and cleavage."

In addition to being factually wrong - witness the type of compromises the U.S. president is obligated to make in his job - this statement also completely ignores situations requiring clear-cut decisions in the face of sharp social and political disagreements, as well as on issues in which it is necessary to overcome the tyranny of the status quo and powerful interest groups. This is clearly the Israeli situation with respect to the peace process, where dithering is the worst of all alternatives; when it comes to social issues such as income disparities and the integration of minorities; and on economic issues such as land policy and water pricing.

Another striking illustration of the biased anti-presidential regime views is the declaration in the working paper mentioned above that a "presidential regime will detach the governmental bodies from each other and transform them into adversaries instead of strengthening the fruitful cooperation between them."

For a moment I thought I was reading satire. It's absurd to speak about "fruitful cooperation" between most of the ministries in Israel. On the contrary: The country's parliamentary-coalition regime (combined with the lack of a coherent senior civil service stratum ) necessarily results in distribution of the ministerial portfolios as "property" between ministers and parties, who in the main do what they want, preventing proper design and implementation of overall national policies - such as, for instance, a sorely needed, integrated socio-economic policy.

The choice between a quasi-presidential regime and a parliamentary one is the key to all other governance details. This renders even more egregious the Forum's rather cavalier rejection of the option of some version of a quasi-presidential regime, instead of a balanced professional analysis of advantages and disadvantages, a presentation of different views on the matter, and a recommendation for further in-depth consideration, as such a weighty issue surely requires.

The unavoidable conclusion is that the recommendations of the Forum do not face squarely the critical Israeli need for greater concentration of democratic political power in the hands of an elected chief executive, subject to careful safeguards. Only such a change will enable clear choices and overall national policies on crucial future-shaping issues. Thus the Forum missed what is most essential in restructuring the Israeli regime.

Prof. Yehezkel Dror's forthcoming book, "Israeli Statecraft: National Security Challenges and Responses," is due out next month from Routledge.







In a heartfelt column published online on April 10, Ha'aretz blogger Bradley Burston called on the New Israel Fund and other progressive groups to demonstrate concern for Israelis trapped under bombardment from Gaza.

This directive concerns us. And we want to set the record straight, because the New Israel Fund and its action arm Shatil have been working with and for residents in the underprivileged areas south of Tel Aviv and in the Negev for almost as long as we have been in business.

Many of Ashkelon's residents are immigrants from the Former Soviet Union. In solidly Russian-speaking neighborhoods, with parents working long hours, children need special assistance with their homework and help in learning about Judaism, a subject often lacking from their parents' education. Sometimes as many as 100 children at a time get this support from the Meitar after-school program funded by NIF.

The too many Jewish and Arab residents of Be'er Sheva who suffer from food insecurity are helped by the Shatil-backed Food Security Center to work to influence policy both in their community and at the national level. At our urging and in conjunction with the center, the Knesset Education Committee held hearings about strengthening the existing School Lunch Law this past year, successfully compelling the National Insurance Institute to track food insecurity.

In Kiryat Gat, Ethiopian women immigrants are using their handicraft skills to earn income and build stronger families and communities, with support from the feminist Mizrahi group Achoti. Orthodox women in the south of Israel are hearing an empowering feminist message from the Hallelei Project. The organization Kitar is establishing a holistic, group-oriented community that promotes Judaism as culture for Russian-speaking immigrants in Ashdod. A group in Be'er Sheva called HETZ continues to fight for access to dental care for those in need. Shatil leads the Ramat Hovav Coalition, a group of local environmental and social organizations as well as local government bodies to advance solutions to the issue of toxic waste management in one of Israel's most dangerous industrial zones.

We train young activists to become leaders of environmental protection efforts in our Negev Fellows for the Environment program. Citizen groups in Sderot, representing the many immigrants who live there, are keeping careful track of the millions of dollars received by that community from generous international sources, and of the transparency and funding of municipal government services. All these and more have been supported by the NIF and/ or strengthened by their work with Shatil.

Of course, our support for organizations working for civil rights and social justice for Israel's Arab citizens is well known; we are extremely proud of our role in seed-funding and supporting that sector. There is no group in Israel that faces more daily or more systemic discrimination. In the Negev in particular, this includes Bedouin, the country's most impoverished community, which faces the daily threat of home demolition and the persistent status of "unrecognized."

NIF does not believe in the strategy, too frequently used by Israeli politicians, of setting one underprivileged group against another so that the high-handed decisions made on behalf of the wealthy and powerful go unnoticed. Our most celebrated coalitions are those in which Mizrahi women teach Ethiopians about successful strategies for community organizing, or where liberal-Orthodox and Arab women sit together to think about sexism and empowerment. Our basic premise is that every Israeli is entitled to raise his or her voice to advance equality, fairness and justice.

Back in 2005, the summer of the controversial withdrawal from Gaza, NIF's Israeli and international board members and staff set off on a bus to Gaza to talk to the settlers who were about to lose their homes in Gush Katif. No, we did not support their preference to stay there then, and we consistently oppose the occupation and the settlement enterprise now. But we do not demonize those with whom we disagree. We believe that when Israel finally relinquishes its hold on the territories, and when many of those settlers come home to Israel, they will be entitled to the respect and justice that every Israeli citizen deserves.

There is one thing we will not do: We will not raise money for security measures. Not only is that not our area of expertise, but it is the task of the State of Israel - supported by billions in American taxpayer contributions - to protect its citizens. The billions of dollars that Israel spends on settlements would certainly better be spent on real security, in the broader sense, for citizens, whether that means Iron Dome in the south or basic fire equipment in the Carmel or decent schools in development towns. We think we are doing our best, and so are our progressive allies in Israel and overseas, to remind the Israeli and American governments of that fact.

There is no excuse for the disgusting targeting of civilians by the Hamas regime in Gaza. But our work of social change and social justice in Israel is important precisely because we don't treat the towns within rocket range as crisis zones, but rather like the vital communities they are, with the whole complex complement of issues they face as they build their future. We will not just be in Ashkelon and Be'er Sheva and the places in between when the bombs come down. As we have done for 33 years, and will continue to do until we are no longer needed, we stand with every citizen of Israel we have the means to help. Every day.

Rachel Liel is the executive director in Israel, and Daniel Sokatch the CEO, of the New Israel Fund.







In the period leading up to Israel's 2009 parliamentary election, several polls I conducted among the Jewish population turned up a consistent finding: The youngest respondents (18-35 ) disproportionately described themselves as right wing. They also supported Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu party slightly more than others. Then weeks before the election, Haaretz reported on polls among high-school students in which Lieberman won simulated elections outright.

The nationalist, right-leaning trends among young people have been making headlines ever since, with sensational surveys showing intolerance and weak democratic values. But the polls have not clearly explained what's behind the apparent trend - why young people express such attitudes.

A new study of Israeli youth initiated by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation and conducted by the Macro Institute for Political Economy, in which I participated, sought answers. To that end, in the spring/summer of 2010, we commissioned the Dahaf Research Institute to survey Jewish and Arab young people, 800 respondents between the ages of 15 and 18, and 800 aged 21-24 years. The poll, supplemented by extensive in-depth interviews, probed in detail their personal, social and political attitudes.

The answer is, it's complicated, and facile observations that youth are becoming fascist are not very helpful. I believe that pollsters should analyze with empathy rather than cynicism, if we are to contribute constructively to the debate; that means accepting contradictions and searching for their meaning.

The findings convinced me that young people here are not so much angry as they are craving the normalcy that has always eluded Israel. When normalcy evades them, they find convenient enemies to blame.

Here is evidence of the youthful quest for calm: The top personal goal is simply to raise a family. Sixty-five percent of Jews ranked family first out of five options (interestingly, just 43 percent of Arabs did; also 34 percent of them ranked "higher education" highest, four times more than Jews ). Ninety percent of all interviewees described themselves as optimistic. More than three-quarters of Jews and nearly 90 percent of Arabs feel personally safe. The interviewees revealed an interest in Facebook, sports and the opposite sex. For young people, the personal realm may be the arena where they feel they are "normal."

From their descriptions, it's not clear why young folks would even bother with politics. Politicians seem toxic. One interviewee said: "[Politicians] are all shit!" and "They're busy with money and bribes and not with what they should be doing. Instead of investing effort in the state, they're investing in cars."

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict appears intractable to them. These young people have no positive associations with peace, having come of age during three wars (the second intifada, the Second Lebanon War and Cast Lead ) and no peace agreements. Whereas roughly 70 percent of adults today support negotiations, according to the monthly Peace Index surveys, among the young people polled, just over half (including Arabs ) do. Three-quarters of the Jewish respondents in our survey don't believe negotiations will bring peace. The plurality of Jews (46 percent ) prefer to "maintain the current situation, of the conflict," rather than move toward either a two-state or a one-state resolution. Sixty-three percent define themselves as "right wing," compared to 48 percent in 1998 (and about 45 percent of Jewish adults in Israel today, in my research ).

Apparently unwilling to question mainstream narratives regarding the futility of peace or the venality of politics most young people in Israel are no vanguard for social or political change. They do, however, crave the bonds of national unity. For Jewish youth, "Us against them" seems to be emerging as a convenient source. Hence the notion that Israel must be a "Jewish state" ranks as first priority among Jewish youth - a change from past years, when peace or democracy came first.

Fear, too, is a unifying factor, feeding distrust of others. Sixty percent of young Jews believe the state faces an existential threat. One interviewee said: "I wouldn't trust [Israeli Arabs] for anything. I'll keep my distance on the smallest chance that he'll stick a knife in my back ... " One-quarter think the secular-religious divide is dangerous; one-fifth think the left-right divide endangers Israel.

Belief in coexistence is a casualty of all this. In a battery of questions about coexistence behavior, barely half of young Jews polled would consider things like going to the home of an Arab (37 percent ) or having an Arab friend (52 percent ). Among Arabs, the rates range from 58 percent to 81 percent. When Jews were asked their feelings about Arabs, most say they have none; the second-ranked answer is "hatred" (27 percent ). Perhaps most troubling, democracy itself seems less important than identity. Although the vast majority in our study says democracy is theoretically important, 46 percent of Jews are willing to limit the rights of Arabs to be elected to Knesset and three-quarters say security concerns trump democracy.

It's important to realize that the "youth" are not monolithic. Secular Jews are significantly more supportive of democratic values and coexistence than religious youngsters, reflecting fundamentally different world views. Arab youngsters are the most supportive of democratic principles; it is logical, but ironic, that Arabs could become the strongest advocates for Israeli democracy.

When interviewed, people did not seem aware of the contradictions inherent in, for example, supporting democracy in theory but not in reality, or in feeling disgust for public life, but showing little interest in changing it.

So what will Israel's future look like? Perhaps the data can be a wake-up call to remind us that Israel's diversity demands agreement on principles that are above politics, like democracy. Perhaps the troubling hostility toward the Other can alert us to the urgent need to cultivate empathy and understanding, starting at an early age.

Or the data can recede into a general backdrop of bad news, just one more reason to say "there's nothing to be done."

Dahlia Scheindlin is an independent public opinion analyst and a strategic consultant. She is writing her Ph.D. in political science at Tel Aviv University.




                                    THE NEWYORK TIMES




Senator Tom Coburn, a conservative Republican from Oklahoma, has had the good sense to demand an end to the $5 billion annual tax credit to makers of corn ethanol, a wasteful subsidy to farm states that is also dubious environmental policy. For his outspokenness, Senator Coburn was pilloried by anti-government activists of his own party who cannot stand the idea of more revenues flowing into the federal Treasury. But he and a few others in the Senate are holding fast, suggesting that at least some Republicans are willing to break with party orthodoxy to reduce the long-term budget deficit.


The loudest criticism came from Grover Norquist, whose group, Americans for Tax Reform, is the author of the Taxpayer Protection Pledgethat has become a sacred covenant for virtually anyone wishing to run as a Republican. More than 95 percent of the Republicans in Congress have signed it (including Senator Coburn), as have many Republican governors and state lawmakers.


The pledge is often thought of as an agreement never to vote for raising taxes for any reason, but it goes even further than that. Those who sign it also vow never to eliminate any tax deductions or credits (like the handout to ethanol makers), unless the resulting increase in revenues is offset, dollar for dollar, by further tax cuts.


The pledge is really less about keeping taxes low than it is about holding down government revenues, which prevent the growth of government services. Mr. Norquist has famously said his goal is to shrink government "down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub."


Mr. Norquist can afford to be candid about his fierce aversion to government services, since he does not have to run for office with the votes of people who like those services. The Republican lawmakers who have joined his congregation, however, are less forthright about the effect of their policies. They go around lulling constituents with phony mantras like "Washington doesn't have a revenue problem; it has a spending problem," as if cutting spending is the only conceivable solution to lowering the deficit.


This purity finally ran into a tough-minded pragmatist in Senator Coburn. Though his zeal to eliminate many worthy government programs is still excessive, he is right to see the wastefulness in the ethanol giveaway — and the extremism of Mr. Norquist's position. Senator Coburn's spokesman has even described Mr. Norquist as "the chief cleric of Sharia tax law."


Senator Coburn is also a member of the "gang of six" senators that has been trying to find a bipartisan way to reduce the nation's debt. He and the two other Republicans in the group, Saxby Chambliss of Georgia and Michael Crapo of Idaho, say they are opposed to raising tax rates but hope to rewrite the tax code in a way that brings in more revenue by eliminating many unnecessary tax breaks and broadening the tax base.


That, at least, represents the beginning of a useful conversation. It could very well mean that the rich would pay more in taxes. Which is why Mr. Norquist, in full grand-inquisitor style, has demanded that Senator Coburn drop out of the gang.


His influence, happily, seems to be on the wane. The three senators have reminded Mr. Norquist that their highest oath is not to him or some abstract pledge, but to support and defend the Constitution of the United States.







As part of its budget bill, Congress approved a brief rider, 11 lines long, that removes gray wolves in Idaho and Montana from the protections of the Endangered Species Act. The rider overturns a recent court ruling, prohibits further judicial review and cannot be good for the wolf. But the worst part is that it sets a terrible precedent — allowing Congress to decide the fate of animals on the list.


The law's purpose is to base protections on science. Now that politics has been allowed to trump science when it comes to the gray wolf, which species will be next?


The rider's sponsors, Senator Jon Tester of Montana and Representative Mike Simpson of Idaho, were responding to the demands of ranchers, who sometimes lose livestock to wolves, and hunters, who complain that wolves reduce deer and elk populations.


Sadly and surprisingly, they were abetted by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who declared last month that he would accept what he called a "legislative solution" to the status of the wolf in the Rocky Mountains. One Interior Department official has argued that without this concession, the rider might well have been far more radical — possibly removing wolves everywhere from protection.


The wolf has been a subject of litigation ever since it was reintroduced in the mid-1990s. One of Mr. Salazar's first acts as secretary was to de-list the animal in Idaho and Montana, arguing that populations had recovered and that the states could now manage them. A federal judge overturned his ruling, as well as a compromise plan that Mr. Salazar worked out with environmental groups.


Idaho and Montana plan to allow controlled hunts. The best hope for the wolves is that the states adhere to their management plans and not let the hunts get out of control. The courts can only stand by, but the Interior Department must hold the states to the terms of a five-year review process required by their management plans.


As for Mr. Salazar, he has made it harder to uphold the integrity of a law that has withstood attacks from industry, ranchers, real estate developers and their political allies. Other protected species like the grizzly bear could now face their own "legislative solution." For the sake of his own reputation as a conservationist, Mr. Salazar has to hope that Congress's meddling stops with the wolves.









"What is the use of a book," thought Alice, eerily foreshadowing a critical question in the age of digital media, "without pictures or conversations?"


Soon enough, she plunges down the rabbit hole and finds pictures and conversations aplenty. But her question lingers for us today in modified form. With electronic books — a technology teeming with children's titles, many of them stunningly rendered for the Apple iPad — mere pictures and conversations are passé, at least pictures that don't move and conversations that you can't hear. Nobody has to feel sleepy or stupid anymore, not with a fully charged iPad with a book on it.


If "book" is the right word.


To visit Apple's virtual bookstore is to enter a wonderland of unbound creativity and astonishment. The text is just the beginning, an anchor for pictures that glow and unfold, characters who talk and tumble, words that pronounce themselves and music that enlivens everything. The titles you know are there, from Dr. Seuss to Mother Goose, with contemporary classics tucked among the movie and TV tie-ins, merchandising platforms and the usual dreck. "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" is there, too, gloriously animated. These books are described as "interactive" because they respond to touch or click.


But does digital interactivity engender mental passivity? As fingers flick and flit, making pixels work harder, what do brain cells do? What, I wonder, does interactivity do for the imagination, as reading a book gets closer and closer to watching television?


Maybe the more a book supplies imagination, the less the child has to fill in, and the less benefit she gets. It's the old argument for radio dramas, which are scarier because the imagination has to supply what the eyes can't see. For rubbery young minds, in other words, too much interactivity can't be good.


But it's hard to know. My bias about e-books comes from growing up in a world without them. And today's children aren't old enough to prove or disprove any grand theories about e-literacy and e-maginations.


A new report by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center, the research arm of the people who bring you "Sesame Street," found that it was hard to give conclusive answers about children's digital media, except that it's vast. The report, a compilation of seven studies, found children swimming in a media ocean. Each day, it said, schoolchildren "pack almost 8 hours of media exposure into 5.5 hours of time" because they multitask with video games, music players and TV.


The new developments seem not to have done much to help or hurt the age-old habit of reading. About 90 percent of children ages 5 to 9 still read books most days of the week, the report said, spending about an hour a day, either reading or being read to.


The classic answer from the optimist is that storytelling is in no danger, and pretty much any technology that engages a child with a text is good. Emma Walton Hamilton, the author of "Raising Bookworms," a how-to guide for parents, said as much in a recent interview. Ms. Hamilton, the author of many children's books with her mother, Julie Andrews, tells parents to take a relaxed approach that connects reading with pleasure, even if it's on a computer screen. "While I'm not rushing out to buy Amazon's Kindle just yet," she writes, "I do think it's important for children to develop the muscle of reading online" — with caveats about keeping children safe on the Internet.


Another conclusion from the report is that not everything may be changing as fast as we think. "Even as technology evolves and young children increasingly turn to games and mobile media," it says, "they still love television best."


So maybe that is where the iPad's mission lies. In the old death struggle between reading a book and watching the tube, here comes the e-book as a powerful new ally of the written word, a glorious new way to lure children back through the looking glass.







House Republicans are seeking to abolish the federal Election Assistance Commission — as if the nation is fully recovered from the hanging-chad nightmare of 2000. The 9-year-old commission was created in bipartisan Congressional resolve to repair the nation's crazy quilt of tattered election standards and faltering machinery.


The commission was charged with upgrading the mechanics of voting by certifying electoral equipment, channeling needed federal aid and guidance to states, and developing a national mail-in voter registration system. After a slow start, it has made progress as the 2012 elections loom. But there is still a lot more that needs repairing.


Representative Gregg Harper, a Mississippi Republican and the elections subcommittee chairman, nevertheless insists that the commission "is no longer essential" and is leading the drive to flat-line it for a savings of $18 million. Surreally, a related Republican bill would transfer the agency's mandate to the Federal Election Commission — Washington's nonpareil in agency dysfunction. That would only invite partisan standoff and voting scandal.


The Election Assistance Commission should have been focused earlier on pushing all states to require a paper trail with their post-chad electronic voting machines. But it has tested voting systems for accuracy, and it oversees the special requirements of military and disabled voters. It could make more progress if turf-minded state officials were more open to its valuable studies on better ballot design. Far from going out of the business, the commission needs renewed support from Congress. For the sake of credible elections, the House gambit should be rebuffed.









Lagos, Nigeria

LAST weekend, we trooped to the polls on street corners and under almond trees in this rough and ready city of 10 million to elect a new president. Everything seemed orderly and peaceful and oddly celebratory. This time, unusually, we even believed our votes would count.


The results that trickled in suggested that Goodluck Jonathan, who succeeded Umaru Yar'Adua upon his death in 2010, had been elected our president. And with that, we Nigerians quietly reached an encouraging but little-noticed milestone: we've held four elections at four-year intervals, and in the process passed power to three different presidents without a soldier's rifle pointed at anyone's head.


We still have trouble counting votes accurately, but nobody's perfect. We take comfort that even in America, chads occasionally hang and the Supreme Court hands down Solomonic judgments.


While our democracy remains rickety and our ruling elites remain unable to distinguish between public funds and private purposes, we take these baby steps as a sign that we will eventually get it right.


]r. Jonathan, with nearly 60 percent of the votes declared in his favor, appears to have persuaded at least a plurality of Nigerians, as well as most external election monitors, that his victory is legitimate.


But Mr. Jonathan does have a big problem: a lack of support in the country's north. Whether he is able to manage it will determine if Nigeria succeeds in becoming Africa's economic and political heart, as its size and resources would suggest. Indeed, the rest of Africa will probably never fulfill its potential with a dysfunctional Nigeria. Nor can the United States, which gets more than 10 percent of its oil imports from Nigeria, afford disarray here at a time of upheaval in the Middle East.


Mr. Jonathan's victory was based almost entirely on support from the largely Christian and economically dominant south. In the mainly Muslim, deeply impoverished and increasingly alienated north, voters overwhelmingly backed Mr. Jonathan's opponent, the former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari — a taciturn and somewhat ascetic leader whose handling of the implicit power now bestowed on him is just as important as Mr. Jonathan's tact in defusing an explosive situation. Mr. Jonathan cannot govern effectively in the face of active opposition by Mr. Buhari and his talakawa — or commoners — movement.


On Monday, shortly after Mr. Jonathan's victory was announced by election officials, mobs of mostly young and unemployed people went on a rampage in northern Nigeria, attacking symbols of authority, local notables and traditional and religious leaders. Those perceived to be "non-indigenes" — Christians and migrants from the south and other regions — also became targets of the mobs' rage. In the upheaval, quelled for now by the army, more than 100 people have died.


Typically, such a violent reaction would not have raised many eyebrows in a country where the government has come to be seen as an obstacle to citizens' aspirations and communities competing for resources settle their differences not in the courts but with machetes or, in the oil-rich Niger Delta, through sabotage, kidnappings and bombings.


But the current fury in Nigeria's north is different and alarming: the population, long ruled by a conservative religious and political elite, has for the first time turned on its most revered institutions, burning the palaces of emirs and the homes of religious leaders seen as "collaborators" with the corrupt political establishment in Abuja, the capital.


Even the Sultan of Sokoto, the most powerful and respected Muslim religious figure in Nigeria, was pelted with satchels of water in the street — a hitherto unthinkable act of public humiliation. Powerful Muslim businessmen, suspected of bribing voters and attempting to rig elections in Mr. Jonathan's favor, also had their homes set ablaze.


Over the past few days we have seen the old order go up in the smoke rising over emirs' palaces. A climate of fear has descended on the north. In many cities, now placed under curfew, residents cower indoors, terrified of what will come next. The very future of the country, whether it remains unified or the cleavage demonstrated in voting patterns becomes concrete, depends on the leadership skills displayed by Mr. Jonathan and Mr. Buhari over the coming days and weeks.


Mr. Jonathan, the first president who does not hail from one of Nigeria's three largest ethnic groups — he's an Ijaw from the Niger Delta — may well be the right man to navigate the tricky rapids and falls ahead. But he has a weak team and he owes many people after a campaign notable for its unrestrained spending.


Mr. Jonathan's immediate task, with behind-the-scenes help from Washington and London, is to find a way to keep Mr. Buhari in his tent. His tougher task is to rebuild the economic foundations of the country in a way that serves the impoverished masses.


Nigeria possesses the natural resources to finance its own future. What we don't know is whether President Jonathan has the combination of courage, guile and clear thinking to use those resources to reduce the savage inequalities that allow a tiny elite to control the lion's share of the country's wealth.


Dele Olojede is the publisher of the Nigerian newspaper NEXT and a former foreign editor of Newsday.








Madison, Wis.

WHAT does Medicaid have in common with "I Dream of Jeannie," "Lost in Space" and "Get Smart"? They all made their debut in 1965. Although we enjoy watching reruns of these classics, the television networks have updated their programming. The federal government should do the same.


In recent years Washington has taken an obsolete program, which covers health care for low-income Americans, and made it worse through restrictive rule-making that defies common sense. It is biased toward caring for people in nursing homes rather than in their own homes and neighborhoods. It lacks the flexibility to help patients who require some nursing services, but not round-the-clock care.


If we were designing a health insurance program for low-income families today, we would use a much different model to drive efficiency and innovation — one that recognizes that the delivery of health care is fundamentally personal and local.


Time and again states like Wisconsin have blazed the path in Medicaid — from giving individuals greater control over their care to expanding the use of electronic medical records — while the federal bureaucracy has lagged behind. Just now Washington is discovering accountable care organizations (networks of doctors and hospitals that share responsibility for caring for patients and receive incentives to keep costs down) and "medical homes" (a model in which one primary-care doctor takes the main responsibility for a patient).


Wisconsin has created a database of claims and payments that gathers information from all insurers, including private companies and the state Medicaid program. It allows people to compare cost and quality across providers. We have asked Washington to add its data to our database, but it has not done so.


We need to modernize not only Medicaid's benefits and service delivery, but also its financing. In good times, the open-ended federal Medicaid match encourages states to overspend. Amazingly, the program is now viewed by some states as a form of economic development because each state can at least double its money for each dollar spent. That matching feature penalizes efficiency and thrift, since a reduction of $1 in state spending also means forfeiting at least one federal dollar, often more.


Medicaid in its present, outdated form is unsustainable. Without serious reform, it is unthinkable to add 16 million more people, as President Obama's health care legislation would do. The White House budget would temporarily pay 100 percent of the costs of new Medicaid enrollees. As a result, many states would expand enrollment, deferring the hard decisions until the federal money goes away.


An alternative approach is to offer block grants for Medicaid, as my fellow Wisconsinite, Representative Paul D. Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, has urged. Why now support a block grant for Medicaid when similar proposals have failed?


First, we know from more than a decade of experience with welfare reform that switching from open-ended entitlements to block grants pushes both individuals and states to behave more responsibly.


Second, more than a decade of experience with the State Children's Health Insurance Program, which has vastly expanded coverage for children while being more flexible than Medicaid, shows the success of the block-grant model.


Third, there are already caps within Medicaid through so-called Section 1115 demonstration projects. It is through such projects, known as waivers, that innovative programs like BadgerCare in Wisconsin and MassHealth in Massachusetts (which President Obama says was his model for reform) were built. States from Arizona to Washington have also had waivers that capped federal liability for Medicaid. Their success shows that we can move beyond demonstration projects and let the federal government relinquish control over Medicaid.


Finally, some state officials oppose block grants because capped financing would bring the fiscal discipline they try desperately to avoid. But this discipline is precisely what is necessary to slow the rate of growth in health care costs. It is unlikely that doctors and hospitals will support authentic cost-saving measures as long as they believe there is more money coming from somewhere.


States are not merely "laboratories of democracy," but also sovereign governments under our system of federalism. Unfortunately, the encroachment of the federal government in Medicaid threatens to reduce states to mere agents.


Block grants would bring a truce to the tug-of-wars between Washington and the states. This is the best option for Medicaid, facing a midlife crisis, to survive.


Scott Walker, a Republican, is the governor of Wisconsin.









Earlier this week, The Times reported on Congressional backlash against the Independent Payment Advisory Board, a key part of efforts to rein in health care costs. This backlash was predictable; it is also profoundly irresponsible, as I'll explain in a minute.


But something else struck me as I looked at Republican arguments against the board, which hinge on the notion that what we really need to do, as the House budget proposal put it, is to "make government health care programs more responsive to consumer choice."


Here's my question: How did it become normal, or for that matter even acceptable, to refer to medical patients as "consumers"? The relationship between patient and doctor used to be considered something special, almost sacred. Now politicians and supposed reformers talk about the act of receiving care as if it were no different from a commercial transaction, like buying a car — and their only complaint is that it isn't commercial enough.


What has gone wrong with us?


About that advisory board: We have to do something about health care costs, which means that we have to find a way to start saying no. In particular, given continuing medical innovation, we can't maintain a system in which Medicare essentially pays for anything a doctor recommends. And that's especially true when that blank-check approach is combined with a system that gives doctors and hospitals — who aren't saints — a strong financial incentive to engage in excessive care.


Hence the advisory board, whose creation was mandated by last year's health reform. The board, composed of health-care experts, would be given a target rate of growth in Medicare spending. To keep spending at or below this target, the board would submit "fast-track" recommendations for cost control that would go into effect automatically unless overruled by Congress.


Before you start yelling about "rationing" and "death panels," bear in mind that we're not talking about limits on what health care you're allowed to buy with your own (or your insurance company's) money. We're talking only about what will be paid for with taxpayers' money. And the last time I looked at it, the Declaration of Independence didn't declare that we had the right to life, liberty, and the all-expenses-paid pursuit of happiness.


And the point is that choices must be made; one way or another, government spending on health care must be limited.


Now, what House Republicans propose is that the government simply push the problem of rising health care costs on to seniors; that is, that we replace Medicare with vouchers that can be applied to private insurance, and that we count on seniors and insurance companies to work it out somehow. This, they claim, would be superior to expert review because it would open health care to the wonders of "consumer choice."


What's wrong with this idea (aside from the grossly inadequate value of the proposed vouchers)? One answer is that it wouldn't work. "Consumer-based" medicine has been a bust everywhere it has been tried. To take the most directly relevant example, Medicare Advantage, which was originally called Medicare + Choice, was supposed to save money; it ended up costing substantially more than traditional Medicare. America has the most "consumer-driven" health care system in the advanced world. It also has by far the highest costs yet provides a quality of care no better than far cheaper systems in other countries.


But the fact that Republicans are demanding that we literally stake our health, even our lives, on an already failed approach is only part of what's wrong here. As I said earlier, there's something terribly wrong with the whole notion of patients as "consumers" and health care as simply a financial transaction.


Medical care, after all, is an area in which crucial decisions — life and death decisions — must be made. Yet making such decisions intelligently requires a vast amount of specialized knowledge. Furthermore, those decisions often must be made under conditions in which the patient is incapacitated, under severe stress, or needs action immediately, with no time for discussion, let alone comparison shopping.


That's why we have medical ethics. That's why doctors have traditionally both been viewed as something special and been expected to behave according to higher standards than the average professional. There's a reason we have TV series about heroic doctors, while we don't have TV series about heroic middle managers.


The idea that all this can be reduced to money — that doctors are just "providers" selling services to health care "consumers" — is, well, sickening. And the prevalence of this kind of language is a sign that something has gone very wrong not just with this discussion, but with our society's values.









You can feel a jolt of energy surge through the audience of "The Book of Mormon" about a quarter of the way into the show's first musical number. It's a jolt of joy, gratitude and laughter — a confirmation that this Broadway production is going to live up to its rave reviews.


The jolts keep coming and the audience I was part of rose up at the end with a raucous standing ovation of the sort I've rarely seen. There are four musical numbers that are truly fantastic, and the rest of the show is clever, fast and surprisingly warm. The play is about Mormon missionaries who find themselves in an AIDS-ravaged, warlord-dominated region in Uganda. It ridicules Mormonism but not the Mormons, who are loopy but ultimately admirable.


The central theme of "The Book of Mormon" is that many religious stories are silly — the idea that God would plant golden plates in upstate New York. Many religious doctrines are rigid and out of touch.


But religion itself can do enormous good as long as people take religious teaching metaphorically and not literally; as long as people understand that all religions ultimately preach love and service underneath their superficial particulars; as long as people practice their faiths open-mindedly and are tolerant of different beliefs.


This warm theme infuses the play with humanity and compassion. It also plays very well to an educated American audience. Many Americans have always admired the style of belief that is spiritual but not doctrinal, pluralistic and not exclusive, which offers tools for serving the greater good but is not marred by intolerant theological judgments.


The only problem with "The Book of Mormon" (you realize when thinking about it later) is that its theme is not quite true. Vague, uplifting, nondoctrinal religiosity doesn't actually last. The religions that grow, succor and motivate people to perform heroic acts of service are usually theologically rigorous, arduous in practice and definite in their convictions about what is True and False.


That's because people are not gods. No matter how special some individuals may think they are, they don't have the ability to understand the world on their own, establish rules of good conduct on their own, impose the highest standards of conduct on their own, or avoid the temptations of laziness on their own.


The religions that thrive have exactly what "The Book of Mormon" ridicules: communal theologies, doctrines and codes of conduct rooted in claims of absolute truth.


Rigorous theology provides believers with a map of reality. These maps may seem dry and schematic — most maps do compared with reality — but they contain the accumulated wisdom of thousands of co-believers who through the centuries have faced similar journeys and trials.


Rigorous theology allows believers to examine the world intellectually as well as emotionally. Many people want to understand the eternal logic of the universe, using reason and logic to wrestle with concrete assertions and teachings.


Rigorous theology helps people avoid mindless conformity. Without timeless rules, we all have a tendency to be swept up in the temper of the moment. But tough-minded theologies are countercultural. They insist on principles and practices that provide an antidote to mere fashion.


Rigorous theology delves into mysteries in ways that are beyond most of us. For example, in her essay, "Creed or Chaos," Dorothy Sayers argues that Christianity's advantage is that it gives value to evil and suffering. Christianity asserts that "perfection is attained through the active and positive effort to wrench real good out of a real evil." This is a complicated thought most of us could not come up with (let alone unpack) outside of a rigorous theological tradition.


Rigorous codes of conduct allow people to build their character. Changes in behavior change the mind, so small acts of ritual reinforce networks in the brain. A Mormon denying herself coffee may seem like a silly thing, but regular acts of discipline can lay the foundation for extraordinary acts of self-control when it counts the most.


"The Book of Mormon" is not anti-religious. It just endorses a no-sharp-edges view of religion that is all creative metaphors and no harsh judgments. The Africans in the play embrace this kind of religion. And in the context of a hilarious musical, that's fine.


But it's worth remembering that the religions that thrive in real-life Africa are not as nice and naïve as the religion in the play. The religions thriving in real-life Africa are often so doctrinaire and so socially conservative that they would make Pat Robertson's hair stand on end.


I was once in an AIDS-ravaged village in southern Africa. The vague humanism of the outside do-gooders didn't do much to get people to alter their risky behavior. The blunt theological talk of the church ladies — right and wrong, salvation and damnation — seemed to have a better effect.









Turkey is a land of contradictions. While many countries in the Western hemisphere known to be advanced democracies went backwards as far as individual freedoms after the deadly terror attacks of 9/11, Turkey was one of the few countries continuing in its reform path to improve its human rights track record. Yet this path was not without contradictions. While Turkey is now among the biggest economies in the world and in Europe, it still ranks down the lists when it comes to women's rights, or press freedom.

Turkey's march to become an advanced democracy resembles to the march of Ottoman janissaries: two steps forward and one step back.

The recent crisis regarding a decision by Turkey's top election board to bar some politicians from the June 12 elections, most of them from the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, has taken the form of a janissaries' march. The Supreme Election Board, or YSK's, decision fell like a bombshell on the political scene and sent shockwaves throughout the country. Then came statements from political figures calling for the reversal of the decision that is perceived to have serious consequences, affecting not only the course of the electoral campaign but election results as well. The latest one came from President Abdullah Gül, whose message can be interpreted as one asking for a positive solution instead of a one that will aggravate the situation.

As the Daily News went to press, all eyes were fixed on the YSK with the expectation of an outcome that would reduce the tension in the southeast. The task of the YSK members is huge.

So far the usual reflex of the state apparatus has been one of protecting the state from the individual. We need to replace this understanding with the one that protects the individual from the state. Similarly, the interpretation of laws has been done with an understanding that favored restrictions on freedoms rather than vice versa.

We all know that some of the institutions, rules and regulations in Turkey have fallen way behind the current mood and mentality in the society.

In fact, the next Parliament will probably be tasked of the important mission of endorsing a constitution in line with today's realities. The legitimacy of the next Parliament is therefore extremely critical.

We only hope that the new lawmakers will take the necessary lessons from past mistakes.

Turkey is a country with great potential. But it can not fully make use its potential without having strengthened its democracy.






Turkey continues to be a land of not always pleasant surprises. No one expected the Supreme Election Board, or YSK, to veto the candidacy of 12 people for the June 12 elections, seven of them pro-Kurdish independents, at this point in time. As for the YSK, it clearly did not expect the outrage it caused with its ruling, not just among Turkey's Kurds, but also among politicians and the general public.

It also looks like the YSK did not expect its decision to lead to images out of today's Syria or Yemen in major Turkish cities, as violent Kurdish demonstrators took to the streets in protest, and were met with police violence in return leaving one person dead from gunshot wounds from a policeman's gun in the town of Bismil.

The fact that the YSK is now trying to back-peddle its way out of its decision in order to allow the said candidates to run in the elections also provides a terrible image for Turkey, given the haphazard way such decisions by the most important institutions of the country can be given, and then taken back.

The reader undoubtedly knows the facts of the matter from the detailed coverage in Hürriyet Daily News. The politicians whose candidacy were vetoed included some of the best known pro-Kurdish politicians of Turkey, who have been charged and convicted in the past on various grounds, but mostly to do with aiding and abetting separatist terrorism in one way or another.

These politicians include Leyla Zana, Gültan Kışanak, Sebahat Tuncel, and Hatip Dicle, to name a few of them. The fact that Gültan Kışanak, to take one example, is currently a deputy in Parliament also begs many questions of course.

It must also be noted that almost all of the vetoed candidates would not be running as independents but as Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, deputies if the electoral barrage was not 10 percent but lower and hence much more democratic. The formula in this case is for these candidates to run as independents in order not to get caught under the electoral barrage, and once in Parliament to then join the BDP in order to establish a political group there.

Opinion is split as to whether the YSK acted politically when it vetoed 12 candidates, or acted in line with the law. As can be expected the whole incident has caused a serious political debate in Turkey with some commentators saying the decision was a political one by the entrenched Kemalist establishment – or "deep state" as some refer to it – in order to prevent the Kurds from advancing their political interests.

People of this opinion are maintaining that the bureaucratic establishment is still engaged in social and political engineering efforts in order to protect the interests of the state above the interest of the individual. The general impression is nevertheless that this establishment (represented by the YSK in this case) has hit a hard rock this time and is trying to back-peddle from its decision given the trouble and confusion it has caused.

The head of the YSK is now declaring that their decision was not at attempt at vetoing any anyone but based on what is in the statute books. In this case, it says, those whose candidacy was annulled had not furnished the necessary legal documents from the relevant authorities saying they were eligible to run in the general elections?

The question that came immediately to mind in response to this however was "Why were some of these people allowed to run in the 2007 elections then if this is the case?" Judging by what was written in the Turkish press about the matter, the YSK had in fact acted according to the old Penal Code and not the amended new one in arriving at this decision, which of course leads to other questions as to why it did so.

Inevitably there are people who see the whole thing as a conspiracy, not just against the BDP, but also the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP. The argument is that these two parties represent the entrenched fears of the Kemalist establishment, namely separatism on the one hand and Islamic fundamentalism on the other, and hence the ploy here was to undermine them both by sowing the seeds of political confusion by means of these vetoes prior to the general elections.

But there are also those who declare that it is wrong to hit at the YSK because it is only acting according to the rules and regulations available to it, and if the government and other parties in Parliament do not like it, than they have to power not only to change these rules, but also to reduce the 10 percent electoral barrage.

For someone looking in from the outside, all of this must be highly confusing, as it indeed is for many Turks also. How such situations can suddenly come up under Turkey's "A la Turca democracy" is always a mystery, showing that if someone is hell-bent on causing political confusion by means of using legal mechanisms and the judiciary, this is very possible in this country.

There is nevertheless some justification for the argument in this case that the glass is not half empty but is half full. Firstly we see the YSK trying to back-peddle now and it appears that all but one of the pro-Kurdish candidates will be able to run after all once they complete the necessary paperwork. This means that the public outcry and the violent demonstrations that followed the YSK's decision have had an effect.

As an aside here it must be said that there is nothing positive about the violent demonstrations, and it is unclear why the first thing that Kurdish demonstrators resort to in such cases is stones and Molotov cocktails, which are thrown willy-nilly at banks and post office buildings while there are people inside, as was the case here.

But there is something very positive about the fact that the YSK's decision was castigated not just by the main opposition Republican Peoples' Party, or CHP, but also by the ruling AKP. The only party that supported the decision was predictably the ultra-nationalist Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, which is generally against anything to do with Kurdish rights.

In other words there is a general understanding in Turkey today that it is better for the pro-Kurdish deputies to be in Parliament, then out of it. It is also clear that unless there is fair representation for the needs of Turkeys' Kurds, then the whole democratic process in this country will by serious stalled.

It was clearly a matter of concern for the government too that the BDP should have threatened to boycott the general elections. That would have thrown the general elections on June 12 off kilter and invited in a period of turmoil marked by serious violence. It is clear that this is not to the AKP's interests either.

The Turks say there is always something good that comes out of something bad. No doubt others have similar sayings. Let us hope that this will be the case after the YSK's highly questionable decision, which was trying to be corrected as this article was written. But the bottom line is that it is always the same 'Two steps forward one step back" approach that we see in Turkey.

Of course there is the fact that one step is still gained with every back step, but why Turkey should be made to waste time and energy on such matters in the first place will remain a Turkish enigma for some time yet.






It is terrifying that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan pledged "advanced democracy" in his party's election manifesto. Worse, Mr. Erdoğan's chief negotiator for the European Union, State Minister Egemen Bağış, said, "We know very well that free speech and an independent media are the fundamentals of an advanced democracy." These are not good omens. 

With his pragmatic mind in the West and Islamist heart in the East, Mr. Erdoğan probably meant to promise advanced democracy for the pious Muslims only. Just like Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu's "strategic depth" doctrine may in reality have meant "strategic arrogance."

These days, Turkey, with its increased "visibility" and economic might, sports a rags-to-riches behavior, looking like a nouveau riche businessman who spends money at nightclubs and threatens to have the bouncer beaten up by his bodyguards if the man does not show royal respect. With a newly-gained self-confidence and the deep layers of an inferiority complex that stems from a past full of poverty and disgrace, he insults, provokes, agitates and tests the limits of his powers.

Last week, Mr. Erdoğan kindly asked members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe to mind their own business and not to meddle in Turkey's affairs, although the assembly had precisely been formed to meddle in member states' affairs. The prime minister sounded like a drunken driver telling the police not to meddle in his drinking and driving habits.

Boasting an impressive career with glittering titles like the Earl of New York and His Master's Voice, Mr. Bağış mocked Israel's foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, who has an equally impressive career. "Lieberman was a bouncer at a nightclub in Moldova," Minister Bağış said. "He still thinks he is a bouncer, and can't make the transition to the role of a politician."

Minister Bağış should be able to understand that losers with poor careers often fail to make the transition into the role of decent politicians. They often ridicule themselves with caricature-like postures. We are lucky to have Mr. Bağış, who still behaves like the Earl of New York.

But Minister Bağış excelled himself when he said, "Israel's foreign policy was entrusted in the hands of this man because they [in Israel] do not have a threshold in their elections." Precisely! That's why we in Turkey have excellent ministers like Mr. Bağış, and poor Europeans have awful ministers resembling nightclub bouncers. The EU should perhaps think about imposing a 30 percent national threshold for parliamentary elections to improve the quality of politicians and Cabinet ministers to match and even surpass Turkey's 10 percent barrier and, therefore, the quality of politicians.

Another foreign dignitary who was given a Turkish lesson last week was the United States ambassador to Ankara, Francis Ricciardone, who dared to meddle in our own affairs. "I learned a wonderful [Turkish] expression," Mr. Ricciardone said in his almost-perfect Turkish, "Bu ne perhiz bu ne lahana turşusu." The translation of which is "eating cabbage pickles while on diet" but implies a contradiction between Mr. Erdoğan's rhetorical support for media freedom even as courts systematically detain journalists.

Issuing a riposte in daily Akşam, Fuat Tanlay, Mr. Erdoğan's foreign policy advisor, said, "Since Ricciardone is so enthusiastic about learning Turkish, we have another expression: Cami duvarına işemek." The literal translation is "pissing on a mosque wall" and implies looking for trouble and behaving in a suicidal way while carrying a threatening tone. We'll see how the Crescent and Star will punish the infidel who pisses on a mosque wall.

Turkey's "strategic arrogance" may be working well in appealing to domestic voters that all parties need ahead of parliamentary elections in June. The average Turk will in no way complain because Minister Bağış taught a lesson or two to the Jewish minister or because the prime minister's advisor boldly challenged the ambassador of the country Turks hate (and secretly admire) the most. The strategic arrogance is a no-cost vote hunter itself. But it in no way does any good to the country.

The inevitable interaction between the ruling elite and the common Turk is the best recipe for a vicious circle, in which the country whirls into increasingly dangerous self-alienation. The leaders' choice of self-aggrandizing rhetoric exponentially brainwashes the average man whose self-aggrandizing sentiment forces the leaders into more self-aggrandizing rhetoric –and often policy. The language the minister and the advisor chose for the Israeli minister and the U.S. ambassador will create public expectations for "more of that language against the evil foreigners," which will doubtlessly come back in the shape of more such language in the future.

Meanwhile, Mr Erdoğan, et al., will keep on democratically dieting while enjoying generous portions of cabbage pickles.






A political struggle suggests that there are equal conditions in a race. As conservatives run free in Turkey, the left, including the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, are forced to do the hurdles. But even this is considered "too much" by some.

For instance, the Freedom and Solidarity Party, or ÖDP, could send at least 10 deputies to Parliament if the 10 percent national election threshold were lifted. Even if the ÖDP gained just 1 percent of total votes, this would result in at least five deputies if the ratio were justly reflected in Parliament. An important reason why socialists don't receive votes is that they cannot win any deputy seats. If the reason is eliminated, they can have an abundance of votes, not just 2 percent. Don't tell me, "What can be achieved by just five or 10 deputies?" Five deputies having the same voice can be stronger than 500 deputies. The best example of this is the former Turkish Labor Party, or TİP, opposition.

Too many obstacles set before Kurds

The first obstacle against Kurdish politics was set by the Constitutional Court as the Democratic Society Party, or DTP, was closed down. The court said "go change your uniform," so to speak. It was a waste of time and energy. Kurds got tired, but still came back to the field.

Then the operations against the Kurdish Communities Union, or KCK, the alleged urban branch of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, were launched. Mayors were insulted and taken into custody. Kurdish politics were hampered, the aggrieved were ill-treated. They were banned from speaking their mother tongue in court.

The KCK trials are not being followed closely, but a pathetic situation is going on. Those who speak Kurdish are heard during the identification at the court, but defense in Kurdish is not allowed after the trial begins. Kurdish phone conversations are translated into Turkish and used as criminal evidence – but when the defense takes the stand, the very same language is treated as an unknown language. This is flat double standard! Still, Kurds have come back to the field.

Election threshold arithmetic

Despite some who say, "We didn't create the threshold trouble, but we enjoy its benefits," and despite the main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, say "Let's lower it to 2 percent right away," some say, "But there is an election threshold in Europe, too."

Let's make a quick calculation here: If the BDP gains 7 percent of votes, which it could go beyond, that makes a total of 38 deputies. And with its alliance the BDP can have two groups in Parliament. They are not allowed, however. The BDP has joined a bloc to support independent candidates and the bloc called Labor, Democracy and Freedom. They say, "Let's have one group instead of two. Let's ensure Anatolia is represented, even if not adequately, in Parliament to write a new constitution."

And still, Kurds have come back to the field.

Get out!

The order played its final trump card Monday. The Supreme Election Board, or YSK, banned 12 independent candidates backed by the BDP from joining the election race. If the objections of the candidates are not overruled, many of them, including Aysel Tuğluk, Sebahat Tuncel, Ertuğrul Kürkçü, Leyla Zana, Hatip Dicle and Gültan Kışanak, will not be elected deputies. Unfortunately, one or two or three obstacles against Kurdish politics were not enough; the referee has finally said, "Get out of the field!"

If we don't count several newspapers such as daily Yeni Çağ and Akit – both have claimed the YSK did this to grab attention – the reflexes of the media were not so bad. That is to say, the BDP's politics has had an effect.

At first, the YSK said, "We did what the law requires us to do." Now, however, it is making a U-turn: "Pardon us, but we think we made a mistake."

The board, therefore, has declared in a way that their referee status is expired. Most probably, a big part of the BDP candidates, though not entirely, will be able to join the race. However, this doesn't solve the problem. The hurdles deemed proper for the Turkish left still continues. The referees say, "For those running on the left, here are the hurdles." But those on the right run free.

If the bloc including the BDP cannot send deputy candidates to the elections on June 12, the legitimacy of the elections will end. At this point, I don't know if Kurdish politicians will return to the field. Do you enter a competition if you know the referee is not fair? Do you go to the ballot box for the Turkish Partial National Assembly?* I don't.

* The official name of Turkey's legislature is the Turkish Grand National Assembly.

Koray Çalışkan is a columnist of daily Radikal, in which this piece appeared Thursday. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.






As expected the Supreme Election Board, or YSK's decision ignited the country's most important issue. The streets turned into a fireball. But Turkey with all its institutions has managed to come out of this process clean and protected the Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP. Now it is BDP's turn while Turkey turns a critical corner.

No matter what anyone says, the YSK has behaved upon a reflex of "deep state" which has deeply penetrated our minds and with its "political" decision consciously or unwittingly fanned the flames in the Southeast.

Thank God that later in the process common sense has won the victory.

Turkey has protected the BDP with a consensus between the president, parliamentary speaker, media and politicians.

Even if YSK's decision in some circles is perceived as the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP's, election maneuver, the AKP is still one of the surveyors with a common sense approach. Even if at first it was shy, it still did not abstain from helping the BDP.

Turkey closer to a solution now

Now everyone can feel closer to a solution.

For, this common sense points in a direction showing that Turkey does no longer take the risk of solving this problem through other means then politics.

All of its institutions take action by overreacting to decisions that force the Kurds outside of politics and hinder a solution.

Even if this attitude has not been clearly understood in light of recent events it still points at a great and vital change in the attitude of the state toward this issue.

It shows that the state has changed its "mind" and perceives the Kurdish issue differently.

Now it's BDP's turn

The greatest responsibility here rests with the Kurds and the BDP.

For, recent events prove that in the solution of the Kurdish issue the arrow has left the bow.

This means that the process that started with the "initiative" will no longer be sacrificed to "election maneuvers," "political games," or as previously was the case to the "deep state reflex."

Turkey will react to each obstacle standing in the way of progress in the process. And the political institution will not ignore this reaction.

But the BDP should not perceive this consensus as a result of an "obligation" or "imposition."

It should be constructive and never give up searching for a solution.

Even if it exhibits brisk attitude toward its young generation shouting "war" or "revenge," it should still consider its own notion of "honorable surrender" honorable capitulation" and get rid of pronouncing "submission" and "compromise" rhetoric in order to restrain from "hurting" the Turkish public.

BDP deputies should especially restrain from expressions like "war" which "makes their own people suffer the most."

BDP co-president Selahattin Demirtaş gave the first sign of having common sense when he responded to President Abdullah Gül's invitation.

Demirtaş said he couldn't attend because he needs to be present in Diyarbakır's Bismil district due to events happening at the moment but "was very pleased" about his invitation and honors him by saying that he "is available anytime to meet with the president." He masters both sides.

In truth, this message says that no matter how brisk a statement the BDP sends it will restrain from "driving a wedge between them."

There is only one thing left to do at this point.

BDP should go for elections

No matter how negotiations with respect to documents obtained from court by some candidates of the YSK stating "we don't lack rights" turn out, the BDP should not boycott elections. Remember, as long as they are represented in Parliament they can state their case under the umbrella of democracy. Their credibility and legitimacy increases internationally, which will give them a security dimension. Otherwise they'll have to suffice with statements made on streets that have turned into a fireball. And that will please those who don't want to solve this problem and continue with war. Let's not give up just as fights have decreased and Turkey is embracing the BDP.

Let's solve this nonsense together.

Or else, we'll face very bad days.

YSK is a stranger to Turkey

Take a look at us.

Look at how this issue evolved.

I'm sure you too ask, "Why are you creating a crisis if this was to be solved this easily?"

YSK President Ali Em is a serious and knowledgeable man. And members of the YSK are independent and diligent people.

So, did they not think about consequences while taking this decision?

For the past four days the streets have turned into a fireball, politics and the country are in an uproar.

Please don't say, "What can we do? We implemented the law." See how the law is interpreted. Even court decisions can be changed. And there is no need to go and get "documents."

The YSK behaved very bureaucratically and "was a stranger" to Turkey. And what's worse is it acted with a stiff bureaucratic attitude and statist view.

They had no right to do that.

They didn't think Turkey would be stirred up and stained if the country went into elections without the BDP. If they had studied the law harder they'd have noticed that with the new law in 2005 the BDP was lifted of obstacles and thus there would have been no need for such an infliction.

There was only one benefit to this boorishness. It paved the way for media, politicians, the president, Turkey in short, to claim the BDP. The Kurds saw that they were not left alone. The message was clear: The solution rests with politics, not out on the streets.

Better than nothing.






In January, 400 students from various universities gathered at Ankara's Middle East Technical University, or METU, to protest the "advanced democratic" undertakings of the police, which included dragging people by the hair, mercilessly beating them up, liberally gassing them and providing free showers with water cannon during a previous demonstration in Istanbul.

The students were aiming to walk from METU to the Justice and Democracy Party, or AKP, headquarters less than three kilometers away to express their deep detestation with the "advanced democratic governance" of the AKP, as well as their frustration with the main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP. Would they also walk to the nearby CHP headquarters and stage a protest there? The students, in any case, threw stones at a CHP deputy who went to METU to express his support for the demonstration.

The police effectively used their "advanced democratic tools," and generously provided the students with free shower with gas and colored water, liberally massaged scores with black, plastic and highly elastic truncheons and then dispersed the crowd. They then provided "temporary shelter" at police headquarters to scores of the students.

Against 117 of those 400 demonstrating students, a dedicated prosecutor of the "advanced judiciary" decided to begin judicial procedures. The prosecutor of the advanced judiciary was rather generous in his demands. He called for up to 10.5 years behind bars for the students on the grounds that they "harmed state property" and "resisted police trying to disperse an unauthorized demonstration."

What was the "state property" that was allegedly harmed by the demonstrating students? A camera that belonged to METU and some trash bins.

Of course, no one can say demonstrators, irrespective of who they are, can have the liberty or privilege to resort to violence, devastate shops, demolish sidewalks, and harm property in staging their "democratic right." But, this country must learn that staging a protest is a democratic right; the expectation of the Turkish state that protestors should first receive authorization for protests from the authorities is a mockery and has added to the tension over the decades. To stage a demonstration cannot and should not require prior authorization as it is a fundamental aspect of the freedom of expression and one of the main pillars of democratic governance.

Demanding such long prison sentences against students is an example of the existence of a mental problem among the executives of the Turkish justice system, and it also shows the need to review the description of crimes as well as punishments in this country.

Bismil tragedy

The unfortunate veto of the Supreme Electoral Board, or YSK's, decision against scores of independent candidates supported by the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, was expected to be a palliative correction that obviously didn't touch the core of the problem. No one can say there was no political manipulation in the court verdicts obtained by the vetoed candidates within hours to overcome the YSK. Yet, we will all be happy seeing the problem over, at least for now. As was the case in many other democracy woes, hopes for the eradication of this latest problem on candidacies stemming from some 1980 coup era legislation is left to the writing of a new constitution after the June polls.

After the YSK veto of scores of independent candidates, the country was gripped by serious unrest, particularly in southeastern cities and towns.

The worst of those troubles was experienced in Diyarbakır's Bismil district where 18-year-old İbrahim Oruç lost his life. He was apparently hit by a bullet in the chest; pro-Kurdish groups claimed the bullet was fired by a police gun. Irrespective of whose gun that bullet came from, an 18-year-old boy has lost his life… That is the devastating reality!

In the meantime, the Diyarbakır mayor and some BDP deputies led a demonstration in Diyarbakır. Municipal trucks and diggers joined the demonstration and some drivers drove the municipal heavy work machines at police. It was interesting to see on TV reports of police stoning municipal vehicles. It's just a joke, but I wonder if anyone will open a case against those policemen stoning and harming municipal vehicles?

And, a last very important piece of news, Sedat Güloğlu, 32, took out a pistol in Istanbul's Taksim Square, fired three shots in the air and took out a Turkish flag wrapped inside his shirt, shouting "That's enough… Enough… Turkish youth, the motherland needs you…"







The role of the eight member parliamentary committee which under the 18th Amendment is to review the appointment of judges became clearer as a four-member Supreme Court bench dismissed the federation's review petition against the court order setting aside a recommendation by the committee rejecting a one-year extension in the terms of six additional judges of the Sindh and Lahore high courts. The verdict should settle the issue of which institution holds supremacy in the matter. The problems inherent in the grant of powers to a committee of parliamentarians to overview decisions made by the judicial commission had already been pointed out by legal experts. The provision of course posed a threat of eroding judicial independence – and the SC judges, by rejecting the plea, have made it clear they will not allow this to happen. Senior lawyers have welcomed the move. While the matter has given rise to controversy for months, it seems that the need to safeguard judicial independence is essential in our particular circumstances. The failure to do so over the years has led to all kinds of problems and essentially resulted in a judiciary subservient to the executive. Even those of us not well-versed in history have a good idea of the disasters this caused and the unfortunate traditions it set in place. The apex court is quite obviously determined to eradicate these and work towards a future where the role laid down for each institution within the Constitution is fully protected.

The decision also brings into question what the role of the parliamentary committee is to be. Experts attempting to defend its existence have argued that a body able to act only as a rubber stamp serves no purpose. There can be no real argument with this. The logical thing to do under the circumstances would be to scrap the body, or at the very least to clearly re-define its powers, leaving no doubt that the judiciary is fully empowered to take decisions in matters that have an impact on its working without any interference from the outside. It has already made it quite clear that it intends to do so, and has reasserted this intention through its latest verdict. It is essential that it be accepted with good grace and the role of the judiciary as a fully independent body established once and for all. Such a step could play a crucial role in determining the future of our country and the manner in which events within it unfold.






The Indian offer to sell us power at an affordable rate is intriguing but unlikely ever to come to much beyond being an interesting 'blip' on the rocky diplomatic road that connects us. India is not without its own power problems, one of them being that it, like us, under-generates against installed provision. Which leads us to wonder why or how they can afford to sell cheap electricity to their historical rival. Notwithstanding what at first sight appears to be a slightly odd proposal, it may have merit in that it keeps us talking to one-another about a mutually beneficial subject – trade. There is now a real sense that there is a thaw in the air, with some of the frost in our relations beginning to disappear. The warmth producing this welcome phenomenon is probably part of the fallout of the Mohali meeting. We are about to resume meetings between our respective commerce secretaries on 27-28 April and the federal commerce secretary has said that talks are 'heading in a cordial way'. Let us hope so, and if by some remote chance we can do a deal on electricity – we should.

Meanwhile the Chinese, our all-weather friends to the north, have inked an agreement to produce 120 MW of power from the Taunsa Barrage. The project is worth Rs26 billion and will take three years to complete and has been brokered by the government of Punjab. A PML-N delegation led by Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif is in China in part to seal the deal but also to ensure that PML-N relations with the Chinese government remain strong and harmonious. Deals done today in the power sector will 'read across' in a positive way if the PML-N does well – or wins – the next parliamentary elections. China has invested massively in infrastructure projects in Pakistan over the last two decades. It seems ready and willing to continue to do so. We have much to gain from having a trade-rather-than-aid relationship with the Chinese; likewise we could gain much from a development of our trading relationship with India. Trading intangibles, the nods and winks and handshakes that go behind every more tangible deal we do internationally, is putting power in the wires. Whether it can be put there quickly enough to prevent economic meltdown is, however, a moot point.







The angry speeches in parliament and the walk out from proceedings by the PML-N on Wednesday are a clear indication as to how people feel about various events in the country. The opposition leader in the National Assembly, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, made the views of his own party well known as the PML-N staged a walkout over the continued ban on Geo Super, the drone attacks and the sharp increase in the prices of petroleum products. Millions of people across the country share these view, and like Chaudhry Nisar ask why the country's only sports channel has yet to return to the airwaves even after so many days. The drone issue and the continued curse of inflation also raise strong sentiment.

The government's response to the opposition in the speeches that consumed much of the working day of the House failed to address any of the most pertinent questions raised. There was no comment on how long the victimisation of Geo Super would last, or why, as Chaudhry Nisar asked, it was taking place at all. The raising of these issues in parliament signifies just how important they are to many. They cannot simply be ignored. The government needs to come up with answers, and remember that its failure on this count, as well as the malpractices and corruption in its working, are resulting in a rapid loss of trust from people. This could bring very dire consequences in the future. The criticism directed its way needs to be addressed and the undemocratic strategy of ignoring what people have to say abandoned, before still greater damage is inflicted on all of us.








This has to begin with a confession. At my age – and I am of the generation which has been second to none in screwing up this country – I find myself most at ease with con artists, charlatans, long-winded orators – for whom the guiding principle surely is that brevity is not the soul of wit – and the glorious humbug. Those who say one thing and do another are an endless source of diversion.

De Gaulle came close to the truth with his insight: "The better I get to know men, the more I find myself loving dogs." But this gets to be a bit too solemn. The world would be the poorer without its frauds and impostors, journalists who put too high a premium on their seriousness, pulpit-breaking doctors of the faith, tub-thumping politicians, professors who make a divinity of national security, military men who think they have a monopoly on competence and patriotism, and, if I am forgiven for including two further categories in this list, pimps and bootleggers.

Amidst all this colour and excitement, it is the accidental stumbling upon examples of genuine goodness which are astonishing and leave at least me thunder-struck. Virtue where you least expect it. Where the hell is this coming from?...I then ask myself.

Such was my astonished, almost unbelieving reaction, when, in the course of visiting Mayo Hospital in Lahore during the doctors' strike, I happened to stumble upon the hospital kitchen. It was nothing short of a miracle. I had been through some of the wards and they had a rundown look. Some of the operation theatres I had a chance of looking into could have done with a facelift. To enter some of the toilets would have required the heart of Odysseus ("Patience, stout heart, thou hast endured far worse than this.") And there were scrawny cats in the corridors. So if I had met cockroaches in the kitchen I would not have been surprised. But the kitchen was spotlessly clean.

"Then felt I like some watcher of the skies When a new planet swims into his ken..." This was Keats's reaction on first reading Homer (in Chapman's not-so-good translation). And something of the sort was my reaction when I was told that ever since 2002 for the 1600-1700 patients that are to be found in the various wards of Mayo Hospital on any given day, the food being provided was coming entirely from charity and donations.

Sub-standard food surely, I thought. When I was asked to taste the spinach-and-mutton which had just been served for lunch I was in for a further surprise. After a riotous night a party revellers would not have been averse to tasting that food. And the young doctors accompanying me told me that it was always like that.

And no one was expecting me. And if anyone had, who was I? Not the Laat Sahib of Punjab.

Breakfast and lunch are prepared in the kitchen and distributed all over the hospital, the biggest, it bears remembering, in the whole of Pakistan, and perhaps South Asia. Bread, every day, is provided free of cost by Wonder Bread. Meat for lunch comes from the Edhi Foundation. But dinner everyday, for the full complement of 1500-1700 patients, comes courtesy someone from Wahdat Road, Lahore, who prefers to remain nameless.

The more I learnt the greater my amazement. Jillani Plastic who have a plant somewhere on Ring Road send a monthly donation of Rs300,000; Gohar Ejaz of Faisalabad Rs165,000; Mudassar Masood, a spare parts dealer of Auto Market, Badami Bagh, Rs50,000; and Shahid Siddiq of Brandreth Road Rs25,000 a month. These are the regulars and there may be others but I don't have their names. So if any are left out my sincerest apologies. Other people keep donating from time to time.

This is now. But there was a different arrangement from 2002 to 2008 when the entire food bill of Mayo Hospital was funded by the electronics manufacturers, LG. Then something happened and they stopped. But what should have been a serious crisis turned into another opportunity. In 2010 Seth Abid made a donation of Rs one crore. Others, some of whom I have named, also came on board. And so it goes on.

We constantly hear tales of national robbery and plunder, of the already well-heeled selling their souls for more riches and favours. And it is not surprising, such being the way of the world. And then a miracle such as this one in Mayo Hospital and all the wind, all the storm and thunder, from cynical sails is stolen. So much crap and misery and then something that brings tears even in jaded and thoroughly unsentimental eyes.

There is a Food Management Committee headed by the medical superintendent. The day-to-day running of the kitchen is the responsibility of the secretary, Mehmood Taj. They deserve the highest praise.

Who are the presiding deities of Lahore, whose spirit hovers over this city of legend and history? Ali Hajveri of course, and Sir Ganga Ram, and, I daresay, the ghost of Lord Mayo whose name is associated with the founding of Mayo Hospital in 1871. The pressure on the hospital is enormous but if we can't look after it and keep it the way it should be kept then as a people we are failing in our duty.

Why do parts of the hospital give a rundown look? The road leading to the Orthopaedic Department is broken. Imagine broken bones rattling over this path. And it has been like this for some time. The new surgical ward, a multi-storeyed structure, stands like a hulk, work having stopped on it for some reason.

A huge amount of money has been spent restoring the chief secretary's office in the Lahore Secretariat. For anyone interested a visit would be in order to see our sense of priorities. We can find money for useless things and useless activities. But all of Lahore's public hospitals – Services, Ganga Ram, Mayo, etc – could do with more investment.

This is how the business of government is carried on in our part of the world. Our people know how to give. Time and again occasions have arisen bringing out the best in them – whether after the 2005 earthquake or the displacement of over a million people in the wake of the Swat military operation of 2009. Mayo Hospital has to spend Rs24 million on food every year and all of it comes from donations and charity. What's more, the entire undertaking is being managed beautifully.

There is much wrong with us as a people and a society but there is also much to be proud of. There are so many other examples of unstinting charity. The Sindh Institute of Urology and Transplantation, affiliated with Dow Medical College in Karachi, is run on donations. Imran Khan's Shaukat Khaunum cancer hospital is run on donations. I suppose people give generously and open their hearts out when they know that their money will be well spent and not pilfered.

Why can't we get our priorities right? Why must our governing classes insist on chasing shadows and false dreams? We can't run our country, at least can't run it properly, but we must have some kind of a fixation about managing Afghanistan. And our military circles simply can't get India out of their system. They place India on too high a pedestal, seeing the world through an Indian prism. This is the stranglehold of a troubled past and it is a pity that even after six decades and more we have not been able to break free from its clutches.

We have all the missiles in the world that we need. High time we turned some of our considerable energies to better-run schools and hospitals.

Tailpiece: For donations in kind the Management Committee can be contacted at 042-99211129 extension 159 and 042-99211113. Cash donations can be sent to A/c 000850-0007, Bank of Punjab, Patiala Ground Branch, Lahore.









Famed economist Daron Acemoglu says: "Nations are not like children; they are not born rich or poor. Their governments make them that way".

The government is a critical variable in a nation's economic development. Over time, many underdeveloped countries have followed prudent policies to emerge from poverty. Pakistan is reaping the bitter fruits of dismal governance besotted with a borrowing syndrome.

The government had sought IMF augmentation of its $7.6 billion loan to $11.3 billion. However the IMF has refused even to release the last tranche of the original loan suspended since May 2010. The reason given is the failure to implement crunching levies and taxes by our desensitised government committing the same.

Bereft of sanity, we are caught in a borrowing vortex. Debts have soared to $59 billion from $47 billion two years ago. The debt-to-GDP ratio has shot up from 64 to 74 percent in one year. An annual Rs46 billion is being spent to service our energy sector circular debt alone. Youth unemployment has soared to almost 50 percent. Public sector development has seen less than five percent investment whereas the energy starved private sector has grinded to a standstill.

Our present economic predicament, partially part of a global down-slide, has its roots in the economic policies followed over the years. Our socio-political environment, plagued with corruption and inefficient governance, has never been conducive for sustainable development.

Shakespeare's Shylock just wanted a pound of flesh; the policies of our affluent politicos have reduced the masses to a mere skeleton. The result poses a greater threat; ideological motivation with economic deprivation has become a lethal mix.

As a final nail in the proverbial coffin, we have taken upon ourselves to fight an alien war. It has cost us thousands of lives and more than $35 billion. It has also ruined the country. The exorbitant cost in life and money is 'rewarded' with pittance and political assistance. This is not for the multitude that bear the brutal brunt but for a handful that thrive on it.

Proponents of the borrowing syndrome draw parallels with the Marshall Plan of post WW2 Europe. It provided $13 billion to Western European economies to restore physical infrastructure destroyed during the war. The Marshall Plan intervention was short, quick, finite and above all well spent. However, it too was strongly motivated by political reasons.

Coming back to the present, Ambassador Munter minced no words when he said that his country had the right to influence (manage) our internal affairs given the aid they were providing. Today, loans and grants from the US and donor agencies, inevitably under its control, are merely a tool of exploitation. Contrary to given arguments, corrupt governments receive more aid. No wonder nothing is left after it passes through this clogged sieve of unlimited corruption. The aim is not to alleviate suffering of the common man but to reward toadies towing their master's line.

In the late 1990s a $4.8 billion IMF loan to Russia never made it to the treasury. Billions were deposited directly into the offshore accounts of Russian politicians, bankers and mafia. The nation never saw a single ruble, yet was responsible for paying it back with interest. President Clinton's Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, testified before a congressional panel that much of the Russian loan "may have been siphoned off improperly". This is only one example where monetary aid, enslaving a nation, simply helped a kleptocracy move billions to personal coffers. Our saga is the same.

Joseph Stiglitz was a member of Bill Clinton's cabinet. He was chairman of the president's council of economic advisors, a former chief economist of the World Bank and winner of the 2001 Nobel Prize for economics. He was also fired from the World Bank in 1999 for resisting globalisation World Bank (American) style. His assertion was that an IMF/World Bank "Country Assistance and Austerity Plan" often led to the dissolution of a crippled society.

Stiglitz's explosive book "Globalisation and its discontents" is a scathing indictment of the IMF and World Bank. He accuses them of preaching austerity and economic reform, yet imposing crippling conditions on third world countries. According to him, the modus operandi is to conduct "economic raids on debtor nations" and "fire sale of national assets to the benefit of foreign corporations". "It has condemned people to death," he said.

A state's sovereignty and road to prosperity depends on its ability to make decisions independent of external authorities and its capacity to govern. Aid dependency is a yoke that inhibits both. It is a shot that gives an addictive economy a temporary high. Touted as an antidote, it is a major cause of our present asphyxiation. With an ideologically bankrupt leadership being the custodian of a non tax paying privileged class, the solution does not lie in austerity IMF style and taxing the poor further. Benjamin Disraeli said "To tax the community for the advantage of a class is not protection, it is plunder".

The merciful rejection by the IMF may have been precipitated not by our inability to meet the performance bench marks but the post Raymond Davis ISI-CIA cold war. All was not well in the recent meeting between Lt General Pasha and Director CIA, Leon Panetta. Scheduled for three days (April 11-13) the DG ISI made an abrupt departure on April 12 after a two and a half hours meeting with Leon Panetta. Lt General Pasha also did not meet any other Pentagon official as is the norm in these visits.


Pakistan today epitomises the private opulence of our political elite; as a beggared and battered country sinks ever deeper under debt and diktat. At this critical juncture the "national reconciliation government" is yet another act of shame. The PPP wants to ensure passage of the budget whereas the 'Qatil' League's politics has been reduced to ensure the freedom of just one man – Moonis Elahi. The survival circus continues; the nation, from Fata to Karachi, may "rest in peace".

Lord Acton said: "When a rich man becomes poor it is a misfortune. When a poor man becomes destitute, it is a moral evil". Our rags to riches politicians could do with a bit of poverty and a thought for Pakistan. This may allow a semblance of life and dignity to this betrayed land and the poor made destitute within.

The writer is a freelance contributor.Email:








The state education system in Pakistan was already showing signs of inadequacy in the 1960s, but the pre-partition standards were rather good and were still holding, even though classrooms were becoming overcrowded. This nominally-charged education system was the most obvious choice for a vast majority of middle-class Pakistanis.

There were, in fact, 'Model Schools' in almost all major cities which competed with private schools. There were two types of private schools: those which charged fees that the middle-class could afford, and those which only the rich and super-rich could afford. There were not many super-rich people then; the nation's wealth was concentrated within a small percentage of the population, the so-called 33 families – made notorious by ZA Bhutto. But then came ZAB's nationalisation, which served a devastating blow to the entire education system: overnight all private schools were taken over by the state.

This botched, improvised, and ad hoc socialism of the ill-tempered and haughty feudal lord from Larkana was enough to send the entire system into a downward spiral from which it never recovered. Throughout the Bhutto years, primary education remained victim of experimentation and eventually there came a time when no middle-class parent wanted to send children to state-run schools. Nothing was left of the old standards; a vast number of disinterested teachers sat in broken down, ill-kept buildings with a student population which stared at a bleak future.

Necessity, however, created a solution, but it came too late and at a disastrous price: a new kind of private school emerged. These new private schools blossomed under the military dictator who sent ZA Bhutto the gallows and who allowed these new private schools to mushroom all across the country.

Pakistan's primary education system went through a dramatic change during the Zia years, education standards improved, but more importantly, this change was accompanied by a social change which even Americans could not affected with their billions of dollars: children educated through these private schools lost all that was native to the land; even their taste buds were transformed, as my friend Dr Syed Nomanul Haq is fond of saying. These children spoke English with a twisted tongue – that impressed their parents – they disliked food which their parents and generations of their forefathers had been eating. They aspired to be like those about whom they had been taught in their schools through books imported from Britain and the United States.

As these children entered higher education system, there emerged an urgent need for similar institutions at that level and hence private universities started to emerge. Education, which had already become a hugely profitable commercial venture, became a business which attracted money makers. Thus education passed from the hands of educators to businessmen. This has been the single most important change in the social dynamics of Pakistan, which has transformed its future in a silent way. These years also produced dramatic changes in Pakistan's economic demography, which has all but abolished the middle class. Today, out of some 176 million Pakistanis, 60 percent subsist on less than $2 per day!

This means that there are 105 million Pakistanis who cannot think of education for their children in any real sense; no wonder that the just published Education for All (EFA) Global Monitoring Report of UNESCO paints a grim picture of Pakistani children with 60 million children over the age of 10 being illiterate. One would have expected that this shocking state of affairs, precisely pinpointing where the country is heading, would have immediately stopped everyone in their footsteps and there would have been a national outrage and eventually a national plan about what to do, but all that emerged in the wake of this report was the news about the reselling of some about-to-expire politicians!

If anyone needed one more proof that those who are now ruling Pakistan have absolutely no interest in this country, this is it. Imagine 60 million boys and girls, growing up illiterate in a country of 176 million! Imagine Pakistan's future! Just this one indicator is enough to wake up and make an emergency plan to stop the looming disaster. These children are already over the age of 10, they are soon going to be on the streets and one can only imagine what they will be doing with all the arms available in the open market.

A mega disaster is at hand. To be sure, this has not happened overnight. There is a history and there are multiple causes for it, but all that one heard was that the cause of this disaster is that "the current public expenditure on education in Pakistan is less than three percent of the GNP!"

Is this the only cause? Are there no more questions to be asked? Questions such as where does this three percent of GNP spent on education go? Who is benefiting from this public money? How much of this money is being spent on so-called higher education and what happened to the billions of rupees which went through HEC during the reign of the military dictator! Recently, the whole HEC affair became an emotional issue and the government retreated on its ill-conceived plans about it, but there has hardly been any analytical analysis of the contribution of HEC to the overall education fiasco.

No one has asked the basic questions: in a country where 60 million children cannot read and write, what does it mean to have a Higher Education Commission that was given billions of rupees by a military dictator and his foreign supporters? What does it mean to the rest of the education sector to impose foreign professors at international salaries on local staff in terms of morale, economic disparity, and psychological and professional state of the local educators? No one even asked the most obvious question: why certain foreign governments suddenly became interested in supporting Pakistan's HEC? One hopes that no one is so naïve in Pakistan as to say: Americans and British governments are just dying to elevate Pakistan's higher education system for the benefit of Pakistan's future!

(To be continued)The writer is a freelance columnist. Email:








Since the US drone strikes began on the tribal belt of Pakistan, it was the first time, on March 17, that a Pakistani army chief issued a written statement condemning the a strike which took more than 50 innocent lives in the Dattakhel area of North Waziristan. Besides tribal elders, the casualties included children. Scores of people were wounded.

The statement by Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani was long overdue. A condemnation of US drone strikes should have come much earlier from the army. The strikes, which were escalated in 2008, claimed a high toll of human lives last year. But, while the statement by Gen Kayani was a positive thing, a mere condemnation was insufficient in view of the atrocities inflicted on people assembled for a tribal jirga to resolve a dispute between the two parties.

Emboldened by the statement of Gen Kiyani, several political leaders have shown solidarity with the tribal people. All of them use every opportunity to declare that their respective parties have an anti-drone stance. Innocent civilians had died in drone attacks a number of times before but no political leader staged a protest against the atrocities. Even parliament did not go beyond passing protest resolutions against drone strikes.

The response by politicians indicates that the army has not yet lost its political appeal. Because the PPP is in government, as a result of a few compromises facilitated by the US, or it might have been in the forefront of such protests to expand its vote bank. Any idea put forward by the army is lapped up by Pakistani politicians. That is the way a politician gets in the good books of the army. When will politicians start to lead the country?

The explanation for the changed attitudes lies in the case of CIA contractor Raymond David, who shot two young Pakistani motorcyclists dead in Lahore on Jan 27 and indirectly caused the deaths of another two people. Interestingly, the period during which Davis was under detention before his release remained free of drone strikes. Davis' surprising release under US pressure, despite his shooting in Mozang in broad daylight, and the fact that CIA operatives like him are lurking all over Pakistan are points which strained relations between Islamabad and Washington.

In reprisal for the disgrace faced by the CIA during Davis' incarceration, the CIA resumed the drone strike immediately after the sharpshooter's release. After getting its agitation recorded with the US at the diplomatic level, the government decided to compensate the victims monetarily.

Had Raymond Davis not been captured, the drone strike in Dattakhel would have created no reaction and the consequent human casualties would have stirred no one into action. Similarly, had the casualties in the drone strike not occurred immediately after Davis' controversial release, no statement of condemnation would have been issued following the US drone strike against the jirga, and not a penny of compensation would have been paid to the victims. It is yet to be seen if the condemnations of the drone strike were a one-time phenomenon or they will be issued after every incident of this kind.

Since last year, the US has increased the frequency of its drone strikes, besides broadening their target areas. Secondly, it has unilaterally increased the number of agents like Raymond Davis operating in Pakistan. The US has also expanded the base of CIA operations in Pakistan. On the other hand, Gen Kayani has given an assurance to the tribal people that they will be protected in future, but it remains to be seen how that will be ensured.

Regarding the anti-drone strategy, there are two options available with Pakistan. The first option is that it persuades the US to curb the strikes. The drones can be shot at but as a result a war may break out between the US-Nato forces and the Pakistani forces. Pakistan cannot afford that, for obvious reasons. In 2001 the UN gave a mandate to the US-Nato forces to stay in Afghanistan to root out Al-Qaeda from Afghanistan. Afterwards, as per the Af-Pak policy announced by Barack Obama in March 2009, the tribal belt of Pakistan was included in the Afghan theatre for operational purposes. At least publicly, Pakistan did not object to that sort of diplomatic relegation. The US-Nato forces claim that their failure in Afghanistan is because of insurgents' attacks on them from across the Pakistani border. Though the term Af-Pak was abandoned by the US in January 2010, the policy is still functional. Resultantly, every gathering in the Pakistani tribal belt (be it social or political) is seen with suspicion by the Americans and consequently a pre-emptive drone strike is carried out. Hence, neither can Pakistan curtail the frequency of drone strikes nor can it compel the US to narrow down the target base of these strikes.

The second option with Pakistan is to live with drone strikes. There are two ways to do that. First, establish a liaison with the drone handlers (the CIA) to inform them through proper channels if there is a socio-political gathering taking place in the tribal belt. If drone strikes are unavoidable, they must be humanised to minimise the loss of innocent lives. Second, the drone handlers could be educated to appreciate tribal traditions. If the US intends to weaken the bad Taliban and promote the good Taliban, it should be made to realise that indiscriminate drone attacks enrage the local people. Consequently, the popularity of the good Taliban will shrink while the ranks of the bad Taliban will swell and the Taliban will be persuaded to gang up with Al-Qaeda. That development would be detrimental for both Pakistan and the US.

Nevertheless, in the Pakistan-US context relations it would be perilous for Pakistan to insist on having control over the use of the drones in the war.


The writer is a freelance contributor.Email:







Complaints and counter-complaints flow back and forth. The Americans are holding on to the ISI's relations with the Haqqani network as their principal grouse. The Pakistani side is angry about the drone attacks. These are good talking points, but is the problem that simple?

Consider. The ISI's connection with the Haqqani network and the Afghan Taliban is not new. Even after the "with us or against us" ultimatum to Musharraf in September 2001, it remained intact. Many of the Taliban cadres took refuge in Balochistan after the American invasion and the Haqqani network retreated into the safety of North Waziristan.

Unless the Americans were blindsided by their focus on the Iraq war, there is no way that they did not know about these connections. The more likely explanation is that they chose to ignore them. It was during this period that Musharraf became their favourite dictator and billions of dollars flowed into Pakistani military coffers.

This continued for years, and still does to an extent, despite the purported ISI links. The Taliban and the Haqqani network are the principal American adversaries in Afghanistan. Links with them remained an irritant between the Pakistani and US military, but not a make-or-break issue. Why has this become a major problem now?

Before we answer this, consider another fact. The drone attacks have been going on for a long time. There is sufficient evidence that successive Pakistani governments have acquiesced, if not facilitated them. Claims are even made that Pakistani airbases are used for them, obviously with the approval of our defence establishment. Why have these attacks now become such a big issue?

The real underlying factors are different, but part of the reason is miscommunication and the timing of these drone attacks. The last two have been particularly unfortunate. The first occurred the day after Raymond Davis's release. It not only took a great many innocent civilian lives but also was a terrible payback for the cooperation on the Davis issue by the Pakistani power players.

After a very strong protest, the language and tenor of which was the strongest since the drone attacks began, there seemed to be an American rethink. There was some talk that they would go back to the Bush administration's policy of only going after high-value targets, meaning the Al-Qaeda leadership. Other random drone attacks would stop.

That these were crossed signals became clear during ISI chief Gen Pasha's visit to the US. From all reports, no promise was made of scaling down the drone attacks, despite veiled Pakistani suggestions that there will be a military reaction. To make matters worse, no sooner had these talks concluded and Gen Pasha hardly out of the country when another attack took place.

This seemed like a deliberate attempt to call what the CIA considered a Pakistani bluff. A marker was being laid down that we, the US, would retain the initiative in choosing when and where to attack, and if the Pakistanis have a problem, let them do what they can to stop it. This was arrogant in the extreme and dealt a severe blow to the confidences that had been built up between the Pakistani and American militaries.

To complicate the situation further, it showed up fissures within the American security establishment. The drones are operated by the CIA, which is not under the US military. It chooses to exercise its mandate of protecting the American people without worrying about how good military-to-military relations are between Pakistan and the US. The bridge is the American president, but in this case the leadership was clearly lacking or a double game was being deliberately played.

The good cop is Admiral Mullen, who was in Pakistan recently trying to sooth the troubled relationship. But the problem is that, given the multiple power centres in the US, it is difficult to believe he speaks for everybody. To put Pakistan on the defensive, he also talked about the ISI relationship with the Haqqani network, without saying a word about the drones.

While the drone issue has escalated into a major crisis, the underlying reason for the tension in Pakistan-US relationship is different. From the Pakistani side, it is linked to suspicions about America's real motives: Is it destabilising the Pakistani state? Does it want to neutralise Pakistan's nuclear capability? Is its relationship with India undermining Pakistani interests in Afghanistan? And more.

The Americans worry about the non-state actors in Pakistan, their collusion with the Pakistan security establishment and their ability to attack the West. Their take on Pakistani state stability is a feared takeover by Islamic radicals or its nuclear material falling into their hands. At some level, the US considers Pakistan the most dangerous country in the world.

The Raymond Davis affair symbolised all these tensions. The Pakistanis had been worried for a while about large numbers of American undercover operatives roaming about Pakistan. The security establishment tried to stop their inflow but the political leadership gave in, issuing hundreds of visas without verifying what those people are going to do here.

The stories around Davis also captured the Pakistani fears. Was he in touch with the TTP? What was he doing photographing defensive positions on the Indian border? Was he or his other partners scouting Pakistani nuclear sites? Was the ultimate purpose to create instability in Pakistan? And so on. The role of the American operatives within the country thus became a major issue for the security establishment.

The Americans had placed all these operatives on the ground because they did not trust the Pakistani state. They were trying to penetrate outfits like Lashkar-e-Taiba. And they may well have been scouting the nuclear sites or defence establishments to get a greater handle on what goes on here.

Admiral Mullen is correct when he says that the real problem is lack of trust on both sides. Pakistan now wants the American undercover agents out, and many have reportedly left. This is a setback for the CIA, because its network within the Pakistan is in the process of being severely undermined. Is its anger reflected in untimely and deliberately embarrassing drone attacks?

The US leadership has to get a handle on various elements of its state working at cross-purposes. It needs Pakistan to sustain its forces in Afghanistan and play a supportive role in the endgame to wind down the war. This latter is not possible unless Pakistan has leverage with the various Afghan groups fighting them.

It is an informed guess that the American military understands this, but does the CIA or the political leadership? In a brilliant move, Pakistan and Afghanistan have developed complete consensus on how the endgame will be played. The Americans have no choice but to come on board, because ultimately the peace process has to be led by the Afghans, who see Pakistan as an essential element in it.

There is much at stake for Pakistan and the US, not only in Afghanistan but in the long term. The trust deficit can only be bridged with mutual respect and understanding, putting aside superpower arrogance. Is the US ready for it?








In our country, autocracy is the order and elected governments are seen as experiments in democracy. We are strange people. Not only that an influential section of our elite and affluent middle class refuses to learn from our own history, let alone world history. It continuously aspires to have a technocratic rule, which always gets led by or supported by the military and executed by bureaucracy and flamboyant advisors. Legitimacy for such rules is acquired from the part of judiciary that condones such arrangements after framing a narrative of crisis.

It is the inalienable right of the people of Pakistan, like any other people living in any other part of the world, to elect their political government and have a direct say in decisions that affect their lives. However tough it may be and whatever weaknesses it entails, democracy cannot be negotiated.

One fully understands that Pakistan is at a stage of plutocracy in its political evolution due to its primordial social and economic relations. But the only way to bring about progressive changes in our economy and polity on a sustainable basis is to tread the electoral path.

Representative interest and pressure groups are formed that demand, bargain and compel the political parties to agree to their rights and privileges. If the electorate dislikes the government, they vote it out. This may not be the perfect system but the most workable humanity at large has learnt. You don't have to like the president, prime minister or a party to support democracy. You don't like them, don't vote for them. Or if you liked them earlier but find yourself utterly dissatisfied now with their performance, vote for someone else in the next elections. You want elections in political parties which in my view remains a thoroughly legitimate demand you pressurise the parties to hold elections in their ranks and ask the election commission to enforce such regulations. You want a fair chance for people belonging to all classes to be able to participate in elections, persuade the election commission to create and enforce the required procedures through public actions of speaking, writing, petitioning and campaigning.

While we know well that the common people of this country have waged political struggles always to restore democracy whenever they are denied their right to choose their governments, what is so unique about Pakistan is that it cannot be run like other countries in a democratic way? It seems a part of our elite and intelligentsia despises Pakistani citizens who are less educated in modern terms and of course not well to do.

There is an inherent contempt for the common folk. They are considered incapable of making the right choices for their own well being and elect the right representatives and the right kind of governments. Even if they are incapable, they would remain so if the course of democratic elections does not continue.

Yes, the struggle for free, fair, impartial and accessible electoral process for all must be carried on with enormous rigour. And here I reiterate my demand for immediate local body elections. But what the civil society (and my definition of it is not limited to NGO activists, retired bureaucrats, generals and judges) needs to struggle for is a just and egalitarian economic order, a progressive society where people are considered equal without any consideration of their caste, colour, religion or ethnicity. We have all the right to criticise the government, highlight its failings and suggest better options for setting things right. But for God sake, no more derailment of the political process.

The writer is an Islamabad-based poet, author and public policy advisor. Email: harris.









IN his meetings with leadership in Pakistan, Chairman US Joint Chief of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen has conceded that relationship between the two countries was in turbulence but expressed satisfaction that there was willingness on both sides to improve it. It was not Admiral Mullen alone who expressed these views but other functionaries in the US Government have been frequently expressing discomfort over cooperation between the two countries in the war on terror.

In our view, the concern of US may be justified from their point of view but Washington needs a deep soul searching as to why the situation has reached to this extent. It was only on Wednesday when an official again stated that drone attacks would go on in which more civilian lives are being lost and there is great resentment against them not only in tribal areas but across the country and a consensus in the civil and military leadership that the attacks by unmanned aircraft must come to an end. The ISI Chief during his visit to Washington had also raised the issue of CIA functionaries and Raymond Davis type contractors who are roaming around to carry out their spying and other activities without the knowledge of Pakistani security agencies. There is also a wide perception that Indian intelligence was carrying out anti Pakistan activities in Balochistan from Afghanistan with the full backing of US. What is more regrettable is that US wants all its demands accepted whether right or wrong without taking into consideration the security requirements of Pakistan. Islamabad has deployed more than one lakh troops along the Durand Line while operation against militants in tribal agencies is going on for around two years. Even Admiral Mike Mullen has acknowledged that cooperation between US and Pakistani soldiers on both sides of the border is better than it had ever been. The US would have to accept the proposals given by Pakistan like an end to drone attacks and provision of this technology so as to be used by Islamabad against militants, bring an end to uncalled for CIA activities and address security threats of Pakistan if it is serious to seek cooperation and smoothen the turbulent flight of ties between the two countries. Washington must keep in mind that Pakistan is a nation of proud people who in no way will compromise on its sovereignty. Therefore the traditional relations between the two countries must be based on certain principles and non-interference in the internal affairs of Pakistan.







IT is surprising that despite availability of natural resources in abundance to generate hydel and coal energy, hue and cry continues across the country over the power crisis and the gap in demand and supply is on the rise instead of falling. There are several offers from the neighbouring countries as well to meet our energy shortfall but it appears that only lip service is being paid and there are no visible signs of any practical work on the ground.

During the Government of Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto, Pakistan had become surplus in electricity and there was talk of exporting it to India. Now it is the other way round and New Delhi has offered to sell electricity to Islamabad at cheap rates and the proposal, a new development, is likely to be discussed at the meeting of the Commerce Secretaries of the two countries by the end of this month. Federal Minister Syed Naveed Qamar told the National Assembly the other day that TAPI gas project would be finalized by the end of July, 2011 and the Iranian Ambassador in an interview with this newspaper said that his country is prepared to supply gas to Pakistan even in 2012 as Iran has already built about 1000 kms long gas pipeline from Busher city to a point about 200 kms from Pak-Iran border. The gas from Iran and Turkmenistan can be used for generation of electricity. Gas and oil fired power generation plants are already in place in Pakistan and there is an admitted power generation capacity of over 19000MW in the country. Thus the present demand can be met if the problem of circular debt is resolved and the private power producers are made to generate electricity at full capacity. Though Director General PEPCO at a press conference on Tuesday said that 1200MW electricity would be added to national grid within two months that will help overcome loadshedding in extremely hot weather but that is not enough because even today the shortfall is in the range of over 4000MW. In view of the offers of electricity and gas and availability of domestic resources, there are many options and what is needed is a will to resolve the problem but that will appears to be missing. We would therefore impress upon the Government to expedite work on gas pipelines and act to exploit our own resources to get the required electricity to bring an end to hue and cry across the country.







THE assets of politicians declared by the Election Commission of Pakistan have astonished the people as these are not only much below the expectations of the people but also to the apparent living styles of our elites. Many politicians are perceived as billionaires but their declaration of assets indicate that the elected and ruling lots are poverty ridden people. It is known to everybody that the politicians avoid declaring their real sources of income so as to evade taxes while they have large land holdings, industries and other businesses.

No politician can survive in Pakistan unless and until he has enough resources to contest elections but it was surprising that even a few of them declared that they have no assets. While it is mandatory to declare assets for the candidates contesting the elections but it is just a formality and there is no system to verify the sources or their actual income. There is also need to compare their present and past assets and see if there was any unlawful accumulation of wealth. Unless and until a foolproof system to check the income and expenditure of every citizen, including the rulers and other politicians is put in place, the practice of hiding income would continue. It is also a routine affair that the official machinery responsible to keep an eye on wrong doings of the rulers keeps its eyes shut as long as they are in power fearing that there would be a backlash and it becomes active when the rulers are changed. That is a serious flaw which needs to be looked into and an independent institution need to be created to check corrupt practices because the existing institutions including the NAB have failed to deliver.








While some NGOs are run by sincere individuals interested not in personal but in social gain, many of the organisations active in India act as milch cows for those controlling them. For example,a top journalist got formed an NGO headed by his son,and then used his contacts in foreign embassies to ensure a huge flow of grants to the organisation, enough to ensure that Junior could leave India and live in Europe. Several senior officials set up NGOs and "Think-tanks" after retirement that are creative only in the ways in which they collect funds. Many times,the so-called "independent" NGO acts as a mouthpiece for foreign donors, expressing their point of view as "Indian opinon", an example being a well-funded NGO run by a former naval officer who joins many others in faithfully parroting any line that is fed to him by US or EU agencies during the many occasions when he gets invited there to nod approvingly at the grotesque policy prescriptions that they adopt for India. Across the world, the debris of states that have failed because of following such advice is ubiquitious, yet because of the fact that the only way to get funding and fellowships from the US or the EU is to toe their general line, the big cities are filled with "analysts" and "experts" who fill newspaper columns and television space retailing what their benefactors in Washington,Paris and London (the three "saviours of the Libyan people" ) want them to say.

The first priority in India - and other countries in the vicinity – is to take care of family and friends.An example is the so-called National Security Advisory Board. Members of this august body come at least once a month to the national capital, where they are put up in 5-star hotels in exchange for giving their views on subjects as diverse as Fiji and Moratua. Not that any of these opinions gets taken seriously, much less gets integrated into policy.The purpose of the NSAB is to accomodate old friends in a comfortable sinecure and make them understand how much they are appreciated. Most of the distinguished members are regular guests of the nominating authority.

During his time as National Security Advisor ( 1998-2004), Brajesh Mishra ensured at almost every individual who treated him to lunch or dinner at the India International Centre (otherwise known as Jurassic Park, not because of the advanced age of most members,but for the fact that most remain firm admirers of the Nehru era,and are therefore clearly delighted at the dawn of Nehru Era II in 2004 under the charming leadership of Sonia Gandhi, the present head of the family. One of his successors, the brilliant, acerbic M K Narayanan (who ensured that the Intelligence Bureau was given a much greater priority in the security system than agencies such as RAW) followed Mishra in filling the NSAB with his buddies, a practice that gained him immense popularity in the small circle of retired admirals,generals andofficials who collectively form the Brains Trust for the conference circuit.

The Patron Saint of the NGO community is Sonia Gandhi, who has sought to make an NGO headed by her - the National Advisory Council – a super-government, able to inflict its views on a government where prominent ministers such as Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram are openly subservient to her dictates. In departments across the system,including in the crucial field of Education,the influence of the NGOs ( many of whom get foreign funding and have foreign staff) is all-pervasive,which is why so many ministers come up with ideas that are designed to wreck what little excellence remains within the system. One of the ministers close to Sonia Gandhi is Education Minister Kapil Sibal, ordinarlily a first-class intellect. However,recently he has been coming up with policy prescriptions clearly cooked in some NGO pot in London or in Luxembourg, that would have the effect of destroying quality school education in the country. India would then join the many other poor countries where the only way to get a halfway useful education would be to go abroad. The NGO-inspired suggestions of the minister in the field of education have horrified parents across the country andunified them against his government, but in the Congress Party,there is only one vote that counts,and that is Sonia Gandhi's, so Sibal is safe. More so as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has entrusted the preparation of a road map for educating a country where more than 40% of the population is under 40 to a close friend,the 79-year old Professor Yash Pal. One of the benefits of being in government is the easy way in which friends and relatives can be obliged,some with deals,others through sinecures,and Manmohan Singh is no different from other politicians who look only within the circle of their friends to fill jobs that require real skills and commitment.

Hypocrisy is not second nature to politcians in India,it is the first. Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee has a constitiuency known for drug and people smuggling, but interestingly,several of the worthies active in these key national tasks are now busy seeking to elect his son as a Member of the Legislative Assembly. The Central Board of Direct Taxes ( under an officer close to a lady in the Finance Ministry who seems to have powers equal to the minister himself,for some unexplained reason) seems unaware of the financial standing of Mukherjee Junior, although now that he is in politics,such facts will begin to seep out,as they are in the case of other high-profile siblings such as the son of Home Minister Chidambaram (and his friend Sanjeev Hooda) or the son-in-law of Sonia Gandhi herself,who has built a fortune in a relatively short timespan purely - one would assume - owing to his genius and insight and not because ministers ranging from the Home Minister to the Chief Ministers of Delhi and Haryana dance attendance on Robert Vadra, whose activities have become so blatant that even the tame Indian media (which usually looks the other way at VVIP peccadillos) has begun to murmur. Clearly,Robert Vadra or Karthik Chidambaram are young men in a hurry to join the same pantheon inhabitated by Bill Gates or Warren Buffet,an understandable objective for two such capable youngsters.

Because of the fear of getting harassed by the Intelligence Bureau (which has reverted ti the Nehru era days by becoming a house agency for the Ruling Family) or the Income-tax authorities, media houses do not examine the activities of VVIPs the way it happens in civilized countries such as the UK or the US. Indeed,the Supreme Court of India has just decreed that the religion followed by Sonia Gandhi is not a matter that the public should be aware of.Hopefully,the judges who gave this order will enlighten an eager citizenry about just what facets of a public figure are suitable for the public to know.This columnist believes that the public are entitled to every scrap of information about those in whose hands the running of the country vests,but this is clearly not the view of the Supreme Court of India.

Given such a mindset, it is hardly surprising that so little is known about the personal and financial details of VVIPs. Indeed,the Election Commission of India actually censures those who make "personal attacks" ( such as pointing to examples of corruption) against other candidates.If the officials ( and the Election Commission in democratic India is filled only with unelected officials who have never stood for election even in the college union) running the EC have their way, any attempt at giving negative information about a candidate would be outlawed,the way exit polls have been. Of course,political VVIPs in India are delighted.They can safely go about enriching themselves and selling the country short, aware that the Election Commission will go to bat for them should there be the threat of exposure during a campaign. Sadly for those pinning their faith in this noble institution, the Supreme Court has now decreed that the public do not have the right to know the same facts about their rulers as voters in the US or the EU do. Hopefully the judges will reconsider.

The Nehru era has been marked by tight control over citizens, depriving them of autonomy and forcing them to get government approval for any action. Now three admirers of the Nehru family have demanded that India should go the way of Pakistan,and impose a One Dish rule in weddings and feasts. If Rajiv Shukla ( who leaped from journalism to cricket with considerable finesse twenty years ago,and from there to cricketing administration) and his two fellow-members of Sonia Gandhi's National Advisory Council have their way, there would be policemen at each wedding to ensure that not more than one dish is being served. Shukla is likely to next suggest that permits be mandatory before any wedding feast can be organized,and indeed before the bride and groom disappear on their honeymoon. After she took over power in 2004 ( not in law but in fact), Sonia Gandhi has made India an unpleasant place for people to visit, getting imposed such absurd rules as refusing to allow a person to come back to the country within six months of leaving it, or demanding permission from the Home Ministry ( which takes 25 years to process a request during the period when it functions at high speed) before holding an international conference. Slowly,the country is getting strangled by a web of regulations that are each designed to squeeze bribes out of the very people who are today at the cusp of going into the streets to protest a system that makes them suffer so that a few can enrich themselves.

—The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.








The saga of rogue CIA operative Raymond Davis is yet to fade from our memories, when another rogue CIA functionary Bruce Riedel is making waves. Raymond Davis had turned rogue and killed three innocent Pakistanis in broad daylight in Lahore, causing embarrassment to the CIA and US government. He tried to escape punishment after his arrest under the garb of seeking diplomatic immunity. When Pakistani courts did not buy the plea, President Obama was made to jump in the fray and forced to lie on the subject, to no avail. Ultimately Mr. Davis had to seek reprieve through an Islamic legal provision of paying $2.3 million in compensation (blood money) to the survivors of his victims.

The infamous Bruce Riedel, who has been a major detractor of Pakistan's nuclear program, is busy weaving tales of allegations that Pakistan Army is playing a double game in the ongoing war on terror. Mr. Riedel, who has served donkey years in the CIA, has also assisted at least four US Presidents, advising them on South Asia. He is credited for President Obama's latest but failed "Af-Pak" policy too. Mr. Riedel's pet story so far has been that Al-Qaeda or Taliban miscreants would steal Pakistan's nuclear weapons and use them against the US. Surprisingly, he had numerous takers for this preposterous spin, despite the fact that any literate person would know that nuclear weapons are not golf balls, which you can hide in your pockets, decamp with them and detonate them like hand grenades against a target of choice. Nuclear weapons are a sophisticated system, which necessitate a high caliber of training, education and guidance to be able to operate. Rag tag militia of the Al-Qaeda or Taliban would hardly be expected to assimilate the knowhow and wherewithal to put together such a weapon, let alone detonate it. Additionally, the highly operational Pakistan's Nuclear Command Authority, has put in checks and balances to secure the system, screen all personnel and take further precautions by dispersing the nuclear assets, storing the trigger mechanism separately. However these stringent measures are not enough for Bruce Riedel, who continues to chip away at Pakistan's defences.

Another anomaly of Mr. Riedel's character is his obsession with India. He has been canvassing for India, indulging in the character assassination of Pakistan, its Army and its intelligence agency ISI for decades. Since the Mumbai attacks of November 2008, Mr. Riedel has taken up the cudgels on behalf of India and has tried to implicate Pakistan by hook or crook. Just after the Mumbai attacks, in an interview with German daily, "Der Spiegel", Mr. Riedel commented: "I have said on many occasions that Pakistan is the most dangerous country in the world: International terrorism, nuclear proliferation, the threat of nuclear war, drugs, democracy deficit and Islam all come together in an extraordinarily combustible way.". He tried his best to pass a value judgment on Pakistan's complicity without providing any supporting evidence: "Back in the late 1980s, bin Laden and the Pakistani intelligence service ISI were actively involved in the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan. They wanted to apply the lessons they learned in fighting the Soviets against the Indians. They created Lashkar-e-Taiba. Osama bin Laden was engaged in supporting them by helping to raise money and by training them."

Now suddenly, Mr. Bruce Riedel has had a "visitation of angels", who have informed him that President Zardari has "accused" the Pakistan Army, which according to him covertly supports the 2008 Mumbai attacks perpetrator Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), is playing a double game in the ongoing war on terror. Mr. Riedel goes to the extent of claiming that he has an "abundance of evidence to back him up."

In an article, published in "Newsweek", Bruce Riedel says that the Lashkar-e-Taiba, the terror group that attacked the Indian financial capital of Mumbai in 2008, killing 164 people, today, continues to enjoy Pakistan Army's patronage. To prove his point, he surmises that Director General of the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) Lieutenant General Ahmed Shuja Pasha has even been summoned by a New York City court to answer charges that the ISI oversaw the Mumbai attack. If only Mr. Riedel had stopped to ponder that CIA Director Leon Panetta and former CIA Head in Pakistan, Jonathan Banks, have also been summoned in Pakistani courts after a FATA journalist Karim Khan had named the duo in a law suit for targeting his brother and nephew in drone attacks. Jonathan Banks has since then beat a hasty retreat to USA to avoid facing the charges against him. If mere lawsuits were enough to be quoted as evidence, then the prisons of the world would be brimming with convicts. Thank God the judicial systems of most of the civilized world are not that unsighted.

Bruce Riedel has tried to hatch a very macabre conspiracy in trying to drive a wedge between President Zardari and the Pakistan Army. Tensions between Islamabad and Washington have reached a feverish pitch but the line being towed by Bruce Riedel on behalf of his mentors and manipulators of his strings, sitting in Langley as well as Foggy Bottom is to create misunderstanding between Pakistan Army and the Presidency, which will have very explosive results for Capitol Hill. What his myopic stage-managers are unmindful of is that the people of Pakistan, the parliamentarians as well as those in the Opposition and the Armed Forces of Pakistan are on one page as far as the war against terror is concerned. It is the US State Department, Capitol Hill and Islamabad, who need to have unity of thought towards tackling the Al-Qaeda and Taliban. Heaping accusations and hurling expletives at the only country which holds the key to peace, Pakistan will only embolden and empower the terror groups and weaken the coalition to combat terror. In Bruce Riedel's own words: there will be only one real winner: al-Qaeda; Obama's goal to "disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al-Qaeda" will become an ever-more-distant possibility. So who is Mr. Riedel really serving?









Allah is the Creator of all the existent things and is the One Who manages all the creation. The Holy Quran says "Allah is the Creator of all things, and He is the Guardian and Disposer of all affairs. To Him belong the keys of the heavens and the earth: and those who reject the Signs of Allah,- it is they who will be in loss." [Al-Qur'an 39:62-63]". "Allah" is defined, by scholars of Islam, as the Creator whose existence is imperative and one who is worthy of praise." The term "whose existence is imperative," in this definition, reflects that Allah's non-existence is unfathomable and He does not need the assistance of another form of existence to him. The phrase "one who is worthy of all praise," on the other hand, shows that the source of all His blessings which sustain us is Allah Himself and His names and attributes connote a magnificence that is incomparable to those of His creation.

According to the Quran, Allah is not solely a superior entity, but the only entity whose existence is worth uttering; there is nothing in this world which can be compared to him. In this sense, it can be said that the universe, which the Quran speaks to us of, is clearly God-centered. According to the Quran, Allah is at the center of the realm of existence. Human beings and other life forms are His creations and they are beneath Him in the creation chain. The existence of everything other than Allah relies on his existence.

As people turn away the holy books, through which Allah familiarizes himself to people, they don't distance themselves Allah, but rather they move away the concept of Allah. This is a very important point because when people cease to believe in Allah, they don't become believers in nothing; they become believers of everything. This predicament is brought on by the fact that the need to believe in a higher entity is inescapable for human beings. Humans cannot exist without belief and therefore idols for themselves when they are deprived of the true belief: the belief in God. At times, prophets, due to their communication with God, were perceived as the worldly manifestation of God, as people were unable to mentally decipher the limits between Creator and creation.

The human mind cannot fully understand or wrap their minds around the existence of Allah, who is the most supreme of entities; because a subservient can never truly wholly understand a superior. A high level of existence is a hindrance to the ocular perception of creatures. The eye can first see dim light and then recognize more powerful light as it grows accustomed to it. Similarly, eyes which are able to recognize the tokens of proof of Allah's existence in this world will be able to perceive him directly in the afterlife. For this reason, the belief in Allah's existence in this world is a test. While many internal and external signs practically oblige us to accept His existence, our mind's inability to fully comprehend His existence and our ego's dislike of limits set to contain it by a superior authority, turn belief in Allah and the consequent submission into a real evaluation for mankind.

Islamic scholars have tried to provide proof of Allah's existence, based on the events of the outer world as well as our inner, personal worlds. Leading these lines of proof is the belief that humans are born with a belief in God. This is called the "disposition proof" (fitrat delili). The second is the proof that the world and the creatures on it were d later on and they were in need of a Creator. The third is the proof that stems the thought that the world, whose existence or non-existence is equally possible, needs a reason for being. The fourth proof is a belief that is inspired by the fact that nature's grand coherence and infallible order, and this grand system can only be the product of a Creator.

Humans, who realize that nature contains incredible coherence and order, are unable to contain their awe at the presence of these works of nature. Divine books warn that nature has the risk of being sanctified and alarms individuals regarding this, reminding people that everything, including themselves, with the exception of the Most High will perish and that there is no other deity worthy of Worship, His sovereignty will be continually everlasting and who people can take refuge. (Surah Qassas 28:88).

The most important property of Islam is recognizing Allah as the one and only Creator and authority and thus not attributing any partners to Allah through any adjectives ascribed to him and confirming his oneness in a determined state. Islam, with this feature, differs the idol-worshipping pre-Islamic beliefs (Jahiliyya) and religions such as Judaism and Christianity which are believed to have been distored after revelation. Tawheed is the belief in the existence of Allah, his oneness and that there is no deity other than Him and that nothing can be compared to Him. Tawheed, which is the necessitated by this confirmation, translates into a holistic evaluation of culture, civilizations and history. In other words it is a belief and witnessing to the fact that these principles of faith were sent to all prophets. This is a concrete sign that this "truth" is "singular" and "universal."

In the verses of the Quran, which speak of Allah, his unity is highlighted more so than his existence, because "... most of them believe not in Allah without associating (others as partners) with Him! (Surah Yussuf 12: 106). It appears as though reaching the conclusion on the oneness of Allah, and staying loyal to this belief in our minds, thoughts, worship and sentiments, is harder than embracing his existence alone. Associating partners with Allah is not an error committed during the primal era alone, but rather a recurring phenomenon that comes to life in different forms depending on humanities' level of intellect in various eras.

Associating partners with Allah (shirk), which arises when attributing Allah's properties to anything other than Allah, regardless of its appearance is the biggest error in belief which humans must be cautious of. Bowing down to anyone other than Allah who has d and sustained, protected and maintained the universe; to feel committed to that other entity, is a great injustice committed by humans who have been d in a fashion more distinguished and given more dignity than other creatures.

Islam believes in the absolute oneness of Allah. It commands its believers to partake in a form of worship and prayer that does not include images and symbols, which it sees as remnants of primitiveness and idolatry. The relationship between humans and their creator is personal and direct; it does not require intermediaries. Similar to prophets, even the most sacred of people, are only guides and messengers.








The recent statement by Indian Prime Minister in which he said that his biggest desire is to bring normalcy in Pakistan-India relations is a political jab. Reality on ground is quite different, either Mr. Manmohan Singh is oblivious of this or is a tacit part of it; one may call it the political face. Pakistan and India have fought three wars (and a mini one) on a single issue that is to negate the Indian hegemony and interference trans-frontiers. All the time the blame for misadventures was fixed upon Pakistan without visualizing that 'who has set up whom'.

History is a cruel master, master in a sense that it gives lead after a misdoing; usually it is silent when one is about to commit a misadventure, read my lips phenomenon. Leaving it (history) aside, the relationships are getting complex not because of regional frictions but due to ever increasing mistrust. Relationships are only built on trust, lack of it results into chaos, catastrophe, and historic mishaps.

India has opened up five fronts against Pakistan, a penta dimensional war. First one is the tangible military threat; it encompasses a huge modernization programme of its armed forces. Only this year India has become the biggest importer of military hardware. Nuclear built-up is another facet of the same, in which the world powers are supporting by providing unabated supply of nuclear fuel. The same front is an ambit of anti Pakistan activities. Geography is the landscape where they are trying to scribe a new language of hate and deceit. In Afghanistan there are clear signs of Indian involvement. The advantage of proximity which Pakistan enjoys in this case is being neutralized by spreading the sentiments of ethnic exploitation across the Durand Line. In Balochistan again the footprints lead to the same direction, the Indian consulates in Afghanistan are believed to be the soothsayers in stoking the Baloch insurgency. Lately the Indian hand is also blamed to be the cause of unrest in Gilgit and Baltistan. These are not imaginative doldrums; it all appeared in newspapers over a period of time.

Second front is economic one, which can also be called as the subtlety angle of animosity; here a slow and calibrated move is initiated in the field of agriculture. Presently almost all the seeds of major crops are imported from India; 30 years back it was a reverse phenomenon. Where have all the agricultural research programmes gone? The agricultural produce is also making inroads in Pakistani markets. Over and above all this, the water theft from Pakistani rivers is going on unabated. This scribe wrote a piece on this issue under the title "Pakistan India Water Wars", the Indian embassy took a great exception to it and worthy first secretary replied through a letter to editor, fine as far as arguments and counter arguments are concerned, but who will verify the facts.

The third front is the social one; the movie magic of India is transforming Pakistani society into a dumb audience and takers of raw concept without any cultural gatekeepers. The social media is even more intriguing, Facebook, Twitter etc are bringing change without any process of evolution, in social issues such changes only bring cultural disasters.

Fourth is the political front, India is completely in control of everything political. Is it the Nehruvian legacy of democratic dispensation which has made them prudent in even matters of regional intent? Dexterity in political moves has accrued dividence in the form of Kashmir issue still at the back burner despite the sacrifices made by Kashmir people in blood. Other feat of political sagacity is to take full advantage of USA's war on terror and tightening the noose around Pakistan. The Indian caucus is trying to convince the American government that they always bet upon the wrong horse, the real beast and the chariot is, all Indian.

The fifth front of this war gets fillip from the internal dynamics of Indian society that is the saffronization of a common denizen of India on the issue of Pakistan bashing. It is probably the best sports after cricket. The facts mentioned are not mere fictional rundown; rather these are open to anybody's inquiry and analysis. Mere rhetoric of good relations and bonhomie on the veneer and animosity beneath will have no takers at all.

Mr Prime Minister, next time you show a desire of good relations with Pakistan, please be conscious, the saffron brigade might take your sincere smiles as intriguing overtures and show the door towards political Nirvana as that of all powerful Sonia Gandhi.







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.






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 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.







IN HIS contribution to the latest edition of Quarterly Essay, David Malouf writes about happiness and what he calls the search for contentment in today's world. The result is entertaining and insightful, as one would expect of a thinker and writer of Malouf's stature. It is also timely. At Easter, happiness is very much at the centre of our thoughts. We look forward to the joys that a holiday can bring and plan for happy times with family and friends. But how often do we stop to think about what happiness means, how it is attained, and why our experience of it often falls short of our desire for it?

Malouf's article explores all these questions. But its central concern is why, when we are free of the major causes of unhappiness (oppression, poverty, famine, disease), so many of us still yearn for a happiness we seem unable to obtain. Part of the problem, he suggests, has to do with changing perceptions. In discussing the American Declaration of Independence, for instance, he argues that Thomas Jefferson's assertion that all people are endowed with inalienable rights including those to ''life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness'' carried a radical implication. It was that the pursuit of happiness had claim to the same moral status as the right to life or to liberty, and this encouraged the view that happiness was a legitimate expectation of every citizen of the good society and enabling it a fundamental duty of any good state.

If this New World construction of human rights placed the bar high - thus inevitably inviting some degree of disappointment - Malouf nonetheless compares it favourably with the less generous notion of happiness that pervaded the old world of Christian Europe. ''When Christianity offered its adherents happiness,'' he writes, ''it was as a reward, either for good works or for faith, in the next world.'' Institutionally, even at times culturally, there is truth in this: the church often did encourage the faithful to accept their lot in this life no matter how dismal it might be, and even today many Christians still view suffering and death (or exclusions and punishments) as more important elements to their faith than happiness and life.

But the Jesus story itself is far more reassuring. Here was a man who certainly did not relish death and who just as certainly did not merely endure life as a necessary means to some greater cosmic end. The first we know from the account of Jesus' anguished last moments as a free man in the Garden of Gethsemane; the second from those few accounts of his purely personal life the gospels reveal. These show a capacity for playfulness (turning water into wine as his first miracle), his delight in the company of children (which he likened to the kingdom of God), the tenderness of his friendships (he wept with Mary upon the death of her brother Lazarus) and the depth of his love.

This love was keenly attuned to promoting the happiness of those around him. It extended to Jews and non-Jews, to the downtrodden as well as the well-off, to the wicked as much as to the virtuous. It was a love that sought to heal people in their brokenness, to bridge their divisions, and to refocus their priorities away from those things that destroy peace, harmony and the enjoyment of the genuine pleasures of life. It taught that the law must always be in the service of the people and not the other way around (Mark chapter 2, verse 37) and that one's enemies should be shown love, not hate (Luke chapter 6, verse 27). If these teachings were designed merely to describe a better life in some other world, they would not have been judged so subversive that Jesus had to be put to death in this one.

For those who believe his death was not the end of the story, there is more - and it goes directly to the core of the discontent that Malouf identifies. ''What most alarms us in our contemporary world,'' he writes, ''what unsettles and scares us, is the extent to which the forces that shape our lives are no longer personal - they know nothing of us; and to the extent that we know nothing of them - cannot put a face to them, cannot find in them anything we recognise as human - we cannot deal with them.'' Malouf is referring to the enlargement of our consciousness through everything from the impact of technology to the operations of the international economy. Before such forces, he suggests, we feel like ''small, powerless creatures in the coils of an invisible monster, vast but insubstantial, that cannot be grasped or wrestled with''. The result is that mostly we are ''happy enough'' - in a material sense at least - but, rarely, are we ''quite happy''.

Malouf is writing in what may well be a post-Christian era and this may be another part of the problem with happiness. Jesus said quite clearly that he had come so that people ''might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly'' (John chapter 10, verse 10). How to do this he showed through his own example before his death and, for those who believe in him, guaranteed through his resurrection. Indeed, the incredible Easter claim goes directly to the void that Malouf has identified in our time, for Easter proposes that there is a supreme force shaping our lives to whom we are neither anonymous nor insignificant and for whom our happiness is not just a birthright but the ultimate purpose of our existence. There is an implication here far more significant than anything in the Declaration of Independence and one that should not be dismissed by anyone seriously engaged in the search for contentment.





THERE was a time when those who prophesied the death of religion portrayed what would follow that demise as a blissful era of tolerance, freedom and respect for the dignity of all. When the world had cast off its superstitions, so the argument went, the greatest cause of hatred and dissension would be removed. It has not happened. In part this is because, despite all the confident predictions, the death of faith is not in sight - not even in the avowedly secular West, and certainly not in other parts of the world. But it is also because the predictions themselves have taken on a particularly strident and belligerent tone. Religion of any kind, but especially the monotheistic faiths that were formative influences on Western civilisation, is routinely characterised by campaigning secularists as not merely false but as the root of all evil, too. Adherents of those faiths are spoken of at best with condescension and ridicule, and sometimes with outright hostility. Ironically, there is often an evangelical fervour in this anti-religiosity, which, by denying all intellectual and moral legitimacy to that which it opposes, has acquired some of the worst traits of the faith of past eras.

This lurid secular evangelism was evident in some of the presentations at last year's Global Atheist Convention in Melbourne. More disturbingly, it can also be heard in some of the contributions to the continuing debate about religious education in Victoria's government schools. This newspaper agrees that the present system must be scrapped: it is not the role of a secular education system in a pluralist democracy to proselytise for any particular faith, or to facilitate proselytising by others. Yet that is effectively what now happens. It is partly a consequence of the Education Department's bizarre reading of the Education Act, which construes ''may provide special religious instruction'' to mean ''must provide …'', and partly because pupils are not required to opt in to such instruction but rather are permitted to opt out. But mostly it is because the chief provider of special religious instruction, Access Ministries, regards its task as the imparting of faith, and in order to do so relies on teaching of untrained volunteers who consciously set out to proselytise.

Recognising that this must be changed, however, is not the same as wanting all reference to, or teaching about, religion to be expunged from the school curriculum. Some opponents of religious education have spoken that way, but they do a disservice to education and to multiculturalism, a cause they too readily confuse with their own. A society that takes cultural diversity seriously respects its members' defining beliefs; it does not seek to conceal them, which too easily becomes a covert way of trying to suppress them. And a society that takes education seriously does not shrink from teaching pupils about religion. It is a part of human culture, and seeking to excise it from culture would be an impossible exercise, one that would render unintelligible even many beliefs that secularists hold dear. What is needed in Victoria is a religious education curriculum whose content is not restricted to the teachings of any particular religion, and which would be taught by trained teachers whose aim would not be to make converts.

Abolition of the public holidays associated with the principal Christian festivals of Easter and Christmas does not seem to be on anyone's agenda, however secular they may be or whatever faith they hold. So while Victorians are enjoying this Easter long weekend, it is worth taking time to reflect on the fact that the secular state arose from the agitation of those who were trying to establish freedom of religion, not to ensure freedom from religion. Not only would it not have occurred to them that religion should be banished from public discourse, they would have regarded such a notion as a new form of tyranny. As indeed it would be. Whatever the future of religion may be in this secular nation, even those who adhere to no faith should acknowledge how much of their own world view derives from the faith of earlier centuries. The notion that all human beings are equal in rights and dignity now seems inherently secular, but it first gained currency in a world in which the vast majority believed that all people were created in the image of God. That belief gave the idea of human dignity a political impetus it has not lost, for believers and unbelievers alike. We should not let our children grow up in ignorance of how the world came by that idea.






Why not allow counties and cities the right to allocate a locally determined public holiday?

This year England and Wales will have nine bank and public holidays, one more than the usual ration. Four of the nine are concentrated within the next 11 days. Scotland, with its slightly different public holidays, will also use up three of this year's 10 in the same period, while Northern Ireland will have four of its 11. This year is, of course, an unusual one, because the combination of a very late Easter and the extra public holiday to mark the royal wedding have created a wider window of getaway opportunity. Yet 2012 will have an extra holiday too, to mark the Queen's diamond jubilee. The government, moreover, has floated the idea of changing the May Day holiday. All in all, this is a good moment to consider the place of bank and public holidays in the national calendar.

It may, perhaps, be asked whether public holidays are not anachronistic in an era in which so much holiday is privatised, entitlements guaranteed, and in an age in which the majority of people take far more days off than they did in the 1870s, when bank holidays first became established. Should there, indeed, be fewer of them? But the answer will always be that public holidays remain important and life-enhancing occasions. The reasons for maintaining them include cultural tradition, national solidarity, the uneven provision of private entitlements, the needs of specific groups of workers who particularly rely on public holidays, and the underlying truth that there is more to life than work anyway. The original Bank Holidays Act, indeed, was introduced in an attempt to encourage more playing of cricket.

In fact there is a strong case for having more public holidays. England and Wales do not just have fewer public holidays than Scotland and Northern Ireland; provision is more generous in much of the European Union too. France by tradition has 12 public holidays, while even the United States has 10. So an extra public holiday, or even two, in the autumn would not just fill the current bank-holiday-free gap between August and Christmas, and help parents during schools' half-term break, it would also do something to make good the overall deficit.

It is important, too, not to turn public holidays into political footballs. Forget worthy but foolish plans for Britishness days. Resist the temptation to commemorate feats of arms. And leave the May Day holiday alone. It has a deep history worth celebrating – and we need more public holidays, not fewer. In which spirit, why not also give Britain's counties and cities the right to allocate a locally determined public holiday of their own if they choose? Local bank holidays were quite common a generation ago. They deserve a comeback. And we all need a few more breaks. Enjoy the next 11 days.





David Cameron should make it clear that he supports a proper recruitment procedure, to be independently monitored

Consider the following scenario. A multinational corporation that has a war chest worth hundreds of billions of dollars may be about to have a vacancy at the top. Nearly everyone agrees that it needs a top-to-bottom overhaul, from the key personnel to the way it does business. But rather than having an open competition for the vacancy, a clique of insiders squabble over the top job. Some make it clear that certain names haven't a hope, whatever their qualifications. Other good candidates don't have a heavyweight patron, so don't get a look-in. The result is that leadership of one of the biggest and most important institutions in the world does not go to the best man or woman for the job, but to a compromise candidate.

The above may sound like fiction, but the sad reality is that it is how the boss of the IMF has been selected for most of the past 60 years. Much of the time it goes unremarked – a French socialist or Spanish conservative is levered into the top spot and life goes on as normal. But this week it became big news in Britain, after David Cameron declared Gordon Brown "not the most appropriate person" to run the IMF. Take out the names and the enmity that gave this story its particular piquancy, and the episode illustrates another point: an early-morning interview question sprung on Mr Cameron about the man he spent years battling is simply not the most appropriate way to choose who runs the Fund. It does not reflect the changing nature of the world economy, where power is slowly diffusing from a handful of nations in the west to a much larger group of countries in the south. And it is no help in steering the global economy through one of the most turbulent periods since the second world war.

It took a mere 54 years for the IMF to agree that it should "adopt an open, merit-based and transparent process for the selection" of top management. That decision was made in 2009, following nearly a decade of working groups, position papers and reports. It also followed decades of a gentlemen's agreement between Europe and America that Washington would choose the head of the World Bank, while the continent could select the IMF's leader. During that time, membership of the Fund has gone from 29 countries to 187. Big economies such as China and India have become vastly more prosperous, while the eurozone has lurched into an existential crisis. Nowadays a rich country – Iceland, Ireland, Greece – is as likely to tap up the IMF for a loan as a poor one: the first time since the 70s and Callaghan that that has been the case. Meanwhile, poor and middle-income countries are complaining again that their economies are being knocked off course by policies adopted by the west, as a tidal wave of hot money hits their markets. And as if all that was not enough, much of the Fund's economic orthodoxy has been shaken by the global financial crisis. IMF researchers now concede that poor countries may be helped, not hindered, by turning away foreign speculators. They talk about how a big wealth gap can prevent nations from enjoying sustainable growth. Chinks are opening up in the old dogma.

The job of running the IMF should never have been treated as a bauble to be handed around rich European countries. That always looked ridiculous; amid this crisis it now appears dangerous. The irony is that one of the few people who has consistently pushed for reform of the IMF is none other than Gordon Brown. Ever since he was chancellor, Mr Brown has been an articulate expositor of ideas for a new global financial architecture. The notion that Mr Cameron would allow his former adversary a bully pulpit in Washington to criticise the coalition's economic policies was always a non-starter. But the prime minister should make it clear that he supports a proper recruitment procedure, to be independently monitored. That is no more than one would expect for such a big job at such an important organisation.





Long valued for their fleeces, llamas have also been helping in efforts to save two threatened species of Lake District fish

The llama and its fluffier, smaller relative the alpaca are among the most successful immigrants to the United Kingdom in modern times. They marked their arrival by going to the very top, grazing for Queen Victoria at Windsor. For years a source of high-quality textiles, following Sir Titus Salt's breakthrough in spinning alpaca weft with a cotton warp in Bradford in the late 1830s, the animals have long been valued for their fleeces. Now they have earned a bigger niche in their own right. At dozens of tourism sites, they add to the interest of petting farms (their spitting is largely exaggerated, except at each other) or carry baggage for hikers, an occupation which the llama seems particularly to enjoy. Unlike sheep or cattle, llamas appear interested in human activities. They are drawn to noise and movement, standing, wrote Thornton Wilder in The Bridge of San Louis Rey, with ears curved like question marks, apparently on the brink of joining in a conversation. This month they have shown another aspect of their versatility, and in the process helped an ancient but challenged native species. Climate change has made life uncomfortable for the vendace, one of two curious fish endemic to the English Lake District (the other is the schelley of Helvellyn's Red Tarn). Thousands of young fish from Derwent Water have therefore been moved to Sprinkling Tarn, much higher and colder – on llama-back. Sure-footed, comfy and quick, says the Environment Agency. And greener and cheaper than a jeep.







In meetings in Tokyo on Sunday, Prime Minister Naoto Kan, Foreign Minister Takeaki Matsumoto and U.S. State Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton agreed that Japan and the United States will fully cooperate with each other as Japan attempts to reconstruct the nation from the March 11 earthquake and tsunami and to contain the nuclear crisis at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

It was most appropriate that Mr. Kan told Ms. Clinton that Japan would never forget the support and help the U.S. provided to Japan through its Operation Tomodachi following the deadly natural disasters. Relief and search operations conducted by the U.S. armed forces for disaster victims and missing people in the Tohoku-Pacific region involved some 20,000 personnel, 20 ships (including the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan) and some 160 military aircraft.

The U.S. also sent Japan fresh water to cool the Fukushima plant's reactors, and members of the U.S. Marine Corps Chemical Biological Incident Response Forces assisted at the nuclear plant. It also offered photographs of the plant taken by a Global Hawk unmanned reconnaissance plane.

Japan should not hesitate to get assistance from the U.S. and other nations to quickly bring the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear crisis under control since the crisis has become an international concern. Earlier, the financial chiefs of the Group of 20 advanced and emerging economies on April 15 offered to provide "any needed cooperation" to help Japan.

The March 11 catastrophe crippled Japan's manufacturing sector and disrupted transport networks. This could cause shortages of Japanese-made parts and materials in other countries, thus increasing uncertainty in the global economic recovery.

To prevent the G-20 nations' solidarity and cooperation with Japan from being wasted, Japan should immediately start reconstruction work and explain its plan in detail to those nations. Although Japan's financial condition may temporarily deteriorate, it must demonstrate a strong commitment to long-term financial reconstruction.






Tokyo Electric Power Co. on Sunday announced a road map for actions to bring the nuclear crisis at its Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant under control. It is expected to take three months to steadily decrease the release of radioactive materials while cooling the reactors (Step 1), and additional three to six months to keep the reactors continuously cooled at less than 100 C (Step 2).

In Step 1, Tepco plans to flood the containment vessels of reactors Nos. 1 and 3 with water to the top of the active fuel. But it is not certain whether this process will cool the reactors sufficiently. Furthermore, a strong quake during this step could severely damage the reactors.

Tepco also plans to use adhesive cement to close a crack in the suppression pool at the base of the No. 2 reactor's containment vessel. But how will it locate the crack? And when the breach is found, how will it carry out the work to patch the leak in an environment of extremely high radiation levels?

Tepco faces a dilemma. It must cool the reactors by pouring water into them continuously. But the water becomes contaminated with radioactive materials and finds its way into the reactor basements and linked trenches, thus contaminating underground water. It also seeps into the sea.

An estimated more than 67,000 tons of contaminated water existed at one point in the power plant. Tepco plans to transfer the water into tanks, but that won't solve the problem.

Common sense suggests that Tepco should build facilities outside the reactors to cool water that has been poured into the reactors — large cooling towers — then set up a system to circulate the water between the reactors and the cooling towers.

Tepco also plans to place covers over the damaged outer buildings of the Nos. 1, 3 and 4 reactors. But steam will be trapped, making conditions for restoration work difficult. Nuclear power experts must do what they can to assist Tepco. The government and Tepco also should make public detailed information on the spread of radioactive materials, radiation levels at as many places as possible as well as the degree of reactor damage.





Los Angeles — Before the prime ministry of Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, not that many people had ever heard of Malaysia, outside of adjacent Singapore, which shared a common border as well as an intense mutual antipathy that entertained the rest of Southeast Asia for decades.

But by the late 1990s the land of the Malays was pretty well established on the world map. Love him or hate him, the once country-clinic doctor was something else again. Mahathir Mohamad is one of the giants of Asia because Southeast Asia itself is well on its way to becoming a giant player in the 21st century.

The progression wouldn't be happening quite as noticeably had the mainly Muslim Malaysia remained the largely rural and agricultural Muslim culture that it was in 1981. That was when this family doctor turned politician landed the job of prime minister and was to stay at the top for more than two decades.

In his turbulent years this ultra-ambitious politician managed at times an almost unachievable feat: to alienate seemingly half the country (sometimes even imprisoning political enemies) while keeping his increasingly modern (and Muslim) Malaysia more or less hanging together, and moving closer to real modernization. How did he do it all?

His story is now available in the long-delayed autobiography hitting stores with the cute title "Doctor in the House." It's a lively and very interesting book — certainly interesting enough to make it an instant best-seller not only in Malaysia, which one would expect, but also in Singapore, which you might not expect.

To be sure, this is not a history of the times: Readers who want a more rounded description of those decades under discussion should look elsewhere. Not surprisingly, some of Asia's best journalists, especially those with an unapologetically exacting standards, have found the book seriously uneven and the author's memory suspiciously selective. But what Mahathir gives us in his memoirs is nonetheless a valuable replay of the political life and times of Malaysia's longest-serving prime minister, precisely as he himself sees it and as this complex man, now well in his 80s, is best able to remember it.

The main value of autobiographies is not their objectivity but their subjectivity. Indeed, what Mahathir gives you here is no less subjective than Margaret Thatcher's "The Downing Street Years" or Bill Clinton's "My Life." And it is absolutely Mahathir's book, as his stamp seems evident on nearly every page.

For my money no present or former national leader offers more sensible and pertinent views on the nature of Islam and the extreme need to quarantine the Muslim extremists who take the holy Quran, which he views as a book of peace, into their own evil hands and massage it into a missive of conflict.

For my money no leader, Asian or otherwise, ever stood up more courageously (and correctly) to the wrongheaded ayatollahs of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank than Mahathir. Roundly condemned by the Western media and most Western leaders during the Asian financial crisis (1997-99) for ignoring their advice, Mahathir paid them no mind and quickly steered his country out of the frightening economic downturn.

He would not let Malaysia take one cent of IMF or World Bank bailout money. That took more than a little courage, not to mention self-confidence. He was not always a gracious winner; however, he always gave back as good as he took.

Mahathir was as consciously theatrical as he was thoroughly political. When he speaks, he is sometimes only 90 to 95 percent genuine. The rest is best understood as the canny political stagecraft of an ambitious leader eager to punch well above the weight of Malaysia by out-shouting and out-outraging the bigger players in the scene.

Over the years his favorite sparring mates, besides sitting-duckie Aussie potentates, were Western currency traders, especially Jewish ones, the governments of Israel and the Western news media. Whom or what have I left out? No matter.

His views on the dangerous evolution of Islam are, it seems to me, invaluable, especially to us in the West. He believes the extremists have the upper hand, generally, and so endanger not only the West but also Islam itself.

The solution is obvious: Islam needs more leaders like Mahathir. For all the feisty rhetoric and occasional Jew-bashing (which, even if intended to irritate complacent Muslims more than Jews, he should have stopped long ago), this is a man who gets things done in his own country and will work with you to get things done in yours. Future decades will treat him as a figure of considerable historical importance.

As his longtime rival Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore puts it graciously when I asked him for an assessment, "He was an outstanding prime minister of Malaysia." Amen.

Tom Plate is the Distinguished Scholar of Asian and Pacific Studies at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. He is author of the "Giants of Asia" series., including "Conversations with Mahathir Mohamed." © 2011 Pacific Perspectives Media Center







The last fiefdom of communism is gearing up for a change. Not in the practical sense, though.

Cuba believes that it's high time to stand down on ideals, and get real in dealing with the organic issues of nation-state. President Raul Castro's utterance that too much of idealism has distracted the state from an honest appraisal is worth debating. Nonetheless, Havana's desire to see political reforms take place and the economy is provided with a level-playing field is most promising, but it remains to be seen what amount of efforts the junta puts in to make it substantial and not another episode of hope and despair.Upheavals in the Middle East have apparently influenced Cuba to read the writing on the wall. Moreover, the manner in which the administration of US President Barack Obama has dealt with Cuba has been an indicator of the fact that it won't be receptive to the erstwhile policy considering it as a merely backyard case. Obama who toured almost the entire South American region has purposefully skipped Cuba — and didn't walk the extra mile in winning it over as long as the status quo is in vogue. Similarly, it hasn't heeded to calls for greater interaction and doing away with the restrictions on travel, trade and tourism. Former president Jimmy Carter, who had toured Cuba, had recently pointed out the fallacies in the US policy towards the communist island-state, but that hasn't made any ripples in the corridors of power. Washingtons eagerness to see Havana embrace political pluralism and throw open its economy is a benchmark that is yet to be crossed. Castro's remarks that he is interested in limiting an individual's ruling tenure to a maximum of 10 years will largely be seen as nothing but a ploy meant (to the gallery.

Cuba is in need of treading a reformative path. Gone are the days when it could have been used as a launching pad for proxy activities, and subsequently there is no potential in the communist country to act as a bulwark against capitalism. Interdependence is what could get them going and as rightly stated by Castro, it's high time Cubans overcome a 'mentality of inertia'. The correct way to realise that goal is reverse the straightjacket policies of the state and let its citizens own property and build up stakes in the governance process. The last of the Stalinist Bohemians should emulate China to transform and strengthen. Cubas sovereignty and society can better be served by giving up brinkmanship.

Khaleej Times





It is easier for a camel to go through an eye of a needle than for a rich man (read imperialists) to enter the Kingdom of God. As the Christian world marks Good Friday today, this saying of Jesus Christ is totally lost on today's greed-driven imperialists who are gearing up to gobble Libya's resources.

Libya was relatively a peaceful country with a high literacy rate and advanced health and education facilities. On last year's Human Development Index, it was ranked 53rd — ahead of 116 countries. Dissent was not unheard of in Libya. Muammar Gaddafi had a way of dealing with it. He rehabilitated the dissidents. Even pro-al Qaeda elements who had resorted to terrorism were rehabilitated and pardoned. None accused Gaddafi of killing political opponents.

If not for the western intervention or interference, the present crisis would also have been solved by peaceful means or by a minimum use of violence. The crisis is no more a Libyan crisis. The imperialist forces —–  the United States, Britain, France and Italy — have hijacked it. The Libyan rebels merely do what the imperialists order them to do.

Unfortunately, the rebels seem to have not understood that the imperialists have little interest in the wellbeing of the Libyan people. The imperialists only want to further their agenda of militarily dominating the world to plunder the resources of the weaker nations.

The imperialists will not change their habits. They want to make the poor poorer so that they can be richer. When they foresee a decline in their power either because of an economic crisis or because of a military threat, they resort to wars and interventions in resource-rich countries. Their modus operandi has been the same throughout history. They fund and sustain opposition groups in target countries before they invade it. The opposition groups support the imperialists in the hope that they would be made the rulers. This was how the imperialist British colonised India, Sri Lanka and the Ottoman empire's Arab provinces in the past. This was how the United States colonized Iraq and Afghanistan in the recent past. The same plan is now being executed in Libya by the imperialist West on the pretext of humanitarian intervention.

That the war in Libya comes at a time when the Western economies are facing a bleak future is no coincidence. The United States' economy is in the doldrums with its debt burden rising to a catastrophic 14 trillion dollars — that is 14 with 12 zeroes. What is more alarming to the Americans and the rest of the world is that the signs of recovery are few and far between with international rating agency Standard and Poor downgrading the outlook on the US sovereign bond from stable to negative. In fact, the real situation is much worse than what Standard and Poor had rated. A Chinese rating agency had commented that western rating agencies were highly politicized and therefore usually cushioned the ratings for Western economies. The negative rating has alarmed China, the biggest investor (1.5 trillion dollars) in US sovereign bonds. China is worried about the United States' ability to sustain the sovereign bonds amid a huge budget deficit and public debt.

The economic crises facing Britain and France are no better. To overcome the situation, the imperialists resort to wars. In the short-run, wars in the Middle East may increase oil prices and affect economic growth but once the wars are over, the plunder begins, boosting the economies of the imperialist nations. Last week, leaked documents in Britain showed how the Tony Blair government discussed Iraq invasion plans with British oil giants a year before the war actually began. It was Iraq yesterday and it is Libya today, tomorrow, as the imperialists' economies face further crises, it may even be Saudi Arabia, no matter how servile or submissive its rulers are to the imperialists.

In Libya, the imperialists have taken a step closer to a ground invasion, interpreting UN resolutions 1973 to their advantage. France and Britain have decided to send small groups of military advisors to assist the rebels, while the Western media deliberately exaggerate the casualty figures in Misrata and report largely one-sided stories. In an interview with the Guardian newspaper, a British non-governmental fact-finding team returning from Libya accused the Western media of distortion, manipulation and "failing in their duty to report the conflict truthfully". (

A video posted on youtube shows NATO-guided rebels lynching a captured soldier in public while a shocked crowd pleads for clemency. A comment on the video asked where the CNN was when this horror was taking place. If only Gaddafi's forces had done such an act, the Western media would have repeatedly shown the gory video.

The British-French decision to send military advisors reminds one of the Vietnam War. The United States in 1961 sent some 400 troops to advise the South Vietnamese military. But a decade later the US troop presence in Vietnam rose to 500,000. It is a matter of time before tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of imperialist soldiers roam the length and breadth of Libya. Some reports say groups of western military officers are already in Libya guiding the rebels' war. Gaddafi's government has warned NATO that it will deem any ground troop deployment as a hostile military act.

Well a provocation is all that the imperialists want so that they can launch an all-out war and start plundering Libya in a bid to boost their flagging economies. The US government has allocated 700 billion dollars for defence in next year's budget at the expense of cuts in education and health while the budget deficit is a gaping 1.6 trillion dollars. But how long can the imperialists depend on wars and plunder for economic growth? The breaking point is not far away.





More than one billion people all over the world today commemorate Christianity's holiest day – Good Friday, the day the Lord Jesus Christ was crucified at Calvary. While taking part in solemn ceremonies, the Christians will also deeply reflect on why Jesus died and the eternal significance of it.

Theologians and scripture scholars tell us that from the beginning of time God spoke of his unending, unfailing, ever merciful gracious and unconditional love for all people. This he said repeated and reiterated in book after book and chapter after chapter of the Holy Bible. For instance the Book of Psalms says, "The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end."

At one period of history God intervened directly and dramatically to free the Hebrew people who were then the poorest of the poor, the most ill treated and marginalized. That was why He chose them, because they were the poorest of the poor so that through them He could demonstrate His selfless and unconditional love for all people. But over the centuries the religious leaders of these chosen people formulated hundreds of laws to replace God's offer of unconditional love for all who accept it. The Bible tells us and Christians believe that God then decided to demonstrate this love for the people through his son Jesus Christ. The best known and most widely quoted scriptural verse to explain what happened is found in the Gospel of St. John – for God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son so that anyone who accepts that love will have everlasting happiness and eternal life. (John 3/16)

During His life and ministry the Lord Jesus demonstrated the full magnitude of God's love, how high, deep and wide it is. Eventually in the climax at Calvary, the Lord Jesus showed us that even if people betray, deny or desert Him, even if people whip and strip him and hang him on a cross like a criminal of criminals, He still loves them for God is love. Another verse in the New Testament conveys the message powerfully: "I am certain that neither death nor life, neither angels nor spiritual powers, neither the present nor the future, nor cosmic powers, were they from heaven or from the deep world below, nor any creature whatsoever will separate us from the love of God, which was demonstrated to us by Jesus Christ when He died for us on the cross." (St. Paul's letter to the Romans – Chapter 8, vs. 38 and 39)

As we believe, accept, experience and act on this incredible love of God, it changes our nature from self-centredness and selfishness to other centredness and sincere, sacrificial service to others. As we freely receive God's feet-washing love, we are called upon to give it to others by giving and giving and forgiving, thus transforming ourselves and transforming others. This, the Bible tells us, will give us the power to love our enemies, help those who hurt us, bless those who curse us and pray for those who persecute us. Then there will be miracles, amazing signs and wonders in our lives and in the lives of others bringing about a new world order where there is more care and concern for each other's needs and wishes, understanding of each other's faults and weaknesses and appreciation of what is good and nice in each other together with a more equitable distribution of wealth and resources. Then we will have lasting peace, justice and unity in the world.









A couple of months ago, while walking along Mumbai's tourist hub Colaba, I came across something I was told was already confined to the black pages of India's history.

A few metres behind the Taj Mahal Palace and Towers hotel, a ragged looking family of performers was camped.

A circle of observers surrounded the troupe and had their eyes directed upward at the sky.

I stopped to look and saw a girl of around 10 years old balancing a stick on a rope fastened between two poles and I remember feeling outraged at the family and the people watching.

Last week, the Supreme Court banned child labour in circuses and ordered the government to conduct raids and rehabilitate rescued children.

Though it's laudable that a law has been passed to finally redeem exploited children, it's a pity it took more than 25 years since the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act was passed for the government to realise that it was time children were granted their rights.

The act that prohibits employment of children under 14 in hazardous conditions such as mines and factories has largely been ignored.

The fact that the little girl performed her rope trick opposite the Maharashtra Police Headquarters is testimony to how laws are enforced.

Laws to protect children have failed to guarantee every child under 14 free and compulsory education.

A friend of mine from Lucknow, in the north, took a nine-year-old boy who worked alongside his parents in the fields to Mumbai.

Ajith, who will begin school in June, had little prospect of getting a decent education in his hometown and was doomed forever to toil in the fields like his parents.

He is just one among 55 million children under 14 who contribute to 20 per cent of the economy, which is heavily dependent on youngsters.

The country, which happens to be the world's largest employer of children, finds jobs for them in industries that require nimble hands to work - such as embroidery and bangle making. However, they also do potentially hazardous work and make fireworks.

Farmers unable to repay loans to moneylenders or landlords sometimes give away their children as labour, but the youngsters are often physically and sexually abused.

Retailers have also employed children as young as 10 to manufacture clothes.

Most employers of children often get away with it due to corruption in law enforcement authorities.

Also, the fine for employing children ranges from Rs10,000 (BD85) to Rs20,000 (BD170), which is a small amount to pay for cheap labour.

Though it's high time the government stepped in to protect children from exploitation by circuses, it is too little and too late.

* Ms Gnana is a former Bahrain resident now studying in Mumbai



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